U.S. Department of State 96/05/10 Daily Press Briefing Office of the Spokesman U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING I N D E X Friday, May 10, 1996 Briefer: Nicholas Burns DEPARTMENT Welcome to Visitors...................................... 1 Departure of Jim Hutcheson............................... 1 Secretary Christopher's Address in Williamsburg.......... 2 Meeting of Monitoring Group.............................. 2 Statement Re: Cameroon-Nigeria Border Dispute............ 2 KOREA Reported Lifting of Sanctions Against North Korea........ 2,3-6 Travel of Assistant Secretary Lord....................... 2-3 MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS Report on the Palestinian National Council/Palestinian... Authority.............................................. 6-9 --U.S. Economic Assistance............................... 8 Possible Appearance of Ambassadors Galbraith and Redman.. Before Congress........................................ 9-10 Meeting of Monitoring Group.............................. 11-12 --Representation by Russia and France.................... 10 LIBERIA Continued U.S. Military Presence......................... 12 Officials Remaining at U.S. Embassy...................... 13 Refugees/Evacuees........................................ 13-14 Additional Diplomatic Efforts/Accra Meeting.............. 14 GREECE/TURKEY Resolution of Conflict................................... 14-16 PANAMA Reported Request to U.S. to Deploy Troops on Border With. Colombia............................................... 16 INDIA Election Results......................................... 17 CHINA Announcement Concerning U.S.-China Relations............. 18
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
FRIDAY, MAY 10, 1996, 1:08 P. M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. BURNS: Good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department briefing. I'd like to welcome to the briefing today four visitors from Kazakstan, radio journalists over here, and four from the Czech Republic -- I think over here. Thanks for being with us.
I'd also like to welcome some young gentlemen, eighth graders, from the St. Thomas Choir School of St. Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue, New York City. St. Thomas Choir School is the only choir school in the United States of America. They're an excellent group. I've heard them sing. They're out on CD. Frances Alton and Barbara Alton, two friends of mine, are here. Do you want to sing now, or would you agree after we finish to sing for the press corps? I think that's a deal.
George, you're the senior correspondent. George has ordered that after the briefing we're going to have a little session here. I'm very glad you're here. They've come down from New York City this morning. They're going to be touring Washington, D.C. They're going to see the 8th Floor, our magnificent 8th Floor of the State Department here. Great to have you with us.
Let me also ask Jim Hutcheson to stand. I think all of you know Jim Hutcheson from our European Bureau, who's worked with all of you. This is his last day. He's been with us and with you since September 19, 1995 -- so all throughout the most dramatic events of the Dayton negotiations.
Jim, at the end of this month, will be going to Sarajevo to take up new duties there as part of our Public Affairs operation. He'll be working on the elections. He'll be working to insure press freedoms and media coverage -- you hope so -- in Bosnia. Jim, we're going to miss you. You've done an excellent job, and I just wanted to thank you on behalf of all of your colleagues at the State Department.
I also want to let you know that Secretary Christopher traveled to Williamsburg, Virginia, this morning. He gave an address to the Business Council, along with several other members of the Administration. When I get the copy, I will release it. It will be available to all of you in an hour or two.
He is back in the building. He has a number of appointments today. Included in that is a 4:30 p.m. meeting with Omani Foreign Minister, Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdallah.
I'd also like to let you know that the monitoring group is meeting today in the Department on the first floor. That is the group comprised of the United States, France, Lebanon, Syria and Israel. The meeting today, chaired by Ambassador Dennis Ross, is intended to try to form an agreement on the structure of the group and on the functions of the group, so that it can move forward toward its stated aim, which is to insure the implementation of the cease-fire agreement that Secretary Christopher worked out two weeks ago.
The final thing I'd like to tell you is that we have a statement on the Cameroon-Nigeria border dispute, the Bakassi border dispute, which will be available to all of you in the press room after this briefing.
Q The Wall Street Journal has a story today, saying that the United States is considering lifting some sanctions against North Korea and quoted an unnamed official. I wonder if you saw that story.
MR. BURNS: I saw the story, yes. I don't know who the unnamed official was. Let me tell you this: I think that we obviously made a good beginning with the North Koreans on the remains issue. The Department of Defense gave you a briefing on that yesterday. We're pleased that we're able to make the statement that we did and, of course, the next step there is to have further meetings with the North Koreans on that issue.
