U.S. Department of State 96/05/07 Daily Press Briefing Office of the Spokesman U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING I N D E X Tuesday, May 7, 1996 Briefer: Nicholas Burns FORMER YUGOSLAVIA First War Crimes Trial Begins in The Hague .............. 1 --U.S. Support for the War Crimes Tribunal .............. 1 --Presiding Judge For Case American Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, Formerly District Court, Houston, Texas ... 1 Acting Asst. Secretary Kornblum's Meetings in the Region 1-3 Dayton Accords re Freedom of Movement ................... 2-3 --Willingness of the Parties to Comply with Accord ...... 3,4 --IFOR's Purpose/Mission/Accomplishments ................ 3,4 --Prospects of Reimposition of Sanctions ................ 4 LEBANON U.N. Report re Israeli Shelling of Camp/U.N. Compound ... 5,6-7 Status of Monitoring Group/Structure/Purpose ............ 5-7,8-9 ISRAEL Israeli Foreign Minister's Visit to U.S. ................ 7-8 SYRIA Secretary's View re Syria's Intentions re Peace Process . 9,10-11 Syria's Support for Terrorist Groups/PKK ................ 10 MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS Status of Postponed Follow-Up Meeting on Terrorism ...... 9-10 CENTRAL AFRICA Asst. Secretary Shattuck's Travel to the Region ......... 11 LATIN AMERICA Secretary's Remarks in Mexico re Helms-Burton Act ....... 11-13 --European Concerns re Helms-Burton Legislation ......... 12 --Reports of US "blacklist" of Canadian Executives Doing Business in Cuba ..................................... 13-14 Administration's Support for Helms-Burton Legislation .... 14 Effective Date of Helms-Burton Legislation .............. 14 Reported EU Decision to Forego Assistance Agreement with Cuba................................................... 15 RUSSIA Expulsion of British Diplomats in Moscow ................ 15 Reports of Delay of Russian Elections ................... 15-16 BALTICS US Participation in Joint Training Exercises in Baltics . 19-21 --Russian Government Reaction to Exercises .............. 21 NORTH KOREA North Korean Reaction to Proposal for Four-Party Talks .. 16-19 --Prospects of Winston Lord Travel to North Korea ....... 17 Status of POW/MIA Talks in New York ..................... 17-18 ZAIRE Reported Denial of Visa to President Mobutu to Attend Conference in Atlanta ................................. 19 GERMANY Reported Release of Convicted Red Army Terrorist ........ 21
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
TUESDAY, MAY 7, 1996, 12:44 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. BURNS: Good afternoon, welcome to the State Department briefing. I've got one brief announcement to make and then I'll be glad to go to your questions.
The War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia began its first trial in The Hague today. This marks the beginning of a historic process -- to bring justice for serious violations of international law, including genocide, to the attention of the international community.
These are the first war crimes trials in Europe since Nuremberg after the Second World War.
At today's trial, the Trial Chamber decided on several pre-trial motions. The lead attorney for the prosecution and the defense attorney both delivered opening remarks. The prosecution began presenting its case.
We think this trial of this particular individual might last for several months. But we hope that it will be the first trial of many trials against the 57 indicted war criminals throughout that region.
The United States strongly supports the work of the War Crimes Tribunal. It has led the international effort in providing and coordinating diplomatic, financial, and technical assistance for the War Crimes Tribunal.
I'd like to point out that the presiding judge for this case is an American, Judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, formerly a District Court Judge in Houston, Texas. Several American attorneys are also assisting in the prosecution of this case. We intend to maintain our long-term support to the Tribunal as it works its way through all of these cases in the years to come.
I'd also like to tell you that the Acting Assistant Secretary of State John Kornblum continued his meetings today in the Balkans. He met for three hours with Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade. He met with President Izetbegovic yesterday. He will be meeting with President Tudjman of Croatia. He'll be returning to the United States this evening.
Acting Assistant Secretary Kornblum has been focusing on a couple of major issues: Preparations for the elections, which are such a big part of the Dayton process; freedom of movement, which is an essential factor, an essential fact of life that must be developed in a much more aggressive way if the elections are going to be held successfully; and, also, adherence with the Dayton provisions concerning war crimes -- the obligations of Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia to cooperate with the Tribunal.
He has pushed all these issues in his meetings in Banja Luka, in Belgrade, in Sarajevo, and he will be doing so -- or he's just probably now finishing doing so -- in Croatia itself.
I hope he'll be speaking out when he comes back to the United States about what he's been doing. It's a very important issue, and we remain focused on this issue of compliance with the Dayton Accords here at the State Department.
