U.S. Department of State 96/05/22 Daily Press Briefing Office of the Spokesman U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING I N D E X Wednesday, May 22, 1996 Briefer: Nicholas Burns DEPARTMENT Secretary Christopher's Congressional Testimony on 5/23 . 1 Opening of Department Child Care Center ................. 1-2 FORMER YUGOSLAVIA A/S Kornblum's Travel/Mtgs./Discussions in Region ....... 2-3,8 Dayton Accords--Compliance/Implementation ............... 3-8 --Apprehension/Citings of Indicted War Criminals ........ 3-9,11-13 IFOR Mission ............................................ 5-6,9-11 Prospects of Secretary Christopher's Travel to Region ... 9 Conditions for Elections ................................ 6,9-13 BURMA Detention of Nat'l. League for Democracy Members ........ 13-16 Congressional Legislation re: Trade Sanctions ........... 14-15 Counternarcotics Cooperation/Efforts .................... 15 NORTH KOREA U.S.-North Korean Mtg. re: Four-Party Peace Proposal .... 16-22 Food Situation/Assistance ............................... 22-23 LEBANON Monitoring Group Mtgs. .................................. 23,28 SYRIA Support for Terrorist Groups............................. 24 DAS Verstandig Discussions in Syria ..................... 25 Israel-Syria/Israel-Lebanon Peace Negotiation Prospects . 25-27 CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC Situation Update ........................................ 28-29 --Travel Warning ........................................ 28 --French Troop Rescue of U.S. Peace Corps Volunteers .... 28-29 LIBERIA Situation Update ........................................ 29-30
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
WEDNESDAY, MAY 22, 1996, 12:13 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. BURNS: Good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department briefing. I want to remind all of you that the Secretary will be testifying tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. before the Senate Appropriations Committee, the Subcommittee on Foreign Operations. That's, of course, open to all of you in the press. The Secretary will be there as will some of us.
The Secretary has had a busy morning of mainly meetings here in the Department with his advisors. He does have one public appointment which I want to tell you about. It's a very interesting one.
At 2:00 p.m., the Secretary will cut the ribbon at our new Child Care Center -- the Department's new Child Care Center -- Barry, I want you to pay close attention to this -- at Colombia Plaza. This Child Care --
Q A closed conference.
MR. BURNS: Wait a minute. If there's interest, I'll do something about it.
Q We have our seven-year old stringer going there. By the way, I think they can handle the story.
MR. BURNS: I notice that some of your stories appear to be written -- I wouldn't say that. Not your stories, Barry; other AP stories! Your stories are terrific. Some of your stories on baseball and the Red Sox, and things like that.
MR. BURNS: Listen, there are only eight games under 500. We shouldn't have brought Vaughn and Eshelman up from Pawtucket. That was a major mistake.
In any case, getting back to the issue at hand here. This is actually an interesting issue. I think some of you are going to find this to be newsworthy.
The State Department has not had a Child Care Center. The State Department, as of 2:00 p.m. today, will have one at Colombia Plaza. The Secretary will cut the ribbon. This is a Child Care Center for kids from six weeks to kindergarten. It's open year-round, and it's run by a private organization called "Diplo-Tots, Inc." The Department paid for the renovation of the space and for the lease.
I want to tell you the Department donated $22,000, in addition to renovating the space and paying the lease, to the Center from the proceeds of the recycled material from this building. That is newsworthy. I think Diplo-Tots is a fine organization. The fact that we finally have a Day Care Center, that the Secretary of State will cut the ribbon, is a very good thing, indeed.
Q Is it open for the ABC producers?
MR. BURNS: I think we can make special arrangements, Laura. If you're interested, see me after the briefing.
In any case, that's the story there. If you and the Press Corps want to cover this, let us know.
Q Are there kids there now?
MR. BURNS: Of course, there will be kids there. It's a Child Care Center.
MR. BURNS: Yes, it is. There will be kids there. If you're interested in a photo-op, we'll try to do something for you.
Q Will he hold a baby in his very arms?
MR. BURNS: Thank you, Barry. That brings us to Bosnia.
Q Syrian --
MR. BURNS: Bosnia. Actually, I've got one more thing to say, that brings us to Bosnia.
I just spoke with John Kornblum about a half hour ago. He was enroute from Belgrade to Zagreb. He told me that he had a four-hour meeting today with President Milosevic in Belgrade. They had a detailed discussion of all of the major Dayton implementation issues.
During that conversation, John Kornblum made very clear to President Milosevic our belief -- our very strong belief -- that both Karadzic and Mladic should be apprehended and brought to justice. They should be removed from power. They should not be in power as we go through the next six months of the Dayton implementation process.
John Kornblum also made very clear that the United States will work with those Bosnian Serb leaders who are interested in fulfilling the commitments of the Bosnian Serbs under the Dayton Accords.
President Milosevic said that he was committed to full implementation of Dayton. They had a very long discussion. I can tell you that all of the issues that we have been talking about here over the last couple of days concerning human rights, war crimes, civilian implementation issues, reconstruction, were raised.
John Kornblum is enroute to Zagreb. When he meets with the Croatian Government, he will be talking about many of these same issues but also will discuss with them the Federation Forum and Federation issues. He'll be discussing the human rights situation in Croatia and the situation in Eastern Slavonia.
He will travel from Zagreb to Sarajevo. He'll have meetings with President Izetbegovic also on a lot of these same issues. He'll be returning to the United States tomorrow evening. I would expect that John will be returning back to the region probably sometime late next week, before the Secretary's trip to Europe -- to Berlin -- for the NATO meetings.
I want to go to your questions. Barry.
Q Nick, did he say the magic words? You remember how long it took to get Yasser Arafat to say the magic words. Did Milosevic say, "I will see that they are arrested and brought to justice?" Or is he speaking ambiguously in terms of he believes in full compliance with the Dayton Accords?
MR. BURNS: I am quite sure that he did not make any clear, unequivocal statement of the type that you've proposed for us, Barry. That, in itself, of course, is part of the problem.
