U.S. Department of State 96/07/22 Daily Press Briefing Office of the Spokesman U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING I N D E X Monday, July 22, 1996 Briefer: Nicholas Burns ANNOUNCEMENTS US Condems Massacre By Hutu Guerrillas Near Gitega, Burundi... 1 Secretary Christopher Approves Authorized Departure for Family Members of Official Americans in Saudi Arabia........ 1-2 US-South Africa Binational Commission Events, July 23......... 2-3 SAUDI ARABIA Authorized Departure of Family Members........................ 3-4 --Security Threats/Precautions Following Al Khobar Bombing.... 3-4 --Saudi Govt's Commitment to Protecting Americans............. 5 --US Community Notified Today of DOS' Decision................ 6 Bombing Investigation on Al Khobar Barracks in Dhahran........ 7-8 MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS Invalid Wash Times Article on Amb Dennis Ross................. 8-9 Amb Ross' Travel Plans to the Region.......................... 9 Exchange of Bodies Between the Hizbollah & Israeli Forces In Southern Lebanon/Positive Humanitarian Gesture........... 15 BURUNDI Travel of Special Negotiator Howard Wolpe & Amb Begosian to the Region.............................................. 9-10 US Supports June 25 Arusha Peace Process/Continuing Discussions in New York with OAU............................ 10-11 Massacre's Affect on Return of Refugees/UNHCR on Rwandan Refugee Repatriation....................................... 11-12 HUNGARY US Talks w/GOH re Autonomy.................................... 12 G-7 SUMMIT US Representative Not Yet Named............................... 12-13 Secretary Christopher Not Attending Due to Egyptian President Mubarak's Visit............................................. 13 FORMER YUGOSLAVIA Vice Pres Gore on US Policy re IFOR Mission................... 13-14 Alleged Remarks of Bosnian ForMin's Comments on Amb Holbrooke's Deal re War Criminal Karadzic's Resignation/Sanctions....... 14-15 MISCELLANEOUS Update on TWA Flight 800 Tragedy.............................. 16 --Lebanese Citizen Detained at Athens Airport Update.......... 16 MEXICO No US Concern on GOM Reform Measures.......................... 17
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
MONDAY, JULY 22, 1996, 1:04 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. BURNS: Good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department briefing. I have a couple of announcements before we go to questions. The first concerns the situation in Burundi.
The United States strongly condemns the massacre of over 300 displaced persons near Gitega, Burundi, two days ago on July 20. The Gitega massacre of unarmed civilians, mostly women or small children, was allegedly carried out by guerrillas of mostly Hutu origin.
This is reprehensible and it is evil. These murders of innocent civilians are appalling, and once again underscore the necessity for all sides to abandon violence, join together in frank negotiations, and commit themselves to peace and reconciliation.
The only way to reverse this self-destructive course is for all Burundians to renounce violence as a means of resolving their differences and to find a path towards peace.
The United States repeats its call to all parties in Burundi to reject extremism and work together for a better future.
The Arusha peace process, organized by African states in the region, provides an opportunity for parties to the Burundi conflict to resolve the problems that are currently plaguing that country.
The second announcement was posted at 7:00 a.m. this morning here in the Department and also released in Riyadh, Dhahran, and Jeddah at 2:00 p.m. Saudi-time. I'd like to read it to you.
In the aftermath of the June 25 bombing at the al Khobar Towers in Dhahran, the Department of State has reviewed a number of measures to increase security for American citizens in Saudi Arabia.
On June 26, we issued a public announcement which urged the Americans in Saudi Arabia to be vigilant of their personal security. Additionally, we issued a statement on July 10 -- a public announcement -- which superseded the June 26th announcement which urged increased vigilance and noted the possibility of further terrorism. We have been actively engaged in cooperation, as you know, with the Saudi authorities both in pursuing the investigation of the al Khobar bombing and in improving the physical security for the American civilian and military in Saudi Arabia.
As part of this on-going effort, Secretary of State Warren Christopher today, July 22, when he was enroute to Jakarta approved the authorized departure of eligible family members of U.S. Government employees resident in Saudi Arabia.
This measure will give members of families of U.S. Government personnel, civilian or military, the option of travel to the United States from Saudi Arabia at government expense.
The United States Government is confident in the stability of Saudi Arabia and its commitment to provide security for all Americans in the Kingdom.
