U.S. Department of State 96/05/13 Daily Press Briefing Office of the Spokesman U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING I N D E X Monday, May 13, 1996 Briefer: Nicholas Burns DEPARTMENT Secretary's Meetings in New York Today At The U.N. ...... 1 --Secretary's Discussions with U.N. Secretary General ... 1,6-8 Secretary's Congressional Testimony this Week ........... 1 Secretary's Address To Asia Society, 5/17, in New York .. 1 FORMER YUGOSLAVIA Federation Forum Meeting at Blair House Tomorrow ........ 1-2 --Agenda/Goals/Press Coverage of Forum Meeting .......... 1-2,18-19 --Participants in the Federation Forum Meeting .......... 2 Status of Federation/Implementation of Agreements ....... 17-18 Status of Elections in Mostar ........................... 19 NEPAL Two American Climbers Presumed Dead in Storm on Mt Everest 2 --Rescue of One Amcit Climber on Mt Everest ............. 2-4 RUSSIA Reports American Businessman Expelled for Spying ........ 4 ISRAEL/LEBANON Recent Attacks by Hizbollah on Israeli Forces in Security Zone .................................................. 4-5 Ceasefire Monitoring Group to Meet Again Tomorrow ....... 5 --Issues To Be Discussed By Monitoring Group ............ 5-6 MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS Status of Israel-Syria and Israel-Lebanon Tracks ........ 6 UNITED NATIONS Selection of New U.N. Secretary General ................. 8 RWANDA/BURUNDI Travel/Mtgs by A/S Shattuck and Amb. Bogosian To Region . 8-10,11 Status of U.N. War Crimes Tribunal In Rwanda ............ 10 NORTH KOREA Trilateral Talks at Cheju Island/A/S Lord Attending ..... 11-12 --Food Assistance/Agreed Framework/Four-Party Talks ..... 11-12,13-14 Prospects for Easing Sanctions on North Korea ........... 12-13 TAIWAN Appointment of New Taiwan Representative to U.S. ........ 14 Inauguration of New Taiwan President/U.S. Attendance .... 14-15 Taiwan President's Comments re: Another Visit to U.S..... 15 LIBERIA Status of Refugees on Freighter/Condition of Refugees ... 15-17 --U.S./UNHCR Assistance to Refugees ..................... 16 IRAN Rail Link Between Iran and Central Asia ................. 20 --Prospects for US-Turkish Discussions re: Rail Link .... 20 TURKEY Upcoming U.S. Meetings with Turkish Foreign Minister and Defense Minister/Prospects for Including Jordanians ... 20
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
MONDAY, MAY 13, 1996, 1:09 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. BURNS: Good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department briefing. I'm very pleased to welcome today two German journalists who are in America to study the United States media.
I also want to let you know that the Secretary of State is in New York City today. He met this morning with the Secretary General, Boutros Ghali. He also met with the Under Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Connor, to talk about -- with both of them -- budget issues and U.N. reform issues. He also has a meeting with the New York Times Editorial Board at lunch today. He's going to return to the Department at around 4:00 p.m. today.
The Secretary is going to testify twice this week on Capitol Hill. On Wednesday, he testifies at 10:00 a.m. before the House Appropriations; Commerce, Justice, and State Subcommittee. That will be on the Fiscal Year 1997 budget process and request of the Department of State for a budget that will meet our foreign policy needs in 1997.
On Thursday, he testifies on the Senate side at 2:00 p.m. before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee; that's the Commerce, Justice, and State Committee, again, on the Fiscal Year 1997 budget.
In addition, on Friday, May 17, the Secretary will give a major speech on Asia policy, and specifically, concerning United States relations with China. That speech will be in New York City at 11:30 a.m. It's sponsored by the Asia Society, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations -- that will be this Friday at 11:30 a.m. For those of you not travelling to New York -- who won't be in New York for the speech -- we'll make sure that you get a copy of the speech as it's being delivered.
I also want to let you know -- remind you -- that there is a Federation Forum event scheduled for all day tomorrow at Blair House. There will be open press for the beginning of that session which is at 9:30 a.m. in the Garden Room at Blair House. Secretary Christopher will make opening remarks at the opening plenary session.
Following that, the participants here -- the Federation participants, the Americans, some of the Europeans -- will divide into working groups. They will be closed, of course. There will be a business roundtable event.
Secretary Christopher will have several bilateral meetings with some of the senior participants from the countries involved. Later in the afternoon -- I don't have the time now, but I'll be able to give it to you either late today or tomorrow morning -- there will be a closing session of this conference. The press is invited to that. That's an open press event.
