U.S. Department of State 96/06/11 Daily Press Briefing Office of the Spokesman U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING I N D E X Tuesday, June 11, 1996 Briefer: Nicholas Burns ANNOUNCEMENTS Introduction of Foreign Service Officer Mark O'Connor....... 1 Background/Topics on Upcoming US-EU Summit.................. 2-4 NORTH KOREA Receiving Private Insurance Monies US for Flood Damage...... 4-6 Food Aid Issue: --UN's Intl Appeal/South Korea/US/Japan..................... 5,21 --UN Study on Food Situation................................ 5 FORMER YUGOSLAVIA US Military Presence and Withdrawl: --USG Position on Timetable for Military Mission............ 6-8 Intl Police Monitors/Continuation of Economic Reconstruction 7 Alleged Report of US Patrol Encounter w/Mladic.............. 20 SYRIA --Explosions in Syria....................................... 8-9 --Troop Buildup on Syrian-Turkish Border.................... 8 --Arrest of Turks in Syria.................................. 9 JORDAN --F-16 Discussions with Jordan.............................. 9-10,17 --Formal Notification to Congress/Policy Justification...... 9 MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS --Positive Comments from Egyptian Government re Dialogue with Israel............................................... 9-10,17 --Editorials from Syrian Press re New Israeli Government.... 10 --Role of Monitoring Group.................................. 10-12 --Recent Attacks in Southern Lebanon..................... 11 --Alleged Policy Documents from Peres/Netanyahu Governments. 12-13 --US Relations with Netanyahu Government.................... 12 --June 12 Deadline Redeployment Israeli Troops from Hebron.. 14-16 --US Role in Ensuring Commitment to Peace Agreement...... 16-19 TURKEY/GREECE Conflict in the Aegean Sea.................................. 19 LIBERIA Refugee Ship at Sea/UNHCR Attempt to Visit Ship............. 20 CYPRUS President Clerides' Travel to US/Reported New Initiative.... 21 ITALY Italian Prime Minister Travel to US/Secessionist Movement... 21
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
TUESDAY, JUNE 11, 1996, 1:42 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. BURNS: Good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department briefing. I have a special pleasure today, and that's to introduce to you a fellow Foreign Service officer, Mark O'Connor. Mark, would you like to stand?
Mark O'Connor was a consular officer. Most recently, Deputy Chief of the Anti-Fraud Unit at the U.S. Embassy in Manila, in the Philippines. He received a Superior Honor award this morning in recognition for a program that he instituted to catch visa holders -- foreigners who have visas in the United States who were illegally and fraudulently receiving public assistance from states in the United States, including the State of California under the MediCal program.
The program that Mark instituted has saved the American taxpayer over a million dollars -- a million dollars having been reimbursed to the states of California and Hawaii and New York. It's a significant achievement.
I heard about his award today and asked him to come down just to say hello and to be recognized publicly for doing something which I think will make a great difference in the ability of the states here -- the various states here -- to make sure that they're not being ripped off by people visiting this country who do not have a right to public assistance.
So congratulations, Mark, on your award. Mark has been assigned to the American Embassy in Paris. He's a very stellar individual. He's got one terrible flaw, however, which I feel compelled to report to you. He told me he's a Yankees fan. I almost decided not to do this. I decided we'd go ahead anyway and recognize him despite the fact that he has very good judgment on professional matters, very poor judgment when it comes to baseball teams; right?
Q He's with the enemy?
MR. BURNS: He's with the enemy. Exactly. The New York Yankees. Absolutely.
On the U.S-EU Summit that takes place tomorrow. I thought I would give you a little bit of background. I had hoped to have Under Secretary of State Joan Spero come down to brief you, but, unfortunately, she is tied up all day today. So I think after the summit meetings tomorrow, you'll get your briefings at the White House, if you're interested in this issue.
Following the summit, Mike McCurry and David Johnson will be organizing press briefings. I just wanted you to know that President Clinton, the Italian Prime Minister -- Prime Minister Prodi, who is the current President of the European Council -- and the European Commission President, Jacques Santer of Luxembourg will meet tomorrow at the White House for the semi-annual U.S.-EU Summit.
I think some of you know that the Secretary of State will be seeing Prime Minister Prodi for lunch tomorrow at the State Department.
This is the first U.S.-EU summit since the historic December 1995 summit in Madrid where the Transatlantic Initiative was agreed upon. Since December, we've made quite a lot of progress in the implementation of that agreement and on other issues.
The United States and the European Union have cooperated I think most significantly on Bosnia, where we worked together to ensure the success of the Donor's Conference on Bosnia in Brussels in April which produced $1.2 billion in pledges for economic reconstruction and civilian implementation in Bosnia.
