U.S. Department of State 96/06/04 Daily Press Briefing Office of the Spokesman U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING I N D E X Tuesday, June 4, 1996 Briefer: Glyn Davies ANNOUNCEMENT Deputy Secretary Signs Inter-American Convention on Corruption ............................................. 1 BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA IFOR Mission, Apprehension of Indicted War Criminals ..... 1-6 - IFOR Rules of Engagement (ROE) ........................ 5 IFOR Troops Detain Suspect, Subsequent Demonstration ..... 2-3 Radovan Karadzic's Influence as a Bosnian-Serb Leader .... 4 DEPARTMENT Regional Efforts to Fight Corruption ..................... 4-5 IRAQ No Decision on U.S. Purchase of Oil, UN Res 986 .......... 6 SYRIA Reported German Firm Assistance in Building Chemical Weapons Plant .......................................... 6 Evidence of a Chemical Weapons Plant ..................... 7 Security Advisory Issued to Americans .................... 9-10 - Explosions and Reported Massive Arrest ................. 10-11 NIGERIA Assassination of Mrs. Abiola ............................. 7 INDIA Donald Hutchings & Other Kidnap Victims in Kashmir: - Report of Alleged Murders .............................. 7-9 - Indian Government Contacts with Kidnappers (Al Faran) .. 8 - U.S. Assistance in Search for Kidnap Victims ........... 8 RUSSIA Election Observers ....................................... 9 JAPAN U.S. Aircraft Accidentally Shot Down by Japanese Navy Ship 9 - Question of Compensation ............................... 12-13 NORTH KOREA Status of U.S. Decision on Food Aid, Famine Relief ........ 11 BAHRAIN Security Situation; Iranian-Trained Coup Plotters Detained 11-12 MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS Arab Concern re Israel Election Result, Netanyahu Policies 12-13 Secretary, Other U.S. Contact with Yasser Arafat ......... 12-13 GCC Statement Linking Relations w/ Israel to Peace Process 15 Palestinian Assistance, OPIC Funding Disbursement ........ 15-17 Settlements, Israel Troop Withdrawal from Hebron ......... 17 ISRAEL U.S. Ongoing Dialogue with Israel ........................ 12 Timing of U.S.-Israel Senior-Level Exchange of Visits .... 13-15 BURMA Status Report on Naming of U.S. Envoy .................... 15
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
TUESDAY, JUNE 4, 1996, 1:00 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. DAVIES: Welcome to the State Department briefing. I've got just one announcement. Then I'll go to your questions.
I'd like to draw your attention to a statement that was actually made a couple of days ago but it, occurring on that beautiful weekend, might not have been noticed. I want to make sure it gets noticed. It's a statement by Deputy Secretary Talbott upon signing of the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption. This was one of the centerpieces of the meeting of the Organization of American States in Panama City, Panama, on June 2. The Deputy Secretary of State signed, on behalf of the United States, a convention against corruption that is hemispheric in scope.
The Inter-American Convention Against Corruption marks an important and historic step in our collective efforts on behalf of open markets and open societies.
This convention will help bring to justice those who flout the rule of law by facilitating extradition and the seizure of assets in the gathering of evidence. It sets up common principles of government ethics, and lets the people of the hemisphere know what they have a right to expect from their public officials.
There is much more in the statement that I'll spare you right now, but it is available, so please look for that.
With that, George.
Q The Times had a story today quoting Pentagon officials as saying it's basically business as usual in Bosnia, notwithstanding the Secretary's statement the other day that there would a more aggressive pursuit on the part of NATO forces with respect to war criminals, or indicted war criminals.
MR. DAVIES: There isn't any disconnect between the State Department and the Pentagon, between the State Department and those Americans who are out there serving with IFOR. General Joulwan, himself, told reporters yesterday in Berlin that IFOR forces are expanding their patrols, including in Pale, the self-styled capital of the Republika Srpska.
This does not, though -- and this, I think, goes to your question -- represent any kind of a fundamental change in the mission of IFOR, because detention is and has been a part of the mandate for IFOR. What's new is the change in emphasis as we enter a new phase of the IFOR mission.
IFOR has gotten behind it; has substantially accomplished its primary military tasks as set forth by the Dayton Agreement; to remind you, separation of forces, cantonment of weapons, de-commissioning of weapons. So it's now able to increase its presence around the country. And, as was anticipated at the time of Dayton, perhaps to shift resources and emphasis in order to accomplish other tasks within the existing mandate.
