U.S. Department of State 96/07/25 Daily Press Briefing Office of the Spokesman U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING I N D E X Thursday, July 25, 1996 Briefer: Nicholas Burns BURUNDI Curfew Imposed/Major Pierre Buyoya Named Interim President/ National Assembly Suspended/U.S. Support for Arusha Peace Process............................................1-2 Amb Wolpe to Return to Central Africa ........................2 All Americans Safe in Bujumbura...............................2 Contingency Planning for UN Intervention Force/Leadership of Future Peacekeeping Mission............................3,7-10 Uncertainty re: Coup d'Etat/Need to Maintain Constitutional Order.....................................................4-6 FORMER YUGOSLAVIA September Elections and Prospects for Stability in Bosnia...11,13 No Plans to Deploy U.S. Forces Beyond Present IFOR Mission..11-12 Amb. Kornblum to Travel to Region/Review of Compliance with Agreement on Karadzic Withdrawal from Political Activity....................................................14 CUBA Allegations of Colombian Cocaine Being Shipped Through Havana with Castro's Approval...................................15,20 Canadian Claim to Territory in North America based on Principles of Helms-Burton Legislation...................17-18 Refugees Remaining at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base............18-19 U.S. Fulfills Commitment Under U.S.-Cuba Migration Agreement..19 COLOMBIA Visit of Foreign Minister Maria Emma Mejia/Mtgs with Asst. Sec. Gelbard and Deputy Sec. Davidow/U.S. Expectation of Improvement in Counter-Narcotics Efforts.................15-16 NORTH KOREA Reported Agreement to Participate in Four-Party Talks.........16 MIDDLE EAST Meetings of Amb. Ross in the Region/President Clinton's Letter to Leaders........................................16-17 SAUDI ARABIA Investigation Continuing into Al Khobar Bombing...............17 IRAQ Reported Assassination Attempt Against Saddam Hussein.........17 SRI LANKA Explosion at Railway Station/No American Citizens Killed.......20 TURKEY Hunger Strikes in Turkish Prisons/Government Investigation of Conditions in Prison System............................. .20-22
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
THURSDAY, JULY 25, 1996, 2:05 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. BURNS: Good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department briefing. I apologize for keeping all of you waiting. We were on the phone around town discussing the situation in Bujumbura this morning which is quite complicated. So let's go right to that.
The United States is deeply concerned that military forces in concert with various political figures in Burundi have withdrawn their support for the power-sharing arrangement established under the Convention of Government in Burundi several years ago.
The United States calls upon all Burundian leaders to respect the Burundi constitution and the will of the people of the country. The United States urges both civilian and military leaders of Burundi to resolve their differences through established constitutional mechanisms. We urge adherence to constitutional government and processes, including the continuation of the elected National Assembly and civil institutions.
The United States urges all Burundian parties to halt the violence and to engage immediately in concerted efforts to achieve lasting national reconciliation which must be the goal of all the people and all the political actors inside Burundi itself.
Let me just give you a sense of this very chaotic and complex situation in Burundi, as we appreciate it, just based on some conversations during the last couple of moments.
Burundi Radio is reporting that a curfew is in effect in Bujumbura; that Major Pierre Buyoya has been named interim President of Burundi, and that he and the military have assumed control of the government.
We understand that the borders and the airport have been closed. We understand that political parties and the National Assembly have been suspended.
The United States remains committed to the Arusha peace process, organized by the African states in the region. We support the mediation efforts of former Tanzanian President, Julius Nyerere.
These efforts are supported in Africa. They are supported by elements within Burundi itself, and they have widespread support in the international community, including by the United States Government.
The situation in Bujumbura is, as I said, clearly chaotic; it's complex, and it is evolving. It is evolving hour by hour. There's no question that there is a profound governmental crisis underway.
We understand that the current President has not yet resigned. He remains in the residence of Ambassador Hughes, our American Ambassador in Bujumbura. As I said, the situation is evolving quite rapidly.
Howard Wolpe, the President's and Secretary of State's Special Representative and Emissary for this region, intends to return to the region this weekend to work with the various leaders of the country and the various leaders in Africa who have a direct interest in this conflict to see if we can rebuild support for the Arusha peace process.
We will remain engaged -- very closely engaged -- diplomatically in this process.