In addition to that, we are working together in the New Independent States of the former Soviet Union on a series of environmental projects. As you know, in part from the discussion this morning on the Middle East, we're working together on the Middle East as well, particularly on economic issues.
In the economic and trade area, we'll be announcing an interim report on a joint study to identify obstacles to trade in the Transatlantic region. We're working closely with the Transatlantic business dialogue in advancing an information technology agreement, which is designed to eliminate tariffs in this area and also to try to make some further progress on testing certification and inspection systems. That's all on trade.
We're also working together on crime, narcotics, health, and a variety of other transnational issues that are of concern. So we are looking forward to the meeting tomorrow with Prime Minister Prodi, with President Santer.
I want to remind you that the Secretary of State will be involved in these meetings, and he will have lunch with the Prime Minister. But the press opportunities will be at the White House for this event tomorrow.
Q What about this afternoon at 4:30? Is there a briefing or not? A Background briefing?
MR. BURNS: At the White House?
Q No, here?
MR. BURNS: I'm not aware of any Background briefings here.
Q They told me that at 4:30 there would be a briefing by Secretary --
MR. BURNS: Spero?
MR. BURNS: Kornblum?
MR. BURNS: Kornblum.
Q And that it will be at 4:30, Room 600-something.
MR. BURNS: We do believe in delegating some of our responsibilities to the bureaus, but not to that extent. So if there is a briefing, we want to hear about it from those of you in EUR who are monitoring this briefing right now. In fact, why don't we try to call EUR, Charity (Dennis), during my briefing and try to see if I can confirm this by the end of the day?
We usually know everything that's going on here, but not all the time.
MR. BURNS: Thank you very much for that intervention -- very useful intervention.
Q When you say the "summit," will just the two European heads of government be here and not the others?
MR. BURNS: Normally, on U.S.-EU summits, President Clinton meets with the European Commission President who, as you know, is Jacques Santer, and also the President of the European Council which rotates. Right now, Italy is the President of the European Council. So it's normally three.
Of course, there are various officials from the European Union -- the Commission itself -- including Sir Leon Brittan and others who would attend the meetings.
Q You say there's a joint study on obstacles to trade?
MR. BURNS: Yes.
Q Does it encompass Helms-Burton?
MR. BURNS: I don't believe that the United States will be tabling Helms-Burton as an issue. I assume it will come up. We saw a very useful statement out of the European Union yesterday that they did not intend to hector the United States publicly on this issue during the U.S.-EU summit. We were delighted to see that statement.
We would be very pleased to discuss this issue with the EU officials privately. We've being doing quite a lot of that over the last couple of months, and we'll be glad to go forward on that. But we believe that our ability to discuss this productively will be improved if we can have private discussions and not have public debates. We've had a lot of public debates. Enough public debates.
Does that satisfy your interest, George, on this?
Q I don't want to hector you at all.
MR. BURNS: Thank you very much. I appreciate that. I do appreciate that.
Q Nick, how does the U.S. feel about the fact that North Korea apparently has received $130 million, or thereabouts, in private insurance money to cover crop damage from the flood -- flood damage -- and it hasn't used that for food, and yet the United States and Japan and Korea now are planning to give extra money for humanitarian reasons?
MR. BURNS: Carol, I can't confirm that figure for you. I can't confirm the fact of it either. You'll have to ask the North Koreans about what insurance policies they may or may not have. I can't confirm it.
Q Alright. Setting aside an exact figure, you are not aware of the fact that North Korea has received private insurance claims?
MR. BURNS: I'm just saying, Carol, I can't confirm what kind of insurance programs or assistance North Korea has. I'm not up here to speak for the North Korean Government.
I can only tell you how we're facing the issue, and I'll be glad to go into that if you would like.
Q A private consultant, who has done a very lengthy report on North Korea for AID, also mentioned the fact that there was insurance proceeds which North Korea hadn't yet expended. If you can't answer it now, I would be interested in how the U.S. factors that resource into its calculations on when and why to give humanitarian aid.
MR. BURNS: I'm afraid I've never heard of that type of insurance program available to governments, but perhaps one exists for North Korea. I don't know. I don't know which contractor you're talking about. I don't know what AID is saying about this. I'll be glad to look into it for you.
All I can tell you is that the United Nations has just issued an international appeal. The Republic of Korea has now made its decision and made public its decision. I would expect that we would make public our decision very shortly, and probably from here from the State Department. We just have a couple of other places to check, and then we'll be going forward with our own announcement.
Despite what some people may be saying on background -- I don't know who these people are -- I think --
Q It's On-the-Record.