At issue here is, how can we remove Karadzic and Mladic from power? How can "we," in the international community, do that? That is mainly a task up to the parties to this agreement themselves -- the parties that sign the Dayton Accords -- it's their responsibility.
We are looking to them -- President Milosevic and to the others in the region -- to accomplish that. Only deeds, Barry, are really meaningful.
Q Did Kornblum say his magic words, which the sanctions can be put back on if the accords are not fully complied with?
MR. BURNS: I believe that he made that clear, and he has made that clear in the past, as have I and a number of others of us who speak On-the-Record for the U.S. Government. It's always an option available to us, although we have not yet decided to exercise that option. Mr. Kornblum did not indicate today that we were exercising that option.
Q What is it going to take for you to decide to exercise that option? Six months have gone by. You're in a crunch period. The Bosnian Muslims are threatening to boycott the elections, which you say are critical. Your efforts to sort of force a split in the Bosnian Serb leadership hasn't produced the results you wanted, and Milosevic is apparently being obstinate.
What is it going to take for the international community, led by the United States, to take action?
MR. BURNS: Carol, I think what we're going to do is, we're going to go through a series of discussions with the parties; certainly, with Milosevic and the Bosnian Serb leadership.
The Secretary, of course, has been involved regularly in discussions with these leaders. We're going to give them a chance to make sure that there is full compliance with Dayton. I don't think it would be wise for us to react emotionally, just because we've seen the video of Mladic in Belgrade yesterday. We have Karadzic striking back and countering a move to displace him over the weekend.
Obviously, we would have preferred very much had Mladic not gone to Belgrade. We would have vastly preferred that he would have been arrested yesterday by the Serb authorities, because that's their responsibility. We certainly would have preferred that the attempt by some moderate Bosnian Serbs from Banja Luka to effectively remove or marginalize Karadzic would have succeeded. That did not happen.
We're not going to fly off the handle and take precipitous action today or tomorrow in response to those events. What we are going to do is calmly, deliberately, and very forcefully assert our continuing belief that as we proceed towards elections, the Bosnian Serbs must commit themselves to full compliance with all of the conditions for elections such as freedom of movement; and the conditions in the Dayton Accords that call for fulfillment of war crimes requirements -- that they be adhered to as well.
At some point, we're going to have to decide, Carol, whether or not there has been compliance or not. We can't prolong that debate forever. We certainly would not choose to. At some point, we'll have to sit back and say, "Has the measure of compliance by Serbia and the Bosnian Serbs been adequate?" If the answer is no, then we have some quite significant options at our disposal. If the answer is yes, that will mean that we've made progress diplomatically.
We prefer to make progress with them. But they are on warning. We have warned them that we have these options at our disposal.
I just want to know if Carol had a follow-up.
Q I was going to say, can you confirm what Richard Goldstone told in a New York Times interview that he had pushed the United States to have the military forces in Bosnia take action -- the IFOR forces take action against Karadzic and Mladic, and that the United States basically said, "No, we're not going to do that?"
Q First, let me say, we do have great respect for Justice Goldstone. We had good conversations with him this week. I can tell you that it is essentially correct that he believes that NATO should take a different course on the question of war crimes and the question of the apprehension of those who have been indicted on suspicion of war crimes.
We had a full discussion of those issues, not just here in the State Department but at other agencies around town, as some of the newspaper reports indicated.
We believe that IFOR's mission should remain focused on the military side of the equation. I think that some people perhaps continue to underestimate the difficulty and challenges of that mission. They have pulled it off magnificently.
The American troops and the other troops have acquitted themselves superbly over the last six months. Perhaps they've even made it look too easy because now everyone is thinking of new things for them to do. But the continued application of IFOR to those military purposes is quite important.
They also have a responsibility concerning the elections to try to help the civilian administrators -- the OSCE and others -- to establish a secure environment for the elections. You know that IFOR has decided -- mainly because of American pushing -- to take some steps, perhaps broader steps than they had envisioned a couple of months ago, to secure that good environment for the elections as we approach the elections at the end of the summer and the beginning of the autumn.
You also know that in response to requests by Justice Goldstone and by the United States, IFOR is now playing a much more active role in securing sites of war crimes -- sites of massacres in Bosnia-Herzegovina. They're playing a role that, frankly, I think they did not think they would play when they arrived in December.
So there has been, I think, a evolution in the role of IFOR. But the United States still believes we've got to keep the troops focused on their core military missions.
I think Justice Goldstone, in a very responsible way, has raised some good points that require a response. We would just say that we do remain determined to bring these indicted war criminals to justice. That's where they belong. They belong in the docket. They belong on trial.
We do continue to believe that that will happen in the future. If IFOR can be helpful, if these people in essence run into IFOR patrols, then IFOR has the responsibility to secure them for transport to The Hague.
Q Nick, I was struck by your use of the words "emotional" and "precipitous" in describing what a reaction would be at this point to Milosevic's continued refusal to act on the issue of Karadzic and Mladic.
Why did you choose to use those words, and also you said that the point will come -- if he hasn't taken action or if the larger group hasn't taken action -- that the United States would act, and that that warning has been given. The second part of the question is, when?
MR. BURNS: I thought I answered the second part of your question. I think that was essentially Carol's question.
Q Could you look at a calendar and pick a date?
MR. BURNS: I think I won't do that, but let me try to answer your whole question. I think we've learned a lot about Bosnia and about how to be effective on this very difficult issue over the last four-and-a-half years. It was the continued and very patient application of American force and diplomacy that brought us to the relatively happy stage of events that we're now experiencing.
That is, we stopped the war, and we brought together a peace. I think what we learned from that, Steve, is that when things go wrong -- and they clearly went wrong over the weekend -- we would have preferred to see Karadzic effectively marginalized over the weekend.
When you see a guy like Mladic show up in Belgrade, when he should be arrested there, you don't rush quickly towards a policy solution to very difficult problems. What you've got to do, we think, is stay with what's been working for you, continue to apply very high-level diplomatic pressure in the person of the Secretary of State and of John Kornblum and others. Then at some point answer the question that you and Carol have posed for us: that is, is their measure of compliance adequate. We're not yet at the stage we're willing to give up on the proposition that working diplomatically through the Bosnian Serbs and the Serb leadership we can actually accomplish good things.
