U.S. Department of State 96/06/06 Daily Press Briefing Office of the Spokesman U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING I N D E X Thursday, June 6, 1996 Briefer: Nicholas Burns ALBANIA Elections/USG Support...................................... 1-2 GREECE/TURKEY Turkish Government's Rejection of Economic Assistance ..... 2-4 Disputed Islands in the Aegean/Status of Gavdos............. 5-6 Status of Frigates Transfer to Turkey ..................... 5-6 Rumor re Military Coup D'etat in Turkey.................... 7 Training of Bosnian Muslim Forces in Turkey................ 16 CYPRUS Reported Rising Fears of War .............................. 7 Ambassador Holbrooke's Comment re Cyprus .................. 7-8 FORMER YUGOSLAVIA Prospects for Reimposition of Sanctions ................... 8-9,13 Reported Resignation of Admiral Smith ..................... 9-10 Number of Foreign Fighters/Status of Train and Equip ...... 10-11,12 US Representation at 6/14 Conference in Florence .......... 11 A/S John Kornblum Travel From and To The Region............ 11 Tudjman and Izetbegovic Resolvement of Defense Law ........ 12 IFOR Rules of Engagement re Indicted War Criminals ........ 13 Prospects for Holding of Elections ........................ 14-16 SYRIA Syrian Official's Comments re: US Advisory on Explosions .. 17 Stern Magazine Report re: German Firm Sale of Chemical Weapons to Syria/US Information/Knowledge ............... 17 --Syrian Comments re Right to Possess Weapons of Mass Destruction ............................................. 17-18 CHINA China's Position re CTBT and Peaceful Nuclear Explosions .. 19-20 LIBERIA Reports of Discovery of Mass Graves outside Monrovia....... 20 Security Situation and ECOMOG in Monrovia.................. 20-21 Status of Refugee Ship Zolotitsa........................... 21-22 DEPARTMENT/CONSULAR AFFAIRS Los Angeles Times Article re Department Does Little or Nothing for Kidnapped Americans/Department Reaction...... 22-24
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
THURSDAY, JUNE 6, 1996, 1:11 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. BURNS: Good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department briefing. I have a short announcement to make, and then I'll be glad to go to your questions.
The announcement that I have is on Albania, and on the Albanian elections.
As you know, on May 28th, the Department of State expressed serious reservations about the irregularities reported by the OSCE, by the United States Embassy and by other observers concerning the vote and the count of the May 26 parliamentary elections in Albania.
On June 1, following our review of reports from the OSCE and our Embassy, we issued a statement that evaluated the elections. Among other things, it noted that the elections were marred by numerous irregularities and represented a significant step backward from the previous parliamentary elections in Albania in 1992.
It said that these irregularities cast a shadow on the prospects for democratic progress in Albania which remains, of course, the cornerstone of our relationship with the Albanians.
The statement also said that it was our firm belief that steps had to be taken to correct these flaws.
Since then, we have urged the Albanian Government, and all the political parties in Albania, to seek assistance from the international community to review these irregularities and to identify districts in which elections should be repeated. We have urged the government to consider carefully the recommendations of others to improve the electoral process so that these irregularities might not recur.
The United States is working closely with the international community, our friends in Europe -- particularly the OSCE -- to ensure now that the Government of Albania acts on these recommendations. The government has already stated its intention to repeat four of the races in which irregularities were identified by its own central election commission.
We expect that the review process, which we have recommended, should identify further constituencies in which elections should be repeated. So, therefore, more than just the four that have been identified by the Albanian Government, and certainly further U.S. actions will depend upon the response of the Albanian Government to our proposals.
That's our statement on Albania.
Q Do you have any comment on the developments in Turkey and the possibility that the Islamic movement might seize power there?
MR. BURNS: I kind of figured I'd get asked about Turkey today, given the lineup over here; all of my friends seated right in a row here.
We, obviously, are looking and watching very closely events in Turkey these days because Turkey is a very important NATO ally of the United States. What's happening there, obviously, is of a political nature. This is the internal political life of the Turkish nation that we're seeing, and I think it would be inappropriate for the United States to make any comment on that.
Q Has Secretary Christopher responded or reacted by any means to the letter, to the Turkish Government's letter, which was delivered a little after action --- before noon-time yesterday?
MR. BURNS: Which letter?
Q The Turkish Government.
MR. BURNS: Concerning which issue?
Q Actually, the Turkish Ambassador here in Washington wrote a letter to Secretary Christopher yesterday announcing that Turkey will decline to accept the ESF credits for the Financial Year 1997?
MR. BURNS: Right. As you know, the House, yesterday, looked at several aspects of United States assistance to Turkey. I would just point out that this is a House action, the actions taken yesterday pertaining to U.S. assistance to Turkey. The Senate must act. The final bill will go to conference, so we do not yet have a final decision from the Legislative Branch in our government about the amount of financial resources available to us to support our relationship with Turkey.
I am aware that there have been some communications between the Turkish Ambassador and the Department of State. All I can say is that whatever decisions are made by the Turkish Government about our assistance are the internal decisions of that government. The Administration is strongly opposed to the amendments proposed by the House yesterday. We're strongly opposed.