The United States Government is issuing this public announcement in order to communicate the approval of authorized departure to our citizens -- our government employees -- in Saudi Arabia.
By this action, we are not recommending that U.S. citizens or their families depart Saudi Arabia. We are encouraging them to take appropriate and prudent precautions given the security situation in the region.
My last announcement is simply an announcement for those of you who are interested in covering the second full session tomorrow of the U.S.-South Africa Binational Commission. This is co-chaired by Vice President Gore and by Deputy President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa.
As many of you know, there are three such Vice Presidential commissions -- one with Russia, one with Egypt, and one with South Africa.
The Press Corps, foreign and domestic -- American -- are invited to cover three events tomorrow here in the Department of State where these meetings are taking place.
Deputy President Mbeki will arriving at the C Street entrance, I believe, early tomorrow, just before 8:00 a.m. You're welcome to cover his arrival, if you would like. There are opening statements for the plenary session to be given by the Vice President and Deputy President Mbeki at 8:00 a.m. in Room 1107, just a floor below us. there are luncheon toasts at 1:00 p.m. in the Benjamin Franklin Room, on the Eight Floor of the Department of State.
I understand at the conclusion of the plenary sessions tomorrow, at 3:30 p.m. there will be a press conference at the Old Executive Office Building, Room 450. If you are interested in attending that press conference and need our assistance, please contact Mary Swann of the African Affairs Bureau.
Q Could you say what prompted the decision by the Secretary this morning concerning dependents?
MR. BURNS: It's a reasonable precaution. You'll understand that in light of the fact that the United States facilities have been attacked by bombs twice since November, once in Riyadh and once in Dhahran, he felt it was a reasonable precaution to take given the fact that I think there are 118 spouses and children of U.S. State Department employees at our Embassy in Riyadh, our consulates in Dhahran and Jeddah. I believe there are many hundreds of spouses and children of Department of Defense employees. There are a lot of people here who we believe should be given at least the option of coming back to the United States should they wish and having the U.S. Government assume the cost -- the financial cost of that.
I want to make clear, this is not what we call an "ordered" departure. The dependents of our civilian and military personnel in Saudi Arabia are not being ordered to leave. That is not our active recommendation at this time. We just want to give them the option, should they so desire, given the fact that there have been two bombings, to come back to the United States and bring their children back to the United States.
As you know, we have been reviewing the security situation since November. That review has been very vigorous since the al Khobar bombing of just a few weeks ago. I can tell you that this decision has been in the works for some time. In fact, the recommendation that came in from our Charge d'Affaires, Ted Kattouf, in Riyadh came in well over a week ago. The planning has been in the works, and the Secretary felt it was time to make this decision. He did so in consultation with Secretary of Defense Bill Perry.
Q Could you tell us please, what are the criteria for an ordered departure? What will it take? I know that at one point, you ordered departures in Burundi. What is the level of security --
MR. BURNS: For instance, let me give you an example that is close in time, and that was the ordered departure from Liberia in Monrovia a couple of months ago. Of course, you had intensive, bloody fighting all over the city of Monrovia. We just could not be assured in any way of the safety of our employees much less their families.
An ordered departure is the decision of the Secretary of State. It is taken in extraordinary circumstances when we cannot be confident of the security of our personnel or of their families. In this case, we have a commitment by King Fahd and the Saudi leadership to protect Americans. We are grateful for that commitment and for the on-going work of the Saudi Government.
We are mindful, however, of the fact that there have been a number of threats before the Khobar bombing and after the Khobar bombing against American installations.
In the advisory -- the public announcement -- that we issued on July 10, for instance, we went quite a long ways, I think, in giving the American public and American citizens in Saudi Arabia a quite detailed sense of what we thought the threat was. So our sense of the reason for this really emanates from the situation produced by Khobar bombings.
I just wanted to mention it to you because I have received a number of inquiries this morning. It had nothing to do with the tragic crash of TWA Flight 800. As I said, the recommendation for this decision came in before that crash. The senior leadership here in the Department was well on the way to recommending to the Secretary of State, before last Wednesday, that this step be taken.
Q Have you had any -- since July 10, have you had any additional threats against U.S. citizens in Saudi Arabia?