MR. BURNS: On-the-Record. I don't know these people. Despite what they're saying, or what they may or may not be saying, the United Nations has done a study of the food situation in North Korea -- an on-the-ground study. The United Nations reports to us that there is a dire need of international food aid.
I'm not aware that insurance companies were in the business of giving food aid, but governments sometimes are. The United States Government does have the resources to be helpful. We're looking at this very seriously.
Q I'm not talking about insurance companies who are giving food aid. I'm talking about insurance companies who apparently have made good on claims that North Korea had made because of some of the damage that it had suffered.
MR. BURNS: I'm just not aware of the specifics of it.
Q Bosnia. This Washington Post story today, Nick, and a number of other reports indicating that the IFOR, or the NATO allies, the other IFOR countries involved in Bosnia, expect the United States to stay beyond a year.
I would ask this question: Why would it be necessary when the heavy lifting is done -- the separation has been done by us, the French and the British -- would the United States need to stay? Is there a justification, and is there any interest on the part of the leadership here -- the Administration -- in continuing on beyond a year?
MR. BURNS: Exactly, Bill. I like the way you framed your question. I think that's the proper way to look at it.
The United States has said many, many times, including most recently the President of the United States, that we are there -- our troops are there -- for roughly a year. We have not changed our position. We expect our troops will depart then, roughly 12 months after they entered, which would take us into December or January of next year. That's our decision.
We have not made any contingency planning to keep the troops there any longer than that. They've got a lot on their plate. They've got to continue to perform their military tasks. We have to continue to look at the elections and civilian reconstruction.
So despite all this talk in the newspapers, I think the position of the United States Government is quite clear on this.
Q Is there pressure from the allies, from the other IFOR countries? Is there real pressure as reported in this particular article? And is there a fear that there might be renewed hostilities that would require U.S. presence?
MR. BURNS: At this point, we believe that the United States can fulfill its part of the military mission inside IFOR in roughly a year -- in the year that we had designated.
Ultimately, it's up to the countries involved here on the ground to make this peace agreement succeed or fail. We can get them off to a good start as we've done. We can create the framework for peace, but they've got to fill it out. It's still the way we look at things.
Q Nick, are you saying that if September, October, November comes around and a need is determined for a continuation of some NATO presence in Bosnia, that the United States will insist that the European allies carry that burden and that the U.S. is going home, no matter what?
MR. BURNS: I can't look ahead, frankly and responsibly, to October or November and try to imagine what the situation would be like and give you an official policy pronouncement.
I can tell you what it looks like from June 11, 1996. The President and the Secretary of State believe that the year timetable is a good, prudent timetable; that we see no reason right now to change it. We expect American troops will be leaving in the time period that we designated way back last fall.
Obviously, the mission -- the international mission -- on Bosnia continues. In one respect we would hope the international police monitors would stay. We would certainly hope that the civilian administrators would stay, because economic reconstruction must go on well beyond of the departure of the NATO forces. But we do not at this time see any need for a continuation of the American presence or the NATO presence in Bosnia beyond December 1996, January 1997 -- you know, roughly a year timetable.
Q You don't rule out the possibility that things could change.
MR. BURNS: I mean, speaking in an Olympian, kind of spiritual sense, no. I mean, I can never rule out the possibility that the situation on the ground will change, but I can tell you that the United States is not now considering in our private counsels an extension for our troops there, and I have that on very high authority, and I'm very comfortable saying that to you today.
Q Nick, do you expect that there could be a NATO presence without an American presence?
MR. BURNS: I don't know. I mean, that question just hasn't been joined yet -- that discussion hasn't been joined. There have been no formal discussions of which I'm aware in NATO; certainly, there weren't at Berlin. We were in Berlin for the NATO meetings last week about this subject.
Obviously, there's been a lot of talk. We've seen the talk in the newspapers. There are sometimes discussions in the margins of various meetings but no formal consideration of this issue. So at this point it's all conjecture.
Q There's no formal consideration -- certainly informal --
MR. BURNS: No, but I think actually, Mark, it's very important, because you just can't decide on a Tuesday not to pull the troops out on a Friday but to keep them there. There's a very long lead time that goes into determining when a withdrawal date is set. I think you've heard General Joulwan and Admiral Smith say that we're going to keep our troops at full strength right through the elections. But at some time during the early autumn after the elections, we will have to begin -- the military will have to begin -- the process of phasing in and preparing for the withdrawal.
You can't withdraw 25,000 men and their equipment or in terms of NATO, 60,000 men and women and their equipment in a week. This will happen over several months where you'll begin to see a phased withdrawal through the autumn which will reach their full point towards the end of the autumn and early winter.