Let me just remind you that Mr. Zubak, the Federation President, will be in attendance; Vice President Ganic as well as Prime Minister Muratovic and Foreign Minister Prlic of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Also attending are the Croatian Foreign Minister, Mate Granic; the Deputy High Representative, Michael Steiner, who is the number two person assisting Carl Bildt in the civilian implementation structure. He's a German diplomat. He will be there as well.
The final item I have concerns the tragedy on Mount Everest over the weekend. I do want to let you know following press reports -- and I know there was a lot of interest in this over the weekend -- that two American climbers are now presumed dead on Mount Everest. They are Scott Fischer and Douglas Hansen. They were among a group of about 12 climbers. This was an international group comprised of people from various countries. They were caught in a storm on May 10, Friday, after descending from a summit of Mount Everest. They had reached the summit.
Officials from our Embassy in Kathmandu have notified the families of Mr. Fischer and Mr. Hansen to offer the condolences of the United States Government and to offer all of our assistance to the families as they seek to deal with this tragedy.
There was one piece of good news -- in fact, I think heroism -- that came out of this tragedy. Another American citizen, Seaborn Beck Weathers, from Dallas, Texas, who we thought had died, in fact, has survived. The story of his survival is really quite extraordinary. He is a veteran mountain climber, but he was caught up in the same storm that these others were caught up in -- these others, Americans and others. When we found out that he was missing, one of our consular officers out of our Embassy in Kathmandu, a fellow by the name of David Schensted, actually was able to get up in an airplane and survey the summit around Mount Everest to try to determine visually whether he could find any of the people who were missing. He was not able to do that.
He did learn the next morning that Mr. Weathers had survived the night out on the mountain and he had made it to a camp called Camp Four, which is at 26,000 feet. He had been brought down there by two American climbers. Mr. Weathers was snowblinded. He was frostbitten and hypothermic.
The Embassy knew -- Mr. Schensted, our consular officer knew -- that his chances of surviving even at Camp Four after receiving the initial reports were slim. So Mr. Schensted of the American Embassy in Kathmandu was able to convince the Nepalese military to fly a helicopter up to Camp Four at 26,000 feet. That has never been attempted before.
The Nepalese Government, of course, asked a lot of questions -- and you can't blame them for doing so -- about whether or not it made sense to undertake that kind of mission. They then agreed to do it to try to save Mr. Weathers' life. They sent their best Nepalese military helicopter pilot up on this mission. He was able to land, and he brought Mr. Weathers to safety.
Mr. Weathers was subsequently treated at a hospital and has now been released and he's on his way back to the United States.
I think first and foremost, the United States Government ought to congratulate the Nepalese Government for having undertaken a very dangerous military mission to save him.
Secondly, I would like to congratulate Mr. Schensted, the American consular officer, for going to extraordinary lengths -- first of all, flying up to the summit of Mount Everest himself; secondly, for going to great lengths to try to commandeer and get a military aircraft up to the 26,000-foot camp to save Mr. Weathers.
There's another Foreign Service national employee, a woman, who works in our Embassy in Kathmandu -- a Nepali. Her name is Inu K.C. She was instrumental in this rescue attempt. I understand that she has been rewarded for similar outstanding performance in previous attempts to help Americans who have been stranded on Mount Everest.
I thought it was an interesting story. It's a story of some heroism on the part of the Nepali military, and they do deserve our thanks.
Q There's an alleged spy who has been taken into custody by the Russians. Do you have anything on that?
MR. BURNS: I don't have a lot of information on that. We saw the same reports over the weekend, George, that you did on this.
Our Consulate General in Vladivostok is checking into this report with the Russian Government trying to determine why the Russian Government felt it was necessary to expel this individual, whose name is Richard Dann Oppfelt. He is an American businessman operating in the far east of Russia.
As far as I know, we have not yet received an answer from the Russian Government about why it undertook this type of action.
As for Mr. Oppfelt himself, I wasn't able to determine as of 1:00 p.m. today exactly where he is. So I think we'll need to continue to look into this case.
Q I have a question on south Lebanon. The Accord's cease-fire doesn't commit Hizbollah to stop its attacks; neither Israel to retaliate. But in view of the recent events, how do you think this issue should be addressed, especially within the monitoring committee that is supposed to be formed this week to prevent any escalation?
MR. BURNS: You are correct that the 1993 understanding, brokered by Secretary Christopher, dealt only with attacks on civilians. The subsequent understanding two weeks ago that Secretary Christopher worked out also dealt only with attacks on civilians, either attacks by Hizbollah into northern Israel or by Israel into southern Lebanon.