Q Nick, what is the core of the problem on freedom of movement? You refer to the need for it to be enhanced for effective elections. But in and of itself, it's a guarantee of the accords.
I notice the Financial Times, in an editorial yesterday, questioning the Dayton Accords -- they're surviving beneath the surface, the military pullback. But on war crimes, on freedom of movement, there are some failures. What's the problem with freedom of movement? Is it one side or another, or is it just mechanical? Why are people not being able to move freely as they were supposed to?
MR. BURNS: The problem with freedom of movement is not just mechanical. It gets to the basic willingness of some of the parties to the Dayton Accords to comply with the major provisions of the accords.
Freedom of movement is really, if you think of it, an essential foundation. It's an essential building block of the success of these accords.
When Secretary Christopher was at SHAPE headquarters in March visiting General Joulwan, he presented a thesis -- "he," General Joulwan -- that he thought that freedom of movement, expanding freedom of movement, ensuring it as a right of all people in that region, was perhaps the biggest challenge that all of us -- in IFOR, and beyond IFOR -- faced over the course of 1996.
IFOR, of course, was able to come in rather quickly, and rather quickly convinced the parties to agree to the military provisions of the Dayton Accords. But freedom of movement is something quite difference. Because all of the refugees, of course, need to have the right to return to their homes, to move around the country, and it is not just a logistical or a physical thing. That has been a problem in some areas; opening up areas that were off limits for military reasons, for reasons of minefields being in the way; the problem with general transportation.
But in more recent weeks, as some of those logistical issues have been cleared away, it's really an issue of the willingness of the Serbs, and the Pale Serbs, in particular, to allow Muslims, for instance, to return to areas from which they were driven three or four years ago.
So it's one of the issues that John Kornblum has been focusing on, that we will continue to focus on as we look forward to August and September; as we prepare for the elections, which is going to be a critical turning point in the Dayton process -- the implementation of the Dayton Accords -- freedom of movement has to be assured for people to get to polling places, for people to have the confidence to be able to vote. So we are keying on this issue right now.
When John Kornblum returns, I hope he'll be in a position to talk to some of you about this issue and some of the others that he's been working on.
Q Is freedom of movement a matter for IFOR or for the civilian police?
MR. BURNS: It's a matter for everybody involved with the Dayton Accords. But, fundamentally, IFOR is doing its job, or has done its job. IFOR has accomplished its major purposes in getting the parties to agree to the zone of separation, in getting the parties to agree very early on in IFOR's presence in late December/early January to knock down the barriers that prevented movement, for instance, from one part of Sarajevo to another. You remember all of that. It was quite dramatic to see.
It's now the responsibility primarily of the countries involved here -- of Serbia, of Croatia, and Bosnia -- and of the representatives of those countries, both in their capitals but also in cities and towns throughout the region. That responsibility is important, and they've got to be reminded of that responsibility.
Q Will the United States and others hold back reconstruction aid as long as they do not fulfill their responsibilities on freedom of movement?
MR. BURNS: As Ambassador Kornblum I think has said a couple of times to reporters just in the last two days, while he's in the region, the United States and the international community reserve the right to reimpose sanctions. We have that right under the Dayton Accords. We are not now exercising that right because we prefer to use moral suasion. We prefer to use political leverage, the discussions that we're having at the head of state level to convince them that it's in their self-interest to comply. But we do retain that as an option, and we haven't forgotten that and neither should they.
Q You're not critical of them. The military or some analysts think they've taken a very strict constructionist view of their duties and that it's either up to the police or, as you say, the ethnic community. Do you feel the military has not been a little crabbed in its construction of its mission?
MR. BURNS: Not at all. I think that one of the --
Q Not on the forces. I mean on these other issues.
MR. BURNS: On our military?
Q Well, yeah -- the implementing force?
MR. BURNS: Right -- no, I don't agree with that criticism. I've heard the criticism pretty consistently. I think the people who are delivering that criticism forget how difficult it was to accomplish the military objectives that were accomplished early on in the deployment of the American and other forces and IFOR.
They made it look comparatively easy, but it was hard, and it's hard to maintain that level of involvement. They've done their job quite well.
I must say that not only should all of us who are working on the civilian side try to match their performance but, really, the parties involved here -- the countries involved, the signatories of the Dayton Accords -- they've got the central responsibility. We can't let them forget that. Sometimes they want us to forget that.
Q Go back to Lebanon, please.
MR. BURNS: Lebanon. Yes.
Q How do you react to allegations that the United States is pressuring the United Nations not to release the report on the findings about the Israeli shelling over Qana and the U.N. compound?
MR. BURNS: I took a question on this yesterday. What I said yesterday is what I'd say today. I'm not aware of any such effort.
