U.S. Department of State 96/05/24 Daily Press Briefing Office of the Spokesman U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING I N D E X Friday, May 24, 1996 Briefer: Nicholas Burns STATEMENTS Situation in Burma/Travel Advisory.......................1 U.S. Condemns Looting in Liberia.........................1-2,24-25 Monitoring Group Meetings to Resume Next Week.........1-2,15-16 U.S. Condemns Murder of Trappist Monks in Algeria........2,20 Colombia: Accusations Commission Not To Pursue Charges Against President Samper...............................2 Travel by Secretary Christopher to Geneva and Berlin, June 1-4, Mtgs with Balkan Leaders, NAC and NACC Mtgs 3-4,9-10 FORMER YUGOSLAVIA A/S Kornblum to Travel to Balkans Next Week.............3-4 No "Deal" on Release from Prosecution of Karadzic and Mladic......4-5 US Preference for Arrest and Trial of Karadic and Mladic as First Priority Before Elections..............5-7 Role of IFOR in Possible Arrests.........................8-9 Reduction in Numbers of Foreign Fighters in Bosnia/Status of Equip and Train .10-11,12-15 Bosnian Gov't - Participation in Elections......9,11-12 TERRORISM LaBelle Bombing Suspect Extradited to Germany from Lebanon 14-15 CHINA U.S. Position on Three Gorges Dam..............16-17 Alleged Arms Smuggling by China into U.S. .....17-18 Status of Expert-Level Export Control Discussions.18-19 CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC Safety of Americans (PCVs, Missionaries) .........19 Evacuation of Americans/Resucing Those in the Countryside 19 French Efforts in Evacuations ................20 LATIN AMERICA Status of Implementation of Helms-Burton Legislation.....20-23 SYRIA Reported Series of Explosions in Syrian Cities...........23
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
FRIDAY, MAY 24, 1996, 1:08 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. BURNS: Welcome to the State Department briefing. I've got a couple of announcements to make.
First, I want to welcome graduate students from Wheaton College in Illinois. They are graduate students in communications. I believe you are seated here -- and here. Welcome.
Second, I just wanted all of you to know, if you hadn't seen it last night, we issued a couple of statements at the very end of the day, not purposely but because the news happened at the end of the day.
First, I hope you have all seen a statement that we issued on Burma, which is two things: It is a travel advisory to American citizens. Because of the potential for violence and because of the instability and the actions of the government, we are recommending that Americans exercise all due caution in travelling in Burma, and we recommend that Americans consider curtailing non-essential travel to Burma.
The remainder of the statement is a condemnation of the actions of the Burmese Government. There are further developments on that today, and we can go into them.
We issued a statement on Liberia that I want to bring to your attention condemning the widespread looting that is going on and the almost unprecedented scale of the looting that is going on in Monrovia, and the participation of all sorts of people and groups in that looting.
We also issued a statement informing you late in the day that the Monitoring Group finished its meeting yesterday under Dennis Ross's chairmanship. They did not reach final agreement on the draft American text because of the Jewish holiday today, because of the American holiday on Monday. But we expect that the Monitoring Group will resume its deliberations on Tuesday or Wednesday. We think we are very close. We think this deal will be consummated next week, and we look forward to meeting with all the parties next week on that.
I do have three new items to tell you about today. The first is to say that we have been grieved to hear the reports that elements of the Armed Islamic Group in Algeria have murdered seven Trappist monks in Algeria. If confirmed, those murders would be an especially heinous act of political violence and they deserve the unqualified condemnation of the international community.
The United States again calls for a renunciation of political violence and terrorism in Algeria. The process of national reconciliation must continue, but there is no place in Algeria for those who slaughter the innocent. We, of course, have seen the very strong reaction of the Government of France, of Italy, of the Vatican, of a number of other governments around the world. We associate ourselves with those statements, and we make our own in condemning the people who would murder monks.
I also want to read a statement on Columbia.
The United States Government notes with deep concern the recommendation by the Colombian Accusations Commission not to pursue charges against President Ernesto Samper. Under a process mandated by the Colombian Constitution, the Prosecutor General presented evidence against Samper to the Chamber of Representatives in February. That evidence includes accusations by former campaign officials and others that President Samper knowingly received funds from narco-traffickers for his l994 Presidential campaign. He faces charges of illicit enrichment, fraud, perjury and cover-up.
There is widespread doubt in Colombia -- and in the international community -- about the credibility of the Accusations Commission, namely its composition, its impartiality, its thoroughness, and the rigor of its questioning.
The United States Government notes that the recommendation by the Accusations Commission is not binding on the Chamber of Representatives. Colombians from all walks of life have called for a credible investigation and a full airing of the charges against President Samper. This duty is now before the Chamber of Representatives.
The United States Government reaffirms our support for the rule of law and for democratic institutions in Colombia. We expect that Colombia will continue to seek to resolve the current political crisis in a manner consistent with its judicial system and with its constitution.
Finally, I want to let you all know that Secretary Christopher, will be travelling to Europe from June lst to 4th for a series of important meetings with our allies in Europe, in NATO, and also for an important meeting with the Presidents of the Balkan countries.