We believe we ought to have a very supportive, very active relationship with Turkey which befits the fact that in southeast Europe, Turkey is one of the foundations, certainly, of American policy in the region. We have an excellent relationship with the Turkish Government. We want to continue that relationship.
I think it does also get to a larger problem, and that is that over the last couple of years, the Administration has found that we have not received adequate support from the Congress for our economic assistance programs and sometimes for our security assistance programs for friendly countries. In this case, we're talking not about just a friendly country but an allied country -- a country that backed us up in every major conflict we've been in since the Korean war.
There are few greater allies of the United States than Turkey. So what we will do here in Washington is to continue to work with the Congress -- as this legislation proceeds through the Congress -- to try to see if we can perhaps turn some opinions around and turn some of this action around so that in the final analysis we have a bill that the Administration can support.
Q Does this mean that your opposition to the House means that you don't recognize the problems that the members of the House pointed out yesterday?
MR. BURNS: It simply means that despite the fact there are some problems in U.S.-Turkish relations, as there are in any relationship that we have with any country around the world, we think there ought to be an adequate level of American support for Turkey; not because we are interested in charity but because we want to act out of our self-interest and our sense of America's self-interest and of our foreign policy concerns which seem to dictate to us that we ought to have an active supportive relationship with the Government of Turkey.
We hope to convince members of Congress that they should join us in that stance.
Q Turkey, I believe, for the first time, is taking such a stance. Pending the Turkish parliament's vote on "Provide Comfort," and with the prospect of an Islamic-oriented government now, do you think this hurt your relations between the two countries?
MR. BURNS: Between the United States and Turkey? I can't believe that relations -- I think that relations will continue to be good no matter what happens. I cannot predict for you what's going to happen politically inside Turkey. You're a much better analyst of that than I am.
The United States is not going to get involved in the political deliberations among the various political parties about how a government should be formed there. That's up to the Turkish people and Turkish politicians to decide.
But what I can assure you is that no matter what happens in the internal political deliberations there, no matter what kind of government emerges, the United States will have national interests that it will want to protect. Those national interests would argue very strongly for a continued relationship.
Do you have a follow-up. Mr. Lambros, you'll get your chance. Don't worry.
Q The Turkish Ambassador yesterday, in a press conference around midnight, told the Turkish press that he believed, or he had the impression, that the U.S. Administration did not react, or did not do its best to prevent this happening at the House. Would you agree with that?
MR. BURNS: I have not seen Ambassador Kandemir's statements, so I don't want to react to it specifically. I had not understood that he had said that.
I can just tell you, in isolation, that whatever statements were made by the Ambassador, we always do our best. We always do our best to work with the Congress to apprise them of our point of view, and certainly the Congress cannot be under any other understanding other than that. The United States Government wants to go forward with Turkey.
I think the Turkish people can be assured that we want to continue a very strong, active relationship.
Q Also, yesterday, you took a question regarding the new problem in the Aegean between Turkey and Greece. Do you have an answer on that?
MR. BURNS: What I can tell you is that we regret very much that there is tension between Greece and Turkey on this particular issue. That is, as you know, one of our fundamental objectives, as we approach our relationship -- and sometimes it's a triangular relationship the United States has with Greece and Turkey, two NATO allies -- one of our fundamental concerns is to help to decrease tensions between Greece and Turkey.
Therefore, I'm going to take the Fifth today on this particular problem. I don't think it's productive for me to begin to talk about the details of this particular dispute, over this particular island near Crete. I would just let you know that, of course, we'll be active privately on this matter. Of course, we'll share our views with the Turkish and Greek Governments. If we can be helpful to them in resolving this dispute, we will do that. But I don't believe it serves any purpose for me to begin making definitive statements on the record that might inflame the situation rather than calm it down.
Q You don't take any position on the sovereignty of this island, also?
MR. BURNS: No. It just means that I'm not willing to discuss it in public. It doesn't mean that we don't take a position. I think you'll understand the reason for that. I hope you do.
Q Yesterday, you also took another question about the frigates?
MR. BURNS: Yes. Would you like me to talk about the frigates?
MR. BURNS: As you know -- I think it was on March 29 -- when President Clinton met with President Demirel, President Clinton informed him of our intention to transfer two U.S. Navy frigates to Turkey and to lease a third. On that very same day, the Administration sent the notifications for that action to the Congress.
Since then, we have had to negotiate the legal and procedural hurdles that normally accompany such request to the Congress. That's exactly where we are right now.
What we hope to do is work through those legal and procedural barriers and hurdles so that these frigates can be transferred and leased to the Government of Turkey.
Q Have you informed the Congress about this support package for these frigates?
MR. BURNS: Yes. Yes, we have. We have notified Congress, both not only of the intention to transfer and lease but also to convey a support package with it; yes, we have. It's our very strong intention to go forward on this.
Q Do you have a position on the Gavdos issue?
MR. BURNS: Yes. I took a question from your colleague.
Q I would like to know --
MR. BURNS: I can say, yes, we have a position. I don't think it serves my interest. It will probably serve your interest, but it doesn't serve my interest to make any public statements on this.
Q It's a very serious matter.
MR. BURNS: I agree with you. It's a very serious matter.