I will tell you this. I just want to review again today very briefly what I said yesterday. Israel has spoken out. The Israeli Prime Minister has spoken again today on international television about Israel's point of view. Israel has taken responsibility. Israel understands that this was a grave mistake that cost the lives of 102 people.
Where is Hizbollah? Have they spoken out? Is the United Nations going to ask Hizbollah for its side of the story? Why did Hizbollah station its own fighters 300 yards from the refugee camp and have them fire Katyusha rockets into Israel to attract the fire of the Israeli military?
Israel has taken its responsibility here. Israel has stood up and been criticized and has taken a hit. Where is Hizbollah on this?
The other point I'd make is this. We went out there -- Secretary Christopher went out there to stop this kind of fighting and these attacks on civilians, and he succeeded in doing that. We now have an agreement in place that Syria, Lebanon, and Israel are honoring.
We're now working out the provisions for a monitoring group that will try to assess compliance with those accords and those discussions are happening today. It's time to look to the future. This infatuation in places like New York, of looking into all the corners of the past, when the Israeli Government has already stood up and taken its responsibilities -- quite interesting in a time when we need to look to the future to ensure that it doesn't happen again. That's our position today on this issue.
Q And the monitoring? Could I try --
Q Yes, on the monitoring, please, could you --
Q There were reports yesterday -- anonymous Lebanese officials -- it's very hard to deal with anonymous reports -- but saying that Syria and Lebanon have changed their mind, in effect, about this monitoring --
MR. BURNS: I can assure you that's not the case. I've seen reporting from both Damascus and Lebanon -- diplomatic cables -- that tell us the following, Barry. Syria and Lebanon want the monitoring group to be established as does Israel. France and the United States, of course, will be the outside countries involved in that -- countries outside the region involved.
We have not yet agreed on the specific structure of the monitoring group, and that is being discussed in Damascus, Beirut, in Paris and Washington, and other places. It needs to be worked out, and I'm sure it will be worked out.
But I think the Lebanese Government, for instance, has a greater interest in getting this worked out than anybody else, and they're negotiating with us in good faith.
Q Does everyone agree as to where this monitoring group will be based? Will they be based in Washington or on the border, as Lebanon and Syria have said they wanted it to be?
MR. BURNS: There are a number of points that need to be decided. That's one of the points that needs to be decided. But we're working through those, and I think that we've got good will on the part of everybody concerned here. We'll work out this group.
But that's the kind of thing that's realistic, that's pragmatic and that's effective. The United States and France, Lebanon, Syria and Israel are working on a specific way to make sure that civilians aren't fired on again.
This debate that's going on in New York sometimes has an air of unreality about it, because Israel has already stood up at several points, including this morning, yesterday, the day before that, to talk about its own responsibility in this tragic mistake.
Q What they're trying to find out is more whether it was deliberate or whether it was a mistake. I think that was really --
MR. BURNS: The Israelis have said that it was not deliberate. The Israeli Prime Minister said that. I think we have to listen very carefully to the Israelis when they say that. Everybody agrees that this was a great tragedy -- 102 people were killed -- and we feel that tragedy. We've talked to the Lebanese Prime Minister about that.
But I think you have to give Israel its due. It stood up and it said what it has to say in public, and frankly, we find that to be credible, and we also find it to be important now to concentrate on the real life situation here, which is to get the monitoring group going -- stop our debates about what happened -- get the monitoring group going so that no more civilians are attacked in the future.
Q You just mentioned four countries. Maybe you left out Syria inadvertently. Did you? U.S., France, Lebanon and Israel are working --
MR. BURNS: And Syria. I thought I mentioned Syria, but --
Q You did initially --
MR. BURNS: -- please just insert it into the list.
Q You never know, Syria can slip out of things rather quietly. Where are these talks going on -- in all four capitals?
MR. BURNS: They're going on in diplomatic channels. We've got Dennis Ross and Bob Pelletreau here, talking to people by phone. We have our Ambassadors in the region talking to the host governments. We're talking to the French. So it's kind of this diplomacy that takes place by phone, fax, cable and sometimes in person.
Q If you get an agreement, will you announce it or Paris?
MR. BURNS: You know, Barry, I'm not -- are you looking for trouble between the United States and France today? (Laughter)
Q If France is involved, we never know where to look for an announcement.
MR. BURNS: I can tell you this. I think we're working very well together. It may be that we have simultaneous announcements in five places. I don't think we've even thought about that yet. That's not a problem. We're not worried about that.
Q Nick, is this on the agenda --
MR. BURNS: We were very fortunate, I think, that the United States was able to arrange for France to be part of this monitoring group. That was in the last day of Secretary Christopher's visit.