Q Did President Milosevic's government violate the Dayton accords by allowing General Mladic into Serbia and back out again without arresting him?
MR. BURNS: Serbia, as a signatory and as a participant in the negotiation of the Dayton accords, has a responsibility to carry out those accords to the letter. Part of the accords say that the parties have a responsibility to apprehend indicted war criminals.
Mladic is an indicted war criminal. He was in full uniform in Belgrade yesterday. It is outrageous that he showed up in the light of day, and, yes, the Serbian Government should have arrested him; and, yes, they're not in compliance with the Dayton accords on that question. We have put them on notice that that is a very important issue that they've got to pay much more attention to. We do need to see compliance.
As I said before, the outer wall of sanctions are still in place. Other sanctions -- the option of moving towards other sanctions is still a possibility, should these very important provisions of the Dayton accords not be adhered to.
I think the fundamental point to make to them is that they don't have the option of picking and choosing which parts of the accords they like and which parts are inconvenient to them. The fact is they've got to move, and they've got to move by action, and only actions are going to be convincing to the United States, to Europe and to the rest of the international community.
Q But there was no -- if I could just follow up, there was no actual price to be paid for that violation yesterday.
MR. BURNS: David, there is a price. The fact is that if there was a perfect measure of compliance by Serbia, for instance, then the outer wall of sanctions would be removed. If there was a perfect measure of compliance, we would not be threatening continually and again today that we do hold another sanctions card for use in the future.
So there is a price to be paid. Serbia is still an isolated state -- entity -- internationally. It does not have normal diplomatic relations with the United States, and we don't have an Ambassador in Belgrade. We have Charge level relations. It does not have normal relations with the U.N. system. It doesn't have normal relations with international financial organizations; and, if it wants to become a fully modern, integrated state in Europe, then it has to act like one -- and human rights accords are part of that.
Q Did Kornblum talk or raise this subject with Milosevic, and, if so, what was his response?
MR. BURNS: John Kornblum has raised all of these issues with Milosevic continually and again today.
Q I know, but Mladic's attendance at this funeral.
MR. BURNS: Right. That issue has been raised with the Serbian Government. I think just to preserve the diplomatic integrity of John's mission which is underway, I'm not going to get into characterizing Milosevic's response. Needless to say, we've raised it. We're making it public here, and it is an issue of very grave concern for us.
Q Nick, can I ask you quickly if you're able to say now that Christopher will indeed go to the area in July -- in June, excuse me -- while he's in Europe?
MR. BURNS: I'm not in a position to formally announce his trip, but, as you know, there is a NATO ministerial on the 3rd and 4th of June in Berlin, and I would expect the Secretary to attend. I think I'll have a formal announcement of that, probably tomorrow or the next day.
As I mentioned before, the Secretary since Dayton has maintained a regular set of diplomatic contacts with Milosevic, Tudjman and Izetbegovic, and I would think that he would consider exercising that as well in the near future. But again I don't have any formal announcements to make.
Q Nick, do you know how many indicted war criminals were at that funeral other than Mladic?
MR. BURNS: I don't.
Q There were more than just Mladic, though.
MR. BURNS: I don't. I just don't. I don't believe there were any Americans at that funeral -- American Government officials at that funeral, so I just can't count for you. But he was there, and it was a fairly dramatic picture, and it was a very disquieting one to see.
Q Just to follow up, you mentioned previously that IFOR would take a greater role during the election. Can you spell out exactly what IFOR is prepared to do?
MR. BURNS: I think, as we've said before, there's nothing new here; that IFOR has agreed that it will work with the OSCE to help to create the conditions for a good, positive, free and fair election.
One of the fundamental conditions is freedom of movement. IFOR is opening up the transportation links in Bosnia-Herzegovina that have been closed off for four years. They are ripping down the barricades. They are opening the major highways. They're opening rail transportation. All of those are absolutely essential so that people can vote. You know that people have options for voting.
People can vote in the place where they came from, from 1991, or they can vote in essence by absentee from the place where they currently reside. There are 2 million people who are refugees. A very small percentage of those people, I think, will be settled by September -- the first part of September when the elections occur.
So we would assume that if some people want to make the move back to their homes to vote, they will do that. They'll need protection, but they'll also need an environment that allows them to do that -- both a physical environment, roads, transportation links -- but also a secure environment so that retribution won't be sought against them. They also, of course, will need information about who is running, and that is also up to the OSCE, but IFOR is going to assist in all of these respects. So I think it's an important role that they're going to play in the elections.
Q IFOR is going to help people relocate to their old homes, provide security in that --
MR. BURNS: No. What I said is that these are the choices that people make. IFOR is creating the environment by the completion of its military tasks that will make that possible.
Q Okay, I just want to run it by. IFOR is willing, if people want, to help them move back to their old homes. They're going to --
MR. BURNS: Just to be absolutely accurate here, of course IFOR would like to see people go back to their homes if they choose to do so, but so would the civilian administration. You know that in the question of refugees, a civilian administration is the pertinent authority, not IFOR. I'm just trying not to create something that doesn't exist here.
Q No, that's clear. And the second part, and I believe this is in the agreement -- the Federation agreement -- IFOR radio channels? Political candidates will be allowed to broadcast campaign information across IFOR's military channels.
MR. BURNS: And other channels -- commercial channels. But they will be accessed by candidates to media that exist; and IFOR does control, as you know -- does run some of the media, especially the radio; and there will also be freedom of the press -- freedom for those who want to cover -- journalists who want to cover the elections.
Q And what will they be doing for security during election day?
MR. BURNS: IFOR troops? I don't know if that's been fully worked out with OSCE. I mean, I can't give you a full detail-by-detail briefing of where IFOR troops are going to be. That remains to be worked out.
I simply wanted to make the point that the elections will only be successful if there is a relatively secure environment. IFOR has a major role to play in creating that environment.