We will keep, obviously right through the end of our commitment, an effective force in place until the day that the troops move out. But the numbers will grow smaller after the elections. So, Mark, I want to get back to your question. I wouldn't read too much into the formal/informal thing -- into the informal part of it. I would read a lot into the formal part of it.
If we're going to make a decision to keep the troops there, you can't decide that on December 15. You've really got to join the discussion earlier, and there are no formal discussions that I'm aware of to do that. Therefore, I think there's every reason to believe our troops will be out in the roughly year time period set by the President.
Q Explosions in Syria again. There are reports that Syria is piling up troops along Syrian-Turkish border. First, do you have any comments, given the fact that U.S. and Turkey are NATO allies? And, secondly, 600 Turkomans have been arrested in Syria, related to the explosions. Does the State Department have a position on that?
MR. BURNS: On the first question, I cannot confirm and have not heard about any Syrian troop buildup on the Syrian-Turkish border. I have not heard about it. On the second question, we have seen the press reports that the Syrian Government has arrested several hundred ethnic Turks. I cannot confirm that report. Our Embassy cannot confirm that report. We have seen the press reports, but I cannot confirm it from a U.S. Government point of view.
Q Nick, the Secretary of State talked about notifying Congress about the F-16s, but I understand months ago Pelletreau and others testified on that before Congress. What's the distinction about notifying Congress and testifying before Congress?
MR. BURNS: You remember that back in winter, we had discussions with the Jordanian Government about this -- Secretary Christopher and Secretary Perry did -- and we took the first steps in the process over the winter. As I remember, back in February, March and April.
The formal notification to Congress was made on June 5, and there will be a normal time where Congress has a right, of course, to ask questions of the Administration upon this notification. But we would expect that this will go through and that the F-16s can be transferred by this summer -- I would think by next month, by July -- the end of July.
Q Can I follow up on the previous question about the Syrian explosions? Have there been any others that you can confirm -- or reports of others since last week -- and can you give us any more details about the ones which occurred last week?
MR. BURNS: I don't have any information about additional bombings or explosions in Syria beyond the announcement that we made last week. There have been a great number of bombings throughout Syria, not just in Damascus but in many parts of Syria. We do not know who set off the bombs, the explosions; who's responsible for them.
We simply wanted to note for the American public -- the traveling public and Americans resident -- that there is a danger. We have an obligation to do that, and so that's why we issued the statement that we did last week.
Q Nick, do you have any comment on reports coming from Cairo that the Arab world is heeding or the Arabs are heeding to the advice over Secretary Christopher to keep the door open for peace with Mr. Netanyahu, and they are saying that they are not closing the door, and they want to play it like you recommended or like the Secretary recommended?
MR. BURNS: We've seen positive comments from the Egyptian Government that I think are consistent with what Secretary Christopher said yesterday -- namely that during a time of transition when the Israeli Government has not yet been formed, it stands to reason that we would want -- all of us interested in peace -- to keep the door open and not to close the door; not to prejudge the Netanyahu Government before it's actually formed; before issues, policies on these issues pertaining to the peace process [are formed]. We were very pleased to see the comments from the Egyptian Government this morning.
Q There was also a statement by Yasser Arafat saying that this conference, this summit conference, will be good for Arab unity. Do you have any thoughts about that?
MR. BURNS: I saw the statement. I understand that Chairman Arafat will be attending the conference. That's a good thing, and he certainly, we believe, has an interest in continuing the peace negotiations with Israel, and, of course, we support that.
Q A follow-up on that, Nick. It seems that -- based on announcements on Damascus --that Hafez al-Assad is not keeping the window open for Netanyahu. Will that make resumption of, or establishing of, the committee to enforce the cease-fire in Lebanon more difficult in the days ahead, and are you actually trying to put that cease-fire committee now, even before Netanyahu goes to office?
MR. BURNS: On the first part of your question, we've also seen some of the editorials from the Syrian press. My own reading of the editorials is they're not very helpful. They're not helpful, because they would appear to close the door and make prejudgments about Mr. Netanyahu and the people who may or may not be serving as ministers in his government. Not helpful at all.
Whether those editorials reflect the views of the Syrian leadership, that's not a question that I'm always competent to answer. We would hope that when the Syrian Government attends the Cairo conference and when it, of course, discusses these events with the United States, it will take a more open-minded approach.
On the second question, we're just going to have to wait for the government to be formed in Israel before we can reopen the negotiations to establish the guidelines and responsibilities of the Monitoring Group.