Q Could you please, then, confirm information that the Gavdos matter has been discussed specifically between State Department officials and the Turkish Foreign Minister, Emre Gonensay, during his last visit here in Washington, D.C. I was told that during those discussions, the Turkish official raised officially the issue of the Greek islets -- Rocky islands -- and the inhabited islands of the entire Aegean, including Gavdos.
MR. BURNS: I can confirm to you, Mr. Lambros, that when Minister Gonensay visited the Secretary of State a couple of weeks ago, there was a discussion, in general, of this issue -- the general issue of sovereignty disputes in the Aegean.
I can also confirm to you that in recent days the United States has had conversations with both Turkey and Greece about this matter. But what I don't want to do is go into the -- betray the confidentiality of those diplomatic conversations. You understand that. We're going to be most effective if we can have these conversations in private.
Q One on Turkey. Any comment on the remarks that military coup d'etat is going to happen in Turkey?
MR. BURNS: I have no comment, because I'm not aware that that's a realistic proposition. You know, Turkey has been a democracy for quite a long time, and Turkey -- the Turkish democracy has survived certainly a lot of challenges -- a number of challenges just in the last decade or so -- and I think that Turkish democracy is strong. Our very strong hope is that the Turkish people and the Turkish political system will weather the storms and will produce a new government of their own choosing, and at that point the United States would be quite willing to work with that government, whatever government emerges.
Q One more question. The Wall Street Journal is raising fears today of war over the Republic of Cyprus, and I would like to know if you had any comment of the tension there?
MR. BURNS: I saw the article. I read the article. We don't share the view of the authors of that article. We're not inclined to believe that war is more likely in Cyprus. The United States has an interest in peace on Cyprus. Greece and Turkey have an interest in peace, as do the Greek and Turkish Cypriot populations on the island of Cyprus. We've worked very hard, and we give a lot of diplomatic attention to this problem, and we don't believe that war is likely or even a realistic proposition.
We think the situation will continue to be relatively peaceful, although it's obviously not satisfactory to anybody concerned -- the governments concerned or the populations. What we want to do is try to help the communities and the two governments involved create some progress so that we might begin to resolve problems that have existed now for over 20 years.
Q Mr. Holbrooke stated that it is a (inaudible) with the security of Europe -- the Cyprus problem. May we have your opinion?
MR. BURNS: What did Mr. Holbrooke say?
Q It is the (inaudible) of the security of Europe.
MR. BURNS: Did he say that when he was in office or out of office?
Q It was reported in the same article today somewhere.
MR. BURNS: Ambassador Holbrooke, when he was Assistant Secretary, said many wise things, and I know he's said many wise things since he left office. I can tell you that our dedication to bring peace to Cyprus remains very, very strong and steady.
Q Nick, the head of the International War Crimes Tribunal Cassese announced today that he was going to seek to try to get sanctions reimposed on Serbia at the June 14th conference in Florence. Does the United States support his effort? Do you think this is the appropriate time to move in that direction?
MR. BURNS: I would just note the mechanism to reimpose sanctions, the sanctions that were lifted when the Dayton Accords were signed in Paris on December 14 of last year, and that is that either the NATO Commander in the region -- Admiral Smith, an American -- or Carl Bildt, the High Representative, can determine that in this case the Serbs -- the Bosnian Serbs -- are not in compliance with their Dayton commitments on the issue of war criminals and human rights; and that if either one so determines, sanctions will be reimposed. It does not require any further action of the U.N. Security Council.
That has not happened. Over the weekend, Secretary Christopher had lengthy discussions with both Carl Bildt and Admiral Smith on this question -- this question of whether or not we should reimpose sanctions. And you know that Secretary Christopher said openly and publicly, "This is an option that we reserve and that we will exercise, should the situation so merit it."
At this point, Secretary Christopher has laid down a fairly fundamental challenge to President Milosevic, and that is, "Make good on your Dayton commitments." If there are indicted war criminals on the territory of Serbia, they ought to be turned over to the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.
On the question of Karadzic and Mladic -- both of them -- action should be taken to do that with both of them. I think our present inclination is to give Mr. Milosevic some time to work through this problem. If at some point in the future we determine that it's hopeless, that he's not going to take these measures, then I think that we do have the option of urging either the IFOR Commander or the High Representative to take this action.
I believe they share our view in this, that we ought to give him some time now that we've laid down this public challenge to him. I don't think it would be helpful to make that decision right now.
Q June 14th is arguably some time away from today.
MR. BURNS: Well, it's not a long time away from today --
Q No, it's not a long time, but --
MR. BURNS: In fact, it's just a number of days away from today.
Q That's true, but it is some time, and I'm just trying to pin you down a little bit more. Do I take from this then that you think Cassese is being too presumptive, and that the Florence meeting is not the time to try to develop a political consensus to move the sanctions?
MR. BURNS: I don't want to be critical in any way of Mr. Cassese. He's done a fine job, and in fact in a very noble undertaking. He's got a difficult job, because he's got 50-odd people indicted and only a handful have -- only a couple have shown up in The Hague.
So we support him. We're going to continue to support him financially and politically, and no country has done more to support the Tribunal. I don't want to be critical of him, but it's our firm view that now that we've launched this challenge, we ought to give the person who has the capability, we think, to exert political pressure on the indicted war criminals to exercise that influence.