What happened over the weekend, as we understand it, is that Hizbollah initiated military action against Israeli forces inside the security zone. Israeli forces have fired back.
We think it's most unfortunate that Hizbollah chose to attack the Israeli forces. This did not constitute any kind of violation of the agreement worked out by Secretary Christopher. But it's certainly contrary to the efforts of Lebanon itself, of Israel, of Syria, of the United States to move beyond these incidents and to move towards momentum in peace negotiations that we hope will be resumed sometime after the Israeli elections. It's certainly contrary to that spirit.
While the agreement worked out by Secretary Christopher does not pertain to attacks within the security zone by military forces, we certainly do not wish to see any attacks inside the security zone by anybody. But I think in this incident over the weekend, as we understand it -- and I don't believe any of the press reports have contradicted this -- this was a Hizbollah military operation and the Israeli soldiers fired back in self-defense.
Q Another subject. Where does the Monitoring Commission proceedings stand?
MR. BURNS: The monitoring group representatives will meet again tomorrow here in the Department of State at 1:00 p.m. That session will be chaired by Dennis Ross. The same individuals and the same countries will attend that attended Friday's meeting.
The objective here is to arrive as soon as possible at an agreement on effective ways to implement the mandate of the monitoring group, which is, of course, to try to make sure that the cease-fire agreement negotiated by Secretary Christopher will hold -- that is, attacks against civilians will not be repeated. So we are approaching this with some degree of urgency on our part. We don't want to negotiate this forever. We do want to come to an understanding with all of our partners in the monitoring group so that this group can play an effective role in making sure the agreement is carried out.
Q Would you say that the events over the weekend indicate that the talks regarding the monitoring group are far from being settled? How would you characterize the impact of these events?
MR. BURNS: Dennis Ross believes that there was a good meeting on Friday, and he's looking forward to a good meeting tomorrow. We hope to wrap this up quickly. I don't know whether that will be tomorrow or the next day or the day after that. But we certainly don't foresee any kind of protracted negotiations here. It's important that we move along, and we intend to do that.
Q Has it been decided where it would be based?
MR. BURNS: That's one of the questions that's being discussed right now, Jim. No, I don't believe there's been a final decision on that.
Q And the military/civilian makeup -- has that been settled?
MR. BURNS: The exact makeup of who would comprise the people actively working in the Monitoring Group is also under discussion.
Q It was announced that there should soon be government talks between Syria and Israel. Do we know at what level? Do we know who will be participating on the American side and where these talks will take place?
MR. BURNS: You'll remember that when Secretary Christopher negotiated the agreement two weeks ago, as part of our announcement we talked about the fact that Syria, Israel and Lebanon all wanted to resume the peace negotiations as soon as possible.
I think you've seen statements from Israeli Government officials and also from some Arab officials that it's probably not likely that there will be negotiations before May 29, but we certainly hope that negotiations will resume shortly thereafter.
We think it's important that there be peace in Lebanon as well as peace between Syria and Israel, and we hope very much that the United States will play a role in that. I think it's expected that we will. We have been the intermediary at the Wye talks, and Secretary Christopher has in his shuttle missions to the region between Syria and Israel, on the one hand, and I think that will continue. We assume it will continue.
Q Did the Secretary discuss Lebanon with Boutros-Ghali today?
MR. BURNS: I don't know if that was part of the conversation. I think the major part of the conversation was on U.N. issues, not particularly on Lebanon or on the role of UNIFIL. I don't believe that came up, but I can check with him.
Q And how about any other issues like Burundi, Liberia, possible efforts?
MR. BURNS: They had a rather brief meeting this morning -- earlier this morning. I don't believe that any of those issues came up. I think it was really focused on U.N. issues. You can make a case, of course, that Burundi could become a U.N. issue. We have been discussing up in New York, as you know -- in fact, we sent a group of people up on Friday -- the contingency plan that would enable the international community to respond to a crisis in Burundi.
As you know, John Shattuck and Rick Bogosian, our special negotiator, were out there. I can tell you more about their trip if you're interested in that.
Q One more question about this meeting. You said they did talk about Iraq -- the Iraq oil deal?
MR. BURNS: No. I said that they talked about U.N. issues -- U.N. reform and budget issues. One of the reasons for discussing the budget issues is because the Secretary has to testify -- in fact, this week -- about at least our role in the U.N. budget. So he had a conversation with Mr. Connor as well, who's the former CEO of Price Waterhouse, who was the Under Secretary who was brought in by Secretary General Boutros-Ghali to help reform the U.N. system from a management and financial perspective, and we supported his work.