First, the Secretary has invited President Milosevic, President Izetbegovic and President Tudjman to meet in Geneva on June 2nd to maintain the momentum on the implementation of the Dayton Peace Accords. This follows the Secretary's meeting with those individuals in Geneva in March, and is consistent with the Secretary's determination that the United States remain centrally involved in the effort to convince these parties to commit themselves fully to implementing the Dayton Accords.
I expect that Carl Bildt, the political directors of the Contact Group, senior officials of the OSCE and other international organizations will be present at this meeting. It will be a one-day meeting in Geneva, Sunday, June 2nd.
On the following day, the Secretary will participate in the North Atlantic Council Ministerial meeting in Berlin. He will also attend the following day, which is Tuesday, a meeting of the North Atlantic Cooperation Council, the NAC-C.
Now, in addition to those meeting, the Secretary in Berlin will meet, as is his normal practice, with the Central European Foreign Ministers, from the Central European countries. He last met with them in Prague when he was there in March. He will also meet the Russian Foreign Minister, Foreign Minister Primakov, and he will have separate meetings with the new Foreign Ministers of Spain and of Portugal.
I would also expect that as part of this two-day series of meetings in Berlin, Monday June 3rd, Tuesday June 4th, in addition to the meetings I have already announced, that there will be a meeting of the Contact Group Foreign Ministers on Bosnia.
It will be a good time for that meeting because the Secretary, of course, will have been in Geneva two days prior to that with the Presidents of the Balkan countries.
Now I would expect that before the Secretary leaves a week from tomorrow, John Kornblum, our Acting Assistant Secretary of State, will travel back to the Balkans probably next Thursday evening for meetings on Friday and Saturday with Milosevic, Tudjman, and Izetbegovic, prior to the Secretary's encounter with them on Sunday June 2nd.
That completes the announcements that I have for today.
Q Did Kornblum report on his trip to the Secretary and can you tell us anything about it?
MR. BURNS: Yes. John Kornblum has had a conversation with the Secretary, and he has had meetings with many of us. He meets with the Secretary a little later on today for a lengthier discussion of his trip. He, I think, feels that it was a very important trip, particularly at this time.
As you know, he was in the three capitals, and I want to speak to one of the issues that has been raised publicly as a result of his trip.
There is the rumor that there is a deal in the making that would allow Karadzic and Mladic to escape justice; Essentially, that they be given a "get out of jail card," if you remember Monopoly, and they be allowed maybe to fade off into the sunset or maybe continue to reside where they are. They wouldn't participate in the political situation.
Well the answer from the United States is no deal. The United States will not agree to any deal for Karadzic and Mladic. They are indicted war criminals. The only deal for them is to be arrested and brought to The Hague for prosecution, for a trial as war criminals.
The United States will not be party now or in the future to any set of negotiations that tries to let these two guys off the hook. We want them to go to jail, not "pass go," not "collect $200." We want them to go to The Hague for trial.
We were very encouraged to see the Secretary General of NATO, Secretary General Solana, speak very strongly this morning in a public statement issued in Brussels along these lines. He said that NATO and IFOR will not be party to any deal that would let these guys off the hook.
And I want to be very clear about that because this story emerged late yesterday afternoon. It has taken on a light of its own in Europe today and we want it to be absolutely clear where we stand on this.
Q I mean, did somebody just start it to float a rumor?
MR. BURNS: We didn't start it.
Q Is there no -- has Carl Bildt not discussed such a deal with the United States?
MR. BURNS: I can tell you this: John Kornblum met with Milosevic, as you know, for four hours the other day. He also saw Carl Bildt.
I know that Milosevic made representations to John and to others that he would like to arrange something that would effectively take Karadzic out of the mainstream of the Bosnian Serb political life. I think John's answer was quite forthright to President Milosevic: "Sorry, it's not good enough for us."
If he, Karadzic, is effectively marginalized over the next couple of months, that's better than the current situation where he remains an actor in political life, but it's not good enough. It's not sufficient.
We believe that the only ultimate solution here is to have him arrested and tried.
Q So the idea originated with Milosevic? To what extent has Bildt has given credibility to it by pursuing discussions with the Americans over the other allies?
MR. BURNS: Carol, I can't say that the idea originated with Milosevic. All I know is that in the conversations that John Kornblum had with him, this general idea, "Don't worry, he'll be marginalized," came up.
I can tell you, again, we won't be party to that. As for Mr. Bildt, you'll have to ask Mr. Bildt. I'm not an authority on everything that everyone is doing and saying, but I can speak for the United States and our actions.
Q What about any of the other Europeans? Have they encouraged the United States to go along with some sort of an agreement like this?
MR. BURNS: I'm not aware that Europe, in general, has. In fact, a very important European, Javier Solana, has spoken out quite forthrightly and strongly against this rumor this morning.
Q But did Carl Bildt discuss this with the United States?
MR. BURNS: I don't know the answer to that question. I just don't know if that came up in the conversations. All I can tell you is that the United States will not be party to you.
Q Your statement the other day that it just applied to the election period, that he could live out the time in splendid isolation -- whatever it was you said -- that just applied for the elections? Or are you now saying that, no, he can't be effectively marginalized and live his life out in his little lair?