There is a fine distinction here. The Monitoring Group has been established. It's already been established. It was established on April 26 when Secretary Christopher issued his public statement that was agreed to by all the parties. What has not been established are the clear, written responsibilities of all the parties on the Monitoring Group.
We believe that once the Netanyahu Government is formed, once he formally introduces his government and takes office, we should go quickly back to the Monitoring Group discussions. Obviously, Mr. Netanyahu has a right to be fully briefed on those and a right to bring his own ideas to the table, should he wish to do so.
But we think it's important that we treat this as a matter of high urgency and first priority. We think it's important, after looking at the events of the last 48 hours in southern Lebanon.
No one who is interested in peace could possibly have an interest in seeing violence escalate in southern Lebanon. We want to see the violence stopped. If we had a Monitoring Group in place, it would be much easier for us now to try to adjudicate some of the problems that we see in southern Lebanon. That's why we want to go quickly to this group once the Netanyahu Government is formed.
Q Well, are you saying there's any risk or any loss in not being able to move ahead right away? Let's say Mr. Netanyahu doesn't come here until maybe June 25, which is a few weeks away, and you have a dicey situation. Does that make the State Department uncomfortable that you can't move more quickly on monitoring; you can't get sort of an advance concurrence from him to go about implementing this agreement reached by another Israeli Government?
MR. BURNS: There is an agreement to establish the monitoring; it has been established, but no agreement on the specific responsibilities.
MR. BURNS: I think it is fair to Mr. Netanyahu, actually, to let him go through this transition process and form his government and then tackle with him, the Syrians, the Lebanese and the French the negotiations on these specific responsibilities. I think on a pragmatic basis, Barry, we're just not going to be able to do that until he forms his government.
We'll have to wait and see the date by which he can form his government. Some people think it might be soon; some later. We don't know. Once the government is formed, this will be one of the first issues we address with them. We hope then to reopen these discussions, because we think that clarity on the responsibilities of the Monitoring Group will help to deal with problems like the ones that we've seen in southern Lebanon over the last 48 hours.
Q Did you make a determination as to whether the incident yesterday was a violation of the April agreement?
MR. BURNS: We have not so determined. You've seen competing claims on both sides by Hizbollah and the Israeli Government. We're not in a position to, because we simply don't have people on the ground there to ascertain exactly what happened. Again, should the Monitoring Group discussions conclude, we'd be in a better position to do that. So we can't make a call right now.
Q Nick, remembering what an effort it required to get this agreement -- some heavy duty work -- and I know the practical view usually is a bird in the hand. You don't like to reopen things, even if they're not as complete as you'd like them to be --
Nevertheless, would the State Department be interested -- this agreement doesn't protect soldiers, it protects civilians. Is there any thinking here that maybe with a new government or in light of the situation that an effort should be made to improve and expand this agreement?
MR. BURNS: I haven't heard such thinking here. I think that we believe that the agreement's a good agreement; that it will serve the interests of peace in southern Lebanon and also protect civilians on both sides of the border, Israelis and Arabs. I'm not aware of any effort, Barry, to change the focus or the dimensions of the agreement worked out by Secretary Christopher. We'd like to see it fully implemented.
Q Nick, could I ask a question in the context of the two documents that have surfaced; one from the Peres Government, indicating that if Peres had won, he would have moved out of Lebanon unilaterally, sending a polite note to Assad, saying, "We're moving out, and as long as there are no further Katyusha rockets, why we'll go back to the international border."
There's speculation, of course, which you're not able to -- you don't deal in speculation, I understand that.
MR. BURNS: We don't speculate here, no. Facts.
Q But, nevertheless, this report, along with the report surfaced by AP yesterday that in fact there is a policy document circulating in the Likud Government, saying that they're not going to take up any formal meetings with the Palestinians, though they may meet with the Palestine Authority.
My question is -- and I know you won't want to speculate on that document either -- but, nevertheless, in that context do you keep the same information flow with the Netanyahu group that you do with the Peres group in terms of keeping the door open? Are you urging him to keep the door open?
MR. BURNS: You're absolutely right that I'm not going to speculate on either of the first two points that you made. On the question that you raise, we certainly will want to maintain a close relationship with the new Israeli Government. That's in the national interest of the United States. What Secretary Christopher said yesterday about keeping the door open pertains to Israel as well as to the Arabs.
The specific point he was making is that as the Arab countries go through the meetings that they've had -- now the Cairo conference will be the third major summit meeting in two weeks -- it's very important not to prejudge someone who has not yet taken office. But, if you want to widen that and say should the Israeli Government be open, of course, they should be open. They should be open to all possibilities for peace.