So the effect of this change, which, as I say, is a kind of natural change or natural progression, is that as Bosnia gets into the elections phase -- and they are still some three months off -- indicted war criminals, for instance, will find it increasingly difficult to get around the country. Of course, it will increase the opportunities for those indicted war criminals to run into NATO patrols. Then, of course, it's up to the commander of the patrol to decide whether conditions exist to take any action.
But I would, just to wrap this up, go back to first principles here which are on the question of these indicted individuals.
The primary responsibility for apprehending them, of course, rests with the parties to the Dayton Agreement. They're the ones, in the first instance, who have this responsibility. It is part of the IFOR mission, though, that if they have an opportunity, and it's safe to do so, they'll detain these indicted individuals.
That's where we are. I would not draw any distinction between what the Secretary said and what IFOR's mission is and what General Joulwan has said. I just don't think there is any.
Q What can you tell us about this incident -- I don't know if it was one of the proactive patrols, but an American squad apparently arrested a Serb with a pistol and then was besieged in local police station; he had to be rescued by the French, and does that bode well if a minimal effort like that runs into trouble for snaring war criminals?
MR. DAVIES: I wouldn't extrapolate from what happened in that incident to draw any larger conclusions about the way things are going to go, necessarily.
What's fair to say is that all is well that ends well. They were doing their job. There was, according to press reports -- since that's all I've seen -- some kind of a mob that reacted, or a group of people that reacted and came to the police station where the Americans had brought that suspect. Then the French were able to calm things down by showing up in some force.
What does that mean for the future? I really don't think it makes a whole of lot of sense to conclude that that one incident is going to set the tone for the future.
Again, I think it's good that it ended peacefully and we would hope that all such incidents end that way.
Q Back at the beginning of the deployment, Karadzic was allowed through a checkpoint at one point and there was much screaming and yelling about this. The allies said that they would put together good pictures of the people who had been indicted for war crimes; there were 50-some -- 54, I think. Have those little pictures, or pamphlets, or whatever form they took, been assembled? Do we know if troops have been thoroughly briefed on studying these pictures so that they stand a chance of actually picking some of these people up?
MR. DAVIES: That's probably an operational question that would be best addressed either in the region, to IFOR spokespeople, or back here at the Pentagon.
There was an effort made some months ago to disseminate information about those indicted individuals more broadly to IFOR forces. Quite a considerable effort was made, including the publishing of posters that were then taken around, and other identifying information.
As far as I know, that's been done. I'm sure that the dissemination of that information has given pause -- it should have given pause to Mladic and Karadzic and the others, to keep them from trying to venture forth as they have a couple of times in the past.
I would note that there haven't been, recently, any such citings of those individuals. I would hope that every effort will be made to do the right thing if NATO forces run across them.
Essentially, I think the troops have the information that they need to do their jobs if they find themselves in a situation that would require their taking action.
Q Do you see any evidence that Karadzic is still exercising political influence in Bosnia/Serbia despite what Milosevic said?
MR. DAVIES: He is still operating in some fashion and has a degree of influence. I don't know that I can rate it on a scale of 1-to-100 to tell you what degree of influence he has today as against, say, six months ago when the Dayton Agreement was signed.
What we think is important to emphasize is that he should be removed from power and he should be removed from any scintilla of influence on the situation. That's what we're working toward and what we are working to convince the signatories of the Dayton Agreement to follow through on. Most notably, of course, President Milosevic who signed the Dayton Agreement.
Q On this -- if I can go back to the Convention Against Corruption?
MR. DAVIES: Sure.
Q Did the United States sign a similar convention with other countries or block of countries?
MR. DAVIES: I think what's important about this convention is that it's the first time we've signed such a convention that has any kind of international aspect to it. There is, of course, on our books what is called the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act which makes it illegal -- and I'm not a lawyer, so I hope I don't get this wrong -- makes it illegal for U.S. businessmen overseas to engage in bribery or other corrupting acts.
What's important here is that for the first time, in a regional setting, other countries have signed up, in some measure, to that principle. There are other efforts underway elsewhere; I think in Europe as well. We are doing everything we can to convince other nations of the importance of eliminating tax deductibility for bribes and otherwise condoning corrupting practices on behalf of their businessmen.