MR. BURNS: I am not aware of any specific threats. Again, there may or may not have been some. I have the July 10 statement with me. Of course, it talks about the fact that our Embassy in Riyadh, at that time, had continued to receive reports that there could be further attacks against official and non-official U.S. facilities as well as against American citizens who are private American citizens working in Saudi Arabia. There are tens of thousands of them. It called attention to that, and it advised Americans to exercise extreme caution and to take precautionary measures to safeguard themselves and their families.
Q Has the Saudi Government themselves been On the Record? Or can you tell us what they have said about their ability to protect U.S. citizens? Do they concur in this recommendation of the Secretary?
MR. BURNS: Our Charge, Ted Kattouf, informed the Saudi Government, I believe, on Saturday of the fact that the Secretary was probably going to make this decision. We wanted to give them some lead time. The Secretary made the final decision, as I said, after he departed the United States enroute to Jakarta.
We are confident that the Saudi Government, from King Fahd on down, takes this responsibility to protect Americans and other foreigners in Saudi Arabia very seriously. We have seen actions by the Saudi Government, in the wake of these two bombings, to that effect.
We are working day in and day out with the Saudi authorities, at all levels, throughout the Kingdom to protect Americans there. There is no higher priority for the U.S. Government at this time.
Secretary Christopher's trip to Dhahran, I think, led the way toward new discussions with the Saudi Government when he met Prince Saud and Prince Bandar there. Certainly, Secretary Perry's trip -- his past trip to Saudi Arabia -- also had a heavy content of security to it in discussions with King Fahd, with Defense Minister Sultan, and others.
So we're confident that we have the right programs in place. There's a high degree of urgency by both governments to protect Americans there.
Q All that aside, this announcement doesn't really convey a sense of confidence?
MR. BURNS: The announcement is a precautionary measure. If we thought that there was an imminent threat to Americans -- private Americans or official Americans or their dependents -- that could not be controlled, and that could not be met, then, obviously, we would take a stronger measure than a authorized departure. But I do want to lead you back to the distinction between the action today, which is an authorized departure, voluntary -- people need not undertake these trips should they not wish to do so -- a distinction between that decision made by the Secretary of State and an ordered departure. An ordered departure would be made if we felt there was an imminent threat that could not be met, and that is not the case right now.
Q Nick, can you give us a better sense of why it's coming now. Was it just -- does it take that long for it to roll through the bureaucracy, or is there something new since the attack?
MR. BURNS: There's nothing new. There's no new threat that led to this decision. This came from a recommendation by our Charge d'Affaires, Ted Kattouf, and his Embassy staff in Riyadh in the wake of the Khobar bombing. Obviously the Embassy Emergency Action Committee met many, many times, led by Charge Kattouf. They made this recommendation, but the recommendation was not made immediately after the bombing. It came just a week or so ago, and the State Department has been following up since then.
Under Secretary of State Moose, Assistant Secretary Pelletreau made this recommendation to the Secretary. He talked about it with Bill Perry and Tony Lake and others, so that there was interagency agreement, because actually the numbers of people affected by this on the military side are greater -- dependents of our military personnel there are greater than the dependents of our diplomatic personnel there.
Q Nick, you acknowledged in your announcement that while this doesn't cover private American citizens, that they would be watching this perhaps as a signal for their own security concerns. Did you -- in informing the Saudis -- did you also inform some of the American companies that have large civilian populations there?
MR. BURNS: We certainly did. At 2:00 p.m. today, the American community in Saudi Arabia was informed of this decision. That means not only the official community, our diplomats and our soldiers, but the considerable -- I believe up to 40,000 private Americans who are there: part of the ARAMCO effort in Dhahran; the Mobil effort; lots of American corporations there.
We have a very good network in place within Saudi Arabia in order to communicate with this private community. We have very strong links between that community and our Embassy and our Consulates, specifically on the security side, and we work with those corporations very closely. So they were apprised of this announcement as soon as it was made at 2:00 p.m. today.
Q But they're going to act on this in their own -- I know it's their responsibility to provide security for their people -- but do you have any sense that since the State Department has decided to authorize this, that they might also take some kind of similar action?
MR. BURNS: First, I cannot predict how many official Americans or dependents of official Americans will take advantage of this authorized departure to return as families to the United States. We'll just have to see what personal decisions people make, and they're very much personal decisions.