MR. BURNS: Let me just list our order of priorities. Our first wish would be that Karadzic and Mladic would be turned over to the War Crimes Tribunal for prosecution. If for any number of reasons that does not happen, we, of course, we want them both to be marginalized and taken out of the mainstream of political and military life.
We know, as a third order of priority, that when the elections are held, as we hope they will be in early September, neither of these gentlemen nor the others who have been indicted as war criminals, will be on the ballot. They will not be able to participate in that election. They will therefore not be legitimate as political actors after those elections are held.
I think all those statements are true. I just don't know which particular statement you're referring to in your question.
Q My impression -- and it may have been wrong -- the other day was that you were saying -- the United States was saying -- "okay, as long as he's marginalized and is in some hole somewhere, okay, we can live with that." But it seems like now you're saying --
MR. BURNS: That's not a completely accurate about what I said. Our hope is and our expectation is that ultimately -- and I can't predict when this will be -- they be brought to trial as war criminals. Pending that -- pending that -- of course, we want them to be as marginalized as much as possible; taken out of the mainstream of life there. I think that's a more accurate representation of what I've been saying during the course of this week.
Q You don't think this round of stories might be just an interpretation of what you were saying?
MR. BURNS: No, not at all. I think that these stories emanated from the region itself. I think you should pay attention to what John Kornblum said in one of the stories this morning -- the New York Times story -- a very important story statement that he made -- a statement that he made in one of the wires this morning and the statement that I'm making right now.
Q Has the United States received any assurances, short of what it ultimately desires, that President Karadzic will be removed from power within the next week or two?
MR. BURNS: No, we've not received what I would call "assurances." I think there has been general discussion from many of the people in the region that some of them would like to, what I would say, marginalize him. That doesn't mean that you take him out of office. It means that you put him to one side.
We have said, well, it's nice; it's better than the current situation but it's not enough. It's not sufficient.
Q But it is a step that President Milosevic has said he's going --
MR. BURNS: It seems to be a step that he and others are considering.
But again, David, it's always difficult, particularly in the Balkan context, to separate rhetoric and action, or to understand what might be the most important. I think at the end of the day, as John Kornblum has said a couple of times this week, it's really going to be the actions -- the actions that count here, not just the promises, not just the words.
Q Nick, don't you run the risk of saying that while, yes, the United States wants to see them before the Bar of Justice, the elections can go on if they're marginalized? Isn't that, in a sense, a signal or might be interpreted by Milosevic and others as a signal?
MR. BURNS: I don't think we're running many risks. I think we're being quite straightforward.
The fact is, it's far preferable for them to be removed from the scene and brought to The Hague before the elections. However, if for any reason that does not take place -- and they have now been in their isolation for six months following Dayton -- if the elections have to be carried out with Karadzic and Mladic in their hiding places, in their lairs, then that's the situation that we'll have to confront. We still think on that basis that it makes sense to carry out the elections, although that's not our first choice.
Q Why is it such a bad idea for IFOR to arrest President Karadzic? I know we've gone over this before.
MR. BURNS: It's not a bad idea for IFOR to arrest Karadzic and Mladic. It's not a bad idea. In fact, IFOR has said, and Secretary General Solana said again today in writing -- in his written statement from Bussels -- that's IFORs responsibility, should they encounter them.
We and NATO, and the IFOR countries, I think, have all agreed to this point that the military mission has to be central. You can't give our soldiers a variety of duties that is so broad that they'll do all of them half well. They've done the central missions extraordinarily well, and we need to keep them focused on that.
At some point, these guys will be arrested and they will be brought to justice. That is the ultimate fate for these people, but I can't predict when that will be, David.
Q First of all, it would not be difficult to arrange for the IFOR troops to encounter President Karadzic. It's a very small country. They are all over the place.
Secondly, isn't the entire mission of those IFOR forces in doubt if free and fair elections cannot be held, and can they be held with President Karadzic in power?
MR. BURNS: The answer to the first question would be, I'd refer you to the standing orders: Should they encounter Karadzic, who is a quite recognizable figure, as is Mladic, they ought to arrest them.
The answer to the second question would be, really, what I just said, in answer to Judd's question -- and that is, we would prefer that the elections be held without these two individuals and other indicted people anywhere in the Balkans. But if they do have to be there, we think they can be effectively marginalized. The elections should go forward.
As John has said a couple of times this week -- John Kornblum -- it was never intended at Dayton that a perfect ideal, shining city on the hill had to be created before the elections could take place. We're talking about a ravaged country in an unstable part of the world.
The elections are going to have to be held in a very difficult, unstable environment. Elections have been held in Central America and in Cambodia in incredibly difficult circumstances. People have turned out to vote, and they have helped to legitimize new political leaders. That is our hope for the Bosnians and the Serbs and the Muslims and the Croats, that new political leaders will be effectively appointed by the people -- elected by the people -- and legitimized as a result of elections that we hope will take place in September.
I guess on the second question, I want to be very clear that we think the elections should go forward. I've given you our order of preferences about the context of those elections.
Q Nick, now that John Kornblum is back and you've had a chance to speak to him, was he able to tell you if Izetbegovic gave a very clear signal that he now ready to take part in the elections?