Q In Europe?
MR. DAVIES: I believe that we are making an effort elsewhere, including in Europe, to convince others of the need to look at measures like this and eventually to adopt them.
Q How about --
MR. DAVIES: I don't know if there's any kind of an effort underway in the Middle East.
Q Actually, can I just go back to Bosnia?
MR. DAVIES: Sure.
Q Despite the fact that you say there isn't a disconnect between what the Pentagon sees as the mission and what the Secretary said over the weekend, it would appear that the emphasis of Secretary Christopher's remarks were to indicate that if this is a shift in emphasis of what IFOR is going to do -- taking more proactive patrols or perhaps being more aggressive in their patroling -- that they would have been given some specific orders or guidelines to follow, should they encounter these indicted war criminals, or perhaps just brushing off some of the past guidelines.
Do you know if any such communication has gone to the troops on the ground? What to do if they encounter these individuals if they are -- as Karadzic and Mladic have done -- surrounded by armed guards? Has there been any --
MR. DAVIES: Operationally, I don't know if there has been any change. I don't think that there's been any change at all to the standing rules of engagement that IFOR forces have. But what's occurred is that General Joulwan, Admiral Smith, other NATO and IFOR leaders, they've been able -- and this is kind of an evolutionary development more than it is any kind of a sharp break with the past -- they've been able to step up the incidences of patrols by IFOR forces around the country -- all around the country. My understanding -- some I've spoken with this morning have told me that, in fact, this is already occurring, it's already begun to occur, and I can't speak to when particular orders may have been issued.
The point is that this is not a change in IFOR's mandate. It's not a change in NATO's role in Bosnia at all. It is, if you will, a positive development from the standpoint of freedom of movement, in that there will be more patrols going around the countryside, and that's the adjustment that they've been able to make, now that they've got their purely military missions largely behind them.
Q Has the IFOR arrested any war criminals yet?
MR. DAVIES: I don't know that IFOR has detained any war criminals. I'm not sure that, strictly speaking, they would be the arresting power; but their role would be to detain war criminals if they had an opportunity to do so safely. I don't think that that's occurred. Of course, there aren't, to date, that many indicted individuals who have been delivered up to The Hague. Of the close to 60 who are on the War Crimes Tribunal's list, I think at the most there have been about a half dozen who have been taken into custody.
Any more on Bosnia?
Q Iraq. Will the U.S. companies be allowed to purchase Iraqi oil, and will American relief agencies participate in providing the food and humanitarian goods allowed under the Resolution 986?
MR. DAVIES: That's really the same question, which is, "Has there been a decision yet taken on the participation to be allowed U.S. firms in 986 -- in the oil that will flow from 986?" And, of course, there are two components to that, as I think you've alluded to.
One is whether American firms will be in a position to broker that oil or buy that oil or sell that oil.
And then, two, whether American firms will be in a position to fulfill some of the contracts that will come out of this process to provide humanitarian supplies in Iraq.
The answer is no, there's been no decision yet. We expect one in the not-too-distant future, and we'll make an announcement when it's made. But no one has yet made that decision, so stay tuned. It may occur within a matter of days or even weeks, but relatively soon.
I'll go here first. Yes, Jim.
Q There's a press report in Germany to the effect that on the basis of information supplied by the United States Government, the German Government is investigating a German firm on suspicion of having helped build a chemical warfare plant in Syria. Do you know anything --
MR. DAVIES: This is the report that is to appear or has been in the magazine Stern?
MR. DAVIES: We've seen the report. It obviously raises questions in our minds, and we'll be looking into it, but I don't have anything for you today to respond to that.
Q More generically, do you have -- have you ever had any evidence that Syrian is involved in trying to procure chemical weapons?
MR. DAVIES: I'm not aware that we have in the past had such evidence. That's something I could look into for you. I'd be happy to.
Q Nigeria. Do you have any information surrounding the report this morning that Mrs. Abiola was assassinated, and do you have any information and any reaction?
MR. DAVIES: That would appear to be the operative word, "assassinated." We don't have much information as yet, and we hope that the Nigerian authorities will look into this quickly and closely, so that we can get the full story.
Here's what we know. First off, that Mrs. Kudirat Abiola died of gunshot wounds to the head, following an attack on her by four gunmen in her car on June 4, today, in Lagos. The incident occurred, reportedly shortly after her car had passed a police checkpoint. She was traveling with her driver.