Secondly, it's very difficult to predict what will happen on the private side. I think it's already true -- I think it's traditional for many of these families to return to the States in the summer anyway for vacations -- kids are off from school -- and some people will have to make a decision as to whether to return in that case to Saudi Arabia and to the eastern province where a great many of them are concentrated. So at this point, Betsy, it's just very hard to tell. Excuse me, Laura.
Q Is it possible that you were ready to go with this announcement late last week but then held off in order to dispel the notion that there was a link with the TWA --
MR. BURNS: No, not at all, George. This decision was really brought to the Secretary's attention late last week -- I believe it was on Thursday -- but he had to then make sure that we were fully coordinated with the Department of Defense, which, as I said, has more people in Saudi Arabia than do we, the Department of State.
Once that was accomplished over the weekend, we informed the Saudi Government and made preparations to inform the American community, as we did today.
Q New subject?
MR. BURNS: Certainly.
Q One more on Saudi and a little different subject. Senator Lugar yesterday stated that he thought there was very strong evidence that the Syrian Government had financed the bombing at Dhahran, and that he recommended, if this in fact was proven and it was proven there was sabotage in the TWA 800 case, that the United States should strike against those nations that harbor terrorism. Can you comment at all?
MR. BURNS: Bill, as you know, the FBI and the State Department and other agencies are looking very closely into the bombing at the Khobar barracks. We have not yet determined the identity of the people responsible for that bombing. Therefore, it is not possible at this point to draw any links between the bombers and any foreign government.
Once the investigation is concluded -- I don't know how long that will take; it could take months, it could take years; in some cases it does take years -- we'll have a better idea as to that charge. But I cannot share in that judgment today.
Q I have a question on the Middle East negotiations. We're hearing reports that Ambassador Dennis Ross may have had some problems communicating with Mr. Netanyahu, and that he may be replaced. Do you have anything to --
MR. BURNS: I'm very glad you asked this, because nobody asked me on Friday, but let me go through it one more time. First of all, needless to say, Ambassador Ross has the full confidence of the President and Secretary of State Christopher. He's continuing in his duties; in fact, is abroad on a diplomatic mission for the Administration today pertaining to the Middle East peace negotiations, as you know.
Secondly, I increasingly hesitate to pick out newspapers and identify them by name for gross inaccuracy in reporting, but I cannot hold back in this instance. There was an Op-Ed article in the Wall Street Journal late last week, I believe on Thursday, by a guy named Michael Ledeen, which basically said that Ambassador Ross had been repudiated by the new Israeli Government, and that Secretary of State Christopher had to call to apologize for the unpleasantness -- the alleged unpleasantness that had occurred.
This was picked up by the Washington Times, which ran a news story on Friday, repeating these absurd and grossly inaccurate, completely inaccurate allegations. The Washington Times did not check with the U.S. State Department before filing and printing the news story.
The story is absolutely 100 percent false. It's fiction. It's a fabrication. I would urge the Washington Times, which printed the news story, to check with the Israeli Government on this; as well as checking with us, if they want to check with us on stories. I think they'd have a self-interest in not being wrong on stories.
The fact is that Dennis Ross never had these conversations that Mr. Ledeen appears to have dreamed up with Prime Minister Netanyahu. There was never any call from Secretary Christopher to follow up on these fictitious conversations, because they didn't take place.
So I think accuracy in reporting, as always, is important. When it has an impact on personalities here, I think we have a right to speak out.
Q What were Ross' travel plans, do you know?
MR. BURNS: Yes. Dennis Ross will be visiting Israel, Jordan and Syria. I said erroneously on Friday to you he'd be visiting Egypt. There will be no need for a trip to Egypt, because President Mubarak will be here on the 29th and 30th of July, next week.
In Israel he'll be meeting with the Israeli Government, with which he has excellent relations. He'll be meeting with Chairman Arafat in Gaza. In Amman, he'll be meeting with the Jordanian Government, and in Syria with the Syrian Government authorities. This is a trip to follow up on Prime Minister Netanyahu's excellent visit to the United States, where we had excellent and amicable conversations with him, and to in essence see how the United States can help these various parties on the various tracks move forward in the peace negotiations.
Q Do you know when he's going to take off?
MR. BURNS: He's already left. He left last evening. Yes, departed last evening.
Q Different subject?
MR. BURNS: Betsy.
Q Different subject?
MR. BURNS: Yes.
Q Do you have any more that you can add on Burundi? I understand Wolpe got back from the region just over the weekend. Can you tell me what this government is doing to try and bring peace to the region?