Q Did you not talk about Iraq at all?
MR. BURNS: I don't believe so. I'm hedging now, because the Secretary had a brief meeting with Boutros-Ghali; slightly longer meeting with Mr. Connor but not by much, and I just don't have a report from him. I haven't talked to him since he had those meetings on exactly which issues may have been raised that were extraneous to his focus in the meetings, which was U.N. budget and reform issues. If those issues did come up, I can get back to you.
Q Nick, when did the Secretary schedule this trip to New York? Why did you all keep it so secret?
MR. BURNS: It wasn't a secret trip. In fact, I was remiss in not mentioning on Friday. Friday was such a busy day around here, I just forgot to announce it at the top of the briefing. But we certainly always intended to announce it. I think he scheduled it mid-last week.
Q It wasn't on the schedule.
Q It wasn't on the recording this morning either.
MR. BURNS: And that's entirely my responsibility, and I take responsibility for it, and I apologize to you. I should have announced it on Friday, but we were announcing so many other things on Friday, including the China decision, that I simply forgot to do so. I apologize for any confusion on your part.
Q Did the question arise during the meeting this morning of who the United States will support for Secretary General come up?
MR. BURNS: I can't tell you everything that arose in the meeting this morning, but I can tell you this. Secretary General Boutros-Ghali has not yet indicated whether he wishes to pursue a second term, and until he makes that decision, of course, the United States is not going to be in a position to comment on his or anyone else's candidacy. We simply have to wait to see who puts their hat in the ring before the United States can make a decision as to who we will support.
Q Nick, on Burundi, which you referred to, is George Moose going to go there shortly?
MR. BURNS: I think we're going to have an announcement tomorrow about some onward travel to Burundi and to other parts of Africa. You'll have to bear with me. We're not prepared to make that announcement yet on George Moose's travel and on other officials from the U.S. Government traveling there.
But I can tell you that Assistant Secretary Shattuck and Rick Bogosian were in both Burundi and Rwanda over the last couple of days. And, if you're interested -- are you interested? Should I go into that a little bit?
MR. BURNS: You know that Assistant Secretary John Shattuck and our Special Coordinator for Rwanda and Burundi, Rick Bogosian, were in Central Africa over the last couple of days. They were there to express our concern about what we believe is a deteriorating situation in both countries.
In Bujumburu, in Burundi, they delivered a same message to various Burundian officials in the government and to people outside the government, and that is that there should be a renunciation of violence. The various parties and militias should accept a broad-based negotiating process that we hope would facilitate the return of refugees there, and both of these American officials expressed very strong American support for the negotiating efforts of the former President of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere.
In Burundi, both Shattuck and Bogosian met with the President, with the Minister of Defense, with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, with the President of the National Assembly, with various representatives of international and non-governmental organizations.
John Shattuck visited two recent sites of attacks on civilians in Bujumbura. One site is an American-run relief camp for internally displaced people, and the other is the King Khalid hospital. There were attacks on civilians in both places just in the last couple of weeks.
He also spoke, John Shattuck, with members of the United Nations International Commission of Inquiry who are investigating the attempted coup d'etat on the massacre in 1993 that resulted in the deaths in the fighting of over 100,000 people.
He also met with human rights monitors of the United Nations who are investigating the most recent atrocities and massacres that have been committed by the various fighters there, and he emphasized the urgency of accepting the mediation efforts of former President Julius Nyerere.
He also emphasized the refusal of the United States to support any group that takes power by force in Burundi, and that was a warning to various people in that society.
In Rwanda, they met with the President and the Vice President, the Foreign Minister, the Chief Prosecutor. They met with officials of the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal. They were there to give strong support to the War Crimes Tribunal, to try to support it financially and also organizationally, and also to give it some rather high profile political support. That Tribunal has not yet tried a case, and we want to see that Tribunal proceed to the point where people who are indicted are tried for the crimes for which they are suspected.
So we have given very high profile and I would say rather urgent attention to both Burundi and Rwanda over the last week, and that will continue this week as well.
Q You alluded earlier to contingency plans for some sort of deeper involvement. Could you elaborate on that?
MR. BURNS: Obviously, remembering what happened in April 1994 in Rwanda and what happened in Burundi in 1993, we believe it's simply prudent for the United Nations and all of us internationally to prepare in essence for the worst, should that occur -- not that we expect it to occur. We certainly hope it will not occur.
