U.S. Department of State 96/05/21 Daily Press Briefing Office of the Spokesman U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING I N D E X Tuesday, May 21, 1996 Briefer: Nicholas Burns DEPARTMENT Secretary Christopher's Schedule......................... 1 Assistant Secretary Moose's Travel to Zaire.............. 1-2 Statement Re: Ethnic Violence in Eastern Zaire........... 2 Acting Assistant Secy Kornblum's Travel to the Balkans... 2 Dinner in Honor of Roberts Owen.......................... 3 FORMER YUGOSLAVIA Status of Karadzic/Bosnian Serb Elections................ 3-4 TERRORISM Potential for Dialogue with Iran......................... 4-5,7-8 --Death of Student in Israel............................. 5-7 CHINA Nuclear Testing.......................................... 8-9 RUSSIA Missile Techology Transfer to China...................... 9-11 Draft Agreement at CFE Talks............................. 11-12 INDIA Nuclear Proliferation.................................... 12-13 MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS Status of Monitoring Group Meetings...................... 13- --Role of France in Discussions.......................... 14-15 Possibility of French Participation in Negotiations...... between Israel and Syria............................... 15 Central African Republic Update on Rebellion...................................... 15- --Fire-fight Near U.S. Embassy........................... 16 --Evacuation of Non-essential Personnel.................. 16,18 Notification to Americans................................ 16,19 Arrival of Marine Contingent............................. 16-17 Call for Resumption of Negotiations...................... 17 French Efforts to Restore Stability...................... 17 U.S. Interests in Southern Africa........................ 17-18 BURUNDI International Contingency Plans.......................... 18 Assistance from Zaire.................................... 19-20 BANGLADESH Army Chief Dismissed .................................... 20-21 BURMA Arrest of Democracy Activists............................ 21-22 U.S. Relations with Burma................................ 21-22
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
TUESDAY, MAY 21, 1996, 1:05 P. M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. BURNS: Good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department briefing.
Tomorrow we're going to try something new. This briefing has been referred to for a long time as the "noon briefing," so I thought we'd start at noon tomorrow and we'll see how it goes. It may be a breakthrough. We'll see.
I also wanted to let you know about the Secretary's schedule today. As you know -- I know that many of you were there -- the Secretary spoke this morning to the Soref Symposium at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and he gave a major policy speech on terrorism.
For those of you who were not there, copies of that speech are available in the Press Office. The speech was, I think, a comprehensive attempt to look at how the United States views the fight against terrorism. It identified, I think, very aggressively Iran as a major sponsor of terrorism, and it certainly called upon the European Union and European countries to join the United States in a fight against terrorism.
The Secretary is also attending right now the Memorial Service for Admiral Boorda that began at 11:30 a.m.
I also want to let you know that Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs George Moose and other government officials are in Zaire today. They are there to discuss the current crisis in Burundi and ways Zaire can make a positive contribution to resolving that crisis and play a more constructive role in regional affairs.
Assistant Secretary Moose and the others will meet with Prime Minister Kengo but also with President Mobutu Sese Seko. The United States remains deeply concerned by the deteriorating situation in Burundi. There is widespread killing there and the rise of extremist forces.
We are determined to make every effort we can, working with the international community, to find a peaceful solution to the crisis. We believe that Zaire is part of that. Assistant Secretary Moose's mission follows the mission of National Security Adviser Tony Lake, who was there last week.
I'd also like to tell you that we have a statement available in the Press Office about the ethnic violence in Eastern Zaire. The United States is deeply concerned by increasing incidents of inter-ethnic violence in the north Kivu region of Eastern Zaire.
We condemn the exploitation of ethnic tensions for political or material gain, and we call on local officials to take appropriate measures to protect the lives of innocent residents.
We are also calling on the Government of Zaire, both civilian and military officials, to follow the examples set by local officials who have opposed some of the nefarious practices and who have protected the residents of their area and provided sanctuary to refugees, regardless of their ethnic origin.
The United States is concerned that these acts of violence committed against ethnic groups in Zaire could further destabilize the Great Lakes region, and so I just wanted to let you know we do have a statement -- I just read part of it -- available to you in the Press Room.
Finally, today Acting Assistant Secretary John Kornblum is leaving tonight for the Balkans. He will make a two-day trip to Belgrade, Zagreb and Sarajevo for meetings with Presidents Milosevic and Tudjman and we hope President Izetbegovic. We're trying to work out the schedule now.
The purpose of the trip is to make sure that all of them understand from our point of view the importance of civilian implementation of the Dayton peace accords. John Kornblum has been in the region frequently since he was named to his position after the departure of Dick Holbrooke, so I would look at this as one in a series of visits to the region by him.