MR. BURNS: I think our judgment is that the Bosnian Government will participate in these elections; that they understand the need for these elections. Yes. Yes.
Q That's your judgment. That's not his assurance?
MR. BURNS: Again, I can't speak for President Izetbegovic, but you all will have a chance to speak to him at a press conference in Geneva a week from Sunday.
Q On assurances?
MR. BURNS: Yes. My very strong sense is that despite some of the comments that were made by officials earlier in the week, the Bosnian Government now accepts our position that the elections should go forward.
Obviously, I think they're in a position to give some credit to them. They'd obviously like these indicted war criminals to disappear from the scene, too, as would we before the elections. But I think we have been able to talk through this problem and make them understand that we do have to deal in the real world and be somewhat pragmatic about this.
Q (Inaudible) about these meetings that are going to happen in Geneva. The Secretary is the one who issued the invitations to the three Balkan Presidents and he will meet with them, and then the Contact Group Foreign Ministers will not meet with the Balkan leaders? How does that work?
MR. BURNS: The Secretary has issued an invitation to the three Balkan Presidents to come to Geneva to have a series of meetings during the body of the day there about all the issues that we've been dealing with here -- war crimes, reconstruction, elections, freedom of movement, continued adherence to the military provisions of Dayton -- all the issues -- and others I haven't mentioned.
I would expect -- if the past is any indication -- as in March, the Secretary will have individual meetings with the three of them. He will then perhaps have a series of other meetings combining them in meetings to discuss ways to resolve problems. That's how we've been effective in the past and I think that's what the Secretary brings to the table.
In addition to that, the Contact Group political directors will be in Geneva, not the Contact Group Foreign Ministers. The political directors of the other Contact Group countries will be involved in some of these meetings. They and Carl Bildt will have their own meetings with these individuals, as the Secretary has his. We'll, of course, want to all get together probably to try to move this forward.
Two days later in Berlin, on Tuesday, June 4, the Contact Group Foreign Ministers, who will all be in Berlin for the NATO meetings, including Mr. Primakov, will get together for a Bosnian meeting where, I think, in essence, the Secretary will report on his Geneva meeting and where the others, who are meeting all the time with these individuals, will also report on their contacts. We feel that the Contact Group needs to keep meeting at the Foreign Minister level from time to time in order to maintain the cohesion of the group. It's been an effective group.
Q Can you update us on whether Bosnia has been certified free of foreign fighters yet? What's happening with the equip-and-train? When is Bosnia going to announce its contractor, and so forth?
MR. BURNS: Right. We have had just in the last couple of days a series of fairly good conversations with the Bosnian Government about the presence of Iranians and other foreign forces on Bosnian soil. I can say as a result of those conversations that the Bosnian Government has given us repeated assurances that it will meet our concerns here.
We have, of course, have put a number of cases before them. We are reviewing this very carefully. I think the trends here are quite positive. There has been a dramatic reduction in the number of foreign fighters in Bosnia. I think we're down to just a handful of people.
We have told the Bosnian Government who we think these people are and where they are. We are confident that the Bosnian Government does understand that if these remaining handful of people can leave, then we will be prepared to go forward with the equip-and-train funding from the United States to Bosnia.
Q A "handful" was the same term you used about 10 days ago. Is the current handful smaller than the earlier one?
MR. BURNS: The current handful is smaller than the handful of 10 days ago. I can't give a precise figure for a variety of reasons. I can assure you -- and I've looked at this myself -- that it's a handful. It's such a small handful that the Bosnian Government now has a list of people that it must take action on, and we're confident that will take place.
Q Have they given you a timetable?
MR. BURNS: Excuse me?
Q Have you a sense of when this will be?
MR. BURNS: We hope as quickly as possible, because I think the Bosnian Government knows -- the other day was the 180th day since the signing of the accords; May 21st. I think the Bosnian Government knows that it's in its interest to get going on equip-and-train as quickly as possible; as we approach the day, six months from now, when IFOR will leave. We do want to help the Bosnian Government achieve an equilibrium of military forces in the area that will act as a deterrent against any future attacks from rogue elements or from hostile elements in the future.
Q Nick, on the elections --
Q Is this the first time --
Q On the elections, Nick, if they're held in an atmosphere that is characterized by coercion, where people can't move back to where they're going to live, doesn't this reflect on the legitimacy of these elections and won't people put those in doubt unless they occur in some kind of semblance of a free and open format?
MR. BURNS: The OSCE must certify by the middle of June that conditions are appropriate for the holding of elections. That is a very important exercise. The OSCE has the responsibility to make that certification. If it does, then the OSCE and IFOR will work together to try to assure the greatest possible measure of security, both physical and psychological, for the holding of elections.
IFOR has said that it will contribute a greater number of troops to provide that kind of security -- even down to the local level -- and the OSCE is responsible with the parties for setting up the actual polling places and mechanisms to bring it about.
You've asked a very good question. It's the central question, and all of us need to keep working at that. That will be one of the issues that the Secretary raises with these three Presidents quite forcefully in Geneva on June 2.
Q To follow up on that Nick, do you have any idea what the specific criteria are in terms of freedom of movement, in terms of --
MR. BURNS: I'd refer you to the OSCE. We can talk about that more in Geneva, perhaps. Yes, it's a very specific criteria that we are using to try to decide -- the international community -- whether it's appropriate to go ahead with the elections.