Q Well, you didn't really answer the question. Are you sending Mr. Indyk in to talk with Mr. Shoval at least and perhaps with Mr. Netanyahu? Is anybody talking with Netanyahu from the American side at this point?
MR. BURNS: As you know, the President of the United States, the Secretary, Ambassador Ross and Ambassador Indyk have all had conversations with Mr. Netanyahu, and I assume those conversations will continue during this transitional period while he forms his government.
Q Nick, I know you touched on the F-16 and if you've dealt with this or if it's, you know, a little bit afield, then just pass it by, but when the F-16 was being considered, at least informally in the House, three members of the Appropriations Committee -- three Republicans -- wrote the President and said, "This has to be justified. With the problems in balancing the budget, you need to justify spending $170 million to provide Jordan with F-16 jet fighters."
We just heard the Secretary of State say something about, "The President has said if you take a risk for peace, we're behind you," in effect. Is that the justification for it, or has it been formally responded to?
MR. BURNS: The basic justification is -- and I've not answered this particular question today --
Q I don't need a legal justification. I just mean it, generally speaking.
MR. BURNS: The basic foreign policy justification is that the United States has an interest in stability in Jordan, in the security of Jordan in a volatile region. Jordan is a friend, and Jordan has proven itself in its establishment of a peace agreement with the State of Israel.
Jordan is a key country in stability in the Middle East and in the search for peace in the Middle East, and the United States has a national interest in seeing Jordan continue to be a stable, productive state in the Middle East. That's the basic justification. It may not be the way it's written in lawyerly language for the Congress, but that's it.
Q Nick, June 12, which is tomorrow, was the deadline for the redeployment of Israeli forces from Hebron, and Mr. Peres could not do it and wouldn't do it and he passed it on to the Netanyahu upcoming government. What are your thoughts about this, and the Netanyahu upcoming government did not say a word about this deadline or abiding by the agreement, which was made by the Palestinians and the Israelis during the days of Peres?
MR. BURNS: As you know, Prime Minister Peres has said that he will not make this decision. He will leave this decision for the new Prime Minister, Mr. Netanyahu, so we'll all have to wait until the formation of his government before that issue can be tackled.
Q Will this create a lot of headache for the people who have been waiting for the interrelations between the Palestinians and Israelis, and this is a tinderbox because of the settlers inside the city?
MR. BURNS: This fits into the "keep-the-door-open" rubric here that we're trying to establish. As you know, there have been some conversations between the new people taking power in Israel and some of the Palestinians, and I'm sure those will continue. I think we just need to keep the door open. Let's not be impatient. Let's not rush to judgment. Let's give the government a chance to form, and then the government will have a responsibility to respond to questions like this, and, of course, to begin to talk to its partners in the peace process about all these issues.
Q Is there a time frame? How much time do you give or the whole world has to give Mr. Netanyahu to form his government, because this could be --
MR. BURNS: That's not our question --
Q -- ad infinitum.
MR. BURNS: Listen, it's not our prerogative to tell him how much time he's got. He's got 45 days under the Israeli system, under the constitution, and it's up to him and his coalition partners to decide how much time it will take.
Q What about the deadline?
MR. BURNS: We're not going to be critical.
Q What about the deadline?
MR. BURNS: We're not going to say they've got to form a government in 15 days or 20 days or 30 days. That's up to them. Being patient means you wait for -- in a democratic system, and Israel's a democratic country, you wait until the government's in place. And we all have an interest in being patient and in not rushing to judgment here.
Q Do we have to wait til the 45 days expire so --
MR. BURNS: I don't know. He may form the government well before the 45-day period is up.
Q Before that time, nothing could move.
MR. BURNS: Until that time, we ought to all just sit back, be patient, think about other things, and we'll get back to this when the government's formed.
Q What about the -- no, but what about -- seriously about deadlines? Is that a problem? I don't know whether the deadlines are coming up, but does that mean the Administration is kind of flexible on deadlines now, because of the change in government; that they would have to be eased until you get a better handle on the new government?
MR. BURNS: I wouldn't pose it that way. I wouldn't describe it that way. All we're saying is this: We've all got to live in the real world here. You do and Abdul Salam does and the PA does and Israel does. The real world is there's been a democratic election. The Israeli people have voted a change.
It is rational and reasonable to give a new Prime Minister, an elected Prime Minister, some time to form a government, and we're not going to try to hasten that pace. Let them go at their own pace. Let them make these decisions in a deliberate way. There's enough time, considering how long this conflict has been going on -- so many decades, almost 50 years now -- there's enough time to get back to these issues. That's reasonable.
Q Follow up --
Q Nick --
MR. BURNS: Still on Israel? I think you're going to Turkey.