Q Is this going to be on the agenda for the meeting tomorrow with Ehud Barak?
MR. BURNS: I'm sure this will come up in the meeting. It's one of the most pertinent issues in the U.S.-Israeli relationship, as well as the U.S.-Lebanese relationship right now, so I'm sure it will.
Q Could you tell us what the purpose of his trip is here? It seems a very quick trip. Is there something else on the agenda?
MR. BURNS: The purpose of his trip is to have consultations with us on a number of the key issues, following up on last week's visit. This is certainly one of them -- this issue -- and there are a lot of other issues -- both security issues and political issues -- that we feel a need to discuss. So the Secretary is looking forward to seeing Minister Barak tomorrow morning.
Q Nick, there appears to be a broader dispute on the monitoring commission -- just location, logistics like that. Faris Buwayz, the Lebanese Foreign Minister, today said that Syria and Lebanon do not want political representation on the panel. Others are saying anonymously that the United States had envisioned in Israel a panel that would involve not only the technical monitoring of the cease-fire but political and economic -- have a political and economic component, something that might even stand in for the peace talk -- formal peace talk negotiations.
Can you comment on that? What does that indicate about the Syrian's commitment to peace with Israel in the near term, especially playing off the comments that the Secretary made to the L.A. Times several days ago?
MR. BURNS: I would urge you not to take all the public discussion of this, you know, too seriously in this sense. Obviously, we take seriously what governments say to us. This is something that's going to be worked out. There's already a high-level head-of-state commitment on the part of all the five countries involved to set up this group. We know why we want to do it.
We all have the same strategic objective, which is to permit this group to be the body that oversees the implementation of the accord worked out by the United States with the parties in the region, and we're confident that we'll set it up soon.
There are, of course, differences of view as to some of the modalities of this. I've never seen an international negotiation on any issue that didn't reflect some differences of opinion, but we're confident we can work through that.
I think you've asked a very important question, Sid, towards the end about Syria. Syria will demonstrate its interest in the peace process by its actions, and I think that's what Secretary Christopher was saying in the interview that he gave last week -- that frankly in the final analysis, all the United States can do is look at the actions of another country, not just the words of another country, and that we hope very much that when the time comes to resume the Syrian-Israeli negotiations -- and we hope that's as soon as possible -- that Syria will prove by its actions that it's interested in moving forward.
Q Could I just follow up, Barry?
Q So the United States did not -- to go back to the point that's been raised in the region -- the United States and Israel did not intend for this monitoring -- technical monitoring panel -- to become a political and economic negotiating venue for Israel and Syria.
MR. BURNS: I don't want to discuss in public everything that we're now discussing privately in diplomatic channels with all these countries, with due respect to your question, which is a serious question. All I'll tell you is that when we finish our discussions, we'll certainly be glad to share with you the results of them and the structure of the monitoring group, and I'm sure the other countries will want to do that as well. I'm confident that we'll work this out rather quickly.
Q Nick, one thing that kind of got trampled in the dust with the to-and-froing over the Katyusha rockets is the Foreign Minister meeting on the Sharm process. Can you tell me where that stands?
MR. BURNS: We had a successful meeting here in Washington, D.C., shortly before some of these incidents took place, and the purpose of that meeting was to follow up some of the expert-level meetings, to talk about specific ways that we could combat terrorism together.
Anyway, that meeting was held. It was chaired by Wilcox and Pelletreau from our side. The Secretary --
Q (Inaudible) Foreign Ministers' meeting.
MR. BURNS: Right. The Secretary participated and, frankly, I think the intervening events required our urgent and immediate attention, and that's where we were. So I'm sure that we're working now to put that process back on track, but I don't have any specific announcements as to when the meetings will be held.
Q Another subject.
MR. BURNS: Still on Middle East?
Q Turkish Islamist Party leader -- Welfare Party leader Mr. Erbakan, he accused the United States and the Western countries putting onto Syria unnecessary pressure and accusing Syria controlled all of the terrorist organizations. He said that he doesn't have any control -- Syria doesn't have any control in the Lebanon Bekaa Valley. Do you agree with him?
MR. BURNS: No. I haven't seen the specific remarks, though don't have me arguing with him personally, because I haven't seen his remarks. But the general point is, here, that Syria is on our terrorism list for very good reasons: it harbors terrorist groups on Syrian soil, and it supports them. The PKK is one. There are some radical Palestinian groups that it supports, and we don't favor that. We're quite opposed to it. We've made that clear to Syria, and we make it clear publicly.