You know the viewpoint of the United States. We think we should try to go ahead as long as we can be reasonably sure that these elections can be held in a secure environment. Again, it's not possible to hold them in a bucolic, peaceful, stable setting. That's not Bosnia. It's going to have to be held in the real world there.
Q Nick, to follow up on the previous set of questions about the foreign fighters. Is this the first time the Bosnian Government has been given a list of people that should be removed?
And a related question: Does the handful of people you've mentioned include or not include any Iranian fighters who might have managed to acquire a Bosnian bride in the last year or so?
MR. BURNS: Any foreigner who has taken on Bosnian citizenship will remain in Bosnia. Any foreigner who is clearly a foreigner, not a Bosnian citizen, and who was a fighter there -- needs to leave. That's the criteria.
On the first question, we have given them a lot of information in the past about where we think these people are, who they are, etc., and the numbers. So I don't know if this is the first time we've ever given them a list, but we are down to a handful on a list.
Q But the handful does not include Iranians who might have married a Bosnian woman and therefore would be legitimate for that person to stay?
MR. BURNS: That's right. But let me just amplify this just a bit, Charlie. I think it's a good question. We know who all these people are and what they were doing, and we know the units they were associated with. A very small number of them have taken on Bosnian Government citizenship because they've married Bosnian women. We know where a lot of those people are.
We are working with the Bosnian Government to make sure they are, in effect, decommissioned; that they've given up their arms, they're no longer in the fighter mode, and they're not hostile to IFOR forces, which is our biggest concern.
Q Which remaining handful? Are we talking about fighters, or are we talking about people who may be engaged in other activities like intelligence?
MR. BURNS: We're talking about fighters. We're talking about people who pose a potential threat to IFOR -- to NATO forces on the ground; people with guns who were there to train the Bosnian Government before we got there or who participated in the fighting, who were part of paramilitary units.
Q Iranians who were somehow involved in the Bosnian intelligence operations --
MR. BURNS: There are a lot of Iranians in Bosnia. There's a big Iranian Embassy. There are diplomats there. As you know, in that particular situation, some of those diplomats probably have extraordinary duties, apart from what I've experienced as a diplomat. We know who those people are, too.
Q But they're going to stay?
MR. BURNS: If they're diplomats, we can't ask a sovereign country to kick them out unless there is very good reason.
Q Nick, you referred to "Iranians and other foreigners." Was that deliberate? What other foreigners are you talking about?
MR. BURNS: The fact is that the Islamic militia, who participated in helping the Bosnians fight against the Serbs, were comprised of people from Afghanistan, from Iran, from Pakistan, from a number of different places. I think most of those people went home a number of months ago; sometimes a year or so ago. We're down to the hard-core Iranians.
Q Just the Iranians who have left?
MR. BURNS: For the most part. I can't say that every single person is a citizen of Iran. That's the compelling feature of this group.
Q The extradition by Lebanon to Germany of a figure indicted -- involved alleged in the La Belle Discotheque --- is the United States prepared to, under any conditions, release its evidence in the case -- the intercepts and other things?
MR. BURNS: Let me just say on that, because I know there have been some questions about it. The United States is pleased that Lebanon has extradited to Germany two individuals who we believe murdered American servicemen at the La Belle Discotheque.
We will cooperate with the German Government as much as we can according to our own law and according to the limits of our own law in the prosecution of these individuals. If the German Government comes to us and asks for assistance, we'll give them as much assistance as we can under our own law.
We would like to congratulate the Lebanese Government for its action in delivering these two people to Germany for prosecution.
Q And could that assistance, under any conditions, include information arising from the intercepts?
MR. BURNS: That's a question that I simply can't get into for a variety of reasons, as you understand. We don't talk about intelligence matters in this setting.
I can tell you we will lean forward in cooperating with the Germans, but we also must pay attention to U.S. law. There may be some limits as to what we can do but we're going to do as much as we can to help in the prosecution of these two because they're responsible, we think, for the murder of American soldiers.
Q Nick, have we gone to them in a pro-active way and offered this, or have they come to us asking --
MR. BURNS: I believe we've gone in a pro-active way. The reason I began the way I did is because I saw some newspaper reports that the United States was upset that these people hadn't been extradited to the United States. Well, the fact is, they've been extradited to Germany; they're going to be tried in Germany. That's where the crime took place.
The Germans have waged a very serious campaign against terrorism. Any state that wants to convict people who are responsible for terrorist acts will get our support.
Q Can I confirm a point? You said all the plans and funds to arm and train the Bosnians are on hold until everyone on this list leaves Bosnia?
MR. BURNS: No. That's not our position, and I hope I didn't say that. If I did --
Q I was trying to --
MR. BURNS: I don't think I said "plans." The fact is that we have said for many months that "funds" would not go until we could certify that all foreigners had left -- foreign fighters had left.
The fact is that a lot of planning has gone on with Turkey, with other Muslim countries; very fitfully with some of our European friends. But the United States is planning the equip-and-train operation. Jim Pardew has this as a full-time occupation. But we're not going to execute the plans until we can certify.