But, if it does, if there is a drastic deterioration of the situation so that we think that many thousands of civilians would be imperiled, we believe the United Nations should have plans in place to respond to that.
There are a number of options being looked at. No decisions have been made by the U.N. Security Council, of course, but we have already pledged that the United States would be willing to contribute to any U.N. force -- contribute logistics, contribute via communications capabilities, and contribute via lift for U.N. personnel who would be sent to the area.
I do not think that the United States will commit -- in fact, I'm quite sure we will not -- American military forces to such an effort. But we do think it's prudent and wise and frankly the proper course of action to take to think about on a worse-case basis what we internationally would have to do to respond to such a contingency.
Q Nick --
MR. BURNS: Still on Central Africa?
Q A question on Rwanda war crimes. Who does the United States -- what category or classes of people should be -- does the U.S. think should be brought before the War Crimes Tribunal? I mean, the murder was so widespread that it would be hard to prosecute everybody in a society like that.
MR. BURNS: I think the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal, which in Rwanda is headed by the same person -- Richard Goldstone -- who heads it in Bosnia, faces the same dilemma, and that is that there is a landscape there of gross violations of human rights, stemming from the problems of 1993 and 1994.
Certainly, I don't think it's possible to bring everyone who is guilty of any crime against humanity to justice. But it is certainly possible to try to find and bring evidence against the people who directed the genocide against civilians in Rwanda and who are largely responsible for it; and to indict them and to bring them to justice by trying them and hopefully convicting them.
The courtroom has not even been built in Rwanda, but Justice Goldstone has often said the court is where the judge is. The United Nations is present there, and we do want to give it our support. While they've not been able to bring the first indicted prisoner forward, we think they will be able to do that in the future, and we're ready to support them financially, organizationally and politically.
That was one of the reasons why Assistant Secretary Shattuck went to Rwanda -- to send that very strong message that we in the international community will not forget what happened two years ago last month. We will not forget, and we'll support Justice Goldstone in his effort to bring those responsible to trial.
Q Is Shattuck back?
MR. BURNS: John is not yet back. He's in Europe. He called our Operations Center in the middle of the morning and left some of this information so that I could pass it on to you. I think he did talk to reporters also in both Bujumbura and Kigali over the weekend.
Q Nick, on North Korea. There are reports out of the meeting at Cheju Island that the three sides are discussing different scenarios that could take place if North Korea -- the situation there collapsed.
MR. BURNS: Right.
Q I was wondering if you could share a little bit of the U.S. thinking on this and whether you might be considering more humanitarian aid. There's a report from the U.N. today apparently that the food situation has gotten considerably worse.
MR. BURNS: As you know, just by a little bit of backdrop to Carol's question, Win Lord, our Assistant Secretary for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, is in Cheju Island today and tomorrow. He's meeting with his Korean and Japanese counterparts.
This is the second meeting that they've had. They met in Honolulu in January to discuss North Korea, and they are doing so at the instruction of their ministers, including Secretary Christopher, and that decision was made on the trip to Tokyo in which you participated in November of last year -- November '95.
The purpose of the meeting is to talk about all aspects of our relationship with North Korea -- the relationship that the United States, the Republic of Korea and Japan have. Certainly, to talk about the Agreed Framework and about our continued determination to freeze North Korea's program -- it is frozen -- and to continue the efforts of KEDO to fulfill the requirements of the Agreed Framework.
Secondly, they will also obviously talk about the food situation. We have seen reports by some international organizations -- non-governmental organizations -- that there is still a scarcity of food in North Korea, in essence a food crisis.
The United States has contributed to international efforts just in the past couple of months to help redress those problems, and we are open to suggestions to do so in the future, should those suggestions be made to us.
Third, there's the proposal by President Clinton and the Korean leadership to begin four-party talks to establish a peace agreement on the Korean peninsula, a peace agreement never having been achieved at the end of the Korean War. We think that's an important proposal. Should the North Koreans wish further information on that, we're certainly willing to give it to them.
So there are a variety of issues being discussed, and they'll be fairly comprehensive meetings -- one in the regular series of meetings.
Let me just say something, because you asked a question on Friday, too, about this. In terms of our own bilateral relationship, I can tell you that we have under active and continuous review the issue of a possible easing of United States economic sanctions against Korea. Here I hope I did not mislead you in my comments on Friday.
But after having looked at them and talked to several of my associates around the building, I thought I owed it to you to come out here and say that you'll remember after the Agreed Framework was signed -- it was agreed to in November '94 -- we issued a statement on January 20, 1995, which outlined some specific measures the United States would take to ease its economic restrictions on North Korea.