Howard Wolpe was on the phone this morning with former Tanzanian President, Julius Nyerere, with other leaders in the region, and he will be continuously, along with Ambassador Dick Bogosian, continuously involved in the diplomatic process.
I can report to you that we believe that all American citizens are safe in Bujumbura. As I mentioned yesterday, there are 80 Americans living in the country, 19 of whom are attached as diplomats to the American Embassy in Bujumbura. The remainder are private citizens. Most of them work for non-governmental organizations and for other groups; some for missionary organizations.
The great majority of these people live in Bujumbura. Some are outside the capital, and we are urging them to make their way to the capital today. We do have a warden system in place. We are in touch with them by radio and we will remain in touch with them as this situation unfolds.
As you know, we continue to have discussions at the United Nations and, internationally, with other governments about the possible need for contingency planning, for international operation. I don't expect there will be any formal U.N. Security Council discussions today. But I do know there are some discussions to work on the contingency military plans. In fact, a planning team from the Pentagon is in New York today at the United Nations working with U.N. officials to try to refine that plan.
As we discussed yesterday, the United States is prepared to contribute communications and logistics and military lift to any kind of U.N. operation, but this is clearly a situation where the U.N. Secretary General, leading members of the U.N., and specifically the African countries involved in the Arusha peace process, have to make a decision about whether or not that kind of operation makes sense. That's a day- to-day proposition. That would be undertaken, of course, to try to forestall any kind of humanitarian disaster that could unfold.
We hope that doesn't happen. We hope that the events that have unfolded today will lead to an improvement in the situation, both political and humanitarian in Burundi. What I mean by that is the following: we hope that those who hold governmental power in Burundi exercise that power in conformance with the constitution and in the best interest of all the people of the country, and that they exercise the power to put an end to the abhorrent violence that has characterized the situation over the last several weeks and months.
The fact that 300 people were massacred at Gitega on July 20, that 80 people were massacred on July 3 in Burundi speaks to the great need for the political class in Burundi to unite around the proposition that there can be no further examples of these kinds of atrocities.
That's the situation as we appreciate it this afternoon. We have a lot of people around town looking at this very carefully. Our Ambassador, of course, is in touch with a variety of these people on the ground and will remain so as these events unfold.
Steve. I'm sorry, George. Breach of protocol. Unintended, I assure you.
Q Are you suggesting that constitutional rule might still be salvaged?
MR. BURNS: George, we just don't know. I know we've seen some other governments around the world come out with statements that I think perhaps infer a degree of clarity that we do not have, either from the perspective of Washington or the perspective of our American Embassy in Bujumbura.
We are very well informed. We have the President of the country as our guest in the residence of the American Ambassador. We have our Ambassador in touch with all the other political figures whose names are in the news today.
It's not clear to us at the present time exactly what will happen in the next couple of hours or in the days ahead. What is clear, as I said, is that there is a crisis underway, a governmental crisis, that a group is now claiming to take power. Troops are deployed throughout the city in order to put that threat into effect. That's what may be happening right now. We want to wait for a couple of hours, and maybe into tomorrow, to satisfy ourselves as to exactly what the result of all this activity today will be.
The only positive thing that I can say in this very sorry state of affairs is that there does appear to have been today in Bujumbura any fighting or much gunfire. It appears that these things are being argued out among the political actors. If you're looking for any kind of silver lining in a very grim situation, that is, at least, an improvement on recent history, whereas, as you know, sometimes these events have been quite bloody.
Q Nick, whatever has happened in Bujumbura has all the trappings of what, in any other country, would be described as a coup d'etat, but you have refrained from using those words. Why are you saying there has not been a coup d'etat?
MR. BURNS: It certainly has all the markings of one, Patrick. I'm trying to be very careful here, really on an analytical basis more than anything because we do have a very keen appreciation of events on the ground because of the perspective of our Ambassador and the good work that he has done.
I'm just saying, we are very close to events -- at least, our understanding of the events. It's not perfectly clear at 2:14 this afternoon as to how this is all going to end up politically and what it will mean in terms of its effect on the constitution and on political processes. We're trying to be responsible here and not to throw out terms that perhaps tomorrow or the next day we and you will regret.
We are trying to be open with you and say that there is clearly a crisis underway. People are claiming to have taken power. We'll have to see how the situation unfolds.
Good. No more questions on Burundi. We can go onto -- one more, yes.