Q So you state, fine funds from another source; the arming and training will proceed?
MR. BURNS: We actually prefer that none of our partners in the equip-and-train exercise go forward with funds until we can certify. I think all of our partners understand that.
Q On the Monitoring Group. This is getting to be, in the Chinese phrase, interesting in the way seemingly mechanical, simple negotiations have stretched down -- for what; what's your latest count? -- for eight days?
MR. BURNS: Eight doesn't count because they didn't meet today. So seven -- seven days.
Q Does this suggest that there is a lack of confidence among the various five parties in each other's ability or willingness to carry out the assignment?
MR. BURNS: No. I think it suggests that it's difficult. These are difficult issues, arranging an international process to monitor a cease-fire along an international border. A border that has not been normal for 48 years is an exceedingly difficult enterprise.
Our view of this is, we're going to get this done. This agreement will be reached. This is a normal pattern of negotiations in the Middle East. Things take time. Things aren't easy. People perhaps wait sometimes until the last moment to reveal their bottom line position. We understand this. We would have continued the talks today but there is a Jewish holiday. Out of respect for that holiday, we decided not to. We'll get this done. We're not worried about it.
Q Would it be perhaps easier given the more relaxed political climate to wait until after Wednesday's elections in Israel?
MR. BURNS: That has not entered into our calculations. We wanted to get the deal done as soon as possible, because what's at stake here is the cease-fire. That protects civilians -- Arab civilians and Israeli citizens. So that's not part of our calculations.
Q Do you have anything on the Three Gorges Dam -- U.S. position on that?
MR. BURNS: Yes. I think you asked yesterday, if I'm not mistaken, about that. I think I do have something.
I would just refer you to the fact that last September the United States concluded it should not offer commercial assistance to the Three Gorges Dam project because of environmental, humanitarian, and legal questions related to the construction of the dam. That's our position.
This position does not prohibit private sector involvement by American companies, but it does say that the United States will not offer assistance for those companies in the course of that.
Q But, Nick, the Ex-Im Bank is giving financing to some American companies for that project?
MR. BURNS: All I can tell you is what our position is.
Q Does the Ex-Im sort of fall out of that somehow? Would it not apply to them?
MR. BURNS: All I can tell you is, the United States is not pro-actively offering any assistance to the people who want to build this project because of the conditions -- the three concerns that I mentioned. But I can take the question further on Ex-Im.
Q Would you take the question?
MR. BURNS: Yes, I will.
Q Can you tell us something -- a little more about China today than you did yesterday concerning whatever contacts may have been held concerning the arms smuggling story?
MR. BURNS: I can't say too much more. I can just repeat what I said yesterday, update you a little bit.
This is a law enforcement matter. Our law enforcement agencies will pursue this case. We expect that the Government of China will understand that, because any country's laws need to be enforced.
We have notified the Chinese of the operation, of the ongoing criminal investigation, into citizens of China who allegedly violated U.S. law. We will continue our discussion with the Chinese, both in Beijing and in Washington. Contacts have been made in both places. We'll go forward with those contacts.
Obviously, we'll be asking a series of questions. But beyond that, because it's a criminal investigation, there's not a lot I can say that would give more content to the story.
Q But, Nick, the prosecutor for northern California has asked the State Department for help in the extradition, I suppose, of the three arms company representatives from China. Has the State Department responded to this?
MR. BURNS: Without speaking to your specific assertion, because I'm not aware of that, I would just say this. The State Department will cooperate with all Federal law enforcement agencies in this criminal investigation. We'll absolutely cooperate in any way they ask us to cooperate.
This is a criminal investigation. I cannot be representing to you in public all the steps that are being taken to prosecute these people who violated our laws.
Q Nick, you said yesterday you gave the Chinese information about these arrests. Have they responded at all since then?
MR. BURNS: I think it's fair to say that they are in a listening mode now. They're listening to what we have to say and the information that we're transmitting to them.
I'm not aware of any substantial Chinese response as of yet.
Q (Inaudible) news to them they'll investigate it?
MR. BURNS: I don't believe they've given us much of a response on any of this. We're in a position now where we are informing them of what has happened and what we think will happen because of the criminal investigation. I'm not aware they've come back to us with substantial comments at this point.
Q Haven't you asked them to help you with the investigation?
MR. BURNS: You can assume that, yes. Of course, we have.
Q That you've asked them to help with the investigation?
MR. BURNS: You can assume, Sid, that we've done what we need to do to help this investigation go forward.
Q Anything on the Central African Republic?
MR. BURNS: I think you have a further question on China. Then, I'll go to that.
Q Due to questionable missile sales during the Bush Administration, the Chinese set up an export control group. Would this show any indications that the control group knew about this sale? Or does this show that the control group is not working how we would have wished?
MR. BURNS: You remember that when we announced the Secretary's decision on the ring magnet case, one of the things we said was that China had agreed with us that we should go forward with export control discussions at an expert level, which is a meaningful level. Those discussions were quite broad. They would encompass a lot of different issues.
This is just another reason why we need to hold those, and we do intend to hold them as quickly as possible.
Q You have no date yet?
MR. BURNS: I don't have a date yet.
Howard, you had a question.