We understand further that the gunmen escaped in their car; that no arrests have yet been made; that the Nigerian authorities have yet to issue any kind of a public announcement. It's just too early to tell, since this has just happened, whether the killing was politically motivated, but it does appear to have been an assassination, not an intended robbery.
So what we are engaged in doing is calling on the Government of Nigeria to thoroughly investigate the crime, diligently pursue these killers, and to insure they're identified and duly prosecuted.
It is a very sad occurrence, and we deplore what has occurred, and we'll try to develop information as soon as we can about it.
Q Do you have anything on Donald Hutchings, the American who was kidnapped by Kashmiri rebels?
MR. DAVIES: Sadly, we don't have any new information about Donald Hutchings, who is still, we believe, being held in Kashmir. There have been reports that the Indian security forces are conducting a search to try to confirm or disprove reports that are, I believe, secondhand that the Western hostages -- and Hutchings is one of them -- who have been held since last July have been killed. These aren't eyewitness reports.
We maintain that as long as there's no definitive proof that the hostages are dead, we're going to continue to operate on the assumption that they're alive. We'll continue to work closely with Indian authorities and other government organizations to secure their release.
Part of the problem here, of course, is that they've been held in a very rugged, very mountainous area where these militants are able to operate rather freely, and that complicates efforts to try to get to the bottom of this.
But the bottom line is that we're assuming he's still alive. We're working with the Indians, and we hope very soon that he'll be released; in fact, his captors should release him right away.
Q Are you aware of any talking between the Indian Government and the rebels any time recently?
MR. DAVIES: I'm not -- between the Al Faran group and the Indian Government. I'm simply not aware that there's been any dialogue between the two.
Q There are apparently, according to wire reports, five Western security agents or experts who are part of the search team. Are those U.S. Government officials?
MR. DAVIES: I can confirm that some American Government officials are assisting the Indian authorities in their search. I don't know how many, and I can't tell you, because I don't know what organizations they might represent. But we are out there, and we're helping the Indians in their work.
Q How much credence or credibility do we put into the report of the murders, or alleged murders, given that they came from a person who was a former member of this militant group?
MR. DAVIES: I don't know that we give them a whole lot of credence necessarily, but I think what's important is that the Indian Government and the U.S. Government in a supporting role do everything possible, follow up every lead, regardless of how remote it may seem, to try to get to the bottom of this.
This is a relatively large area at a high elevation -- very rugged conditions, so it's difficult to run down any leads. Any time you get any kind of a tip or a lead, even if the source is tainted or suspect, I think you have to do what you can to follow them up, and that's what's going on right now.
All the way in the back, Dave.
Q Will there be a U.S. delegation of observers to the Russian elections?
MR. DAVIES: Don't know the answer to that. I can look into what plans may exist to observe or be present during the Russian elections. Certainly, we have a large diplomatic establishment there, and it's the job of U.S. diplomats stationed in countries where elections are occurring to be alert and to monitor what's going on, to report back as part of their normal functions.
Whether that will be supplemented by any other organizations, I don't know, and I'm happy to look into that.
Yes, right here.
Q Just wondering if there's any comment or reaction to the RIMPAC exercise incident, with the downing of the U.S. plane by Japan, and also if you've had any contact with the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs about that?
MR. DAVIES: Oh, I know of no diplomatic contact between the United States Government and the Japanese Government. In this case there need not be, since it appears relatively straightforward what occurred, which is to say that a U.S. A-6E Intruder which was towing a target for gunnery practice was damaged inadvertently by gunfire from a Japanese destroyer.
The plane went down about 1600 miles west of Hawaii. Both crew members, both Americans, piloting the aircraft, ejected and were recovered in good condition.
So the action now is to conduct an investigation, and that will be done by both the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces and the United States forces working together, and they'll look into it. This is not a case that needs to be escalated at all to the diplomatic level.
Q Can you elaborate at all on this advisory that went out to U.S. citizens in Syria? Apparently there have been some bombings there.
MR. DAVIES: The advisory, I'm afraid, will have to stand without a whole lot of elucidation. It's pretty much what we know about what's occurred -- that there have been some explosions. These are not major explosions, as I understand it, that have occurred.