Q Does that mean that you recognize still Ntibantunganya as President and that you're rejecting Buyoya's claim? What does it mean? Because there are two people claiming to be President at the moment.
MR. BURNS: Certainly, we've had a diplomatic relationship with the current President. He is, as we speak, a guest in the residence of our Ambassador. We certainly do recognize him to be the President of the country. He will have to decide -- and this is a choice that we cannot make for him -- he will have to decide what steps he will take during the next couple of hours, whether he will attempt to stay in office, whether he will resign from office. I don't know what decisions he will make. We're not in a position to know. But he will have to make that decision, and we'll just have to see where events lie.
But as of right now, certainly, he's the President, in our eyes, of the country. He has not resigned. We do believe in constitutional processes. He's the duly elected President of the country.
Q Are there aid programs which would not go ahead if, indeed, the coup is consolidated?
MR. BURNS: If we get to the point where we make a decision that we're going to limit our activities with any new group of people who came to power, then I'd be in a position to outline them at that time. We've made no such decisions.
As you know, we did issue on Monday and on Tuesday, and again last night in a White House press statement, a very clear warning that the United States believed it was very important for the parties there to adhere to constitutional processes. We did that for one tactical reason: to try to forestall any kind of violent overthrow of the constitutional order in Burundi. We may be seeing that, we may not be seeing that.
Again, going back to Patrick's question, we just don't know at this point. But we're going to keep the situation closely in view, and we'll keep that question, George, that you asked closely in mind.
Q You're saying that a government comes to power through constitutional processes, whether it does so through coercion or not, will be recognized by the United States?
MR. BURNS: We have said all along that we believe that the new constitution of the country -- "new" in terms of history; historical reference -- ought to be respected. It is a foundation that can provide some stability within their political system in a country that has seen enormous suffering, political in-fighting, and blood baths throughout its history.
We think that is one of the reasons to hope, if there is reason to hope, for the future of this country, that there is a process in place that people must respect and follow. That, for us, is a bedrock issue -- the presence and existence of that constitution. That is why we issued the very tough and clear statements of the last couple of days, warning that our own policy towards this government -- or towards a government in Burundi -- would be clearly affected if we were to believe that, in fact, there was an illegal and violent overthrow of the constitutional order.
What I'm trying to say to you today is that it's not quite clear what the definition of today's events are. I think it will become clear. We won't hesitate to say what it is when we see it happening. But I think we need to reserve some judgment for a couple more hours or maybe even a day or so on that particular question.
Q You seem to be saying there's ways for this thing to work itself out -- a form of succession -- within the constitution. That seems to be what you're advocating, is it? If they're going to change governments, they should do it through the constitutional processes?
MR. BURNS: If there is to be any change of power and authority in Burundi, we believe -- and I think that everyone in the international community agrees with this -- that it should be done in accordance with constitutional provisions, peacefully and with due respect for the very great threat that exists that this kind of political fighting could get out of control and affect innocent people.
What I mean by that is, we have to mindful of the recent past over the last two or three years when there have been blood baths produced by this kind of political in-fighting.
Again, the only silver lining that we can see is the fact that, at least today, we have not seen that kind of violence in the streets or in the halls of the government. We hope that situation remains peaceful, in that sense.
Q Are you concerned that by allowing the President to seek refuge at the Ambassador's residence and by continuing to support him, that the Ambassador and that the Americans on the ground are going to be in danger from the military and the individuals who are claiming the presidency now, by making such a public stand in support of the president?
MR. BURNS: I think we had no choice but to agree that the President would be our guest at the residence of the American Ambassador. That was the proper thing to do for a country like the United States that believes in democracy, that believes in democratic government and constitutional processes. A duly elected president of a country asked for the opportunity to seek refuge in our Embassy. It was the proper thing for us to have done, and we certainly stand by that, and he will not be asked to leave by the United States. He is certainly there to stay until he decides he's going to leave.
Second, Laura, all the political actors and the military in Burundi know that they are responsible for the safety of the American diplomatic community, of the private Americans who are there, and indeed of all other foreigners in Bujumbura, and they will be held to that. We have not perceived any kind of threat to our American diplomats there, and we do not expect there to be any threat or any problem for them.