Q An update on Central Africa?
MR. BURNS: Yes. On Central African Republic: We continue to follow the situation there very carefully and with great interest. Let me give you the figures on the evacuations.
As you know, we are urging American citizens to leave the Central African Republic because of the fighting there. The United States military has now airlifted a total of 161 people out of Bangui during the last couple of days, including 88 Americans.
Just during the last 12 hours, U.S. military aircraft crews have evacuated in the first flight -- there have been two flights -- in the first flight, 16 American passengers and 45 passengers of other nationalities. That flight landed in Cameroon early this morning.
A second flight landed in Cameroon several hours later carrying 28 passengers, four of whom were American Peace Corps volunteers. The evacuation flights are continuing. I expect another one later on today.
Our Embassy in Bangui continues to remain in contact with American citizens there, and we continue to prepare evacuations of American Peace Corps volunteers.
Of the Peace Corps volunteers, we started with a group of 85; 31 of them have departed the country. As I said, we're making arrangements for the others to leave.
In terms of our Embassy presence, we have our Ambassador, eight Foreign Service Officers currently staffing the Embassy, and a group of about 40 Marines. As you know, the Pentagon buttressed the Marine Corps Security Guard this week with some of the Marines who have been on the ships off of Liberia, and they have been an enormous help to the Embassy in providing a secure environment.
They have been working with very little sleep, living on C-rations. They have operated under very difficult conditions. Our Embassy is operating under extraordinarily difficult conditions, but the Embassy will remain open to help American citizens, and to do what little we can at this point to affect the situation politically.
I can tell you that the French have evacuated a number of people, including private Americans. The French, just in the last 24 hours, have evacuated four private American citizens from the Central African Republic. They were taken to Gabon, to Libreville. We do appreciate the continued very solid assistance that we are receiving from the French Government, from the French military and the French Embassy in Bangui.
Politically the situation is quite difficult. You have seen the reports of widespread fighting in the streets. The French Army is engaged in trying to quell the fighting. We urge Americans to keep their heads down, to remain in secure places, and to await confirmation from our Embassy on when they can be evacuated.
Q Another subject? The Vatican Secretary of State has contacted formally, I believe, through Ambassador Flynn, and asked the State Department's help to recover and destroy a tape recording that was made, I believe, by a county prosecutor in Oregon without the knowledge of a priest who was giving confession to a suspect. What is the State -- have you anything on that?
MR. BURNS: I don't know if there is a State Department view in this matter. I'll have to check. I don't know if it is pertinent for us to have a view, whether we are involved in this process.
Q And, secondly, on Algeria, do we have independent corroboration that the monks are dead, and was this a religious hate crime?
MR. BURNS: We do not have independent confirmation of their murder, but there are widespread reports taken very seriously by the Vatican and by others, and I don't know what the motivation was, but anyone who kills, -- well any murder, of course, can't be condoned -- but to go after monks is extraordinarily base and it is outrageous, and we have joined the European countries in condemning it.
Q Can I ask a few Helms-Burton questions?
MR. BURNS: Yes.
Q When are the letters going to go out to some of the companies that might be affected overseas?
MR. BURNS: Not today.
Q Does that mean next week?
MR. BURNS: Not today and probably not over the weekend. I think that we are going to act rather quickly in this matter. I would expect it to happen in the near future. I can't predict the exact day because I am not quite sure what the day will be. But, as I said yesterday, part of the process of implementing Helms-Burton will be to notify a relatively small number of individuals, foreigners who do own companies that have as a substantial part of their assets nationalized property that belongs to American citizens of Cuban descent. We will warn those individuals that should they, in the future, wish to travel to the United States, they and their spouses and their minor children will not be able to do so.
At the same time, and the reason why the timing, David, of the letter is just a little bit uncertain, we want to give some of the governments involved, particularly the Canadian and Mexican governments, as well as some of our friends in Europe, some advance notice of this. We made a pledge to them. Some of the Foreign Ministers have actually asked Secretary Christopher to make sure that there is an orderly process, and we want to make sure that we have those consultations before we actually send the letters.
Q How many people at a particular company will be affected? Will it just be the president of the company or will it be the entire senior management or members of the board?
MR. BURNS: Let me check on that for you. I'm not completely sure about the answer to that question. I know that it includes the CEOs and the leading officials. I don't know how far down the corporate structure it goes, however.
Q And do I understand correctly that there is going to be a 45-day period for comment by who? These companies or governments?
MR. BURNS: Let me check on that, as well.
Q Isn't there a July l5th deadline by which the Administration must decide whether to invoke the waiver or not invoke the waiver?
MR. BURNS: I'm not sure deadline is the appropriate word, because I think there is some latitude that the Administration has on this question. But I think it is commonly assumed, given a variety of factors, that that decision would be made some time this summer.
I would rather check with Lee McClenny and the other experts in the Inter-American Affairs Bureau, because I think that they would object to the word deadline for a good reason.
Q It occurs to me that June lst, which is like a week from now, is about 45 days before July l5th, so that may be why this is coming to a head now. And perhaps you could take the question.