Let me just make one more point, because we've talked a little bit about Justice Goldstone's remarks, which we fully understand and fully respect, even though we don't agree with in all respects. There was also the suggestion that perhaps the Bosnian Government would not want to participate in the elections, should Karadzic and Mladic not be removed from power by the time those elections are held.
We think that we need to -- all of us in the international community, including the Bosnian Government -- need to keep focused on what we've already agreed to. The fact is that an electoral commission has been established. The Bosnian Government is part of that. They've already worked out the rules of the road for these elections. They've already worked out some of the conditions for the elections. This was not one of them.
It's not useful at this time to suggest new ideas, new conditions, that would effectively put off the elections. The elections must be held if the environment can be created in which to hold them, and that's a very important thing. We will calmly and patiently continue to work with all the parties to create the conditions for the elections.
Q Do you think there can be free and fair elections as long as President Karadzic remains in power in Pale?
MR. BURNS: I think our ideal scenario -- ideal, in the perfect dream world -- would be for Karadzic and Mladic to be removed from power or remove themselves from power and to be transported to The Hague for trial.
Should that not happen -- let's say Karadzic remains in his lair in Pale, where he's very isolated -- let's say he's sitting there in the beginning of September as the elections are underway. As long as he has been effectively marginalized to this extent, he won't be a candidate in the elections, and he won't prevent the elections from occurring. Then I think the elections can go forward and will go forward with him sitting in his bitter isolation in Pale. I think that is possible. And it may be, David, that we'll be presented with that scenario and won't have to face it.
We're going to work through -- we're ready to work through a variety of different scenarios. But we're determined to hold these elections if in fact OSCE can declare by mid-June that the conditions are appropriate for the elections to be held. That's a decision that Mr. Frowick -- Bob Frowick, an American -- will have to make.
One of the conversations that I'm sure the Secretary will be having when he goes to Berlin will be to talk to his European counterparts about those issues.
Q It sounds as if when you describe Mr. Karadzic holed up in his lair, as if he's going to have some limitations on his freedom of movement. Does IFOR plan as part of its help for the elections to hem Mr. Karadzic into a limited area so that he cannot campaign and cannot intimidate other candidates?
MR. BURNS: He can't run -- he will not run these elections. He's not permitted to.
Q He'll obviously run a slate.
MR. BURNS: He can't run himself. I don't think it's practical for him to be planning any kind of barnstorming of Bosnia-Herzegovina in advance of the elections, because there are IFOR soldiers everywhere, and they are obligated to arrest him, should they see him. He's too prominent a personality. His visage is too recognizable for him to be driving around the country giving speeches. So I think he's limited in that respect as well.
Q I mean, for example, will he be prevented from going to the television studios in Pale?
MR. BURNS: A few. Pardon, David?
Q Would he be prevented from going to the television studios in Pale, for example?
MR. BURNS: I don't know if he'll be prevented from doing that, but he certainly won't have access to the ballot box. He won't have access to the mainstream media. Sooner or later -- if he's not effectively marginalized now, and he is not effectively marginalized now -- he's still an actor there -- he will be sooner or later. Because these elections, if they can be held successfully, will really grant legitimacy to a different group of people.
Q So, Nick, neither him nor his candidates will have access to IFOR's radio arrangements --
MR. BURNS: Indicted war criminals will not participate in the elections. He's an indicted war criminal. If some of his colleagues are also indicted war criminals -- and some of them are -- I would group them in that category. There are obviously other people who work with him and who believe in him who are not indicted. Therefore, we have no right to infringe upon their freedom of speech.
There must be other issues we can discuss today. I have some issues.
MR. BURNS: Yes. Would you like to hear about Burma?
The situation is very grim in Rangoon. Our Embassy in Rangoon, headed by our Charge d'Affaires, Marilyn Meyers, reports to us that 91 members of the National League for Democracy have been detained; and of those 91, 87 were elected in 1990, in the elections that were repudiated by the military dictators in Burma.
We deplore the arrests of these 91 people. We deplore the fact that they will not be able to meet this weekend at the residence of Aung San Suu Kyi for a democratic meeting. Yesterday in Rangoon, Marilyn Meyers, our Charge d'Affaires, met with Burmese Government officials, and she called for the immediate release of the 91 people who have been detained.
On May 21, here in Washington, our Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Kent Wiedemann, also telephoned the Burmese Ambassador and made the identical protest.
The Burmese Government has told us that the detainees have not been imprisoned but instead are being held at so-called "government guest houses" -- their term, not mine -- for questioning.
As we said yesterday, this is yet another in a long series of outrageous and oppressive measures against democrats, including a Nobel prize laureate in Rangoon. Nothing can justify the detention of 91 people who simply wanted to meet to talk about the activities of their group and to petition the Burmese Government for rights that the international community gives to every citizen.
We will continue to urge the Burmese Government to enter into a genuine dialogue with these people. We'll continue to urge the rest of Burma's neighbors in Asia and countries around the world to repudiate the actions that have been taken over the last couple of days.
Q Could you spell her name? M-e-y or M-y?
MR. BURNS: Marilyn Meyers? M-e-y-e-r-s. She's the American Charge d'Affaires in Rangoon. We do not have an Ambassador. We do not have Ambassadorial level relations in Rangoon because of the very poor state of our relationship with Burma and with the military dictators who rule Burma.
Q Have you any plans to do anything beyond urging them? I mean, are there any other moves that are being considered?
MR. BURNS: At this point we are talking to them diplomatically. We are hoping that other countries will denounce these undemocratic actions, as the United States has denounced them now for a couple of days running. Obviously, we will consider any options at our disposal as the situation proceeds.
But, frankly, Chris, the United States is in a position really of using, if you will, some moral suasion here. It has not worked in the past. These military dictators seem to be impervious to the will of the international community and to the will of a heroic woman who is leading the democratic movement in Burma.
We have great respect for her, and I think she deserves to have countries like the United States standing up for her, and that's what we're doing.
Q What does the State Department think of the potential legislation in Congress? I think it's called the Burma Trade Sanctions Act, which might try and stiffen U.S. policy.