Q Nick, you said that it's up to the U.N. and other African nations to decide whether an intervention force makes sense if bloodshed does start up there. Does the U.S. have a view on whether that sort of force might make sense, or are you deferring to the U.N. and the African leadership that has been involved in this on this question of Burundi?
MR. BURNS: We're very much participating in the ongoing discussions, and they've been ongoing for months now, about the contingency planning that has already been -- that is already far down the road, and the decision about when you move to activate such a force.
I don't believe that there is a consensus now for the force to be agreed upon and sent today, for instance. I think that most people -- countries in the international system see this as a force whose purpose would be humanitarian, to try to stabilize a volatile situation in a country so that there are no more massacres; so that average people won't be affected by the political infighting.
There is a very fine line there, and certainly what we are guarding against in our contingency planning is a situation like that of April 1994 in Rwanda where hundreds of thousands of people were killed in bloodbaths. We want to be positioned to react very quickly, should a situation like that, which is not present today, unfold. And that's why the United States has promised the United Nations that we will provide the necessary military airlift, which is critical for a mission like this, and logistical and communications support.
Someone in the international system or one group of countries or one country will have to stand up and lead this operation. We believe that there are countries in Africa well placed to do this. Some of the countries that have been involved in the Arusha peace negotiations have indicated that they would like to consider a leadership position in this kind of operation.
We have sent military planners just this week to East Africa to meet with them and to help them think through the military implications of such a force. It may also be that there are some European countries who could lead this kind of operation, countries that have an historic influence and role to play in the region.
The United States is willing to do its share. We've already done our share by helping to prepare the contingency plans, and we can be relied upon to help in this operation if the Secretary General and the rest of the Security Council and others believe it should be undertaken.
Q A follow-up on that. You mentioned that a country or group of countries needs to stand up and lead this force. One of the lessons of April '94 in Bosnia and a number of other situations, a lesson that U.S. officials constantly refer to, is that the U.S. often is the country that needs to lead if things are going to get done. There's a certain amount of deja vu regarding the planning and the kind of disagreements or at least lack of certitude on the part of France, the U.S. and others to step forward and lead such an operation. The U.S. has consistently said that it won't provide troops for this, although it has offered, as you said, logistical support.
Is that bottom line about troops -- I mean, a firm bottom line. In other words, if an April '94 situation starts to develop again, would that view be revisited regarding U.S. troops and might the U.S., if other countries don't step forward, take it upon itself to step forward and try to prevent another April '94 situation?
MR. BURNS: This is a clear bottom-line position of our government that the United States is not prepared to contribute troops to any kind of U.N. operation in Burundi. But, Tim, you've asked a very good question, and I think the best answer I can give you is this. There is no question in the post-Cold War era that the United States is the preeminent country in the world in terms of our military, economic and political capacities for leadership.
It is not possible for the United States to lead everywhere and in every situation. We have led where we think United States' interests require it, in Haiti and in Bosnia, and we will not hesitate to lead in future situations where our national interests are directly and in some cases vitally affected.
It is also true that there are other countries in the post-Cold War era that retain significant military and political capabilities to lead, and in some cases where the United States already engaged -- for instance, the 20,000 troops in Bosnia -- just having withdrawn the American military contingent from Haiti, considering the fact that we still have 100,000 troops in Europe; we have 100,000 troops in Asia; we have defense relationships with more than 20 countries in the world; considering all the burdens of leadership that the United States is now shouldering, it does make sense and it is reasonable for some other countries in the world to stand up in situations like this and to lead.
In this case, I think we have the very positive example of the African countries -- and I would not diminish the capacity of a group of African countries, the right group, to form a consensus and to be the focal point of this kind of operation or a group or individual European countries to do it. There has to be some burden-sharing in the way that we deploy our troops around the world for peacekeeping operations.
Q The Africans have said they want exactly that kind of burden-sharing. I assume that you refer to countries such as France or Belgium who have been involved in the region. Have you had talks with the French Government or the Belgian Government, and do you have any sense as to whether they might be willing to step forward and take the leadership?
MR. BURNS: I certainly cannot speak for those governments.
Q Has the U.S. contacted them about this?
MR. BURNS: We certainly have been in touch with the French and the Belgians on a day-to-day basis; in fact, many times today already with both governments about a variety of aspects of this -- not just the question of a potential U.N. force but other aspects of the situation, and we'll continue to be.