But we are concerned about some of the events, obviously, that occurred over the weekend. He'll be working on that. He'll also talk about the human rights process and the importance of adherence to the War Crimes Tribunal, and he will also be talking with people like Carl Bildt, who are involved not only in these issues but also in the civilian reconstruction side. I'll be glad to take questions on that in just a moment.
Finally, Secretary Christopher tonight is going to stop by a dinner at the Capital Hilton in honor of Roberts Owen. For those of you who were Dayton mavens, you remember that Roberts Owen was one of the key members of our Dayton negotiating team. He's a respected attorney here in Washington, D.C.; former State Department Legal Adviser.
He's being honored by the Human Rights Law Group for his participation on the Dayton negotiating team. Secretary Christopher, who has enormous respect for him, decided to stop by. The Secretary will offer some thoughts in praise of Roberts Owen, who I think is one of the true unsung heroes of the Dayton accords.
Q You referred to U.S. concern about events that occurred over the weekend, vis-a-vis Bosnia. Could you be more specific?
MR. BURNS: Sure. I think you know we've been talking about it for some time that we're concerned that Karadzic continues to influence to a very significant extent the ability and the willingness of the Bosnian Serb population to adhere to the Dayton accords.
You know what we think of him. We think he's a pariah. We think he, as an indicted war criminal, should be apprehended and brought to justice, and we refuse to deal with him. As you know, he will not be allowed to run in the elections. I know that he proposed last evening the idea of holding a referendum on his leadership. That's an empty gesture. It's not going to work, and it's not going to happen, because we're not going to allow it to happen.
Under the Dayton accords, all sides committed, including the Bosnian Serbs and the Serbian Government, that indicted war criminals cannot stand for office. He will not stand for office. We're concerned that this power struggle at least reflects in part the willingness and eagerness of Karadzic and Mladic to stay in power, and we will continue to work to isolate them and to marginalize them in the future as best we can.
Q Nick, what do you mean by the statement, "We're not going to allow it to happen"? How are you going to stop it if he wants to get a referendum?
MR. BURNS: What is operative and what is real on the ground are the elections, and the elections will choose the representatives of the Bosnian Serb population. Those people will be the people who work with the lifeline of the Bosnian Serbs, which is the international community -- Carl Bildt, the reconstruction effort.
They're not going to get money from that effort unless and until they make a commitment to comply with all the provisions of the Dayton accords. So Karadzic can say he wants a referendum. It won't be held. It won't be held, because we have sufficient authority to deny it being held, number one. And, number two, he can't deliver anything for his population, because he's not part of the Dayton process.
Q How are you going to intercept a referendum if he wants to have a referendum, you know, on --
MR. BURNS: Well, he doesn't have . . . he talks a good game. He doesn't have free will here, and he doesn't have freedom of operation throughout the region. He's pretty much confined to Pale and its surrounding areas. He really can't travel. He certainly can't travel to Sarajevo, and he can't travel throughout even other major Bosnian Serb towns. There's no way he's going to organize a referendum.
There are a significant number of international observers, international civilian workers and IFOR troops there that do control and have the ability, of course, to control a great deal of what happens there.
Q But there are surrogates who certainly could act for them. If surrogates went out and called meetings or put ballot boxes in public squares in different villages, is IFOR or is Carl Bildt or is some other entity going to physically commandeer these things? How will you prevent that from happening?
MR. BURNS: First of all, I think at this point, Carol, it's just talk. It's a lot of hot air from Karadzic. He says he wants the referendum. There won't be a referendum. He won't have the physical capacity to arrange one.
Secondly, the real game in town is the elections, and, when people begin to campaign for the elections, those who are indicted war criminals will not be among the candidates.
Q Nick, could I ask a question about the Secretary's speech this morning. I'm paraphrasing, but he said that the United States has indicated or said that it would be willing to open a dialogue with Iran on the subjects of terrorism and Iran's desire to get weapons of mass destruction. When and how were those approaches made to Iran?
MR. BURNS: It's been the longstanding position of this Administration and previous Administrations that we are open to and would be willing to have a dialogue with Iran, should Iran wish to have one. There's nothing new here. This is not a new offer by the United States. It has been made in the past.
Of course, to have a productive and fruitful dialogue, you need to have a responsible interlocutor -- and we would hope that Iran could become a responsible interlocutor, but it certainly hasn't been one so far, or at least in many, many years.
Q Was there ever a direct approach made to Iran, to say, "If you would like to meet at the United Nations, as we did with the North Koreans, we'd like to sit down and tell you what we think."
MR. BURNS: The Iranians are aware of this position and have been for many years: that we are willing to talk if they are willing to talk, but they haven't been willing to talk. So our offer stands. So it wasn't a case, Jim, of us having to make a special diplomatic de marche to them. This is something that stands in the relationship.
Q Nick, to the extent that the Secretary pointed a finger at Iran today for the death of the drive-by shooting of the American-Israeli student in Israel last week -- is the United States trying to establish a basis for going after this group, and what group was he referring to?