MR. BURNS: Well, actually, the reason we need to get the letters out and we need to advise the foreign governments is because the Bill is law. The Helms-Burton Bill is the American law. The process that we have been focused on is to try to devise, in effect, some implementing steps or regulations concerning the law. We have taken some care with that, but we can't wait forever, and so we do want to get this out soon.
Q Do you have any reaction to the European Commission's condemnation of the Helms-Burton Act and all unilateral measure adopted by the United States against world free trade, quote/unquote?
MR. BURNS: My reaction is this: Helms-Burton is the law of the land and we have an obligation to enforce that law, number one.
Number two, our intent here in order to be sympathetic and sensitive to our friends in Europe and in North America is to maximize the impact of Helms-Burton on Fidel Castro, and minimize the impact on friendly countries like Mexico, Canada, France, the United Kingdom and others.
Third, I think, as President Clinton said the other day, that these European countries and our other friends who are going to be affected by this, ought to understand the nature of the real world here in our hemisphere where we've have had to live with this communist dictatorship ninety miles from our border for the last 36 years.
I think they ought to reflect on the outrageous conduct of the Castro Government against American citizens, including the murder of four Americans by Castro's Government on February 24th -- the four individuals and the two private unarmed Cessna aircraft which did not enter Cuban air space.
I think those governments ought to have some sympathy for the United States and the American people, as we deal with the last dinosaur, anachronistic, authoritarian regime in our hemisphere, Cuba.
Q And the U.S. does not believe that the Helms-Burton Act is a violation of the World Trade Organization.?
MR. BURNS: No, we do not.
MR. BURNS: No, we do not.
MR. BURNS: Yes.
Q Did you ever hear of the three biggest Syrian cities the last couple of weeks, they had a big explosion and several hundred people were wounded? And then after, they arrested, I believe, about 400 Turkmen, which were Syrian citizens? Do you ever hear of this situation?
MR. BURNS: I am not aware of that incident, no.
Q Can you check that, please?
MR. BURNS: I will look into it. I am not sure that we would be the best source on that. You might ask the Syrian Government.
Q Because I believe it is the Turkish Government -- MR. BURNS: The Turkish Government.
Q That is in contact with you.
MR. BURNS: You are talking about the situation in Syria, right?
MR. BURNS: You might ask the Syrian Government. You know, we do have an Embassy there, but it is not always aware of everything that is happening in Syria.
Q Yes, okay.
MR. BURNS: Or the Turkish Government. I can see what we've got, but I'm not sure we are the proper address for that question.
Q Can you say any more on Liberia?
MR. BURNS: On Liberia? Yes, have you seen the statement we made?
MR. BURNS: I can say on Liberia that first there was an extraordinarily high level of fighting this morning in the area of the United States Embassy. Our Marines used bull horns to ward off the fighters from the area immediately around the Embassy, because our Marines are protecting our diplomats and protecting each other.
And, secondly, I can tell you that the situation hasn't improved for the better at all in Liberia. But the reason for issuing the statement last evening is because the looting -- I mean, there is looting everywhere in the world in war-like situations in civil wars, but this looting perhaps has reached Olympian heights and outrageous heights.
The people of Liberia are being totally ripped off, sometimes not just by the factions but by others. We call upon the governments in West Africa to cooperate in inspecting the various ships that have left Monrovia and which are entering West African ports, because we have reason to believe that some of these ships that have taken refugees out of Liberia are carrying an extraordinarily high degree and value of looted goods.
Monrovia is being emptied out of its physical infrastructure and not just by the factions.
Q Is not just by the factions, are you saying that the ECOMOG is doing it, too?
MR. BURNS: No, I didn't say that at all. I just said that there are all sorts of individuals running around, and a lot of this stuff, as our statement says, is coming out on ships that are entering other West African ports, and to be fair to Liberians, the innocent Liberians, the vast majority that have been victimized, those West African governments ought to check those ships.
Q Can you be more specific as to exactly what this stuff is that you are talking about?
MR. BURNS: You know -- have you read the statement?
MR. BURNS: Okay. The statement speaks for itself. Perhaps in another format we can get additional information to you.
Q Where is this stuff going?
MR. BURNS: It is going everywhere. It is going anywhere those ships are going. It is going to people who will buy it. And it is very disturbing to see this happen.
Q And you think there is not one entity behind it, that it is more helter-skelter?
MR. BURNS: We think it is -- I don't think there is any monolithic organization controlling all this. I think it is every person for himself.
Barry, welcome. Barry, the Red Sox won last night, Barry. I know that is why you came in to join us.
Q Clemens gave up four hits, four runs. That's considered a bad outing.
MR. BURNS: We're at the end, Barry, unless you want to talk about any other issue, as the senior correspondent. I can't leave until you give me permission to leave.
Q Is Christopher going to be on any TV programs this weekend?
MR. BURNS: Secretary Christopher will not appear on any TV programs this weekend that I know of.
Q Dialing for Dollars?
MR. BURNS: No. He will not be on any of the Sunday shows. He's going to work hard over the weekend but not be on the Sunday shows.
Q (Inaudible) the monitors already?
MR. BURNS: We did.
Q The progress they're making.
MR. BURNS: Thank you, Barry, for showing up. Glad to have you with us, Barry.
(Press briefing concluded at 1:59 p.m.)
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