Q The Secretary's interview with the L.A. Times not only spoke of -- in speaking of Syria, he said he had found more skepticism among -- I guess he means Assad -- of Israel's intentions. Could you share with us whether in his seven days of shuttling between Jerusalem and Damascus he had encountered an even more skeptical President Assad than he had before -- about Israel's intentions to have a peace accord?
MR. BURNS: Certainly, the seven days and seven nights were difficult, and the negotiations were perhaps much more protracted than we would have liked -- given the circumstances and given everything that was at stake, including the need to put in place an agreement to protect civilians. We thought that could have been accomplished sooner than it was.
I can't improve on the Secretary's remarks in his interview. I think they are self-explanatory and self-evident, and I would just repeat what I said, Barry, a couple of questions ago. Actions are important here. Actions towards peace are important.
Q All right, but before the experience, I think he had said getting an agreement between Syria and Israel was his main objective -- foreign policy objective this year. Considering his experience, does he still think it's something he could accomplish this year, and he's going to devote all that time to it?
MR. BURNS: It remains a very high priority because of our vital national interests in the Middle East. Unquestionably we've got vital national interests. I think this has been a cornerstone of the American view of the world for a generation or more, that if you have a chance to play a role in peace agreements between Israel and her Arab neighbors, it makes sense for us to devote as much time and attention to that as we can.
If we're able to resume, having those negotiations resume in the near future, as we hope to see happen, then I think you'll see Secretary Christopher devote a lot of attention to it. He's said very consistently for over three years that this is where he thinks there is a comparative advantage for the United States and where he personally can make a difference.
Carol, you had a change here.
Q Where's John Shattuck?
MR. BURNS: John Shattuck is now just leaving Washington. He was leaving Washington, literally getting ready to leave yesterday. He had a family emergency which required him to stay last evening. He's fortunately taken care of that emergency, and he's now heading out to Central Africa.
Richard Bogosian, our Special Coordinator for Central Africa, went ahead anyway. John will join up with him in the region.
Q Which is the first stop, Burundi or Rwanda?
MR. BURNS: Rwanda.
MR. BURNS: I believe it's the first stop. I'll check his itinerary for you. I believe it is.
Q Can you elaborate on the Secretary's comments in Mexico that some -- that the people who invest regulations of the Helms-Burton will be perfective in character?
MR. BURNS: Obviously, I'm not with the Secretary. I just saw the press reports on this. I don't know everything that he said, but I think he was referring to Helms-Burton in general. The fact is that the way that foreign companies will be affected is that after the date of the law, those that invest in Cuba will be affected. It will not pertain to those who perhaps were there in decades past, and that's what he was referring to. But since I haven't seen the full text of what he said -- and I think he's also just now giving a press conference -- I'd rather wait until I see the full text and then get back to you.
Q Are the allies, Britain and the rest of the U.S. allies, going to be satisfied with this?
MR. BURNS: I don't know if it will satisfy them. I hope that they're satisfied that we're doing everything we can to explain the law to them. As we work through our own private effort in the government to put together the enabling procedures for this law -- to put the law into practical effect -- we are mindful of their concerns, but they ought to be mindful of our concerns.
They don't live 90 miles from Cuba. We do. They don't have the threat and the problem of Cuba's authoritarianism, and the problems that poses for our population. They don't have that problem. So I know that the Europeans are fond of saying we've got to understand all their concerns. We're trying to. They ought to understand some of ours as well.
Q On the question of what Mr. Christopher said, the key question for many of the companies that are currently investors in Cuba is whether or not they're going to be allowed to withdraw profits from the island in the future without coming under this law. Is Secretary Christopher saying that they are going to be able to?
MR. BURNS: Again, David, since I haven't seen the full text of his remarks, I'd rather wait and do that before I answer any specific questions. I think that's only fair. I don't want to be in a position, obviously, to get cross-wise with anything he is saying, and he's the boss. So I would encourage you to look at his remarks as the authoritative remarks today, and once we get a full text, we'll be glad to answer any follow-up questions that you have.
Q But there are two elements in this, of course. There is Title III and Title IV. The sense of what you read here is that he's talking about the visa restrictions and travel into the United States. But certainly it can't be changed -- the fact that Congress is willing to give its citizens and naturalized Americans and indeed residents of this country an opportunity to sue based on claims of expropriation -- so that --
MR. BURNS: That's nationalized property.
Q Right. So that can't be changed in what the Secretary is saying in Mexico, am I correct?
MR. BURNS: I think the only thing I would point out, Henry, is that I think the Secretary is referring to the date of the law, that being an important demarcation line in terms of which foreign investors would be affected and which wouldn't. But again I think the best course of action here is to have all of us look at the full remarks that the Secretary made, and I'm sure we'll get that from Glyn Davies very shortly. We'll issue it to all of you here. If you have follow-up questions, call me, and we'll deal with those.