We said then that pending developments in the region -- both on the Agreed Framework and on other issues -- we would be open to doing that in the future. We have not made the decision to do so, but it is under active and continuous review here. I just wanted to in essence correct the record from what I said on Friday, and I apologize for any misunderstanding.
Q In light of that clarification, what do you think the likelihood is that out of this meeting in Cheju Island, there could come some decision for the United States to ease sanctions?
MR. BURNS: I can't anticipate that. I just don't know what course the discussion on Cheju is going to take on that particular issue. This is an issue, of course, that we do discuss with the Republic of Korea and with Japan, for obvious reasons, and I know that no decision has been taken by the United States Government to do so. But it is under active and continuous consideration. It has been since November 1994. This is nothing new here.
But I think I perhaps shaded too much on the other side of my Friday briefing, and I wanted to steer it back towards the middle.
Q When you said that the United States is open to suggestions for more food aid in the future, what specifically are you referring to -- if North Korea asks you, if the U.N. asks you -- because last time this issue came up, basically my recollection is that you said, "We gave them $2 million and that's as much as we're giving right now."
Now it sounds as if in the light of new information, you may be reconsidering -- you are reconsidering that.
MR. BURNS: I don't believe it's a reconsideration of any previously expressed policy. We have relied upon the international humanitarian organizations, the NGOs -- the non-governmental organizations -- that have operated there to tell us when they think there is a severe or a significant problem. It was upon that basis that we made the decision to contribute relief assistance just a couple of months back.
All I'm saying is we would certainly be open to consideration of any requests from them in the future, should they come to us and say there is a severe scarcity of food there, building upon the press reports I've seen.
We've not made any prior decision to do that. All I'm saying is we'd be open to a request.
Q That's a shift in emphasis from where you were a month ago.
MR. BURNS: I don't agree, George. I remember talking about the fact when we made the decision a couple of months ago to deliver the food aid, I said we'd be open to any further requests.
Q You said you were monitoring the situation.
MR. BURNS: Right, and we're still monitoring the situation, and we've not made a determination to do this. All I'm saying is we're open to any future requests. I'm not aware that any requests have been made to us just in the last couple of days. But we have seen the press reports, and we're mindful that this is an opaque society and with changing conditions in that society, and it behooves us to follow events there as closely as possible.
Q But you agree, though, that -- or acknowledge that you are getting reports that the situation is worsening.
MR. BURNS: We've seen the press reports. We can't base any decision to act upon press reports. We obviously need to talk to the international relief organizations that are working there.
Q Is there any link between food aid and the four-party talks?
MR. BURNS: I think they're actually quite separate issues. We engaged in food assistance to North Korea before the President actually proposed the four-party talks, so we were willing to do it before we made the proposal. This is a humanitarian issue. It's not a political issue.
Q Nick, you are, though, checking with the international organizations to see if the situation has gotten worse, as reported?
MR. BURNS: We're certainly kept apprised by them of the conditions there, and all I'm saying is we've seen the reports, and I just wanted to repeat a standard line that we are continually open to suggestions. I can't anticipate with any degree of 100 percent certainty what we would do if requested, this week or next or the week after that, to provide food assistance. All I'm telling you is we're open to it. We're not closed to it.
Q Nick, on Taiwan, has the United States okayed Taiwan's appointment of its next representative to the U.S., Mr. Jason Hu?
MR. BURNS: I don't believe it's a question for the United States. It's not a responsibility of the United States. We have an unofficial relationship with Taiwan. There is the American Institute in Taiwan, and there is a Taiwan agency here or organization here, I should say. But I wouldn't really phrase it in the way you have. I wouldn't say that it's our responsibility to okay someone's appointment when we have an unofficial relationship. We don't have a normal diplomatic relationship with Taiwan.
Q Have you given any advice to AIT?
MR. BURNS: I simply don't know. The question hasn't come up my radar screen.
Q Are you sending any representative of the United States to Taiwan for Lee Teng-hui's inauguration on Wednesday?
MR. BURNS: I don't believe any members of the Executive Branch of the U.S. Government will attend the inauguration. I'm sure there will be a group of prominent Americans, perhaps members of Congress, others who will comprise an American delegation, but it's not an official American delegation. It's not a U.S. Government delegation of a type that one would normally send to an inauguration of a friendly country, where the President sends an emissary. That's not in question here. So I think there will be a private American delegation, yes.
Q President Lee Teng-hui has said that he has no immediate plans for another visit to the U.S. because the State Department objects to such a visit. Does the State Department object to such a visit?