I would also tell you that Assistant Secretary of State Win Lord will be in Cheju Island in Korea from the 13th to the 15th of May. He'll be talking to his Japanese and South Korean counterparts about North Korea, about the Agreed Framework, about the four-party peace proposal that the President and President Kim put on the table at Cheju Island last month, and obviously talk about whatever progress we can make on the remains issue.
However, George, I would not lead you to believe, based on all this activity, that somehow the United States is considering easing our economic restrictions on North Korea. We have no intention to do that right now. We will not take any steps to do so right now.
I think we need to certainly have further talks and see further improvement in the relationship before that can happen.
Q (Inaudible) economic matters?
MR. BURNS: Sid, I'm not aware of any other easing of restrictions in the relationship. The fact is that we have a relationship that right now is focused on the Agreed Framework, on our determination that North Korea continue to freeze its nuclear program -- and it is frozen today, and we're confident that will continue.
We have these other proposals on the table. We do believe it's time to have discussions to in effect try to create a more solid state of peace on the Korean peninsula. That was the essence of the President's proposal at Cheju Island.
But I'm not aware -- and I have checked with our experts this morning on this issue, because I saw the report -- I'm not aware of any steps by the United States or any consideration to ease the economic restrictions or any other restrictions that are now pertinent to our relationship with North Korea.
Q What other issues were relayed by North Korea during these talks?
MR. BURNS: What are the other issues?
MR. BURNS: Beyond the "remains" issue?
MR. BURNS: Actually, the discussions that took place in New York between the United States and North Korea centered solely on the remains issue. We didn't have discussions, as I understand it and as I've been told, on any other aspect of our relationship.
Q Were you talking about the four powers meetings?
MR. BURNS: I don't believe there was much discussion of that, but our proposal is on the table. We think it's a good proposal. We think it's a proposal that North Korea should accept. The North Koreans have told us they require further time to study that proposal, so the ball's in their court, and we hope that they'll be responsive to us as soon as they think that's possible.
Q Nick, to go back on this South Korea question, you would not deny that U.S. officials have been talking about easing sanctions and the conditions under which that might be appropriate, right? I mean, there may be a decision now not to go forward on new sanctions at this moment, but you're not denying that this has been a matter of debate in the Administration.
MR. BURNS: I think there's been discussion within the Administration about our relationship with North Korea. Of course, we look into the future of that relationship, and we try to chart out how we can develop it. Of course, at certain levels of the Administration there's been discussion of options, but there's been no decision taken on those options. I really wouldn't lead you in any direction to think that any decision is imminent. We are comfortable with the policy that currently exists.
Q The comments they made today, though, suggest that there has in fact been a decision taken, which is to say that there will be no change at this moment.
MR. BURNS: I'm not sure we had to make a decision to maintain our current policy. We have a policy that's worked for us. I don't believe there's been any formal decision just to stay there and not go beyond it. I could be mistaken in that, but I'm not aware of it.
Obviously, we retain the option, of course, of having our policy evolve, based on the actions of the North Korean Government. But I really am trying to lead you away from the belief that somehow we are on the verge of relaxing economic restrictions when I don't believe that's the case.
Q Would it be difficult, though, for the Administration to do that now, especially in light of Senator Dole's speech yesterday?
MR. BURNS: Would it be difficult to -- a red light went off right on the top of Sid's head there. (Laughter) I saw it flickering just for a moment. I'll repeat this again, because Sid's given me an opportunity. It's not appropriate for me to comment --
Q You have to take the pledge.
MR. BURNS: I'll take the pledge again. Would you like me to?
Q Alcoholics Anonymous -- (laughter).
MR. BURNS: No, no, no, Barry. (Laughter)
Q You know.
MR. BURNS: Barry, you have a very vivid imagination. No, the pledge just is that as a Foreign Service Officer, I'm not going to be debating Senator Dole. That's up to the President and to others in the White House to do. I'm not going to do that. I would appreciate it if you wouldn't put the questions in those contexts. Sid has been very helpful to me this morning in that respect.
The Administration is going to do what it has to do, and what is in America's national interest pertaining to North Korea. We're very pleased that the freeze is in place. We are hopeful they'll accept our offer of four-party talks. We are pleased that we have been able to arrive at a position where it may be possible in the future for us to actively search for the remains of American servicemen who lost their lives in the 1950s during the Korean War.