MR. BURNS: What we are trying to do is pinpoint the source of support for much of the terrorism that afflicts the Middle East. That was the intent here in the speech. We didn't name the group, because it's not in our interests to do that right now.
But I can tell you that everything that is in this speech obviously can be substantiated by a considerable amount of evidence, or else we wouldn't have said it.
Q Does the United States feel it has a basis for going after this group itself, since there's an American connection?
MR. BURNS: I'm not sure what you mean by "going after," Carol, but --
Q I don't know, taking military action, sending the FBI in, you know --
MR. BURNS: Right now I just wouldn't lead you in that direction, but I would say this. We have a commitment to protect our citizens overseas. We also have a commitment to try to stem terrorism where it is occurring, and it's occurring in a feverish pace in the Middle East.
So we're going to collaborate with our friendly governments in the area to fight it. I thought one of the more important parts of the speech was in essence our call for greater cooperation from Europe and from our allies in Europe. We have had a difference of opinion on this notion of a so-called "critical dialogue."
We think it's time to take effective steps to isolate Iran and to make Iran feel the heat from the international community from the terrorism that it is sponsoring.
Sid, and Judd, we'll go to you after that.
Q Nick, the Secretary talked about Iranian infiltrators in months leading up to the elections which would lead one to believe that one of these infiltrators, or a group of them, were responsible for this drive-by shooting. Is that a correct read of what you were saying?
MR. BURNS: I think the Secretary's speech itself is self-explanatory. I can't read behind the lines for you. I can tell you that what he said is, I think, pretty clear. It points a finger where it should be pointed -- at the activities of a very large state in the Middle East that is very active in supporting not just one or two terrorist groups but a variety of them. It is also mentioned in the speech of Syria, and steps that Syria should take to try to combat terrorism.
Q But there's a significant difference between a group who sends weapons and money and train carrying out an attack; there's a significance difference from that to dispatching assassins to the West Bank to do this thing, which is what the Secretary was implying.
MR. BURNS: Every terrorist act, every terrorist plan is serious, and we take it seriously; and others do as well. This is unusual, I would grant you, and that's why we pointed it out. It's dramatic and additional evidence that Iran is behind a variety of terrorist groups in terrorist operations throughout the Middle East. Iran has not reconciled itself at all to the fact that the tide of history is swinging in favor of those who support peace. Iran is an anachronism. It's behind the times. It's fighting a battle that it will not win but it is causing pain.
That's why our European friends need to join us -- and some of our mutual friends in the Middle East -- to combat terrorism.
Q Just to complete the thought, if I could. The Belgian -- the interception of the mortar in Belgium -- the Secretary said that you all had pretty much concluded that it was going to be used for attacks against Jewish targets in Europe. Can you put any meat on those bones?
MR. BURNS: I think for a variety of reasons we'd rather not do that. But I can assure you that we're working in Europe, with Israel and others, to try to deter any such attacks on anybody in Europe -- Jewish groups, Americans, anyone else.
But it was an important speech. The Secretary took great personal care with it. He went through it very, very carefully over the last couple of days. He went through it again this morning. He feels very strongly that it was the right thing to do -- to call attention to this problem.
Q Nick, can I follow up on Jim's question about the dialogue that the Secretary was referring to? Are there preconditions to talking to Iran? Do they have to renounce terrorism, support of terrorism, and acquisition of nuclear weapons?
MR. BURNS: Of course, you know, Judd, we don't have diplomatic relations with Iran. We do have the Swiss who have been a protecting power for the United States for many, many years. We have long felt -- and previous Administrations have felt -- that it doesn't make sense to cut off all avenues to communication. If there are things that Iran would like to talk about -- issues that it would like to talk about -- it would have a willing partner in the United States but there's nothing new there.
Again, I would take you back to what I said to Jim. There has got to be some quality and some substance in this dialogue for it to result in anything meaningful. So far, we haven't seen any indication that Iran is interested in that.
Q Have you had any overtures at all? Even ones that you considered spurious?
MR. BURNS: From Iran? In the past, we've talked to about two of the Iranians about certain specific issues. For instance, in The Hague, we've talked to them for many years about claims resulting from the Shah's period.
I think off and on, yes, there are contacts -- there are words that go back and forth. We obviously send the Iranians messages from time to time that we think need to be sent privately, and we'll continue to do that. But I can't point you to anything dramatic.
Q What about the recent? Nothing recent?
MR. BURNS: I can't point you to anything dramatic, no, along those lines.
Q Change of topics. China.
MR. BURNS: Yes.
Q There are indications that China is about to start a new round of nuclear tests. I was wondering if the Chinese have made any statement on that, if there is any timetable to that? And, also, what are these indications that China is about start nuclear tests?