MR. BURNS: U.S. policy is already fairly stiff. The state of our relations is poor. Our ability to interact with Burma is quite limited because of the actions of the Burmese Government in the past. If there are ways where that can be strengthened, I'm sure we'll be working with the Congress on that -- but I don't want to say anything categorical about that, Bill, until I've at least looked at it more closely.
Q Kent Wiedemann was on the Hill today, testifying in opposition to the bill, and I wondered how much -- to what extent does the U.S. -- perceived U.S. interests in working with the Burmese Government on counter-narcotics efforts factor into your unwillingness to impose tough sanctions on Burma?
MR. BURNS: Kent Wiedemann is on the Hill this morning. He's testifying before the Senate Banking Committee, and it's on U.S. policy towards Burma. Since he hadn't finished that by the time I came out, I just don't want to make any categorical statements, pending a discussion on what he said and what positions he took.
Carol, your specific question is that somehow we are limited in action because --
Q Because you've got competing interests, which is to say some people in the government believe that there's a value in trying to work with the military rulers there in order to halt narcotics trafficking. I just wondered how much of this was a factor? As repression increased in Burma, how much is this counter-narcotics cooperation -- if you can call it that -- a factor in your decisions on whether or not tougher action, including sanctions, might be appropriate?
MR. BURNS: If we wanted to tighten the sanctions and tighten the vice -- at least the U.S. part of a vice on Burma -- of course, there would be a variety of factors that you'd have to consider before you made that decision, and I'm sure that narcotics would be one. But I wouldn't say it's an overwhelming factor.
You know that we have worked with the Burmese Government, because there's a major source of drugs that flow to the United States, and it has until recently harbored a major drug lord -- Khun Sa. But I think that we've also had our difficulties with the Burmese Government, great difficulties, in working with them on counter-narcotics cooperation. So I wouldn't say that somehow there's a marriage of convenience here that prevents us from taking stronger action.
Frankly, I don't see other countries around the world acting and saying things that are stronger than what we've been saying over the last couple of days -- and fundamentally what we hope to see in Burma is the emergence of democracy and a democratic movement like the one that exists. We do not like to see, and certainly oppose very strongly, the detention of anyone who is a democrat, and there are democrats in Burma.
Q Have you talked to the Chinese or the Thai in the last 36 hours or so to see if they can help you out in isolating their ally?
MR. BURNS: I can't give you a detailed report on which countries we've spoken to and which we haven't, but I know that we have -- regularly and this week -- have talked to other governments. If I answer one or two, I just don't know who else we've talked to.
Q What sort of role do you think the Chinese -- what sort of role would you like the Chinese to play in this strategy of further isolation?
MR. BURNS: We certainly would like Burma's neighbors to act consistent with our belief that there should be an international protest against the infringement of democratic rights, and countries have to decide for themselves what it is that they can do to make that apparent in Burma.
Q I know China is a great supporter of human rights. Do you think that's feasible to expect from them?
MR. BURNS: I think it's certainly feasible from many of the Southeast Asian countries. I don't know if China would take that action or not.
Q Did you have a question on Burma?
Q I am so sorry, I was late. Have you commented on U.S. and North Korean contacts regarding the four-party meetings?
MR. BURNS: No one's asked me about it.
MR. BURNS: If you'd like to ask the question, I'll be glad to answer one.
Q I need your comment on this U.S.-North Korean contact regarding the four-party meeting for joint briefing?
MR. BURNS: Okay, are you referring to general contacts, or is there a specific question?
Q Your Director of Korean Department has contacted with the Consul of North Korea in New York yesterday. Could you confirm and comment?
MR. BURNS: I can tell you that on May 21, yesterday, working-level officials of the Office of Korean Affairs from the Department of State met in New York with officials of the North Korean Mission to the United Nations.
This is our routine channel, as you know, for contacts with North Korea. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the U.S.-Republic of Korea proposal for a joint briefing about the four-party peace proposal, which was announced last month by President Clinton and President Kim.
Again, we also used the meeting to urge that North Korea respond positively to that proposal. We remain in very close contact with the Republic of Korea -- South Korea -- in all aspects of this joint peace proposal.
It was a basic meeting, a normal meeting. We used the normal channel for contacts. I can't describe for you the reaction of the North Koreans, because I believe the ball is still in their court. They still need to respond to the formal proposal made by President Clinton and President Kim at Cheju Island.
Q Could you explain normal channels?
MR. BURNS: The normal channels?
Q As you know, it's very controversial --
MR. BURNS: We don't have an Embassy in Pyongyang. They don't have an Embassy in Washington. We routinely use the presence of North Korean diplomats at the United Nations as our channel for communications with North Korea.
Q No, but you also called it a normal meeting.
MR. BURNS: Right.
Q And, as you know, there are forces -- the Republican Presidential nominee -- accusations that you're coddling North Korea. Was the meeting confined to that issue? I mean, is it --
MR. BURNS: I thought we'd agreed that we'd never preface questions with the name of that individual.
Q All right, well --
MR. BURNS: Or even his identity. In any case, Barry --
Q The question is: Can you have normal meetings with North Korea? You can't meet with them there, of course, but, I mean, can you have normal --
MR. BURNS: Barry, we do have -- as you know, historically we have had an abnormal relationship for 46 years because of the fact we don't have diplomatic --
Q These are abnormally normal meetings.
MR. BURNS: But these are abnormally normal meetings. Very good. Thank you, Norm. (Laughter) That's a good suggestion. Look, we have an unusual relationship. We do our best to try to maintain contacts, because on the Agreed Framework, on the issue of peace in the Korean Peninsula, on the issue of the food situation, we do need to have contacts with them.
This is the normal place. The normal meeting would be to have mid-level officials. The Secretary of State does not go up to exercise this channel, but mid-level officials of the Department do so.
Q Were all three issues discussed or just the four-powers meeting?
MR. BURNS: I believe it was just the four-power -- I can't be sure about that.
Q All right.
MR. BURNS: The major focus of the meeting, which we clearly thought about in advance, was the four-power peace proposal.
Q (Inaudible) was the briefing they had asked for then?