I can't give you a good idea of how many thus far. Some have been confirmed. Some are unconfirmed to date. But we thought it prudent, based on this information, to issue a travel advisory to Americans to exercise caution as they go about their business -- those few Americans who are in Syria.
Q Can you say where the explosions have taken place?
MR. DAVIES: I can't say where they've taken place. I can't get into that. I think we're still at a stage where the Syrians are looking into what's occurred, and it would probably be best not to get into any detail about them. We've given American citizens the level of information that they need to take some precautions.
Q Why did you think these explosions constitute a threat to Americans?
MR. DAVIES: Well, any time explosions occur, it's a threat to anybody who's near the explosion, so we thought we'd let Americans know that these were happening and tell them to exercise caution. We're not, of course, in the case of Syria, talking about a country with massive expatriate populations of American citizens.
Those who are there are undoubtedly relatively savvy about the living conditions and their surroundings to begin with. We simply wanted to alert them that there have been these reports -- a few of them confirmed, some unconfirmed -- of some explosions and to suggest to them that they take precautions as they go about their business.
Q Glyn, after the explosions, the Damascus Government of Damascus, they arrest 400 Turkmen minority people. I believe that several neighboring countries has complained about this subject. Do you have any information about this? Because the number is too large. It's 400, we heard about.
MR. DAVIES: What I always love about pointing to this side of the room is that you gentlemen have information that is fresh, and this is one where I don't have anything to help me. So I'm simply going to have to look into it and try to get back to you.
Q Did you receive any kind of threats targeting Americans?
MR. DAVIES: No. To my knowledge, these explosions weren't accompanied by any kind of threat. In fact, I can say -- and I shouldn't have left this out -- that they don't appear to be explosions that are targeted against American citizens. That's a key point, and that's one of the reasons we simply put out that very brief statement -- not to raise undue alarm but to alert Americans to what's going on.
Q Glyn, this may be self-evident from what you said, from the statement itself, but can you confirm for the record that you're talking about acts of violence here and not any kind of accidental explosions?
MR. DAVIES: I think it's fair to term them acts of violence and not accidental explosions.
Q Do you know who was targeted in these explosions?
MR. DAVIES: I don't know. I just don't have that information to share with you.
Q Do you have anything on North Korea food aid?
MR. DAVIES: I don't. We're where we were yesterday and the day before, I think -- perhaps the day before that.
It's an issue that we're working on. We're looking closely at the situation in North Korea to see if we can play a role in responding to some of the appeals that are in the works on the part of international organizations that monitor the food situation. But there have been no decisions made about what, if any, food aid we would provide.
Q Do you have anything about the Bahraini security situation and the existence of so-called "Hizbollah of Bahrain"?
MR. DAVIES: I do have a little bit of information about that. We understand that the Government of Bahrain has detained several dozen militants, apparently trained and backed by Iran to overthrow the Government of Bahrain. We take these allegations very, very seriously. As we've said in the past, Iran's involvement with terrorist activities in the region is well known; and, of course, it's also well known that they've established links with oppositionist parties in Bahrain.
Given the longstanding friendship between the United States and Bahrain, we would like to firmly support the Government of Bahrain, and we would view with great concern any external effort to destabilize that government or to compromise its economic and social development, and, as importantly, its recently announced political reform.
Q I know you said yesterday it's premature to prejudge. Do you have any comment on the expressed pessimism about the peace process and ongoing discussions to hold an Arab summit in the near future?
MR. DAVIES: There is one constant that appears to run through some of these statements by President Mubarak, President Assad and others and our statements, which is that all of these leaders agree that it's important to wait and to see what happens in Israel in the wake of the elections there. We think that's the wise way to go given the fact that the government in Israel hasn't yet been formed, that Prime Minister-elect Netanyahu has not had a chance to form his cabinet.
The President and the Secretary of State -- Secretary Christopher -- have encouraged Arab leaders and other leaders not to rush to judgment, and that would appear to be the bottom line of all of these statements that we're seeing.
Q Is there any kind of diplomatic channels, ongoing process til the visit of Prime Minister-elect Netanyahu to the United States?
MR. DAVIES: There are always diplomatic discussions between the United States and Israel. We have a very active, constant dialogue.
Q And the rest of the Middle East?
MR. DAVIES: We have Embassies in all those countries and maintain an active dialogue. Of course, you'll recall that the President sent some letters in the wake of the election. Secretary of State Christopher made some phone calls. So those contacts continue as we watch developments in Israel, and we would simply underscore the importance of not rushing to judgment, the importance of waiting to see what Prime Minister-elect Netanyahu does.