MR. BURNS: Yes. As you know, the President recently appointed former Congressman Howard Wolpe to the position of special negotiator for Burundi and Rwanda. He made an extraordinarily long trip to the region. He was out, seemingly for weeks, where he met with all parties in both Burundi and Rwanda.
In addition to that, Ambassador Bogosian has been out just recently attending various conferences and having meetings, some with Mr. Wolpe and some without.
We are strong supporters of the Arusha peace process. We think it has promise. It's an African initiative. Former heads of state and current heads of state worked on it. We believe the Arusha peace process has the prospect of bringing some stability to the area if the government and if rebels and the other factions would agree to accept its principles.
We would urge them to do so. The violence has gotten way out of hand, and it is particularly reprehensible that the targets of the Hutu-led violence over the last couple of weeks have been women and children. There have been two massacres -- one on July 4 where 80 women and children were murdered, and just two days ago where 300 women and children were murdered.
This has got to be stopped, and so we are relying on and working with the African countries in the region, including the Government of Burundi, to try to see if it can be stopped.
Mr. Wolpe is back in the Department, just back from his trip, back in this morning. He is having consultations with Assistant Secretary Moose and others, and I'm sure we'll be deliberating as to what we can do next to try to contribute to a decrease in the violence there.
Q So do you think that the OAU is a better place to try and solve this place rather than the U.N., and where does --
MR. BURNS: We're willing to work with many different institutions. Actually, we are quite supportive of the steps taken by the Secretary General, Secretary General Boutros-Ghali, on this issue. As you know, we've participated for months now in contingency discussions up in New York at the United Nations to see how the United States might be able to help. Should the Secretary General decide that it's necessary to have a U.N. involvement to stem the violence, the United States would not contribute troops to the effort, but we certainly can contribute logistics and communications and list support, and the United Nations knows that.
In addition, Assistant Secretary Moose, when he was at the OAU annual meeting a couple of weeks ago, had extensive conversations with African countries about their own efforts to move forward.
We are particularly supportive of the Arusha agreement -- the June 25 agreement -- because this comes from heads of state of the region, from Africa, people who are closest to the problem, who have the most expertise, and I think the greatest immediate interest in making sure that this violence is contained.
So we'll continue to work with both the OAU and the United Nations, and within the government we'll continue to think about ways that the United States can be helpful here.
Q Nick, on that subject, do you think or do you have suspicions that there is any outside incitement to these massacres? Do you think that they're totally internal, or is there somebody engineering these things?
MR. BURNS: It's a quite Byzantine situation, as you know, because you have refugees of various factions, some in Zaire. You have Rwandan refugees in Burundi. You have various factions within Burundi itself, which are competing for power. It is a very, very difficult and complex situation. We are trying our best to work with the governments involved.
In addition to the reprehensible massacre over the weekend, we do know that at least 5,000 Rwandan refugees crossed back into Rwanda from Burundi between late Friday evening, July 19, and Saturday, July -- and Sunday, excuse me, yesterday, July 21. We believe that many more refugees are awaiting their return to Rwanda, and we're following this situation closely.
I would simply note the facts are not entirely clear to our government. I would simply note, however, that the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees is currently protesting the way the repatriation of these Rwandan refugees is being conducted by Burundi authorities. The UNHCR appears to believe that these refugees are being forced across the border.
According to reports from our own Embassy, the American Embassy in Kigali in Rwanda, the Rwandan and Burundi Governments are working closely together on this repatriation.
Our Ambassador, Ambassador Gribbin, in Kigali, has expressed our concern to the Government of Rwanda that refugee returns should be voluntary, and that refugees ought to be well treated on their return. We're not entirely sure this is case, given the events involving these thousands of people over the past weekend. We are very concerned about this situation, as are many, many others in the international community.
Q Well, could the massacres be a means of accelerating the return of the refugees?
MR. BURNS: That allegation has been made. We are not in a position to say that the most recent massacre of two days ago in fact was precipitated for that reason. It ought to be condemned by everyone around the world, and it is being condemned by the United States today.
Q Change the subject?
MR. BURNS: Yes.