MR. BURNS: When I saw him interviewed just after the elections in Taiwan in the Wall Street Journal, that's not exactly what he said. Maybe he's given a subsequent interview where he was more specific. In the Wall Street Journal interview, he just talked about the fact that he had a number of challenges on Taiwan and was not going to be free to travel to the United States.
I think you know our position on high-level visitors from Taiwan. We think they should be considered on a case-by-case basis. We think they should be rare and, of course, they'd be unofficial, because we don't have an official relationship. Beyond that, I really don't have much to say on that particular topic.
Q Would you be willing to consider another visit by President Lee?
MR. BURNS: I would just repeat the sentence that I just uttered, which outlines our very well-known criteria.
Q Liberia, with specific reference to that vessel that is wandering off the west coast of Africa?
MR. BURNS: I do. The freighter is named the "Bulk Challenger". We think it has between 3-4,000 people on board -- Liberians and other nationalities. As of late this morning, reports from our Embassy in Accra and our Embassy in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire, have that freighter in the harbor of Takoradi in Ghana.
It had not be allowed to dock as of mid-to-late morning. It was allowed to dock temporarily in Takoradi yesterday. Some medical and food provisions were allowed on board but passengers were not allowed to disembark.
From all accounts -- from CNN, from our embassies, from radio reports that the ship is sending to other vessels in the vicinity -- the people on board are in very poor if not desperate condition. There is insufficient food and water. Many of them, particularly the children, are in need of medical attention.
The United states believes very strongly -- and we have so informed the Ghanian and Ivoirean Governments that it is the responsibility of those government to come to the assistance of the people on that ship. These people are fleeing savage fighting in the streets of Monrovia. They deserve the assistance of the international community. It is the responsibility of the neighboring states involved, in the West African region, to help them.
We have consistently reminded them of that responsibility over the course of the last couple of days.
We are ready to do our part here. We have refugee officials and humanitarian assistance officials from our Embassy in Abidjan at Takoradi, at the port in Ghana. They will meet these people along with representatives of the UNHCR. They'll meet the refugees when they disembark, if they are allowed to disembark in Takoradi as we hope.
I can also tell you that Phyllis Oakley, our Assistant Secretary of State responsible for these issues, has been in touch with the United States High Commissioner on Refugees office this morning. We are ready to respond to requests for assistance from the UNHCR.
We believe it probably makes best sense now for the people to be allowed to disembark where they are, because it is so critical that they get on shore. We think that the United Nations High Commission on Refugees ought to take the lead in trying to resolve the many, many problems that I'm sure the international community will encounter as these refugees are allowed to disembark.
First and foremost, something has to be done to respond to the humanitarian needs here -- their health, sanitation, their personal safety, and so on and so forth. We hope that happens today, as soon as possible. That is our position.
Q Nick, the Ivorireans said at one point that they thought that up to 2,000 people were, in fact, were factional fighters.
MR. BURNS: There are a number of vessels with refugees on board that have come out of Monrovia in the last couple of days. The one that I'm talking about here, I think, is the one that most of the attention has been focused on because of the great number of people on board and because we believe that most of these people are civilians. There are women and children, a substantial number of them, on board.
It's impossible for us to know -- because we don't have a register of who is on the ship and what the employment is -- if fighters are on board. It may very well be. But the fact is, these people are desperate. Action has to be taken to meet them and to assist them and to bring them to safety on shore.
The situation will only get worse if these people are not allowed by one or another of these governments to disembark.
Q Nick, just one on the Federation. Would you say the Administration is getting increasingly frustrated with the failure of the two parties to come to agreement on this defense law? And isn't it pushing back the train-and-equip program quite a bit?
MR. BURNS: I wouldn't say we're increasingly frustrated. I would say that since November and December there's been a very high level of concern and constant attention in the U.S. Government about the Federation; even before that, actually, before the Dayton Accords were negotiated.
The Federation has always had its problems. But the Federation is a backbone of the Dayton Accords. It is a necessary foundation for peace in Bosnia. That is why the Secretary, for instance -- Dick Holbrooke, when he was office; John Kornblum now -- give it such high priority attention. That's why we've invited them to Washington for this meeting.
They have a self-interest as well as a responsibility in strengthening their Federation. There are all sorts of reasons why it has not been strengthened as it should have been.