Q Glyn, in these telephone calls, did the Secretary call Yasser Arafat?
MR. DAVIES: I don't know that the Secretary has spoken with Yasser Arafat. I can check that. I know that we've had diplomatic contact with him in recent days.
Q I want to go back to the RIMPAC incident. In this case, I wonder whether it is unnecessary for you to ask for compensation to Japanese Government?
MR. DAVIES: I don't think that's going to be an issue here. I mean, there are risks associated with these exercises -- unfortunate risks sometimes -- that can result in damage to equipment, some of it expensive equipment. This came close to being something more than just damage to equipment. Thank goodness that's all it was.
I don't think that the question of compensation would even arise in this case. I've not heard of it arising in similar cases in the past that involve military-to-military incidents like this.
Q I'll go back to the question of Mr. Anderson. If the Secretary didn't call on Yasser Arafat, in addition to the American Consul in East Jerusalem, were there any contacts by U.S. officials with Yasser Arafat since Israeli elections?
MR. DAVIES: There have been contacts by our Consulate in Jerusalem with Yasser Arafat, and I don't know if there have been other contacts with him at this stage. That's something I can check. I don't know whether there have been.
You had a follow-on question to that?
Q Yes. I don't know if you answered this question about the summary of the meeting that was between Mubarak and between Assad and the rejection -- and their putting the whole peace process on hold til Netanyahu will clear his position, if you have addressed this issue.
MR. DAVIES: I chose to accent the positive that we saw in the statements that came out of that meeting and not to comment directly on some of the other results. Very quickly, it's important to wait and see what happens, and that appears to be the view of those leaders as well -- President Assad, President Mubarak. So we think that's important to do, to give some breathing room to the Prime Minister-elect. His government is as yet unformed, and we ought to wait until it's formed before we make decisions about what the future will look like.
Q Ambassador Indyk met today with Mr. Netanyahu. Do you know if a date was firmed up yet for a visit to the United States or if there's any discussion of Secretary Christopher going there before the visit here?
MR. DAVIES: I don't believe that there was any date agreed to. We know and we've said, I believe publicly, that the Prime Minister-elect is very interested in coming to the United States at an early moment. He's got some work to do before he comes.
For our part, we, too, would like very much to have the Prime Minister come to the United States. That pledge is out there. But no date has been fixed.
As to travel by the Secretary, he's willing to go to the region whenever it makes sense to do so. If the Prime Minister would like to consult with him, I'm sure the Secretary would be on the next plane out. I don't know that there have been any more specific conversations since then.
Q Was there any decision about the visit to the region by Ambassador Ross?
MR. DAVIES: It falls in the same category. I don't believe that there have been any decisions made about travel by senior U.S. Government officials to the region.
Q Was there an offer to the Israelis to have Ross soon?
MR. DAVIES: I don't think there was necessarily a specific offer. I think there's a standing offer out there that comes out of the conversations that the Prime Minister-elect had in the hours after the election results were announced that we would be happy to go out and brief him and meet with him at his convenience. So that's where it stands.
Q What was the response?
MR. DAVIES: There wasn't a "See-you-next-Tuesday- at-3:00 response," because the Prime Minister has some things to do. We perfectly well understand that. We wait to hear. That offer is out there.
We certainly would like very much to have him come to the United States. He said he's anxious to do that as well, but he wants to come with the government at work back home, I think.
Q The Secretary of State mentioned that there will be a briefing trip to Israel. So about the briefing trip, I'm asking.
MR. DAVIES: I don't think the Secretary has said that there will be a briefing trip, necessarily, to Israel. I think he's expressed his willingness to go out to brief Mr. Netanyahu, if that's what is wanted on the Israeli side. Certainly, the Secretary has made no announcements, to my knowledge.
Q Was there a negative response to it?
MR. DAVIES: No. No negative responses in any of this dialogue. It's been very positive, very good.
Q How about an envoy to Burma?
MR. DAVIES: Envoy to Burma. That is under consideration, as I understand it. Nobody has yet been named. We stand four-square behind the democracy activists, including Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Prize laureate, and follow events there closely. The Burmese authorities are in no doubt of our position on what's been going on, but we've got nothing to announce at this stage about an envoy heading in that direction.