Q While (inaudible) Hungary (inaudible) a conference urging territorial and ethnic autonomy for Hungary (inaudible) a vote. That seems to be clearly quite dangerous and destabilizing development in Eastern Europe, all the more that Hungarian Prime Minister Gyula Horn endorsed this conclusion. I understand that the United States officials have spoken with Hungarians about it, and could you tell us if the United States sent a demarche or any other kind of diplomatic communications to Hungarians. And, secondly, what was the position of the United States in these talks, specifically with respect to autonomy?
MR. BURNS: I can say really very little about this. I can only tell you that we did have some conversations with the Hungarian Government about this. I'd prefer to keep the contents of those discussions private for the time being.
Q So you cannot confirm there was any demarche or any other --
MR. BURNS: I can confirm that there were discussions about this issue, but I choose not to go into the details of those diplomatic discussions.
Q I understand that the United States' position is against any kind of autonomy in Eastern Europe whatsoever.
MR. BURNS: Obviously, what I can tell you -- and you already know this -- is that the United States Government hopes very much that Hungary and its neighbors can work out the problems that have been in existence for a very long time but most pronounced in the last couple of years. When we can be helpful in that, we are helpful.
Q Nick, can you tell me who is going to represent this country at the terrorism conference in Paris, I believe it is -- the G-7?
MR. BURNS: I don't believe we've made an official announcement. I think we'll have to make one in the next day or two. I can tell you, we'll be well represented from the Department of Justice and the Department of State, and let me see if we can make an official announcement on that shortly.
Q The Secretary will not be going?
MR. BURNS: The Secretary will not be, because the Secretary will be returning from Asia late Sunday evening, July 28, because he sees President Mubarak, Monday morning, July 29, and Tuesday, July 30.
Steve. Welcome back.
Q Thank you. Vice President Gore said on television yesterday, apparently, that -- something that was sort of at odds with what Defense Secretary Perry had been saying about U.S. troops in Bosnia; more strongly saying that the mission would be complete by year's end, as has been stated officially, but seemingly ruling out a successor force or any participation in a successor force by the United States. Did he make news there or not?
MR. BURNS: I read news stories. The Vice President, of course, was enunciating the very clear policy of the United States that we continue to believe that IFOR's mission can be accomplished in roughly a year, which is the language that President Clinton used when IFOR was established late last autumn.
So we are not now anticipating or planning for a follow-on force in Bosnia. We hope that following the elections in September the situation will be sufficiently stable -- and IFOR certainly would have done its job in a very admirable way -- that it will allow IFOR troops to leave in the roughly a year time frame, which would have them leaving in December and early January.
What the Vice President said is U.S. policy, and he said it quite well, and I can really make no improvements on it.
Q Well, how do you square that with Defense Secretary Perry saying, on the other hand, that he expected that there would be the need for a follow-up force and that the United States would willingly participate in all forms in such a force?
MR. BURNS: As I remember those remarks -- and I can't remember them specifically in everything that he said -- I remember that a major point he made that was under-reported in those stories was that no decision had been made by the United States Government; and I believe that later on his remarks were characterized by his own people as speculative. You know, he was engaged in speculative conversation with the reporters at large.
I can tell you, Steve, having attended the NATO Ministerial in Berlin just a month -- six weeks ago -- there was no formal talk there; no proposals on the agenda to extend IFOR's mission. Obviously, you've heard talk about it and we've heard talk about it in the press and by various diplomats in Europe and in the United States. But I can tell you, we've no plans to do so right now. Our current expectation, as the Vice President said yesterday, is for those troops to come home late this year.
Q Also on Bosnia, are you aware of the remarks of the Bosnian Foreign Minister at the U.N. this morning? He's not happy with the deal that Ambassador Holbrooke brokered last week and thinks that sanctions should be imposed on the Serbs.
MR. BURNS: Well, we're not happy with the deal either. Ambassador Holbrooke is not happy with the deal. That was one of the core points that we enunicated on Friday.
The agreement, as Ambassador Holbrooke so ably reached with the Serbs and the Bosnian Serbs, is an advantage for the following reason: It gets Karadzic out of power and out of influence. That's a significant step forward.
What it does not do is get him out of the country and in The Hague. Therefore, the agreement is not entirely satisfactory to us nor is it to Ambassador Holbrooke. He said that in his first press conference in Belgrade.
The Bosnian Government is on record -- Vice President Ganic from Sarajevo on Friday -- saying that this is a welcome agreement because it does get him -- Karadzic -- out of the leadership of his political party. It prohibits him from playing any role whatsoever in the campaign, and that is positive.