MR. BURNS: This is a very sensitive subject, as you well know. Obviously, I have nothing official to say about events that have not occurred. But I would say that we're working very hard with the Chinese in Geneva, at the talks, to try to arrange a comprehensive test ban treaty.
We now have four of the five nuclear powers on the U.N. Security Council in favor of a zero-yield comprehensive test ban treaty that we hope could be signed, concluded this summer and signed in the autumn -- September or October.
We now need China to step forward to join that consensus. This is one of the most important issues facing the United States and China. We're looking for China to come on board this train and to let this process unfold towards the comprehensive test ban treaty. That does answer your question partially, of course.
Q You know that Slocumb went on the record this morning and said that we have indications they are preparing at least one nuclear test, if not multiple. He's already talking on the record, and you're saying "We can't discuss this." Which is it?
MR. BURNS: Obviously, if tests are conducted, it would then be appropriate for me to say something. If tests have not been conducted, then I think I would just rather draw you to the larger objective here, which is to end all tests and to create a world in the next century where there are no nuclear tests.
Q Why has the United States felt it necessary to warn Russia and Ukraine not to sell SS-18 missiles to China, as the Secretary of Defense said this morning.
MR. BURNS: The Secretary of Defense actually said that yesterday and again today. This is a matter of very high priority for the United States, as you know, to restrict the transfer of ballistic missiles and to restrict the transfer of the technology that is available to build ballistic missiles.
Russia is now a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime. With that membership, and also following the dictates of the START-I Treaty, Russia and other parties to the treaty -- United States -- do not have the right to transfer strategic offensive arms to non-treaty states.
When we talk about proliferation, as one of the great global concerns of the next century, there can be no better example than this example.
We don't have evidence that any transfers have occurred, but we have seen reports in the press and other reports -- there's other information available to us -- that would at least motivate us to ask questions. As Secretary Perry said, that's what we have done. We have gone to Russia and Ukraine and told them this is a high priority for the United States; that, of course, it would be contrary to their international commitments were such transfers to take place.
We'll continue to follow these reports and follow the evidence as it develops. We take this very seriously.
In summing up, I would say, Sid, there is no evidence that transfers have taken place, but there's certainly a lot of talk. Where there's talk, I think it's prudent for us to ask questions.
Q What do you make of the fact that Russia is discussing this kind of transfer given its commitments under the MTCR and other agreements?
MR. BURNS: I want to be very careful here. There are press reports and there is other evidence that we have seen; no evidence that would substantiate a claim that a transfer has taken place. The way you ask the question, Carol, I just want to be very specific. It's not exactly what has happened.
Q But even if there's discussing it. You say that they're discussing it. What does it say to you that Russia, which has made these commitments -- these arms control commitments to the United States and the international community -- is pursuing this kind of a deal?
MR. BURNS: What it says to us -- I would just refer you to our message to the Russians and Ukranians. It is not possible or permissible under the international agreements I've just mentioned -- the Missile Technology Control Regime, START-I Treaty -- to engage in activities like this. We hope very much that Russia and Ukraine will not do so.
We are going to follow the situation carefully.
Q Do you believe that Yeltsin is aware of this or behind it.
MR. BURNS: I have no basis for that. I just don't know. These are reports right now. There isn't anything real and hard and pragmatic out there to work with. But they're reports about a subject that is important enough that your government ought to keep on the job, and we are. We're watching.
Q How long have you known about it?
MR. BURNS: I don't know how long we've known about it. There's a big government here. I don't know how long the intelligence community or the State Department and others have known about it. It certainly wasn't news to us when the Bill Gertz article came out in the Washington Times yesterday. Of course, we had knowledge of some reports before that. I just can't say how long.
Q How did the Russians and Ukranians respond to your messages to them on this subject?
MR. BURNS: I don't want to characterize, obviously, specifically, their response. But consider this Steve: message received. And I think with Secretary Perry's On-the-Record comments yesterday and today, they know there's high-level interest in this. I would just obviously associate myself, as a representative of this Department, with what Secretary Perry said.
MR. BURNS: All I'm going to say, Sid, is that the message has been received. We have no evidence, based on the conversations, that any violations have occurred. I very carefully said, in introducing this and answering the questions, that there are reports in the press and there's other information and evidence. It does not add up to a transfer of technology, and it better not add up in the future to a transfer of technology.
Q Your closest allies in the East Bloc, places the President of the United States goes to numerous times of the year, did not even tell you we're not going to do it?
MR. BURNS: Sid, I'm not going to tell you everything about our conversations. As a result of them, however, as I just said, we have no evidence to assert that this has happened. All we have is information, and we have an interest in maintaining a watch on this.
Q New subject.
Q Still on Russia.
MR. BURNS: Still on Russia. We'll go to Ron first.
Q At the CFE talks, the Russian Foreign Ministry said they submitted a draft agreement and that it was blocked by a couple of countries. Was the United States one of these countries?