Q Do you have a comment on the statement by the Gulf Cooperation Council Foreign Ministers Conference, which was held in the Gulf in the last couple of days, saying that any progress or implementing -- any progress on normalization of relations between the Arab world and Israel hinges on the progress that Mr. Netanyahu will be making on the Palestinians and the agreements with the Palestinians?
The state of Qatar, in particular, said -- the Foreign Minister -- that any normalization could be put on hold or eased off if there will be no progress towards the peace process as it was before the elections?
MR. DAVIES: I don't have a direct reaction to that statement. Of course, we've noted in recent days that we welcome what the Prime Minister-elect has had to say about the peace process; that there's certainly no walking it back; that he is committed to it.
King Hussein, in fact, speaking yesterday in Amman, put it most succinctly. He said that the peace process is, in a word, "irreversible."
Of course, after the peace treaties that Israel has achieved with Egypt and Jordan, the three agreements with the Palestinians, and the several economic summits that have occurred to revitalize the region economically, there certainly is no turning back the clock on that.
I don't think that there is a problem here at this stage. What's important is to wait to see what's likely to develop. We're very positive and optimistic about the future.
Q Outside of (inaudible) that these statements have been positive, the pace of time, where problems are brewing, the closure is still continuing on the Palestinians and the economic conditions are deteriorating. The United Nations representative there -- I think the UNRWA, Mr. (inaudible) or something, his name -- he stated that the treasury of the Palestinians will be depleted and they will be almost bankrupt if the funds will not be coming and assistance will not be coming and the workers will not be going to work.
Are you taking this --
MR. DAVIES: You're describing a situation that existed, unfortunately, before the elections as well. What's changed is that Benjamin Netanyahu is the Prime Minister-elect of Israel. He now will be the man on the spot to deal with these issues and confront these issues. We stand ready to play our role, as we have for over two generations, of standing by Israel and supporting Israel as it moves forward to face some of these challenges.
Of course, we have well-known concerns about some of the privations that the Palestinians have been under. We've done what we can to help them in their plight.
I've mentioned these economic summits that have occurred. They've been very positive in stimulating interest in investment in the region -- in Jordan, in the Palestinian areas. That process we certainly expect to go forward.
Q You're talking about the progress of investment. I mentioned this last Friday to Nick at the briefing, about the $200 million the OPIC -- which is the Overseas Private Investment Corporation -- which has allocated or earmarked these funds to have development from Arab-Americans. This organization did not dispense more than I think $3 or $4 million out of the $200 million because of the rigid --- or rather, lack of cooperation of this organization with Arab-American investors who wanted to do some projects in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Will the Administration concentrate or possibly pay attention to all of the funds -- why the funds were dispensed -- why there were no projects? There were many people who wanted to do something but they couldn't do something because they couldn't get the funds from OPIC to do the projects that they wanted to do there in Gaza and the West Bank.
MR. DAVIES: So your question, really, doesn't relate to the change in the Israeli Government?
Q No. It comes out of that because of the fact that the funds are in the --
MR. DAVIES: I don't see a relationship between the two. I'm not up to speed on where we stand with the OPIC process in the Palestinian areas. It's something I'm happy to look into to see what current plans are. Sure.
Q You said that the U.S. is very positive and optimistic about the future. The Prime Minister-elect is a man who, during his campaign, promised to increase the size of Jewish settlements on the West Bank and raised questions about whether or not he was going to withdraw Israeli troops, as required under the peace treaty with the Palestinians, from Hebron.
Upon what do you base your comment that you're very positive and optimistic about the future?
MR. DAVIES: On the bedrock friendship that exists between the people of Israel, the people of the United States, the long history -- the almost half century history we have of working with them to confront the problems that they've faced.
There's a huge reservoir of good will and friendship there that isn't going to be affected by a change in government. Will there be challenges in the future? Sure. One always confronts challenges in a relationship. We'll simply have to work through them.
It's been the pattern that we've followed across Republican and Democratic Administrations on a bipartisan basis since World War II, and we'll continue that. That's why we're positive about the future.
We expect things will work out. We'll keep working at them. Extending this hand to the Prime Minister-elect to come here and his response, which we view as quite positive, we see as a continuation of that excellent friendship that exists between the two countries.
Q Thank you.
(Press briefing concluded at 1:41)
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