MR. BURNS: No, this was a contact to tell them that there is available to North Korea a joint briefing, should they wish to have it, on the four-party peace proposal that would give them more detail, and that might help them decide whether or not they want to come forward and accept this proposal, at least as a basis for the beginning of discussion among four countries.
Q You haven't gotten any reply?
MR. BURNS: No. And I said before, the proposal was made in Cheju Island. We're still awaiting a formal reply.
Betsy, did you have a question?
Q The U.S. requested this meeting?
MR. BURNS: This meeting -- yes -- was at the initiation of the United States.
Q To make these points about --
MR. BURNS: Basically, just to tell them that we do have a joint briefing available to you. If you wish to exercise that, we're willing to brief you.
Q Why did you feel you needed to reiterate this?
MR. BURNS: Oh, just because some time had gone by. We hear different things in different places about what the response might be. We wanted to have something more authoritative.
Q Nick, a couple of weeks ago, the Foreign Ministry in Pyongyang said that it had asked for specific things which the United States had not provided. Did the North Korean officials come to that meeting with specific questions about the four-party talks?
MR. BURNS: I don't believe so. I think this was more an exchange of views. It was not a negotiation. It really was not an in-depth presentation of views. But let me say this: President Clinton and President Kim launched this proposal in Cheju Island. It's a clear proposal. We have conveyed it in a variety of channels to the North Koreans. We are available to talk to them in more detail.
If the problem is an absence of information or any confusion over the proposal itself, that could be quickly remedied, and that was one of the reasons why we sought this meeting in New York.
Q Who attended this meeting from this building?
MR. BURNS: Excuse me?
Q Who attended this meeting from this building?
MR. BURNS: A mid-level American diplomat, but I'm going to preserve his privacy and confidentiality and his future effectiveness on this issue.
Q Can you confirm the names of the North Koreans?
MR. BURNS: No, I would not care to do that, with all due respect.
Q You had mentioned that this was a normal meeting. I was just wondering how it was scheduled, and are you trying to work out a normal schedule in the future with meetings with North Korea?
MR. BURNS: No, I wouldn't say so. I think they're episodic. There is no schedule of meetings that I am aware of. We seek the meetings or they seek the meetings when it's necessary in our relationship. We have a lot of issues that we're working on with them, including a very important issue -- the Agreed Framework -- and so, of course, we want to have contacts.
Q Is the North Korean hierarchy sufficiently sorted out that the U.S. would know a mid-level North Korean official if they saw one? (Laughter)
MR. BURNS: I think it's self-described, Barry. I think it's self-described.
Q I mean, you're going by titles, are you?
MR. BURNS: I mean, there are certain people in New York, and they represent --
Q I mean, this is an excruciating issue --
MR. BURNS: -- the North Korean Government, and we have to accept them -- we accept the people who are in New York as our interlocutors. But it is still a rather opaque society, and not everything is clear about what's happening and who's up and who's down in North Korea, to be frank.
Q Nick, what exactly is meant by a "joint briefing"? Joint with whom or what?
MR. BURNS: A joint briefing would be a U.S.-ROK briefing.
Q To explain --
Q To be attended by North Korea?
MR. BURNS: Because we've taken a very firm line here on all issues, but also this one, that the United States does not wish to exclude the Republic of Korea from any of our contacts with North Korea. If there are important issues to be discussed -- food, the Agreed Framework, this issue -- the Republic of Korea should be represented.
Q This would be a four-power meeting. The four powers will all be there.
Q Will China be there?
MR. BURNS: I think at this point there were two countries that made the proposal at Cheju -- the United States and the Republic of Korea. Those two countries are offering a joint briefing to the Koreans.
I think the Chinese are sufficiently briefed. They understand our concept very well.
Q Was there discussion of the incursions by North Koreans into the Demilitarized Zone?
MR. BURNS: I don't know. I don't know what other issues were discussed, Betsy. We told you last Friday, we think that was a minor incident; not one to be taken seriously. It did not disturb our normal military operations in the military Armistice Commission.
Q I hate to (inaudible).
MR. BURNS: I do, too.
Q I really do. What seems to be going on, for good or for ill, is the United States is easing into a more constant and more normal relationship with North Korea.
MR. BURNS: I wouldn't say "normal."
Q Of course, you can't have a normal relationship with a dictatorship, but you can have a relationship. You won't have a relationship with Cuba. That's another matter.
If China is sufficiently briefed to know the issues, how can the North Koreans be so insufficiently briefed that they have to have a meeting jointly with the U.S. and South Korea? This is another way to establish -- and it's not nuclear anymore; you were holding off the specter of nuclear weaponry. They already had a bomb or two.
Now, you're into dealing with that regime in a normal way, aren't you?
MR. BURNS: No. I disagree. A normal relationship is when you have an Ambassador in an Embassy, you have diplomatic relations, you have continual contacts. This is abnormal. We don't have anybody in Pyongyang. They don't have anybody here. We have to meet in third cities like New York, and cities all over the world. So it's abnormal.
The other thing, Barry, is we are not trying -- there is no sneaking improvement of relations going on here through these channels in New York. This is simply convenience for them and for us. We do have a lot of issues that need to be discussed. It would be unwise if we didn't seek opportunities to discuss those issues. But it doesn't mean somehow that we're creeping towards something that doesn't currently exist.
At some point in the future, I'm sure that they will establish some kind of office here and we'll establish some kind of office in Pyongyang. That was foreseen in the Agreed Framework of late 1994, but we have not yet established those offices. Communication will be much easier. We won't have to go up to New York when that happens.
Q Another topic?
MR. BURNS: Yes.
Q The Monitoring Committee?
Q (Inaudible) Korea.
MR. BURNS: You have another Korea question? We'll stop with Korea and go to the Monitoring Group. We have to cover the Central African Republic today as well. We have to get to that.
Q (Inaudible) yesterday that the U.S. Government is going to supply additional rice to North Korea. If this is true, a New York (inaudible) to North Korea and the U.S. Government yesterday hinted also about additional rice supply to North Korea?
MR. BURNS: There is a serious food shortage in North Korea. I understand that the Food and Agricultural Organization and the World Food Program have issued a new alert on the North Korean food situation. We are currently reviewing that report -- that joint report.