All that is positive, but that does not lead us to be debating right now or to be on the verge of a decision to expand our economic relationship.
Q What will it take, though, for the United States to ease sanctions? As part of the debate and the discussion over the 1994 nuclear agreement, the United States indicated that it would -- I mean, you minimally eased sanctions shortly after that agreement and made clear that you would be willing to consider other steps in the future.
What will it take for the United States to make those decisions and take those steps?
MR. BURNS: I think what we're going to do is take the relationship one step at a time. I don't believe we've told the North Koreans, "You have to meet the following ten conditions before we take steps to ease economic restrictions."
It's certainly something that's out there if the relationship develops in a positive direction.
Q Can't you -- do you have any problem saying that if their behavior may evolve, your relationship will evolve accordingly? Don't they know that? We all know that. That's what happened with Vietnam (inaudible) looking for MIAs. I mean, that's how it begins, right?
MR. BURNS: Barry, thank you for being helpful. You've given me --
Q No, I mean, that may not be coddling them, but that's the way --
MR. BURNS: No, we never -- we don't coddle. We don't coddle anybody, much less the North Koreans.
Q Well, you accused the Bush people of coddling China, but that's all right. Not you.
MR. BURNS: Barry, you're mixing up apples and oranges now. Let me just keep to what I said. We're comfortable with where the relationship is. We are working on a variety of issues with the North Koreans. We are not on the verge of easing economic sanctions. At some point in the future, in the next 30 or 40 years, will that be a possibility? That's certainly an option available to us.
Q Thirty or forty years?
MR. BURNS: From today, through the next 30 or 40 years, anything is possible. I don't want to put a specific time line on it. I'm giving you a broad perspective here.
Q Want to try something different?
MR. BURNS: Let's try something different.
Q Senator Helms' letter to the Secretary about what the PLO did or didn't do. I have several questions to ask you, but we could only begin to get into this if you're willing to talk about the letter and what the State Department's interpretation of what the PLO would-be legislature did. Want to get into at all?
MR. BURNS: I'd be glad to get into this, Barry. I've been looking forward to this. Senator Helms has raised a number of points in a letter to the Secretary. We are obviously studying the letter. We are going to be in contact with Senator Helms, and I would expect that to happen shortly.
The Administration will be submitting to the Congress an interim report on the actions of the Palestinian National Council and the Palestinian Authority, which we are required to do and we've been requested to do. So we'll do that, and we'll continue our consultations.
We are hopeful that this issue can be managed. We don't expect this to be a major problem.
Our view is this: Arafat and the PNC took an historic step when they voted to change the Palestinian Covenant, to delete the provisions that refer to the destruction of Israel.
MR. BURNS: Do you want to answer the question?
Q I'm asking -- I don't mean to -- when you said "provisions," you don't mean all 30? Do you mean, 9, 10, 30?
MR. BURNS: Those provisions that were very troublesome to the United States and to Israel and the supporters of Israel, and to the American Jewish community.
So, in effect, Arafat fulfilled the commitment that he had made to both the State of Israel and to the United States. That's a very important commitment.
Prime Minister Peres -- the Prime Minister of Israel -- said it was one of the most significant steps taken in the last 100 years in the Middle East. We think that when historians look back upon our era, this will be one of the watershed developments. It was the time that the Palestinian leadership said, "We will live in peace with Israel, with the Jewish people." That's a very important step.
I don't think anyone should minimize the importance of the step that Arafat and the Palestinians took. So that's our view on this. We think we can work through it.
We certainly want to continue with United States assistance to the Palestinians, and we certainly believe we can do that.
Q Have they met the test, as people in this building understand the law to require?
MR. BURNS: Barry, on that one, what I don't want to do is announce a determination before we consult with the Congress. The procedure here is for us to submit a report to the Congress on that question, on the question that you're asking. I think that we owe it to the Congress to give the Congress that determination first and then we'll make it public.
But I think you can see from my answer to your question that we are confident that the Palestinians have made an historic step. It's meaningful. We certainly do want to continue with U.S. economic assistance.
Q (Inaudible) historic step. The issue is -- I don't want to take the whole briefing -- but as far as the State Department is concerned, aid can continue, which is another way of saying, they've met the test?