And listen, this is a public exercise, and you're going to view it as openly as we view it; and, if at the end of the day, he doesn't fulfill the commitment, if the other Bosnian Serbs who are in a position to do this don't do it as well, we'll have to make our own judgments.
But it's too early to rush to that kind of decision right now, because if you rush to that kind of decision, you might not get the action that you're intending to get.
Q Appropos the same subject -- there are new sort of rumors floating around today that Admiral Smith is leaving his command in Bosnia. Is it still your understanding that he will stay in that job through the elections?
MR. BURNS: That is obviously -- since Admiral Smith is an employee of the U.S. Department of Defense -- that is obviously a question for the Pentagon. I can't pronounce on personnel matters pertaining to the Pentagon.
Q But you spoke about this issue just a couple of days ago, having spoken to Joulwan. When we were in here earlier, you said that Smith was going to stay.
MR. BURNS: Carol, the only thing I can do is refer you to the Pentagon on this. I cannot pronounce positively or negatively on the personnel status of one of the top admirals in the U.S. Navy, who we respect very much -- and he's done an excellent job in Sarajevo.
Q Nick, continuing on the theme of Secretary Christopher's conversations in Geneva and people keeping promises -- what were the conversations about foreign fighters like with the Bosnian leaders, and what's your current count of foreign fighters still hanging around?
MR. BURNS: This was at the top of our agenda with the Bosnian Government. When the Secretary met President Izetbegovic, he raised it directly and in a very strong way; and the message was that the ability of the United States to help the Bosnian Government to train their military, to equip their military, so that there is some kind of equilibrium among military forces after the Americans and others leave -- that ability is going to be constrained by one factor: the continued presence of these foreign fighters.
We believe a handful remain. I would put them in the single digits. You might even be able to count them on one hand. We know who these people are. We have identified them for the Bosnian Government. We've given them the names of these individuals, and as recently as this morning, Ambassador Menzies was in to see President Izetbegovic in Sarajevo and received a firm commitment that all of these handful of people will be out shortly.
Once the Bosnian Government has told us that this is the case, we will, of course, be in a position to confirm that. Then we will go ahead and make the decision to begin our train-and-equip program for the Bosnian Government. It's a very simple, straightforward matter; and I think at this point, Charlie, I can say, having gone through these meetings in Geneva, we have great confidence that the Bosnian Government will take this action. These people will be out, and we'll be free to go ahead and assist the Bosnian Government to enhance its military capabilities.
Q And you have assurances they won't come back?
MR. BURNS: We certainly do, from the Bosnian Government. I mean, there's no deal here that they leave and they come back three weeks later or three months later. These people are persona non grata, and they shouldn't come back, because these people, we think, are up to no good and represented a threat to American troops.
Q And just to tie up a loose end and to follow up, what is your count of the number who have managed to stay by gaining citizenship?
MR. BURNS: We don't have a count. We know that a very small number of people -- of foreign fighters, of Iranians and others through their marriages to Bosnian women -- are now Bosnian citizens. We, therefore, are not in a position to have any objection to their continued presence in Bosnia itself.
Q Nick, who's going to represent the U.S. at the Florence conference?
MR. BURNS: I can assure you that our representative will be a high-level representative, but we haven't made that final decision. Certainly, John Kornblum will be there. I would expect, however, that someone even who ranks higher than John Kornblum would head the U.S. delegation.
Q Will Kornblum --
MR. BURNS: And I hope to be able to announce that tomorrow.
(TO STAFF) In fact, John (Dinger), we should try to be in a position to announce that tomorrow, if we can.
Q Will Kornblum be going to the region before or after this meeting?
MR. BURNS: He just returned from Pristina, from Kosovo, where he was yesterday, and he was out quite a long time. I don't know if he's going to precede the June 13, 14 meeting with another trip, but I can certainly let you know if that's the case pretty shortly.
Q Nick, when you say that this "handful" will be out shortly, what do you mean by "shortly"? By the end of the week?
MR. BURNS: It's always dangerous to predict two days, three days, a week, two weeks, but "shortly" means "shortly." You know, not a long time; not probably this afternoon or tonight, but shortly. I'm hesitant to -- because, you see, if I say "by Saturday," then it doesn't happen, you're going to hold me to it on Monday. So I'm just going to leave it out there, a little bit nebulous.
Q Nick, "shortly" means "shortly" -- "handful" means "handful."
MR. BURNS: Exactly, thank you.
Q Okay, it is just one condition. The other one is like the Defense Law, but you said that there are still forces in consideration that want to keep those elements separate. So do you have a comment on that?
MR. BURNS: Actually, President Tudjman and President Izetbegovic resolved the last outstanding problems on the Defense Law just prior -- during the Geneva meeting hosted by Secretary Christopher, and at the end of the day in Geneva both of them informed Secretary Christopher that they were fully satisfied that Croatia and Bosnia had worked out their problems on the Defense Law. So, we're not too worried about that anymore. Now we want to see implementation -- very good implementation by the Federation.
Q The Croat part of delegation here in Washington said that their understanding is too components in your Federation -- army. It said that some of them want to keep those elements separate.