MR. BURNS: Was that a public statement made by the Russians?
Q The Foreign Ministry, yes.
MR. BURNS: All I would say is this: CFE compliance is a priority issue for us. The President discussed it with President Yeltsin in Moscow when they were there in April. We remain committed to working with the Russians so that Russia can come into compliance with its CFE treaty obligations. That has not yet occurred.
Under Secretary of State Lynn Davis had, just a couple of days ago, some conversations with her counterpart, Mr. Mamedov, on this issue. As a result of those conversations, I cannot report that we have a final agreement -- cannot -- but we are still working on it.
The United States is not blocking anything. The United States is working with Russia and with the other signatories to make sure that all signatories are in compliance. We are not interested in blocking this. We are one of the original signatories that is fully in compliance and it wishes all countries, including Russia, to be in compliance.
Q But, specifically, they say they put forward a draft agreement. If you say they're not in compliance, it would indicate that the U.S. was not in favor of this draft agreement?
MR. BURNS: I'm just not sure which draft we're talking about, so I don't want to talk about the draft. But, needless to say, there are still some differences outstanding between Russia and the other signatories. It is up to all of us to work these out. I'm quite sure we'll be able to do that, but it's been a long, long hard road. We need to have more work and we need the Russian Government to take decisive steps to fulfill their treaty commitments.
Q Nick, I have a question about India. The stated intention of the new government there is to declare India an open nuclear power and to deploy short-range ballistic missiles, the Prithvi.
How concerned is the U.S. about this? And have you had any discussions with the new government on those specific issues?
MR. BURNS: Chris, I understand that perhaps some of the parties -- the political parties platform -- included reference to that in the past. I have not seen myself any statements out of the Indian Government, out of Prime Minister Vajpayee, since he assumed the Prime Ministership last week, to that effect.
Needless to say, we are beginning to work with this government. The Indian Government is well aware of U.S. concerns about proliferation in south Asia. When those issues arise, in our first conversations with the Indian Government -- it's still forming itself -- we'll obviously make our position very clear to the Indian Government. It could not be more clear.
Q I know you wouldn't want to respond to a hypothetical, but if another country did become a nuclear power -- I would say we are a nuclear power; we declare ourselves to be such -- how would the United States react to that? Would you accept someone saying, "We have nuclear weapons and we declare, there's no longer five or six?"
MR. BURNS: Without responding to a hypothetical question, let me just say, generally, the United States has a great interest -- and I think all the world does -- that the world not increase by one or two or three, or any number, the number of nuclear powers in the world; that all countries interested in building a nuclear capacity should stop their activities. And, obviously, any kind of nuclear activities should come under the supervision of the various international bodies that are set up to monitor nuclear activities, such as the IAEA and others. That's our position.
We think the world can be safe in the next century and in the future if we work to limit proliferation of all types of fissile material, of nuclear technologies, of ballistic missiles, various types of warheads, and all of our activities in all these fora are dedicated to restricting rather than increasing the number of nuclear powers in the world. So we would not react at all well if any country decided to declare itself a nuclear power. It would become a significant issue between us and that country; indeed, between the international community and that country.
Q Do you have anything to say about the monitoring group talks?
MR. BURNS: Yes.
Q There were reports yesterday of some retrogression from late last week?
MR. BURNS: I can tell you that the monitoring group -- I guess we have perhaps some biblical patterns occurring here, George. It took Secretary Christopher seven days and seven nights to work out the cease-fire agreement. It may take us seven days and seven nights to work out the monitoring group implementation procedures based on that agreement.
I believe now we're in our sixth day of monitoring group meetings. The latest in those series of meetings began at 1:00 p.m., half an hour ago. Dennis Ross is in the chair. The same group that's been with him for the last six days is present.
We're at the same stage today as we were yesterday. There's a draft agreement on the table produced by the United States. The other countries in question have gone back to their capitals and they have sought guidance on various aspects of that draft agreement, and they are now responding to the group -- each of them -- on their reactions. We're working through some problems and some issues that need to be resolved.
What I said yesterday still stands. We have a draft agreement. We have made progress. We are close to an agreement but no cigar, yet. We'll keep waiting for that right moment -- perhaps it will be on the seventh day; I don't know -- when the agreement is finally concluded to the satisfaction of all parties. When that happens, we'll make a statement here and we'll have a full, detailed briefing on how this all came about. I think it will be satisfactory to everybody concerned. I hope it is. That's exactly where it stands.
Q The parties, On-the-Record, have all said that new issues -- that the draft has been reopened; that there are now new issues concerning France and the United States sharing of the Chairmanship concerning a waiting period during investigations. Issues that had previously been settled have now been reopened, which would certainly support the observation that things had gone backwards and not forward.