MR. BURNS: What I said was, we want to continue with the aid. It's important to them. But there is a procedure that the Administration must now take with the Congress, and that is, we must submit this report and we must have formal consultations with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and with the Chairman of that Committee.
Before I can announce our formal decision, we have to have those consultations.
Q Have you prepared the report?
MR. BURNS: The report is in the process of being prepared. We have not yet submitted it to the Congress.
Q Can you tell us what the conclusion of the report is?
MR. BURNS: If I told you the conclusion, then I'd be violating the oath that I just took -- the pledge -- the other pledge that I just took with Barry. I can't do that.
MR. BURNS: Excuse me?
Q Which pledge is that?
MR. BURNS: I think as a general rule, we owe it to the Congress to talk to the Congress first before we make public statements.
Q So when it will be available?
MR. BURNS: When will the report be available? As soon as it's ready, and I think that will be shortly. I'm not drafting it myself, and I don't want to put pressure on the drafters but I think it will be shortly.
Q But you did say the most troubling provisions; right? You used some qualifying phrase like that?
MR. BURNS: That's right. Specifically, what Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian leadership did was they cancelled; they cancelled the parts of the Covenant that were inconsistent with the letters of mutual recognition between Israel and the PA. So that was the most important, specific thing that was accomplished at the PNC a couple of weeks back.
Q But you know what Abdel Shafi said -- Haidar Abdel Shafi said? He said they didn't do these things at all; that he was here. But, of course, he voted against it.
MR. BURNS: Yes, there was a vote. A great majority of the people voted in favor of Chairman Arafat's motion. The minority voted against, and the majority won. So the majority rules. The Palestinian decision is with the majority sentiment.
So despite what the minority members say, they have to live with this decision and respect it and honor it, and we hope that they will do so.
Still on this question? Jim's got a related question.
Q A related question. On your relations with Congress, have you settled with the House International Relations Committee how and when Galbraith and Redman will be presented to the Committee?
MR. BURNS: We've certainly decided the "how." There is no need for a subpoena of Ambassador Galbraith and Ambassador Redman.
Secretary Christopher has told Chairman Gilman personally, and Secretary Christopher's staff has followed up with Chairman Gilman's staff that those two Ambassadors will be made available to the Committee to answer whatever questions the Committee wishes to ask.
What I don't know, Jim, is if we've agreed on the specific date of their testimony. It's going to be in a week or two but I don't know if we've finally arrived at a specific date.
Q Have you been served with a subpoena?
MR. BURNS: I don't believe we have. I think the action that the House International Relations Committee took was to give the Chairman of the Committee the authority to issue the subpoenas. But what I'm saying to is that I think we now have an agreement with the HIRC -- I know that we do -- that there will be no reason to issue a subpoena because the State Department will willingly make our two Ambassadors available to the Committee.
Secretary Christopher took a personal role in this. He feels very strongly -- and he has felt this way since the publication of the Los Angeles Times articles -- that if the Congress wishes to question an official of the Department of State, we should make those officials available. He's been consistent in that, and I think he was able to convince Chairman Gilman of our good faith in this matter.
Q The monitoring group today -- the meeting that's taking place in the Department today. There is a senior French diplomat attending the meeting and there's no Russian presence. Is that a signal that we have a new co-sponsor for the Middle East peace process? And do you see that evolving that into a more aggressive French role in this?
MR. BURNS: I hope that my French counterpart in Paris would give you the same answer, but let me give you our answer and we'll see if he can match it.
There are two co-sponsors of the Middle East peace process that was established at Madrid in October 1991 -- the United States and the Russian Federation. Russia is not a member of the monitoring group, however, that will monitor the compliance with the cease-fire against civilians in Lebanon. The five members are Israel, Lebanon, Syria, the United States, and France. That's why the French Ambassador is present at the talks today.
Russia is a member of the consultative group which was the --
Q (Inaudible) who came yesterday.
MR. BURNS: Excuse me.
Q There was a French diplomat who arrived last night.
MR. BURNS: The French Ambassador is resident and Mr. Bauchard is also resident, but they're both there.
The Russian Ambassador is not there because Russia is not part of the monitoring group. Russia is part of the consultative group which has another function.