MR. BURNS: All I can tell you is that the Croatian President -- who I believe outranks anybody currently in Washington -- told the Secretary of State that there were no more problems, and that the Bosnian Government was fully satisfied that the Federation had worked out the problems in the Defense Law. So I don't want to -- I respectfully would just disagree with some of what you're hearing.
Q And about that first question about Hague, and if I understand it, the United States -- you are not going to support Cassese or his decision or his recommendations; that Cassese failed on Wednesday to win a firm pledge from Belgrade to adopt the law on extraditing suspected war criminals. So, what makes you sure that after six months, within one month it's going to be something better than before?
MR. BURNS: We're not completely sure that President Milosevic will do the right thing here, but we've offered a challenge to him. He has incentive to do it. If sanctions are reimposed on Serbia and on Republika Srpska, it's going to have a profoundly negative effect on the economy of the Serbs. It can't help them. And, as you know, the outer wall of sanctions is still in place.
President Milosevic cannot want that. It's in his own self-interest to try to have these sanctions removed permanently, both the inner wall and the outer wall. So I think that there is some leverage here for the United States and for our partners in Europe, and we're exercising that leverage, and we're really not relying on charity. We're relying on the self-interest of the Serbian leadership here.
I can't predict that they will fulfill their commitments. We hope they will. If they do not, there will be consequences.
Q You are not ready to reimpose sanctions or help to impose sanctions; and, on the other hand, NATO is not going to arrest Karadzic and Mladic. How can we have good conditions for elections?
MR. BURNS: We're not ready today to support the appeal from Judge Cassese that we do it in eight days' time. But we have publicly said, and from the level of the Secretary of State, this is a realistic option available to us. I think that's a very strong warning, and I think for the time being we ought to see what happens.
On the question of IFOR, IFOR rules of engagement have not changed, but they remain that if IFOR troops encounter any of these indicted war criminals, they will arrest them. Secretary Perry reconfirmed that yesterday during his press conference in Lisbon in a very strong way.
I think now it's absolutely clear because the NATO spokesman yesterday from Sarajevo confirmed what the State Department's been saying; that there are indeed and have been for a couple of weeks an increased number of IFOR patrols throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina, including in Pale.
So the heat is being turned up on Karadzic and Mladic, and that's a good thing, and those patrols will continue. The stories you saw on Monday and Tuesday that somehow there was kind of a split between the Pentagon and the State Department -- those stories have now been knocked down, because the NATO spokesman, Secretary Perry, Mike Doubleday at the Pentagon and I have all said the same thing over the last 24 hours. That's a good message for the Bosnian Serbs. They ought to understand that IFOR is going to be more present in their daily lives, including in the activities of the indicted war criminals.
Q There is no sign from Pale that they are going to cooperate with the Frowick organization, so could you comment on a report from The New York Times that Frowick is ready to make sure that his internal reports are good before Florence conference?
MR. BURNS: I think that Ambassador Frowick's views were misrepresented in that article in a very serious way. I had a talk with him in Geneva on Sunday, and I understand his position to be the following: He is in a position, a very important position, where he has to in effect recommend to all the world -- all the countries that participated in Dayton -- whether or not there should be elections by September 14. He takes that responsibility very seriously.
What he wants to do is have a comprehensive set of recommendations available to him. He understands that there are a lot of problems, that the country is unstable, and after four-and-a-half years of war conditions are not perfect.
He also wants to understand the full ramifications of a decision. I think he simply asked his staff to make sure that their deliberations and their information given to him is in fact comprehensive. That is rational. It's reasonable. I can't think of any other way to approach the responsibilities that he has.
He had a conversation with Secretary Christopher on Sunday morning in Geneva which was quite straightforward. He's not prepared to make a recommendation at this point. I would think that by June 14 in Florence, there will be a recommendation by him, and once that recommendation is made, the OSCE will meet, and, as Minister Cotti said, by the end of June we ought to have a decision.
We believe -- and the Contact Group is united on this -- Russia, Britain, France, Germany and the United States -- the three Balkan Presidents are united, including President Izetbegovic -- we believe that by setting a day, we then encourage an improvement in the conditions to hold elections by early to mid-September. And President Izetbegovic also believes that, and that's very important for you to know.
Q But haven't you all pre-empted Frowick, though, and the OSCE, because the United States has been so unambiguous in its desire to want the elections to go forward regardless of whatever conditions exist, and the statement in Geneva was clearly on board with the U.S. point of view. It seems to make Frowick irrelevant, really.
MR. BURNS: No, not in any way, shape or form. He's got to make a very important decision and recommendation. We've not pre-empted anybody. But, Carol, there was unanimity among all the Contact Group members, plus the Balkan Presidents, that this is the way to go. That's just not the United States dragging people along. It's the unanimous view of all the major actors pertaining to the Dayton accords.
Q I understand, but if you were really putting some authority in Frowick's mission and his certification, then it seems to me that you would have waited for Frowick to make his point of view known.
MR. BURNS: I just disagree. This man has been given tremendous authority. He's been given the authority to try to organize elections in a place that just went through a war, where 2 million people are refugees and are not in their homes. It's a tremendous undertaking, and he's very competent, and he's been given a lot of responsibility. So I just disagree with the whole basis of your question.