MR. BURNS: The only problem with your analysis, with all due respect -- I know certain people have made certain statements -- is that the United States is not speaking On-the-Record of this. We believe that the best way to reach an agreement is not to complicate things by speaking out in public. So we're holding our fire.
Obviously, since we haven't reached an agreement -- we didn't reach it in a day -- there are some issues that need to be resolved, obviously. I wouldn't contest that, Sid. There are some issues and problems that we need to work through that continue.
Q Would things be easier for the United States if France had not somehow now become injected into what was previously thought to be the U.S. peace process?
MR. BURNS: I wouldn't say that at all. France is a valued ally. It has been since Yorktown. Listen, we need the French, even before Yorktown -- thank you for pointing that out -- but certainly at Yorktown with the French fleets; at Saratoga. The French, throughout our own history, have been a good ally of the United States. I think we feel that working together we can actually strengthen our efforts in the Middle East. We'll do that.
The French -- just to take another example that we haven't talked about yet but should, the situation in Bangui today. The French are playing the leading role there. We are lucky to have the French with us in Bangui.
So, no. The answer is, no. We're very glad to have the French here in the Department and with us in the monitoring group.
In fact, let me take you back to the negotiating history, just to complete the answer. We insisted that the French be part of the monitoring group -- insisted.
Q Just to complete the circle, how would you feel if the French -- if the Syrians requested the French sit in on peace negotiations between Israel and Syria?
MR. BURNS: I don't believe that suggestion has been made.
Q Maybe not, but --
MR. BURNS: I believe the way we'll proceed after the Israeli elections, assuming that the talks can be started -- and we hope they can -- is that Syria and Israel will resume their peace negotiations. We hope that happens. Of course, the Secretary of State, Dennis Ross, and others will serve as the intermediary, as we have done effectively in the past.
Q Would the French be welcome to help you guys out?
MR. BURNS: I think the United States is satisfied with the present arrangement and the past practice that in a very difficult, complex negotiations, where both of the parties -- Israel and Syria -- want the presence of the United States, the physical and active and political presence of the United States, in the negotiating room; I think it's easier to have the United States play that leading role.
I think it is less complicated to have the United States play that leading role, but we certainly welcome the involvement of France in the monitoring group, in the consultative group. Here, the French will play a very large role in trying to raise the level of international support for Lebanon, in Lebanon's reconstruction after a terrible 20-year period of warfare -- civil war and other warfare.
So the French are valuable actors. They add value, and they're here.
Q Since you brought it up, can you bring us up to date on the Central African Republic?
MR. BURNS: Yes, and then we'll go to Mr. Arshad, because I know Mr. Arshad has a question on Bangladesh.
Yes, I'll be glad to. The Secretary, I know, gave you some comments after his speech today on Central Africa. He was briefed in some detail at the 8:30 staff meeting this morning by Under Secretary Dick Moose on this.
Let me just take you through it. Disorder continues; in fact, chaos in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. Soldiers have looted the commercial area and many residences. There have been attacks against the radio station, and there has been a great deal of fighting.
The airport is closed to commercial traffic, and access to the airport is quite difficult and limited.
Our Embassy officials in Bangui report this morning of a fire-fight close to the American Embassy. There is no indication, thankfully, of any threatening gestures or direct fire against the American Embassy. Although some foreign civilians have not been targeted, there is a serious risk of foreigners being caught in the cross-fire of the fighting in Bangui -- which is why we are urging all American citizens to stay in their homes or in their offices, wherever they may be, and not venture out into the streets of Bangui today.
Late yesterday afternoon, the State Department implemented an ordered departure status. All non-essential official personnel of the U.S. Government, their dependents, and Peace Corps volunteers are being evacuated. We notified all Americans in Rwanda through our warden network -- our radio network -- of this decision, and now we're beginning the process to --
MR. BURNS: No, warden network.
Q I thought you said Rwandan --
MR. BURNS: I'm sorry. If I did, I was mistaken. I meant Bangui, Central African Republic. All Americans are believed to be safe. There are 252 Americans in the Central African Republic. The majority of them are outside of Bangui. They are mostly Peace Corps volunteers and missionaries. We are going to, in a very orderly way, bring them all in to certain areas where they can be evacuated. We began that process this morning.
A U.S. Air Force plane arrived in Bangui with a contingent of United States Marines. Those Marines are there to provide security for the evacuation process and additional security for the Embassy compound itself.
The first plane departed this morning with 13 Americans on board, and with others -- foreigners -- on board, and we are now arranging for the remainder of the Americans -- the official Americans and all private Americans who wish to go, because we cannot order them to go -- to be evacuated beginning tomorrow morning.
From a political standpoint, the Human Rights Commission in Bangui is calling for a resumption of the negotiations between the government and the soldiers, and the commission has asked the French, German and American Ambassadors to serve as observers.