Q Yes. Follow up on this. I mean, but given that argument, you could take any deadline that is inherent in the peace agreement that Israel has signed and make some sort of rational explanation for why that should be moved forward. I mean, aren't you setting a bad precedent by --
MR. BURNS: No, we're not. I think it is entirely unreasonable of all of you to expect -- if this is what you really believe -- expect us to make pronouncements on these very difficult, complex issues when the new Prime Minister does not have a government put together.
It would be -- you know, during a Presidential transition in the United States, it would be similar to all of you coming up to me or someone else and saying, "What is the President-elect going to do on this issue or that issue?" You wait until he's inaugurated. You wait until he is responsible under the law as the leader of that country, and then you hold that person responsible for answering questions. I just don't see the logic of this exercise at all.
Q Well, to sort of follow your example, there was a crisis in Somalia, as I recall, during the transition period in administrations, and the two presidents -- the President and the President-elect got together and basically agreed on a common course, so the incoming President basically went along with what the --
MR. BURNS: Well, look, it's difficult to compare one country to another. We've both tried to do it. But I would say this. I've been involved in the last two Presidential transitions. On 98 percent of the issues the incoming President did not take responsibility for an issue or make any decisions on an issue until he took office.
If we understand that to be a logical way to process in our own democracy, why would we have a different standard for the Government of Israel?
It's in everyone's interest to allow this proceed to unfold in an evolutionary, rational way. I really don't see the logic of this line of reasoning.
Q Nick, to torture this at least one more time. Let me try from a different standpoint. Not from the standpoint of the decision made by Prime Minister Peres and not from the standpoint of waiting to give Prime Minister Netanyahu enough time, but from the U.S. point of view, today, are you disappointed that Prime Minister Peres did not live up to what he said he would do, which is to withdraw Israeli troops on a certain date?
MR. BURNS: No. Whatever decision Prime Minister Peres made, I'm sure he made in consultation with Mr. Netanyahu.
We're not disappointed for one reason. This has no relation to commitments or treaties, or whatever. We're not disappointed because we live in the real world. We don't live in some kind of fantasy world where some of you may expect a newly elected Prime Minister to have firmly established positions on 832 different issues the day after he's elected. Give the guy a chance to form a government.
We're hearing more positive, reasonable, rational statements out of many of the Arab countries than we are from people in this room today. I'm surprised.
Q Can you give us a list of those statements?
MR. BURNS: I'll be glad to, Barry.
Q The one that referred to Jordan as an entity?
MR. BURNS: No, actually the ones made from Cairo this morning, by a government spokesmen in Cairo who basically say, "We're patient. The door is open. We're going to see what happens when the Israeli Government takes over."
But you're not going to get me today to pronounce ourselves on these issues -- disappointed, sad, happy, glad; we're not going to do it. We're remaining calm here. Other people may not be calm. We're going to calm.
Q This transition period aside, Nick, what responsibility does the United States have, as a sponsor of the peace process and a witness to these agreements, to ensure that they are carried out?
MR. BURNS: We have an interest.
Q What responsibility?
MR. BURNS: We have an interest. We have a national interest in seeing that peace agreements made are carried out. We deal in foreign policies as a pursuit of interest. We deal on the basis of interest. We have an interest. Absolutely.
Q What's your responsibility to see that they're carried out?
MR. BURNS: What's our responsibility? The responsibility rests with the parties than sign agreements, that make agreements. The United States has not made these agreements. We have helped. We've been a broker on some of them. We've had varying degrees of influence. On some, we've been intensively involved, and others we haven't. So we have an interest. They have responsibility.
Q But you've signed one.
MR. BURNS: Right. We can do Political Science, if you want. Countries that mediate, countries that help other countries along, obviously have an interest. Countries that have to live with the agreements, the principal parties to an agreement are the ones responsible. I'm not trying to be cute here, but I think that's the best way to answer your question.
Q Can you take another question on the Middle East, if you don't mind.
MR. BURNS: But not this line of reasoning. You're going to ask a new question; right?
Q Well, I'll just reword it, if you don't mind.
MR. BURNS: I may mind. I'm going to reserve the right not to answer this question if it's the usual territory. I'll give you a chance.
Q You can answer with yes or no. Can this flexibility regarding the deadlines be extended to include the position expressed by some Likud members that these agreements can be revisited? Are you only flexible about deadlines, or are you too flexible?
MR. BURNS: This is familiar territory. We're going to wait until the Israeli Government forms itself and takes office before we make any significant public statements about this. Indeed, before we have any significant private discussions with them, we can't really have extensive private discussions until the government is formed, so I can't answer the question.
Q A different topic?