On the monitoring group, I can tell you they began their work at 11:00 this morning under Ambassador Ross' chairmanship. They just broke about 40 minutes ago for lunch. They will resume. I expect the meeting will go on a short time and then it will adjourn.
I do not expect that we'll have a final agreement among the five countries today over all the questions about how we establish the monitoring the group and what it's specific functions will be, where people will be located -- that kind of thing. Those are the issues that are being discussed now, but we are confident that we can work through those issues rather quickly following this meeting, into early next week.
MR. BURNS: Yes. I just talked to Dennis Ross when he was on his break. When the meeting is finished, he or I will give you an On-the-Record report about what happened. We'll be glad to do that. That will be an hour and a half to two from now, I think.
Q Nick, if they're going to reconvene after the meeting, how are they going to do that? Are they going to hold another meeting, or how is that going to work?
MR. BURNS: What I mean, Patrick, is, we'll adjourn the meeting today. I do not believe the meeting will result in a final agreement on all the issues that are pending. At some point in the days to come, we'll, of course, want to reconfirm the agreement that we will reach. We will do that probably through dealing with the same individuals -- maybe by phone, maybe by fax or cable. Dennis hasn't made that decision yet.
Q Over the discussions this past week -- on this topic -- have new differences arisen among the parties?
MR. BURNS: I don't know if they're new differences. I think since the completion of the cease-fire agreement by the Secretary in the Middle East two weeks ago today, we've had a number of discussions with all these countries.
I think we all agree on the major outlines because it's written what this group will do. But various countries have various points of view on some of the specific aspects. So the reason for getting people together today was to talk through those problems.
Q Assistant Secretary Pelletreau said a couple of days ago that the United States would like the committee based somewhere in the region but in neither of the two countries -- Israel or Lebanon. Is that still the United States position?
MR. BURNS: I prefer not to go in, Sid, with all due respect, to what our position is or isn't because we're discussing it privately right now with our friends a floor below us. This is a confidential meeting. I don't want to betray that.
Q That was not a monolithic statement, then?
MR. BURNS: A "monolithic statement?" I'm not backing away from the statement whatsoever. I just don't it's appropriate for me to be articulating in public our position which is being negotiated privately downstairs. It makes sense to me.
MR. BURNS: Liberia. Yes.
Q Are you prepared to talk about the prospective departure of the Marines who have been there off the coast for the past three weeks? Or is that a Pentagon topic?
MR. BURNS: I can tell you that Secretary Perry said yesterday there may be some redeployment of elements of our Marine amphibious ready group which is off the coast of Liberia, off Monrovia itself.
However, we will maintain at least several hundred United States soldiers -- American soldiers -- in Monrovia itself to provide continued protection for our Embassy and for our diplomats there, and, frankly, for other Americans there who find themselves in trouble. We've made a commitment to do that.
So I would leave it to the Pentagon to announce the specific movements of our military vessels, but I think that Secretary Perry spoke clearly on this. I'm simply reaffirming what he said yesterday.
Q (Inaudible) numbers then? There are about 2,900 Marines down there. You talked about several hundred remaining behind. It sounds like 2,500/2,600 will be leaving?
MR. BURNS: We're going to continue to maintain a force offshore, but there will be some redeployments away from the full strength of the forces offshore right now. But they will continue to maintain some force offshore and continue to maintain soldiers in Monrovia itself within the Embassy compound. They are not there to intervene in the fighting among the Liberian factions. They're there to protect Americans and the American Embassy.
Q What is the numerical comparison before and now at the Embassy? You say some --
MR. BURNS: In terms of soldiers?
Q Well, there weren't, I guess.
MR. BURNS: We have 18 official Americans -- diplomats -- in the Embassy. We have several hundred soldiers. I don't foresee any appreciable decrease in the number of soldiers in the Embassy. Secretary Perry was referring to the number of people offshore, in the amphibious-ready group. What I've just said is, there would not be a total withdrawal of all those forces but some kind of redeployment. I'd leave it up to the Pentagon to announce that.
Q There are complaints that the United States hasn't done what it could or should have done with several thousand refugees who set to sea from Liberia -- refugees/rebels. Has the United States constructed a response to those complaints from neighboring countries?
MR. BURNS: I don't know where the complaints are coming from. Let's review the record. We have evacuated over 2,500 civilians -- Americans and other foreigners, including Africans -- from Monrovia over the last five weeks. We did that with our own resources, our own airlift, and at risk to our own soldiers. The United States did that.