Q Can I ask one question? There's a report out of Canada that the State Department is now drafting a blacklist of Canadian executives doing business -- well, they call it a blacklist. Are you drawing up a list of Canadian executives now doing business in Cuba, and, if you are, when will the list be ready, and will you be making it public, and how long is it going to be?
MR. BURNS: I can't imagine that we'd ever draw up a blacklist of Canadians. Canadians are our best friends. So I wouldn't refer to it as a "blacklist." I'm not aware of any such thing. Obviously, this law has to be put into effect. It is the law of the land, and we have to honor that. Therefore, what we want to do -- and when Minister Axworthy was here, we had a very long discussion with him about this -- we want to give the Canadian Government and through the government, the private community, business community in Canada our best sense of what the law says; how it will be implemented. We've made that commitment to the Canadians, and we'll keep that commitment.
Q To rephrase this then, are you drawing up a list of Canadian executives that have business ties in Cuba, and that list could bar those Canadians from coming into the United States? Are you doing that or are you not?
MR. BURNS: I don't know if we're drawing up a list. I don't know how we'd draw up a list. I don't know how we'd know what the universe is. So I don't know if we're drawing up a specific list or not. But obviously there are provisions of this bill that will have an impact on Canadians who are investing in nationalized, expropriated property that previously was owned by Americans until the Communists came in, and there is going to be an effect on some Canadians, I would bet, and people beyond Canada -- people in Europe as well.
But I don't want to get into drawing up lists. There's nothing secretive or furtive or clandestine about this.
Q What is --
Q May I stay on this subject for a moment? May I ask as a point of clarification then for those countries outside and listening to you now? Is it because of your hesitancy and your caution, are we right to conclude that the State Department finds this activity and the implementation of this law a bit distasteful, and that really you are being pushed in to do this by Congress? And am I correct that there's been some sort of communication then in Washington that indicates that the pressure from foreign governments should be directed against Congress and not the Administration and the State Department?
MR. BURNS: Henry, with all due respect, the answer would be no. The fact is that President Clinton elected to sign this legislation -- decided to in the wake of the unlawful shootdown of the two unarmed Cessnas by the Cuban Government. In that atmosphere, he decided that was the best course of action for the United States. We were not pushed into this. This Administration did this on its own free will.
We are responsible now to the Congress and the American people to put this law into effect, to implement it. We have been trying to work through how we can best implement it, and we've not come to the end of that process. I am being cautious today and prudent, because you're asking me a lot of questions about what the Secretary said, and I haven't seen the full text of his remarks. I think it's the wisest course for me to let the Secretary's remarks hit Washington, let all of you read them, and then we'll deal with any questions that you have thereafter.
Q On the same subject, what is the State Department using as the effective date of Helms-Burton?
MR. BURNS: I don't know, but I can get you the answer to that.
Q Can I come back to the list question? Apparently --
MR. BURNS: Are you asking about Helms-Burton?
Q Yes. Apparently you are requesting information about each country and the companies from that country that could be affected by the law. In some specific cases, you have apparently discussed it with the Mexicans -- you already discussed a couple of companies that may be affected by the law. Is true that you are doing that kind of research with a list of companies and people that could be affected?
MR. BURNS: We're going to put the law into operation. When we've completed the process of figuring out within our government what all the steps there are to put it into operation, we'll let you know. We haven't come to the end of that process.
MR. BURNS: Still on Cuba.
Q Yes. The European Commission has decided not to engage right now in negotiations with Cuba over a cooperation agreement. What's your reaction to that? And is there a connection between this decision and the dancing around the Helms-Burton bill?
MR. BURNS: That sounds like a good decision to me, Andre. We believe that Cuba should be isolated, and if the European Union has decided to forgo an assistance agreement or cooperation agreement, I think that's positive.
Q Do you have any comments or further information regarding the expulsion of the British diplomats in Moscow?
MR. BURNS: We're obviously watching it with interest. This is a matter for the United Kingdom and Russia to sort out. I don't think it would be helpful for the United States to make a comment about it beyond what I've said.
Q Do you have any ideas with regard to the possible timing of this action? The WEU has a meeting in Birmingham now, and there's statements by Korzhakov and Kuznetsov concerning delaying the elections. Do you think there's any connection between the expulsion and other things going on in Russia at this time?
MR. BURNS: It's really hard to know on the first question. On the second question, the President, as Mike McCurry said this morning, talked to President Yeltsin. President Yeltsin assured President Clinton this morning that the elections would go forward, consistent with what President Yeltsin said publicly yesterday and in effect repudiating what Korzhakov said. So I think the Russian President has made in two days successive statements that are very clear on that score.