Q Well, do you think that he can now say, "No, I recommend that elections don't go forward"?
MR. BURNS: If he believes that to be the right course of action, he is free to make that recommendation. He's absolutely free to make that recommendation. I would remind you something about Bob Frowick. He was a Foreign Service Officer. He is retired from the Foreign Service, and he still, as all Ambassadors do, carries the title of "Ambassador," but he works for the OSCE. He does not work for the United States Government.
Q Well, what would happen if he said no, that he thought the elections shouldn't go forward?
MR. BURNS: Then we'd have to deal with that situation, with a very difficult situation, but we'd deal with it. We'd work through it.
Q Would elections happen or not?
MR. BURNS: I don't believe elections would happen if the OSCE did not recommend that they should take place. The OSCE has been invested by Europe and the United States and Canada to organize the elections as best they can, and to make the final call as to whether they should take place -- whether conditions are appropriate. We certainly have to respect the views of the OSCE.
We can't march in -- the United States State Department -- and organize the elections ourselves. This is an international undertaking.
Q No, I think he wants the same subject.
MR. BURNS: Same subject, Mr. Lambros, yes.
Q The Washington Post is reporting extensively today on the U.S.-Turkish cooperation for the training of Bosnian Muslim forces in the mainland of Turkey. To this effect, with full U.S. help, there is a lot of traffic over Greece of personnel between Bosnia and Turkey, including Turkish troops, around Tuzla. I'm wondering, did you ask for the Greek approval?
MR. BURNS: You know, we are a faithful, loyal, friendly, cooperative ally of Greece, and I'm sure that we did everything that was right and proper. But, you know, I don't work at the Pentagon, and I don't request flight clearances, and so I can't tell you absolutely yes. But I'm sure that we have done nothing to impinge upon Greece's sovereignty here.
Q Comment only on the political decision. I'm not asking to comment on the military one.
MR. BURNS: Excuse me? You'd like me to comment --
Q I'm asking you to comment on the political decision, not the military one.
MR. BURNS: To go forward with train-and-equip?
Q Using Greece -- they're flying over Greece.
MR. BURNS: I think I've defended train-and-equip as effectively as I can defend it in this briefing. I'm not sure I have anything else that I can say on train-and-equip.
Q As far as using the Greek airspace.
MR. BURNS: I would just direct your question to the Greek Government. I'm not aware of any problems. I've not heard -- I've not seen one cable from Athens. I'm not aware of any problem.
Q Is one of the main reasons for this U.S.-Turkish cooperation is to meet the Iranian threat in Bosnia. Since Germany and Iran are allies and cooperating together, I'm wondering did you raise this issue of the Iranian faction in Bosnia to the German officials and if there is any result so far.
MR. BURNS: I think that you ought to ask the German Government whether it considers Iran to be an ally. I think the German Government would say no. Now, obviously, Germany has a relationship. It's not a great relationship with Iran, but certainly not an alliance relationship.
Was there a question? Yes.
Q My question is not Iran but Syria. If I am correct, the Syrian Information Minister, Muhammad Salman, quoted this morning saying that U.S. reports on several explosions in Syria over the past month were silly and baseless, and he --
MR. BURNS: Were what and baseless?
Q Silly and baseless, he said that. And also he said the State Department's statement on the blast was an attempt to divert world attention from what is happening in Israel. He said that.
MR. BURNS: He's wrong. He's wrong on both counts. You know, we stand by our statement. The fact is, unfortunately, there have been a series of explosions in Syria. We can't account for them. Maybe the Syrian Government can; I don't know. But we have an obligation to let American citizens who may be living or traveling in Syria know that this is a country where there have been explosions, and for the Syrian Government to assert that there have not been explosions is not right.
Q Another Syrian official said this morning that they are not denying the report by the German magazine Stern that Syria was building a poison gas factory, but that Damascus has a right to possess the weapons it wants, including mass destruction weapons. Do you have any reaction?
MR. BURNS: Yes, that nearly all countries of the world do submit to the restrictions placed upon them by the United Nations, by the International Atomic Energy Association. No one has a right to employ or deploy nuclear weapons. There are only five declared nuclear-weapons states in the world, and we ought to try to minimize the number of nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, biological weapons, any kind of weapons available to anyone. So, of course, there are restraints and constraints on countries.
Q How about poison gas?
MR. BURNS: Pardon?
Q How about the poison gas?
MR. BURNS: There are international restrictions in place against poison gas. Now, I don't want to comment specifically in the case of Syria, because I don't have any information to give you on that particular question. But, replying to the charge that somehow countries are free to do what they want, that's just not so. It's not true in the case of Iraq, which now has sanctions placed upon it because of its violation of international arms accords.
Q Could I just ask the question another way? Does the United States have any evidence that Syria is building or preparing to build a chemical weapons factory?
MR. BURNS: We've seen the reports. We are looking into the reports. I have no information I can give you really; no statement I can make on that issue at this time until we look further into the question.
Q So you can't say whether those reports are credible?
MR. BURNS: I cannot, no. Not at this point.
Q A quick follow-up. If the Syrian Minister is saying there were no explosions, maybe you can enlighten him by telling a little bit more about where they occurred?