There are a considerable number of Liberian refugees on freighters. Some of them have run into trouble. There is one freighter off the Ivory Coast which has not been allowed entry. There's another freighter off the coast of Sierra Leone. There are some reports this morning about problems of a freighter with thousands of Liberian refugees off the coast of Cote d'Ivoire -- Ivory Coast.
There are well-established international rules and standards governing the treatment of refugees. We expect all countries in Africa and in that vicinity to respect those rules and follow them. Our Embassy in Abidjan, the capital of Cote d'Ivoire, has approached the Ivoirean government this morning to make the point that there are international rules and they should be respected.
So I don't believe the problem, Steve, is with the United States. I believe that we're talking about the obligations that some African countries have here to fellow Africans who find themselves unfortunately as refugees.
Q Can you be more specific as to what the Ivory Coast should be doing?
MR. BURNS: Refugees, as I said, should be treated according to international rules and standards. I can certainly come back and give you chapter and verse on what that is. But, certainly, they should be treated with care and with humanitarian principles in mind. If they can be assisted with food or water or with shelter, that should happen. If that is not happening, then countries need to remember what their international obligations are.
Q Do you see any results from the Accra meeting?
MR. BURNS: I think the officials meeting in Accra certainly did a good service in calling for a cease-fire, in calling for a return to the Abuja peace process, in calling for a humanitarian spirit to return to Monrovia. It's been sadly lacking of the actions of the militia.
Unfortunately, two of the major figures here -- Charles Taylor and Alhaji Kromah -- decided not to show up in Accra. It was a mistake on their part. They now are responsible for the fact that there is not peace, that there is continued fighting. We ought to hold them responsible for the fighting that's occurring.
Q The Greek President yesterday at the White House said that a dialogue with Turkey was not possible and realistic at this moment; whereas, John Kornblum, and certainly President Clinton, have been calling for a dialogue again for the last two days. I was wondering if there is a contradiction between the two approaches?
MR. BURNS: I don't believe there's a contradiction between the American and Greek approaches. I think that Greece and Turkey and the United States all agree that Greece and Turkey ought to work together to resolve their problems.
The President of Greece made a statement yesterday -- I think it was referring to whether that is practical in the short term, and that's his judgment, and we have to respect his judgment.
But I think that the best thing here is to allow Greece and Turkey to talk quietly, privately, and that we will maintain a supportive posture in public, and that's what I'm doing today.
Q So after yesterday's meetings, including the Foreign Ministerial level, there is no re-evaluation of the U.S. position on the Aegean?
MR. BURNS: Is there a re-evaluation of the United States position on the Aegean? There's no re-evaluation of it, no. We know what our national interests are. We have two NATO allies in the Aegean. We know that we want to help contribute to a resolution of the Cyprus problem. I don't believe there's any need for a re-evaluation of American policy.
I think we know what our policy is, and we'll pursue it confidently and, hopefully, capably.
Q There seems to be some ambiguity, though, in this policy, because senior Administration officials have recently, including yourself, said what you just told us -- that Turkey and Greece should resolve their problems through negotiation, dialogue; yet the road to International Court of Justice was also pointed at by the same Administration officials. And at one point they seemed to be mutually exclusive. Isn't there an ambiguity in that policy?
MR. BURNS: There's certainly no ambiguity in our policy. I think you need to be realistic about what's possible in the short term, but I do believe, based on our recent conversations with the Greek Government here in Washington the last few days and with the Turkish Government, that both understand that there needs to be a common effort to resolve some of the problems, and they need to make a decision when they can move towards discussions or towards an effort to resolve those problems. We are not going to push one country or another to move before they can.
What I was trying to say here in answer to both your questions is there's no inconsistency between Greek and American statements here. We are fully in concert with Greece, as we are with Turkey.
Q Can you say that after the Greek side's announcement, other than they don't want to use other than the International Court of Justice, the U.S. Government trying to fine-tuning to their policy, and they are not approaching third-party arbitration and also to dialogue subject? Can you say that?
MR. BURNS: I would say this: If the United States can be helpful in working with both countries towards a resolution of the Imia-Kardak problem or any other problem, we will be. We can only be effective if both countries want us to be. We've got good relations with both. We'll continue to try to be helpful. I don't want to take it, really, beyond that today, however.