I think we have to give credit to the French Government for its continuous efforts to try to bring stability to the Central African Republic. The French maintain a garrison of troops -- more than a thousand troops -- in the Central African Republic, and the United States appreciates the support and assistance of the Government of France to our own efforts to safeguard our citizens in Bangui.
Q Nick, there were in the last couple of weeks several crises in African and pending, looming crises that this government is worried about. Is there some review of African policy being undertaken? Is the Department giving serious thought to what's been going on in Africa -- the question of aid and so forth?
MR. BURNS: Judd, I'm not aware of any general Africa-wide, fifty country-wide review. It's a big continent. The fact is that we have major national interests in South Africa and in southern Africa in general. There is the Gore-Mbeki Commission that I think demonstrates that national interest.
We have an historic interest in Liberia, which has been tragically in chaos for more than six weeks now, and we've done what we can through the continued presence of our Embassy -- the only Embassy left in Monrovia, of any country. We've done what we can to help stabilize that very sorry situation where the militia leaders continue to run amok and victimize their own citizens.
We have major humanitarian interests throughout the Sahel and in central Africa to try to alleviate suffering and privation, and we do that through our assistance programs. Of course, we have an interest in the northeast part of Africa -- in Egypt and Sudan and Ethiopia and Eritrea and others countries.
I think our interests vary, depending on what part of the continent you're talking to. But I think that this Administration, through the trips of the Vice President, Tony Lake's multiple trips, Strobe Talbott's trips -- I think we've shown a high degree of interest and involvement in African affairs.
We are limited by the disinclination of the Congress to provide sufficient resources for all of the objectives that we have in Africa, particularly some of the humanitarian objectives, and that is regrettable.
Q Last week you were talking about contingency plans with the possibility of deeper international involvement in Burundi, and I think you just said that the situation there is getting worse.
MR. BURNS: Yes.
Q Can you update us on those contingency plans?
MR. BURNS: What I can tell you is that there's been a good deal of conversation in the United Nations that, should the worst occur in Burundi, the United Nations be ready to respond, because we do remember what happened two years ago last month in Rwanda.
The United States has participated in some working sessions of a group at the United Nations that is putting together plans for an international program of action that would respond to a disaster in Burundi where many thousands of people's lives would be at risk. That is not a far-fetched scenario, given present events.
What we have said is that we'd be willing to provide logistics and communication and other material support. The United States is not contemplating any provision of American troops in the event that there is a U.N. mission. As you know, the Secretary General has been very supportive of this effort and has felt that it does make sense to plan for the worst in this case.
Q To go back to the Central African Republic, there's no plan to close the Embassy and evacuate the Ambassador?
MR. BURNS: At this point we're actually assessing the situation a day at a time. We're looking at all of our options. We want to see what happens in the streets; what the threat level is against our official American population that will remain behind -- the Ambassador and his staff. We have not made any decisions at this point on that question.
Q I'm also told that there's one road leading into the capital; that the missionaries and the Peace Corps workers are strewn across the country; that it could take weeks to contact them all and get them out. How do you plan to --
MR. BURNS: Fortunately, the Americans who are outside the capital city are safe, as far as we know. We've tried to be in contact with all of them. You're right. It is a difficult proposition in some cases to contact them; in many cases to bring them back to Bangui for transportation out of the country -- a very difficult job, indeed. But we do have an obligation to them -- the official Americans and the civilians -- to do what we can to help them, to safeguard them, protect them.
Q Nick, would you argue with the assessment that it could take us weeks to complete their evacuation?
MR. BURNS: I'd like to check that. I don't know if it would take weeks. I'd just like to check that with our experts here in the Bureau of African Affairs before I responded to that.
Q And there's a corollary in Liberia -- U.S. security personnel went into the city to bring Americans --
MR. BURNS: We did.
Q Would it be possible for U.S. security people to go into the Central African Republic countryside and bring the Americans back?
MR. BURNS: I don't think the situations are analogous. Our Security Officer in Monrovia went into the city to people's homes, because it was, we thought, a matter of life and death. It is not yet the case, and we hope it will not become the case, in Bangui itself. But we are mindful of our responsibilities, and we'll take whatever actions we have to take to protect American citizens. We have no higher obligation overseas.
Q Nick, on Zaire, you talked about cooperation as far as Burundi. What kind of cooperation do you want from Zaire, as far as preventing problems in Burundi?
MR. BURNS: Zaire has an impact and has influence on what happens in Burundi from a variety of perspectives. As I said, some of the local officials in Zaire have actually been quite helpful in trying to stabilize some of the problems that have spilled over the border from the situation in both Rwanda and Burundi into Zaire itself with the migrant population and the refugee populations there.
We'd like to see that the government in Kinshasha, but specifically President Mobutu, would emulate some of the actions of the local leaders and would take responsible positions so that we do not see a bloodbath occur in refugee camps in Zaire the way the bloodbath has occurred in parts of Burundi and in Rwanda several years ago.