MR. BURNS: All we know, on very good authority and very good information, is that explosions have occurred frequently -- a number of them -- in recent weeks. It's disturbing enough that we want to alert American citizens to it. We stand by -- I certainly stand by the statements that we have made.
Q Can you amplify what "frequently" means?
MR. BURNS: Again, I can't tell you how many. I can't give you a specific number, but enough that we are concerned about it. We've issued an advisory to American citizens. We wouldn't do that based upon rumor or supposition. We do it based upon evidence available to us. We take that responsibility seriously.
Kristen, do you have a question?
Q I do, but there seems to be more activity on this.
MR. BURNS: That's okay. We're go here and then we'll go -- you'll defer to Kristen, won't you?
Q On China. The U.S. reaction to the Chinese announcement that they no longer require peaceful nuclear explosions for CTBT; that they will no longer --
MR. BURNS: Are you referring to the statement made in Geneva at the Conference on Disarmament?
We understand that the Chinese have indicated to our Ambassador that they are prepared to be flexible on their demand that a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty allow peaceful nuclear explosions. As you know, that has been a position that they have adhered to for some time.
The United States does not support peaceful nuclear explosions because we believe it's impossible to separate the peaceful explosions from those that would have benefits for military purposes. So we welcome any indication that the Chinese are prepared to consider changing their position on this issue.
Our delegation in Geneva is actively working now with the Chinese to try to see if we can make some progress based on the statement that has been made. Now, it needs to be translated into action.
Again, the objective is that, hopefully, by the end of this month, or early July, we will have an agreement in Geneva on a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty so that the leaders of China, Russia, Britain, France, the United States and others can get together in New York, in the fall, to sign a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. That would be one of the most important foreign policy developments of recent decades, if we can get all the nuclear powers to agree to the zero-yield proposals to which we adhere.
This is a major issue. We're putting a lot of emphasis on this, and we hope that we can be successful.
Q I believe also that certain Chinese officials -- I don't know at what level -- have said that they may be conducting tests very soon; as early as this Friday or Saturday. Do you have any of those indications?
MR. BURNS: It's a serious issue. I wouldn't make any public pronouncements until something happened. I'm not aware that anything has happened. I certainly don't want to try to prejudge the Chinese on that. You know our position on testing.
Q On the same subject. The quid pro quo with the Chinese, though, seems to be that the United States and the other three nuclear powers agree to reopen this issue in 10 years. To a lot of arms control advocates, this looks like just a conditional commitment to know more of peaceful nuclear explosions. In fact, a decade from now you'll just open it up again?
MR. BURNS: I would just remind you that there is no agreement in Geneva on this issue. There's been a positive statement by the Chinese Ambassador, but it has not yet been translated into action at the Conference on Disarmament. So we need to take some more steps before we can say that this issue has been settled.
Q Are you saying that the United States is not considering this condition, that the PNE issue would be opened in 10 years?
MR. BURNS: I don't want to reveal the negotiating position of the United States until these negotiations are completed.
Q If we can go to Liberia. I wonder if you've seen the reports of the discovery of mass graves outside the Greystone compound in Monrovia; and if you are aware of that and have any comment on it? Also, if you could just give us an update on the security situation in Monrovia?
MR. BURNS: Let me start with the security situation. As you know, the fighting of the last two months has largely subsided. There are now negotiations going on between the different factions -- some of whose leaders are currently located in Ghana -- to try to see if the fighters can leave Monrovia itself, because they've basically made it a wasteland. They've destroyed the city and they've kept the civilian population hostage to their fighting.
We are right in the middle of that effort. We're deploying, of course, Ambassador Milam in Monrovia, and Ambassador Smith, who is our Special Envoy for this. We're trying very hard to see if we can help negotiate, with ECOWAS, an end to the current round of fighting over the last couple of months.
The security situation is quite poor, however, even with the end of the fighting. Basic human services are not available to the population. The major infrastructure -- the water, the gas -- has been destroyed in many parts of the city.
There is considerable evidence of hunger on the part of the population. There's the very dramatic and terrible situation of another refugee ship carrying 368 passengers. It's the Zolotitsa -- Z-O-L-O-T-I-T-S-A. This ship left Monrovia about 10 days ago. It has been in Togolese waters off the coast of Togo since May 31. It's lacking food, water, medicine, and it's having mechanical difficulties.
Unfortunately, the Togolese authorities have not allowed this ship to dock at Lome. I think the passengers were provided with some food and water but the ship was sent back out to sea last evening at 11:00 p.m.
The United States believes that it's the obligation of some of these coastal states to allow this refugee ship to land. Possible destinations, in addition to Lome and Togo, are Cotonou, the capital of Benin; and Lagos, the capital of Nigeria.
We are urging, diplomatically, but would also urge publicly, that any one of these three countries -- Nigeria, Benin, or Togo -- allow this ship to land. That is the humanitarian thing to do. We think they have an obligation to do that.
Once the ship does land, the United States will work with the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees, the Red Cross, other private organizations, to see that relief aid is given to the refugee who will end this perilous and tragic voyage. So we feel very strongly about this.
Laura, as to the reports of mass graves, I don't have any current information about that but I'll be glad to look into it for you.