There are indications that the food situation may be worsening. As of May 5, all of our $2 million in emergency food assistance to North Korea has been delivered and its distribution is being monitored by the World Food Program.
As Winston Lord said, when he completed his trilateral meeting last week, and as we have said frequently from this podium, the United States is not currently considering any additional food aid to North Korea, but we do continue to monitor the situation. We are open to further requests.
Of course, we retain several options should the food situation worsen. I think the most relevant thing I can do is to point you to the first thing I said. There is a new report out, and we are reviewing that report. We haven't made any decisions, but we are conscious of the fact that two reputable organizations are reporting that there is a food crisis.
Q Did you mention about that in the New York talks?
MR. BURNS: I didn't catch the question. I'm sorry.
Q Did you mention about additional rice supplies to North Korea in the New York talks?
MR. BURNS: As I said before, I don't know if this issue was raised by the North Koreans or by us in the New York talks. The focus was on something quite different: the four-party peace proposal. We have had contacts in the past, and I'm sure we will continue to in the future with North Korea on this issue.
Sid had a question on the Monitoring Group, and then we'll go to Turkey.
Q There's some confusion over whether they're meeting today or not?
MR. BURNS: They're meeting today at 2:00 p.m. Same crowd. Same chair -- Dennis Ross. We continue to work through the issues.
As you know, the U.S. has sponsored a draft. We do have comments on the draft U.S. paper, and those comments are now under full discussion. The comments were generally constructive and the group is now working through them.
We're in the seventh day of our biblical journey through this process. Perhaps the seventh night.
Q Do you think you'll leave this metaphor --
MR. BURNS: There was a seven day and there was a 40-year. We prefer to work on a seven-day basis. We've been working for 48 years on the larger problem of peace in the Middle East.
Q Do you think you'll leave this diplomatic desert before the Israeli elections?
MR. BURNS: I think it's been semi-arid. I think it's not been a desert. It's not been a desert. There have been some fruitful conversations. We hope to conclude these discussions as soon as we can.
When we conclude them, there will be an official announcement from the Bureau of Public Affairs about the conclusion of these talks and a Background briefing by a senior Administration official who has been centrally involved in the talks. All of that has been promised and will be delivered.
MR. BURNS: I don't think so. He's not one given to mirages. He's a realistic. He's got his feet on the ground. He's very experienced.
Q They're not shifting sands?
MR. BURNS: I don't believe they're shifting sands. Did you read Wilfred Thesiger's book "Arabian Sands"? Okay.
Q In the State Department's report of Global Patterns of Terrorism, there's a sentence that says that since 1986, the Syrian Government was not involved in any acts of terror. Yesterday, in a conference on terrorism, a very senior official in the Turkish intelligence agency, as well as the previous head of Israeli intelligence agency, were asked what they thought about this statement. They both said that it was false. Would care to comment on it?
Why do you think that two neighbors of Israel think the State Department is incorrect on this point?
MR. BURNS: I stand by the State Department report, Patterns of Global Terrorism. Everything in it has been substantiated and is the view of the United States Government.
I would make an additional point. We have been saying quite consistently that Syria's links to terrorist groups and its support for terrorist groups resident in Syria, like the PKK, like some of the radical Islamic groups, is inconsistent with what we hope is a general development, trend towards peace in the Middle East. We would hope that Syria would end all ties to terrorist groups.
Syria is, of course, on our list and will remain on our list until there is a fundamental change in the Syrian Government's attitude towards terrorist groups. But I do stand behind the report that was issued by Ambassador Wilcox, and I would take issue with the discussion yesterday at the forum on that particular issue.
Q Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Verstandig stayed behind in Damascus, during one of our trips, to discuss how American businesses might be able to invest Syria. Is that still something the United States would consider helping them out with?
MR. BURNS: I just remember -- yes, on one trip, she stayed behind in Syria to have discussions. I don't believe we ever really characterized in detail what those discussions were. The fact is, I think what we have got to do is we've got to get to peace first.
This gives me an opportunity to say something that Secretary Christopher believes in very strongly. He believes -- in fact, he included this in his testimony last week before the House Committee last Wednesday -- a week ago today -- he believes that the conditions are right and appropriate for a resumption of the Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations.
Secretary Christopher has had long discussions with the Syrian and Israeli leadership. Remember when he worked out the cease-fire agreement, part of the agreement was that Israel and Syria and Israel and Lebanon will return as quickly as possible to those peace negotiations.
I've talked with the Secretary this morning about this issue. The Secretary believes that it is possible, it is prudent, it is wise, and it's the right direction to go in, to return to Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations with the full participation of the United States.
Obviously, we have, next Tuesday, very important elections in Israel. I don't think it's possible to think about the resumption of these on a practical basis -- the resumption of these negotiations prior to the May 29 elections in Israel.
We do think it will be possible -- we hope very much possible -- to resume those negotiations as soon as possible after the elections.
The Secretary is a very experienced diplomat on the Middle East. He knows more about the region than almost anybody else in this country. He has got the high-level diplomatic experience to gauge the feel of the situation. He believes that the United States should do everything we can to convince Israel and Syria to return to those negotiations.
Q Now, he was talking to the Syrians, and the Lebanese I suppose as well, as he came to this conclusion, yes? He's basing his judgment on talks with those governments?
MR. BURNS: He's basing it on talks with Prime Minister Hariri, Prime Minister Peres, and President Assad, as well as the Foreign Ministers of those countries, and others.
Q As he discussed it with them, surely, the possibility of a change in the Israeli Government must have come up?
MR. BURNS: I think that's one of the practical things that one must think of.
Q Which leads me to this question: Have the Syrians and the Lebanese -- particularly, the Syrians -- told the Secretary of State that they are just as prepared to resume these negotiations with the Netanyahu government as they are with the Peres government?
MR. BURNS: I don't believe that question has come up.
Q Then, how can you be so confident that the situation is right since the election is a toss-up?
MR. BURNS: I don't believe that question has come up in that form, Barry.
I would say this: We can only work with a situation that is at hand. We can't predict the situation on May 29th and 30th in Israel. We can only assess a situation based on present conditions.