Q Nick, the North Koreans seem to want more information about the proposed four-country talks. They seem to be rather confused about what the Americans are offering. What's your reaction to what they've said today?
MR. BURNS: My reaction is, if they need more information, we'll give them more information. The facts are that following the Cheju Island presentation of this idea, this concept by the President and President Kim, the United States has had a series of contacts in a variety of places with North Korean officials to explain the proposal made for four-party talks. It's a very serious proposal. We think it's high time, four decades after the end of the Korean war, to go much further in solidifying, in essence, a state of peace between the North and South which we'd like to put onto a firmer footing.
If the problem is lack of information or perhaps even they want more discussions or they'd like more detail, or they want to know what it all means, we're very glad to do that. We'll take any opportunity that they wish to help them understand what it is we're proposing. It's a good proposal. It makes sense for the people on the Korean Peninsula, and we intend to go forward with it. But we do need a willing partner. We're looking for a willing partner to come forward.
Q Do you think you have a willing partner? It seems they may just be playing for time.
MR. BURNS: It's hard to say. They've basically been taking the position that they want to consider this. That's appropriate. This is a very serious proposal with very important implications for North Korea as well as the Republic of Korea. We'll give them as much time as they need, but the ball is in their court. If they need a little assistance in returning it, we're glad to do it.
Q Well, Nick, is the United States going to propose, perhaps, another meeting to discuss this proposal? Are you thinking about putting forward a date specific for talks with them again?
MR. BURNS: I'm not aware of any perspective, formal talks with them, but the offer is there. It's certainly being made publicly here by me, and it's certainly consistent with everything we've said to the North Koreans. Should they wish further talks, we'll be glad to hold those talks.
Q Any chance that Win Lord would perhaps go to Pyongyang while he's in Asia?
MR. BURNS: He has no plans to do, no. I wouldn't encourage you to think that's somehow part of this trip. You know what his itinerary is.
Q Will he meet with the North Koreans elsewhere?
MR. BURNS: The question was Pyongyang.
Q Take Pyongyang out of it, because that would be --
MR. BURNS: Again, Barry, there is no indication that he's going to do that. Ironically enough, he'll be in Cheju Island again but this time with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts.
Q What's happened with the POW talks?
MR. BURNS: The POW/MIA talks continue in New York today. They're continuing.
Our central issue there is the return of remains of American servicemen. That's an issue of fundamental importance. More than 8,100 POW/MIAs remain unaccounted for. That's our central issue.
Once the talks are concluded, I will report to you about them.
Q What can you say, though, about the fact that they've gone on so long?
MR. BURNS: I wouldn't lead you to believe that somehow we're just about to announce some kind of major breakthrough, a major, positive breakthrough. They've gone on because these are difficult issues. We're working through many permutations of the issue with the North Koreans. But I wouldn't lead you to believe that somehow we're holding off to announce some big surprise. I don't think it's that case at all.
Q But at the very least, the fact that the two sides have continued to meet, they're obviously working, doing work, making some sort of headway or else they wouldn't be meeting?
MR. BURNS: They're meeting because they haven't finished their talks. It doesn't necessarily mean that they're making dramatic progress. Let's wait and see how they end it, and then I'll be glad to report to you once they do.
Q When Mike McCurry ticked off the list of things that Clinton and Yeltsin spoke about, one of the things was Yeltsin's trip to China. I'm just wondering, in the absence of comment from him on this point, whether the President might have asked President Yeltsin to feel the Chinese out a little bit more on the proposal for four-party talks and perhaps even use a little suasion on the North Koreans?
MR. BURNS: I'd just have to refer you to Mike. Mike is the one who reports on the President's conversations. I don't want to do that.
In general, however, Sid, I think we've had a very good opportunity to speak to the Chinese leadership about this. When the Secretary was in The Hague on April 19, he had a good, long discussion of this with Foreign Minister Qian Qichen. Subsequent to that, we've had additional discussions with the Chinese.
I don't think that we need other countries to explain our position to the Chinese. I think the Chinese are very well aware of our position. They're being helpful, but there is North Korea out there. North Korea needs to decide whether these proposed talks are in its interests, and we hope they will decide that they are.
Q Back to North Korea and the four-way talks. A North Korean official has said that they've asked the State Department for details of the proposal. What type of details? What are the details that they're looking for?
MR. BURNS: I saw the same unnamed North Korean quote. I can not account for it in this respect: We are willing to share not only the concept but the details of his proposal with the North Koreans and have done so. If there are different aspects of it that remain murky to them, we'll be glad to try to clarify those aspects.