Q Can I change the subject to Panama?
MR. BURNS: Yes.
Q I would like to know if the United States has received a formal request from the Government of Panama to send down troops to guard the border line between Panama and Colombia, and what the answer would be from the United States Government.
MR. BURNS: We have checked with our Embassy in Panama, and there has been no request from the Panamanian Government to redeploy American military forces toward the border with Colombia for counter-narcotics operations.
We do assist the Government of Panama with counter-narcotic efforts, but I wouldn't relate that to any kind of redeployment of U.S. military forces. The other thing I'd say is that there is a major military exercise underway right now in Panama itself, and I don't know if some of those military exercises have been confused with other operations. But I can tell you categorically there's no massive redeployment of American forces.
Q Are those exercises near the border with Colombia?
MR. BURNS: I can't tell you where they are specifically, but they're major exercises. They'll be ongoing for more than just a month, and I think they're in most parts of Panama. But that does not constitute, I think, what you're asking me. It does not constitute a formal decision of the United States to redeploy its forces towards the border in an effort to focus them on counter-narcotics operations.
Our counter-narcotics assistance takes place in other channels with the Panamanian Government, and we are concerned about the problem of fighting the narco-traffickers, and we take it seriously. But I wouldn't link these two, if I were you.
Q Do you know how many people are participating in those exercises?
MR. BURNS: I don't, but certainly the Pentagon would, and I'm sure they'd be glad to respond to that question -- my friends at the Pentagon.
Q Can we move to another subject?
MR. BURNS: Certainly.
Q India. Do you have any comment on the elections in India -- preliminary though the results may be so far?
MR. BURNS: I would only say this: We know that the counting continues, and we understand from the Indian Government that it will probably not be completed until this weekend. We certainly know that Prime Minister Rao has tendered his resignation as Prime Minister.
We would expect in the days ahead, after the final votes are counted, that President Sharma will designate a political leader to form a new government. There will then be a process of the major political parties trying to form a new government, and the United States will not, of course, have much to say about that. That's an Indian decision. It would not be proper for us to comment on that.
India is the largest democracy in the world. These have been extraordinary elections -- 800,000 polling places. I think the Indian people have shown their commitment to democracy.
We look forward to working with whatever government emerges from this process, from the vote, and we do expect that United States relations with India will continue to strengthen and to prosper. This Administration has made a major commitment to improving its relationship with India.
We've given India a lot of high-level attention. We have a senior American diplomat, Frank Wisner, as Ambassador. He is one of the two senior career Foreign Service Officers, and we believe that we can strengthen our relations in the wake of these elections. That is our commitment.
Q You're not at all concerned about the rise of the Nationalist Party?
MR. BURNS: Sid, I don't think it's appropriate or timely for us to make any comments about the Indian political system right now. The Indian people have just finished voting. There isn't a new government yet. I think we have to wait for a new government to form, and then we'll have to assess what the policies of that government are.
We hope that they are policies that are consistent with our belief that we need to have a closer, stronger relationship with India. That's the American objective.
Q While you're in that area, has there been any decision on the Pakistan ring magnet issue?
MR. BURNS: I am going to have an announcement at 2:00 o'clock or maybe just shortly after 2:00 o'clock on China. What I'd like to propose, if there are no further questions -- if there are further questions, we can go on -- but once the briefing is concluded, I'd like to propose a short recess, and then I'll come back and I will make a statement on U.S.-China relations. I'll take some questions, and we'll have a BACKGROUND briefing. That will be just in about 20-25 minutes from now.
Q Why can't we do it now?
MR. BURNS: For a very good reason. We've decided that the best time to make this announcement is at 2:00 o'clock or thereafter.
Q Can that initial announcement be on camera?
MR. BURNS: Yes. I will make a statement and respond to your questions on camera and ON THE RECORD. Following that, we'll have a BACKGROUND session. We'll turn the lights off and have a detailed BACKGROUND session here by two senior State Department officials.
Any further questions before we take a break?
Q Do you have anything for the former Turkish Prime Minister, Mrs. Ciller's, parliamentary --
MR. BURNS: Nothing whatsoever. It's not appropriate for us to comment on that.
(The briefing concluded at 1:44 p.m.)
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