MR. BURNS: Yes, gladly. Thankfully. Let's talk about the PKK, let's talk about Turkey and Greece, Cyprus. We'll get Lambros to come back. Anything to get us off this topic.
Q Two questions about Greece. Greek Defense Minister Arsenis, a couple of days ago, said that the threat from Turkey was immediate. Then, the Greek National Security Council convened -- had a meeting -- in which they reportedly discussed the measures to be taken -- military measures to be taken -- if and when there is a war in the Aegean.
Is the Administration doing anything to diffuse the rising tensions?
MR. BURNS: We do not believe that there are prospects for war in the Aegean.
MR. BURNS: Thank you, Barry. We do not believe that there are prospects for war in the Aegean.
Q (Inaudible) they be delayed? (Laughter).
MR. BURNS: Barry, this is a serious question. Finally, we've got a serious question here and I've been dying to answer a serious question.
We do not believe that there are prospects for war. We are in regular contact on a variety of issues. They're both NATO allies, and they ought to resolve their problems peacefully. Long-standing, 50-year view of the Greek-Turkish disputes.
Q Then, how do you interpret this recent, very tough statements?
MR. BURNS: I have not seen the Defense Minister's statements, so I don't want to speak to it. But I can, in general, stand by what I said. I'll be glad to do that.
Q Just a clarification on something the Secretary said earlier -- the report that a U.S. patrol encountered General Mladic, he said is incorrect.
MR. BURNS: It's fictitious, it's creative writing. There's no foundation to it whatsoever. We checked with IFOR headquarters in Sarajevo and the Americans in Tuzla. They all deny that any such incident ever took place.
Q Could it have been other than an American patrol? Could it have been perhaps a confusion about--
MR. BURNS: NATO says, IFOR says, that no such encounter with Mladic took place.
Q Is the ship full of Liberian refugees still at sea?
MR. BURNS: Unfortunately, it is. Unfortunately, that ill-fated Russian ship, with 368 people aboard, is still at sea. And unfortunately the governments of west Africa -- Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana -- have not given this ship refuge two weeks after the ship left Monrovia. That is a great tragedy.
The United States calls upon all those states, hoping that one of them will respond to the call, to do the right thing; to act in a civilized way, and to reach out to these refugees and give them some water and give them some food and let them get off the ship and take temporary refuge in one of these countries. That's the right thing to do.
Q You said that the UNHCR was going to be visiting the ship?
MR. BURNS: The UNHCR is trying to. I do not believe -- at least, I can't confirm, based on reports from our Embassy in Accra and Ghana -- that the UNHCR officials were able to visit that ship.
I believe the last time that ship was resupplied was June 4. That would have been a week ago today when it was, I think, anchored off the Port of Takoradi in Ghana. Water and food were brought to the ship. Actually, it was anchored off Lome -- excuse me, not Takoradi -- on June 4.
Water and food were brought to the ship. I believe that was the last time that this ship was provisioned. This is a tragedy in the making. There's a limited amount that the United States can do except to use our moral suasion on the governments involved to act in a responsible manner.
Q President Clerides from Cyprus, he's starting next or at the end of this week his official visit to the United States.
MR. BURNS: That's correct.
Q We have heard a lot of rumors that the United States is pushing a new initiative to solve the Cyprus problem. Do you have any initiative to put on this visit to the Greek-Cypriot side, or will this be business as usual?
MR. BURNS: I think I'd prefer to let the president come to the country and have discussions before I announce, many days ahead of time, what initiatives we're undertaking.
As you know, we have made an effort over the last month or two to try to talk all the parties and see what can be done. It's part of our on-going effort through Ambassador Beattie and Ambassador Williams and Ambassador Boucher to try to be helpful on this.
I think the President and the Secretary will participate in these meetings in that light and in that vein.
Q A general reaction to South Korea and Japan's decision to provide aid to North Korea?
MR. BURNS: We've certainly seen the statement by the Republic of Korea. Frankly, we've not seen a statement by the Government of Japan about a formal decision by the Government of Japan on food aid.
We have consulted with both governments. We certainly support the decision by the Republic of Korea to extend food assistance to North Korea.
As I said, we are looking upon this in a very positive, forward-looking framework ourselves. I hope to have an announcement for you shortly on that.
We have one more question here.
Q On the eve of the arrival of the Italian Prime Minister, have you read the article on the first page of the New York Times about the secessionist movement in Italy? Have you any comment?
MR. BURNS: Never wishing to get involved in the internal affairs of another country, all I would say is, Italy is a NATO ally and we certainly support the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Italy.
Q Thank you.
(Press briefing concluded at 2:25 p.m.)
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