We are very much in touch with the African countries, and they have shown, I think, a great deal of -- they've shown leadership, and they've shown responsibility in their Arusha peace process, in their calls for stability in Burundi and an end to the violence, and they continue to do that.
I understand that former President Nyerere will be convoking some regional leaders in East Africa over the weekend. Howard Wolpe will be meeting with them and talking to them and keeping in touch with them. So I think it may be possible to put together this coalition of countries under the leadership of the United Nations, in the event that it is necessary. But we've not yet answered that question, Tim.
In a sense, this is a little bit of a hypothetical situation here about the dispatch of a U.N. contingent. The more immediate question is, how can we use our political influence along with the African countries on the people who are grabbing power today in Burundi, and how can we convince them that they should refrain from the past and govern in a new way that prevents further violence to innocent civilians.
I think that's really the central question for today -- that question. I think the question of a U.N. military force is a possible question for the future, but it can't be the focus of diplomats around the world today.
Q Another subject?
MR. BURNS: Yes.
Q Do you have any hope that the elections in Bosnia will actually lead to a unification of the country, as was intended, I believe by the Dayton Accords, and, if they don't, aren't they a failure?
MR. BURNS: The elections are going to be pivotal, because they will produce the new institutions that will form the framework for the country -- the new country that arises out of the ashes of the Bosnian war. We have great hope that the elections might be conducted freely and fairly. We're working very hard on that. We've just gotten Karadzic out of the elections, and that's a good first step in that process.
As to what happens after the elections, that's going to be up to the new leaders who are going to be anointed by the people -- by the Moslems and the Croats and the Serbs -- of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and we hope that the institutions will be solid enough so that the very clear partition, if you will, that now exists between communities, that will begin to be bridged over time by these new institutions, by the National Assembly, by the three-person presidency, by the judicial institutions that are set up.
I don't think anyone believes that by a couple of days after the election, you're going to see perfect harmony in Bosnia. Clearly, we will not. But if the institutions can provide the political stability and the legitimacy to allow those chasms to be bridged over time, then I think they will have succeeded, and we will have helped them to succeed. In many ways, of course, I think that the United States and our allies have already succeeded, because we stopped the war, and we've brought now eight months of peace to Bosnia, and that's a considerable achievement.
Q On a related question, I wonder if you could clarify for me what U.S. policy is about a follow-on force? Secretary Perry has suggested the United States will participate in one or might participate in one and Vice President Gore has talked in the other direction in recent days. So is there a unified view in the U.S. Government on this question?
MR. BURNS: The United States does not believe that it will be necessary to deploy military forces in Bosnia after the IFOR mission finishes its job, which should be at the end of December. We anticipate and are planning for a complete withdrawal of American forces from Bosnia and from the region where they're now deployed and staged at the end of December.
We have not engaged in any specific planning with our allies in NATO to extend the life of the IFOR mission or to contemplate a new military mission that might succeed IFOR. There's been a lot of talk about that in the international community. You've seen talk in the press. You've seen people on background speculate about that. What the Vice President said on Sunday is United States Government policy on this issue.
I actually think -- and I'm sympathetic to this, because it sometimes happens to me as a spokesman -- that a lot of people have in essence misunderstood Secretary Perry's remarks which were made some time ago on this. I think he simply was saying that there has been talk, and he would expect that there would be further talk, and I would expect there would be further talk too. But he did not say that the United States anticipated fielding another force, and Secretary Perry, I think, along with -- certainly would agree with the Vice President that we would expect our forces to leave at the end of the autumn.
Q But can you rule out the possibility that the United States would contribute troops to a follow-on force?
MR. BURNS: You're asking me to engage in kind of hypothetical speculation and to make commitments on behalf of the United States Government based on theory. I can tell you what the facts are.
We are planning for troop withdrawal, complete, by the end of the autumn. That's what's important here. That's what's important here.
Q The background to the question is, is that a position that's likely to be reconsidered after the U.S. elections in November?
MR. BURNS: It doesn't work that way. Let me tell you why. In order to withdraw 20,000, almost 25,000, American men and women from the region, you need to begin that operation probably in mid to late September, the drawdown, and there will be a phased drawdown. Ken Bacon and Mike Doubleday can tell you all about that, but we've been clear about that from the beginning. You just can't make a decision on December 14 to withdraw everybody by the 16th. They will begin withdrawals, phased withdrawals. We will leave sufficient forces in the theater to accomplish our military mission, and we'll be responsible for the military mission until the day we leave.