Our present, current, up-to-date, May 22 assessment is, it makes sense to go forward in the peace negotiations between Israel and Syria and Israel and Lebanon. I know there have been some suggestions to the contrary that somehow the Secretary is negative about these prospects. He believes it's possible.
Q Put aside whatever reports you've seen. That's not why I'm asking you these questions. I understand, there's never been any question that he's made this the priority item on his agenda for this fourth year of what may be the first of two Clinton terms.
The question is, in your statement you suggested -- actually said -- that this judgment is based on his talks also with the Syrians; right?
MR. BURNS: Yes.
Q If you're making that statement, you either have to say that the Syrians say that's their stand, whoever is Prime Minister of Israel, or you have say, it's based only on the possibility of Peres remaining in office, apart from your desire. I know what the U.S. desires are. That's clear. That's not the issue. The issue is whether Syria has told the Secretary of State, "We're ready to go ahead if Netanyahu is Prime Minister," or if they didn't.
MR. BURNS: I just don't know if the discussion is at that level of detail, Barry; or whether it's come up in the discussions. I just can't answer the question.
Q Well, your statement has limited meaning, because you can't go ahead before the election and since there may be a change with the election, it's a limited statement.
MR. BURNS: You'll have to judge whether our statements are limited or whether they're in full or whether they're marginal or whether they're authoritative. This is an authoritative statement of the Secretary of State. I've just given you an authoritative statement of our views. That's all I can do.
I can't give you an authoritative statement of Syrian Government views --
Q That's my point.
MR. BURNS: -- or the Israeli Government views. Their spokespeople have to speak for them.
Q Yeah, but see, he was out there and he's been pursuing this goal, which has his highest priority.
MR. BURNS: Right.
Q You would think that he would say to Assad, when he got a chance to see him, that, "Hey, listen, there may be a new government in Israel. We want to work with whatever government is in Israel. Are you prepared to work with whatever government is in Israel?"
MR. BURNS: As I told you, I can't answer your question. But even if I knew the answer to your question, I probably wouldn't tell you. This is one aspect of diplomacy that should be private. It should not be in the full glare of the public spotlight.
Q Syria's willingness to proceed is based on the current situation?
MR. BURNS: Syria has told us -- has indicated to us that it would like to proceed. Israel has; Lebanon has. We hope very much that the situation will permit those negotiations to be resumed.
Q Did that come up in the Secretary's conversation yesterday with Foreign Minister Shara?
MR. BURNS: I don't believe that came up, no. The conversations that the Secretary has had with Foreign Minister Shara over the last week have focused on the Monitoring Group deliberations.
Central African Republic.
MR. BURNS: The situation continues to deteriorate in Bangui. As you know, we've implemented an ordered departure for all non-essential personnel.
Secretary Christopher talked to General Shalikashvili this morning about the very, very good assistance our diplomats are receiving from the United States Marines.
I can tell you, as of late this morning our time, all Americans are believed to be safe in the Central African Republic. We are advising all Americans to defer travel to the Central African Republic. We have formally issued a travel warning.
As you know, we evacuated 13 Americans yesterday. Today, we are evacuating approximately 55 Americans. Of those Americans, most are dependents of our official personnel -- some personnel who are non-essential, several Peace Corps volunteers, and some private American citizens. They will be evacuated from Bangui by U.S. military aircraft.
I can also tell you that France has come to the aid of the United States and American citizens today. French troops rescued 10 American Peace Corps volunteers, who were caught in a cross-fire in downtown Bangui. We're very grateful to the French troops who rescued our Peace Corps volunteers and brought them to safety.
The French troops stationed in Bangui -- I believe there are over 2,000 of them -- have provided protection to all foreigners in Bangui. They have transported a number of Americans to safety and to the airport for evacuation.
We are in good and constant contact with the French Government. We greatly appreciate the French Government's actions on our behalf in this extremely dangerous situation.
As for our Embassy, we have no plans to close it. Our Embassy will remain in Bangui for the time being. We will, of course, want to assess that on a day-to-day basis. We are drawing down some of the personnel, and I would expect that they'll be an evacuation of most of the Americans who live in the Central African Republic, and I believe there are 252 of them.
Q Do you any details of this rescue?
MR. BURNS: I don't have any more details than that, but it comes on good authority. It comes from our Embassy in Bangui itself.
Q It's an interesting little story.
MR. BURNS: It is an interesting story. I simply was told that they were caught in the cross-fire. They were pinned down. They could not move, and that the French troops came to their rescue, gave them protection, and brought them to the airport for evacuation. They will be evacuated.
Q Is there any indication that the people were targets of the fighting, or, as you said, cross-fire?
MR. BURNS: It's hard for me to say from this distance. We don't believe that foreigners, in general, have been targeted over the last couple of days although foreigners, as we've found in Monrovia and Beirut in the past, can be victims -- unintended victims -- of the fighting, and that's why we've advised American citizens not to travel to Bangui. We are advising those in Bangui and the Central African Republic to leave. We're providing that transportation via U.S. military aircraft.
The Marines will remain in Bangui to protect our Embassy and to protect the Americans there and to bolster our security forces there.
Q Nick, do you have anything on Liberia today? There was shooting yesterday around Greystone.
MR. BURNS: Yes, there was shooting around Greystone. In fact, a round hit the wall surrounding the Greystone complex yesterday.
The situation continues to be bitter and tragic. There's continued fighting. No incidents today directed -- no fire today directed at the American Embassy in Monrovia. Our Ambassador, Bill Milam, continues his diplomatic efforts with ECOWAS and with the Europeans to try to convince the faction leaders to cease and desist. Unfortunately, they have not done so.
We are going to keep our Embassy open. We're going to continue our diplomatic efforts. As you know, the Vice President met with Mrs. Ogata last Friday. The United States has committed an additional one million dollars to help with refugees from Liberia.
We have historic responsibility, but fundamentally this job was up to the Liberians and to Liberia's West African neighbors. We'll assist where we can, but there isn't much good news today from Monrovia.
(Press briefing concluded at 1:13 p.m.)
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