Our intention tomorrow is to try to convince them once again, in one in a regular series of meetings, to do what's in their own self-interest. So I wouldn't say we're increasingly frustrated. I would say that we've had a constant spotlight on this problem, and we have a determination to deal with the problems as they are. We are grateful for the support of Carl Bildt and of Michael Steiner. We're working hand-in-hand with them on this issue as well.
Q (Inaudible) because it took two years, but I didn't see any progress. Or maybe you can tell us some examples. What's going on between Sarajevans and, for instance, the people from Mostar or Grude? Could you tell us some specific example about freedom of movement, or something like that, between Bosinacs and Croats?
MR. BURNS: First of all, you ought to direct your questions towards the Federation officials, towards the Croatians and Bosnians who make up the Federation.
Secondly, there's no question in our minds that having achieved the construction of the Federation and now having seen it through the Dayton Accords and having now see it take its place as an implementing agent of the Dayton Accords, it's a lot better -- the relationship in the Federation between Croats and Moslems, it's a lot better than the relationship between the Moslems and the Serbs.
There is a structure in place. It's highly imperfect. There have been a great number of problems, as you know, concerning implementation of Federation agreements. But it's still worth the effort to keep that structure in place and to try to make it run more efficiently.
You've seen what happens -- what's happened between Serbs and Moslems just in the last couple of days, as some Moslems have tried to return to their homes. Some of those problems have also occurred between Croats and Moslems, but at least there's a mechanism to work them out and there's a declaration in principle and on paper. There's an organization set up to try to resolve problems between them. So I think actually it's been and will continue to be an important piece of the Dayton peace accords.
We are determined not to let it fail. It will not fail. It must succeed.
Q In concrete terms, besides a new defense law, what are some of the other goals that you have for this meeting tomorrow and the others that will follow it?
MR. BURNS: The goal of the meeting is to talk with the leaders of the Federation -- and all of them will be here tomorrow -- about the many connections that hold the Federation together. Some are military, and we've been working on that just in the last couple of days. I don't want to anticipate everything we're going to have to say tomorrow, but, certainly, we'll be in a position tomorrow to talk and they will be in a position to talk about the military aspects of that.
Others are implementation -- basic civilian implementation of the Dayton agreements and the commitments made by Croatia and by Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Federation in the Dayton Accords about return of refugees, about human rights, about reconstruction.
What you'll see tomorrow is that in addition to the large discussions that we'll have at the beginning and the end, there will be working groups on these specific issues that will attempt to resolve some of the problems. There's no substitute for this, by the way; no substitute for bringing them together with international support -- Germans and Americans there -- to try to move forward. But there's also no surprise that this is a very difficult process. We don't minimize that in presenting it to you.
Q Are you going to say something specific to Bosnians or to Croats? Because after two years, probably, they're starting to have some sanctions for both sides, or for one side?
MR. BURNS: I don't believe we'll be announcing any sanctions tomorrow. Sanctions are always a possibility for those countries that do not comply with the Dayton Accords.
On Friday, I talked about the fact that sanctions are an option in the case of Syria. The Secretary of State has talked about that as well should Syria not follow the Dayton Accords. There's always an option out there, but we have no plans --
MR. BURNS: Serbia, Serbia. I just left out the "b." Sorry. Serbia. We've talked about that, but no decision has been made and there's no intention right now to apply them. It's just an option that we have available.
Thank you very much. Did you catch that? It's just this constant attention on other parts of the world.
Q Could you comment on the elections in Mostar?
MR. BURNS: Could I comment?
Q Yeah. There is some trouble there between Croats and Bosnians?
MR. BURNS: I just don't have anything for you on that today.
Q Is there an concern in the Administration about this rail link between Central Asia and Iran? And also about today's Eco-summit in Tehran?
MR. BURNS: Which summit?
Q The summit of the Economic Cooperation Organization in Tehran?
MR. BURNS: In Tehran. On the first question, we've seen the reports and we've seen the video of the rail link in the border town between Turkmenistan and Iran. I have really nothing much to say about that. We are going to look into it. We will ask the governments involved -- at least, those to whom we talk -- about the specific subject, but I have nothing specific right now for you.
Q Haven't you yet raised it, at least, with Turkey?
MR. BURNS: Excuse me?
Q Haven't you raised this issue, at least, with Turkey?
MR. BURNS: The issue of the rail link? Have we already raised it?
MR. BURNS: I can check for you on that.
Q Just another question. Is there any plan for including Jordanian officials in the upcoming talks with the Turkish Foreign Minister and Defense Minister in the next two weeks?
MR. BURNS: I'll check for you. I just don't know on that. I'll be glad to check. Thank you.
(Press briefing concluded at 1:54 p.m.)
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