There is good faith here on the part of the United States. We think it's time -- and the Republic of Korea has joined with us in this -- to make sure that we take steps forward towards a permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula. That's what this proposal is all about. I think the North Koreans should be assured of our good faith here.
Q So at this point there are no details, or no specific details that have come your way. You don't know what the details are that they're really for at this point?
MR. BURNS: I don't. I don't know. It's hard to know from that particular quote that both you and I picked up on.
Q Nick, did the United States deny a visa to Mobutu to go to some sort of conference in Atlanta, sponsored by CNN?
MR. BURNS: Mobutu visa? I haven't heard anything about it. I'll be glad to take the question and look into it.
MR. BURNS: I think, in general, I would tell you that we've not had the smoothest of relations with Mr. Mobutu. We've worked very effectively with the Prime Minister and others in the government in Kinshasa. Let me take that. Let me see what we've got.
Q I have a few questions about the exercises that were announced yesterday -- U.S.-Baltic exercises?
MR. BURNS: Certainly.
Q When was the decision made to hold these exercises three weeks after the Russian elections? Was the Russian Government informed of the plan prior to its public announcement? And, if so, what was the Russian Government's reaction?
MR. BURNS: These plans were made sometime ago. I can't give you a specific month and day, but I can tell you that they've been in the works for a long time.
Let me explain what the two of them are, and then make one more point. We've decided to do two things. We've decided to participate in two joint training exercises this summer in the Baltic region.
The first is an annual exercise in which we have taken part for a number of years. It's called "Baltops" -- B-A-L-T-O-P-S. Its a naval search-and exercise . It's being held by the United States with the Baltic countries in the spirit of our relationship with them in the Partnership for Peace. It will involve naval detachments from the United States, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, some of the Nordic countries, and Russia.
The exercise will place in the Baltic Sea the first week of July.
So, here, the Russians are direct participants in these naval exercises with the United States, the Baltic countries, and some other Central Europeans.
The second is a peacekeeping exercise. It's called "Baltic Challenge." It's being organized, again, in the spirit of our Partnership for Peace relationship. It will take place in Latvia from July 8-18. Three hundred American Seabees and a reinforced company of U.S. Marines will train with the Baltic Battalion in a peacekeeping scenario. The Baltic Battalion, of course, is the unit created by the three Baltic countries. It's their joint battalion which, right now, is serving near Tuzla with the American forces.
It's a battalion that has been largely financed and equipped by the United States. That was a decision that President Clinton made way back in 1994, and the Russian Government, of course, has been apprised of that for a number of years.
The Seabees are going to help in renovating the training facility in Latvia of the Baltic Battalion.
The exercise is intended to demonstrate our support for the concept of the Baltic Battalion itself. Those are the two exercises.
The only larger point I'd mention here is the following. Since the beginning of this Administration, President Clinton and Secretary Christopher have believed that our close association with the Baltic states is in their interest and our interest.
We were the ones that helped deliver the withdrawal of Russian forces from Latvia and Estonia in 1994. We have been the financier of the Baltic Battalion. We have been one of the leading states in the world to champion the cause of Baltic independence.
We believe it's very important these countries continue to orient themselves westward. They're seeking an economic relationship with the European Union. They're seeking a political security relationship with countries of the West, including the United States, and they have been among the most active participants in the Partnership for Peace.
None of this -- the exercises or the policy -- can be a surprise to the Russian Government. In fact, the Russians have understood all of this for several years.
Q My last question. Was the Russian Government informed before the announcement? And what was their reaction?
MR. BURNS: I believe the Baltops -- they're participating in the first exercise. They did know, of course, that this was going to be announced.
On the second one, I don't know if they were aware of the announcement. I have not seen a reaction, but I would not anticipate any kind of negative reaction considering the fact that the Russians are well aware that we have taken a very keen interest in the development -- economic, political, and security -- of the Baltic countries; that we never recognized their illegal incorporation in 1940 into the Soviet Union; that we always maintained Baltic embassies here in Washington, D.C. and that we were the champions of Baltic independence in 1991.
So I don't think any of this would be a surprise to the Russians.
Q Nick, on a different topic. Do you have anything to say about the release of Hanna Krabbe, the convicted terrorist, Red Army terrorist that was released by Germany today?
MR. BURNS: I just saw the press report before coming out here. I haven't had a chance to check it out with our people here. So let me defer comment and see if we can get you a comment, if you're interested.
Q Correct me if I'm wrong, but in the past didn't you all privately ask the Germans not to release her?
MR. BURNS: Sid, I want to check into that. Again, I've only seen the press report. I haven't had a chance to talk to our European Bureau about it.
Q Thank you.
(Press briefing concluded at 1:28 p.m.)
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