But on the day we leave, we will leave -- completely. There will be no more American forces in Bosnia. It will then be up to the Bosnians and the others in the region -- the Serbs, the Croats -- to continue the peace. We've given them a year to build a peace. They ought to be able to grasp hold of that challenge and to run with it. We've given them peace. We've given them elections in September. We've separated the forces. We've drawn down the level of military forces.
We're going to help the Bosnian Government enhance its own military capacities. We're trying to leave a playing field that will be level among the various military organizations and that will have legitimate political institutions elected by the people -- something that was not in place at the beginning or in the middle or at the end of the Bosnian war.
So I think we've done a lot, but we can't deliver everything. They've got to step up their responsibilities, the parties to the Dayton Accords, and they've got to do it in the final analysis.
Q Nick, there's dire predictions about what's going to happen in the situation that you just laid out by the Director of Defense Intelligence Agency, the Deputy Director of the CIA and a senior State Department official who -- you can construe their remarks perhaps narrowly or more broadly, but essentially they said if there is no presence after IFOR, things may well fall apart.
MR. BURNS: I don't believe in crystal balls. I believe in trying to make your assessments based on reality. I remember a year ago today when the conventional wisdom in this room and in this building, among the State Department people here and around town and around the world, was Bosnian Serbs are on the March; no stopping them; they're going to accomplish their political objective of a greater Serbia.
That didn't turn out to be true. I remember the debate in Washington and around the world last autumn when they said Dayton wouldn't succeed. It did. And then the debate that the introduction of IFOR, NATO forces would be met with mass resistance, and there would be mass casualties. Many members of the U.S. Congress made that fear quite publicly known. That didn't happen either. That didn't happen either. We haven't lost a single soldier to hostile fire. We've lost soldiers to accidents.
So I don't believe in scare theories. We've done our best to give those people a chance for peace. It's up to them to take hold of that responsibility, and I don't believe it's a foregone conclusion that they will fail. I think they may very well succeed. It may be messy. It may not be as direct as you'd like it to be, but they have a chance at succeeding.
Q Another topic.
MR. BURNS: Sure. One more on that?
Q As you noted, Karadzic isn't supposed to play any role in the elections. Do you think at this point that he's simply going to fade from the scene, or are you going to be satisfied to let him go quietly into the night?
MR. BURNS: He's not yet faded completely from the scene, but we hope his political career is finished. He will not participate in the elections. If he violates that agreement, there will be severe consequences for the Bosnian Serbs and Serbia, who have signed this agreement.
So we'll have to wait and see on that, but he won't be on campaign posters. He won't be on the radio. He won't be on TV. He won't be parading around in his tuxedo at campaign rallies.
Q But he also won't be --
MR. BURNS: All of that is good --
Q But he also won't --
MR. BURNS: All of that is accomplishment of American diplomacy.
Q But he also won't be in the dock at The Hague. Is that --
MR. BURNS: Oh, we hope he ends up there. We hope he ends up there.
Q Kornblum is going out there, what, early next week?
MR. BURNS: Yes. Ambassador Kornblum is leaving this weekend for meetings next week.
Q To talk about compliance with the agreement that Holbrooke brokered? Is there any reason to believe that compliance has been anything less than full thus far, or --
MR. BURNS: We just want to see the white's of their eyes. We want to hear it from them personally and see it personally. As you know, Secretary Christopher has asked John Kornblum to spend the majority of his time on this Bosnian conflict for the time being. He has made, I guess since becoming Acting Assistant Secretary in February, probably eight, nine or ten trips to the region. He's making another with his diplomatic team next week.
He's going to be in these capitals to assure himself that this agreement reached last Friday is being faithfully implemented by the Bosnian Serbs, and he'll also be discussing some of the other questions concerning Dayton compliance that are well known.
Q Another topic. Is there any more on Bosnia? Okay. I'd like to go to Cuba and Colombia, Nick. A related story coming out of the Miami Herald this morning, alleging that drug traffickers caught with 2600-plus kilos of cocaine had used -- smuggled these drugs through Havana with the personal approval of Cuban President Fidel Castro. This is not a new story. As you know, there have been several other allegations of this, that this cocaine was Colombian.