You've seen the reports of atrocities committed just in the last couple of days and last couple of weeks inside Zaire in some of those refugee camps. We take those reports very seriously, and we're troubled by them, and that's one of the reasons why Tony Lake was in Burundi last week. It's why George Moose has been sent back, but this time to Zaire, because we think there is direct influence; and, if the Zairean Government can mobilize itself to work on this problem, then we think the situation might be improved as a result of that action.
If there are no further questions, I do think there's one more issue we should cover. There are two more issues. Bangladesh and Burma. But, Mr. Arshad, I'd be glad to go to your questions.
Q Thank you, Nick. Do you have further comment from yesterday on Bangladesh, following the dismissal of the Army Chief? Is this event and this (inaudible) event a threat to the forthcoming elections, and is there any move by Ambassador Merrill to initiate a mission of election engagement, letting this on the sideline -- this even on the sideline -- for the elections?
MR. BURNS: Let me just tell you what we have on Bangladesh. Our Embassy in Dhaka is reporting that the city and the outlying cities are calm; that movements of tanks and troops toward Dhaka appear to have halted, and that the troops appear to have returned to their garrisons.
There are unconfirmed reports that the Chief of the Army Staff, Lieutenant General Nasim, has accepted the President's decision to relieve him of his duties. Both the President and the Chief Adviser who is in charge of the caretaker government have stressed that free and fair elections should proceed as planned for June 12.
We are pleased that there are signs now that this crisis seems to be abating, and that it has done so peacefully. We continue to believe that free and fair elections are the key to political stability and economic development and social stability in Bangladesh. We hope that the situation will remain calm, and that there will be no violence, and that these elections can be held; and that the people can determine their own future.
I did want to say one thing before we left about Burma, because I think it's a very important story.
The United States is very concerned by the reports today that the State Law and Order Restoration Council -- the so-called SLORC -- has arrested more than 40 -- I believe the number is now 44 -- democracy activists in Burma. If this is true, and there's every reason to think it is true, this is yet another in a series of oppressive actions by the military regime to prevent Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters from exercising their basic political rights.
The recent SLORC criticism and the actions of the military against the democratic opposition have been ominous. We are deeply concerned, and we've made the strongest possible representations to the Burmese authorities in Rangoon and also here in Washington, D.C. We will continue our diplomatic representations to the Burmese Government.
We have consistently urged the Burmese Government to enter into a genuine dialogue about the political future of Burma, with Aung San Suu Kyi and the leaders of the ethnic minorities. We believe that this is the key to political reconciliation in Burma.
The SLORC has violated with impunity the human rights of the Burmese people. We have repeatedly denounced the policies of SLORC all around the world, and in meetings with them we have informed them that actions against the democratic opposition would result in further deterioration in our already very poor relations that the United States has with the authorities in Burma.
Q Nick, do we have any leverage over Burma? I mean, how could relations get any worse?
MR. BURNS: Relations are quite poor, I agree with you, Sid, as I just said. They're quite poor because the Burmese Government is anti-democratic and has violated the rights of the Burmese people, as I've said. I don't know how much leverage we have, but sooner or later the military authorities there have to wonder about their links beyond the borders of Burma -- their political links, their economic links. They have to wonder about the ability of this country to participate in the life of Asia, much less the life of the world.
It's just not the United States that is condemning these actions, but countries all across the world. We have a responsibility. We have here a heroic woman who is leading a democracy campaign, and she's right. Her people deserve to be heard. People deserve to say what they want to say. Those who were elected in the 1990 elections deserve to have the right to be heard, and these are basic, fundamental points about democracy in the world. We have a responsibility to speak out, and we're doing so.
Q And yet one of your closest allies, Thailand, maintains pretty decent relations with Burma. Might you exert some pressure on Thailand to --
MR. BURNS: We think that all countries should condemn what's happening in Burma today -- what's happening today with the arrest of these activists, and we think that pressure should be placed upon the Burmese Government -- and I thank you for giving me the opportunity -- by Burma's neighbors to take solid action to try to influence the military figures who run the government.
Q Might the United States make an effort at ASEAN this year to try to reverse what had been the recent trend, which is to improve relations with Burma -- efforts by the ASEAN countries to improve relations with Burma?
MR. BURNS: ASEAN is two months away, so I don't want to leap ahead. I don't know where the situation will take itself in the intervening two months. But, needless to say, Carol, we have very poor relations. We have limited contacts. We are going to maintain those contacts, because we do need to pass messages -- messages that are important to pass, like protect the rights of people, especially a Nobel prize winner who is speaking out courageously in Rangoon on behalf of her people.
Q Thank you.
MR. BURNS: Thank you.
(The briefing concluded at 1:57 p.m.)
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