Q If I can just follow on. The refugee situation speaks to the security situation on the ground in Monrovia. The ECOMOG forces have apparently spread out. As I understand it, there isn't fighting day-to-day on the ground. But do you have confidence that the ECOMOG forces will give enough security that refugees will come back -- will safe enough to come back?
MR. BURNS: When the going got really tough, ECOMOG was not present. When the fighting was most intense, ECOMOG did very little to stop it. That's a great pity because many thousands of people were killed in the fighting.
ECOMOG has resurrected itself. It is now more active, and I think even more credibly trying to bring peacekeeping assistance to the situation. The troops seem to have better discipline and they certainly are taking their responsibilities seriously, just in the last couple of weeks.
As you know, there had been widespread looting before that by a variety of people. So the record here is not unvarnished. The record is quite poor, but the record of performance is better over the last couple of weeks. We hope that ECOMOG can continue -- the West African peacekeepers -- to acquit themselves in a more professional manner because that's what the people of Liberia deserve.
Q Had you not said that if the performance of ECOMOG improves, they would be eligible for $30 million in assistance?
MR. BURNS: Yes. We effectively issued the challenge grant about a month ago. I don't believe we're ready to ascertain that the performance has been sustained sufficiently to merit $30 million in American assistance. But if they can sustain it, we do have an interest in helping them enhance their training.
Q Back on the vessel. Do you know how many people are aboard?
MR. BURNS: Three hundred sixty-eight people on board. That was the manifest of the ship that left Monrovia 10 days ago.
Before we close, I want to take a minute to do one thing, and that is to just refer you to an article in the Los Angeles Times this morning. This article says that the U.S. Department of States does little or nothing to help American citizens when they're kidnapped around the world. That's a very serious charge.
I think the Secretary, and others of us who are professional diplomats, would agree that our fundamental duty overseas is to help American citizens. There is no more important duty than that.
I would just challenge the authors of the article on the facts. There are currently five Americans held hostage in Colombia, and one in Kashmir. We're not aware that Americans are being held hostage anywhere else in the world beyond that.
We have worked on the situation in Colombia tirelessly through Ambassador Miles Frechette in Bogota, through our Embassy officers, to try to free the five Americans being held in Colombia, including three who are missionaries -- three of the five who are missionaries. We have raised their case repeatedly with the Colombians. We've offered all kinds of assistance to the Colombians to try to ascertain where these hostages are being held by their kidnappers.
In the case of Donald Hutchings, who was abducted in Kashmir on July 4, 1995, and is being held by the al-Faran group, that has been a very tragic case. One of his fellow abductees, a Norwegian, was executed by the al-Faran group late last summer. He's now being held with three others -- two Germans and a British citizen.
We have worked with the Government of India and the Government of Pakistan at the highest levels through our Ambassadors -- Ambassador Wisner in New Delhi, and Ambassador Simons in Islamabad. We've made this big issue in our relationship with both countries, and we're willing to do whatever we can to get these people out.
I would just submit to the Los Angels Times that it ought to check its facts on this. It ought to come to us and ask us what we think our level of performance is.
One of the charges made in the article is that we don't talk a lot about this. Well, in some instances, for security reasons, the rational course of action is not to talk on some days. In some instances, the families of the people who have been abducted have asked us not to talk.
It's a very serious charge. I'd like to see the newspaper or the authors back up these charges, and I'd be very willing to engage in a continued conversation with them about these charges.
My final point would be this: Since the beginning of this country, American Administrations, going all the way back to the Washington Administration, have taken kidnapping cases seriously. We are coming up this summer to the 200th anniversary of the Algiers kidnapping -- 91 Americans kidnapped by pirates, held 11 years. An American diplomat, Mr. Barlow, spent a year and a half in Algiers and secured the release of 51 Americans of the 91 who survived 11 years of captivity.
He -- Mr. Barlow -- is on the plaque of diplomats who lost their lives in the course of their professional duties. He's the second person on that plaque. I think American diplomats, for 200 years, have taken this very, very seriously.
I wouldn't respond in this fashion did I not think that we had a very good record for 200 years, but certainly for the last three and a half years in this Administration.
Q Nick, on Mr. Hutchings, you said a couple of days ago that there were U.S. people that were helping in the current search for these people that were being held hostage. Are these search teams back? Is there anything that you can say about them?
MR. BURNS: The Indian Government is in charge of the search operation and any negotiations that are underway with the al-Faran group. We are giving the Indian Government all the support that we can. I can tell you Ambassador Wisner has worried about this, thought about it, strategized about it everyday since July 4th of last year as has Robin Raphel, our Assistant Secretary of State for the region.
We are concerned about it. As you know, we and the Indians have not succeeded in ending this terrible kidnapping for Donald Hutchings. We hope we can. But I think that we deserve a break in the press. I think that the press has an obligation, frankly, to come to us and ask us questions before they print these charges in the newspapers.
Q I'm just trying to find out if the teams are back. You told us that the teams had gone out searching for these people.
MR. BURNS: These would be Indian teams, principally. There have been private organizations involved. I don't know what the status is. I don't know where they are, whether they're in the mountains, whether they're not. I can check on that for you.
Q Thank you.
(Press briefing concluded at 2:00 p.m.)
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