I haven't seen the statement by the Foreign Minister this morning. It sounds perhaps similar to what we've been saying, which is, we want to see ultimately this man end up in The Hague.
Q The difference seems to be that he advocates sanctions against Serbia. You folks, at least, for the time being don't see it that way?
MR. BURNS: I have not seen the statement. It's the first I've heard because we didn't hear that coming out of the Bosnian Government Friday. The Bosnian Government was well informed of this agreement during its negotiation and certainly before it was announced.
You know our position -- that reimposition of sanctions against Serbia and the Bosnian Serbs is a possibility. It's a live option available to us, but we have no plans today or tomorrow to take that step.
Q Nick, on the Middle East. Did the United States play any role in the exchange of prisoners and bodies between the Hizbollah and the Israeli forces in southern Lebanon?
MR. BURNS: Actually, I think the credit for this should go to the Israeli Government, to the Lebanese, and to the German Government. The German Government played what we believe is the key intermediary role, and a very helpful one at that. The Israeli Government has praised the German Government for its involvement and so do we.
Q And did the United States play any role?
MR. BURNS: The United States, as I understand it, did not play a central role in this humanitarian gesture. We were aware of the German role and were briefed on it. We're very pleased the German Government was involved in the way that it was. This was, of course, an individual who works directly for Chancellor Kohl which, I think, gives you a sense of the good intentions of the German Government here.
Q You don't think this changes anything materially in terms of the climate or the ability to communicate?
MR. BURNS: That's hard to say. You've seen the statements by the Israeli Defense Minister and the Israeli Prime Minister on this. It's hard to say whether this presages some type of improvement in the climate, certainly between Hizbollah and the Israeli Government. It's extraordinary that they've had this communication and this cooperation. It's certainly a positive step forward that they've had it and that they've acted both for humanitarian reasons that benefit both.
We would, of course, like to see Hizbollah completely and publicly renounce violence and terrorism and stop all of its terrorist activities against Israel -- against Israeli forces and against the south Lebanese army. Until that day comes, I don't think we'll have changed fundamentally or in any significant way our view about Hizbollah.
Q Has the State Department or anyone adjacent to the State Department any new information on the TWA incident?
MR. BURNS: As you can imagine, Steve, the State Department is working very hard in support of the FBI and the National Transportation Safety Board in the current investigation.
We are part of several interagency task forces that are working on this great tragedy. I can tell you that those two agencies, having the lead, will be the agencies that you ought to listen to about the course of this investigation.
We are doing what we must and what we can to support them. We spent most of the weekend with the press -- Mike McCurry and myself -- basically trying to repudiate several of the more prominent rumors that have been floating about foreign involvement. The fact is that the FBI and the NTSB have not established the cause of the crash. They have not drawn any links between the crash and any foreign governments or foreign groups, not to say that they don't exist. They may exist, and they may be established in the future. They may not. We don't know yet.
The fact is, however, there have been a number of rumors of claims of responsibility. We've seen many claims of responsibility. Frankly, Steve, we've not found any to be credible. There have been various stories about a Lebanese citizen at the Athens Airport, the faithful of Ramzi Yousef claiming credit.
And the second one -- we haven't heard about this, no one has informed us -- that a group affiliated with Ramzi Yousef has claimed credit.
On the first, I can tell you that the individual Lebanese citizen in Athens Airport, on July 17, arrived at the airport two hours after the TWA flight left -- the Athens to New York flight. He was in the east terminal. The TWA flight left from the west terminal. He did not leave the east terminal. So we're confident that this particular individual had nothing to do with that particular flight -- the TWA flight.
Q To Mexico. Another disturbing article in the New York Times on -- this is this morning's Times: "President Ernesto Zedillo now appears to be retreating from the promises of open, honest government he made at the start of his term 20 months ago." Then, it lists several of the more recent evidence to support this point of view.
Nick, is the Department concerned that the Mexican Government is sliding backwards or is not taking their reform pledge seriously?
MR. BURNS: No, we don't have that concern. We believe the Mexican Government, in this respect as in many other areas, has taken aggressive reform measures. We have worked with them and consulted with them on this, and we will continue to do so.
Q Thank you.
MR. BURNS: Thank you.
(Press briefing concluded at 1:42 p.m.)
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