And then the second part of my question would be to ask you about this Mrs. Mejia's visit and the results of the -- was there a confrontation or was it cooperative?
MR. BURNS: On the first question, I cannot confirm the press reports. I've seen the same reports. I cannot confirm that. Nothing would surprise me about Cuban government behavior, however.
On the second question, Foreign Minister Mejia was in the State Department yesterday. She met with Bob Gelbard and with Jeff Davidow, our Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs.
We wanted to make sure that she understood and that her government understood the importance that we attach to continued work on counter- narcotics. That was the focus for her meetings at the State Department and her meetings this morning at the National Security Council and with General McCaffrey.
They were very frank discussions and open discussions as well about U.S. policy towards Colombia, and how it has really focused on this issue of counter-narcotics and how we expect an improvement in the performance of the Colombian Government. Nothing that I'm saying here is a surprise to you, Bill. That's how the meetings went. We were glad the meetings took place, and we hope that the message she brings back to Bogota is that there is a need for a much greater effort on the part of the Colombian authorities here.
Q Do you think this lady is truly interested in enforcement of drug laws?
MR. BURNS: We'll judge the Colombian Government by its actions.
Q Or is she close to these other people in Samper's Government, or do you know? Did you get a sense of that?
MR. BURNS: I don't know. I can't tell you. I can't answer that question. We'll just judge the government by its actions.
Q There are reports that North Korea is close to accepting a joint briefing on the four-way talks. Have you any news on that?
MR. BURNS: I really have nothing to contribute to those reports. When the North Koreans accept it and when we're prepared to talk about it, we will announce that, but I'm not prepared to announce that.
Q Nick, Dennis -- Ambassador's Ross' trip. Do you have anything to say about that?
MR. BURNS: Yes. Ambassador Ross, as you know, was in Amman this morning. He met with the Crown Prince. He met with other Cabinet ministers of the government. He's on his way now to Israel for meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and we hope Chairman Arafat. I understand Chairman Arafat is in Damascus today.
This has been a good trip. Dennis has been carrying letters from President Clinton to the various heads of state that with whom he's met -- King Hussein, Sultan Qaboos, President Assad and, of course, he will see Prime Minister Netanyahu. The basic message that Dennis is carrying is that the United States will continue to lead the international effort to promote progress on the various tracks, and he's had some specific discussions about the various tracks -- Israel/Syria, Israel/Lebanon, Israel/Palestinian -- and this is part of our continuing effort that has gone on for a long, long time to make sure that we're fully and centrally involved, and we are.
Q The proposal for Israel to withdraw from Lebanon, is Dennis working on that aspect of the deal with President Assad? I understand he presented that sort of loosely formed plan to President Assad. He's carrying President Assad's reaction back to the Prime Minister.
MR. BURNS: Again, I'm going to stick with the standard rules here governing Ambassador Ross' trips, and that is I'm very glad to tell you where he's been and with whom he's met but not to share the substance of his conversations.
Q And why does the United States feel it's necessary for the President to send a letter to these world leaders, reasserting his claim over the Middle East peace process?
MR. BURNS: That's not exactly what the letter said. The letter was a report by the President to these leaders on Prime Minister Netanyahu's visit to Washington, and the President's appreciation of where things stand on the various tracks and the very great desire of the United States to continue to be helpful and to continue to play a leading role.
It's not surprising. I mean, American Presidents going all the way back to Eisenhower have been writing letters to Middle Eastern leaders about our central role, and we continue to play the central, the vital international role in promoting peace in the Middle East. The parties want us to play that role, and we will.
Betsy, you had a question.
Q Try a new topic? Can you tell me, Nick, if there's anything new on the Khobar bombing today and the situation in Saudi Arabia?
MR. BURNS: I'm not aware of any new developments on the Khobar bombing, but the FBI investigation with the Saudi Government continues, and we have still not established culpability in this terrorist act.
Q Nick, isn't there a report that there was an assassination attempt against Saddam Hussein three or four days ago in one of his residences in Baghdad and some 300 people have been detained in connection with this? Do you know anything about this?
MR. BURNS: No, we don't. We don't have anybody on the scene in Iraq who can tell us what's happening on an independent basis, and we hear these reports from time to time of unhappiness. There is a reason why there's unhappiness in Iraq. He has victimized everybody, all the major groups. He's brutalized them, so it's not surprising to see these reports of insurrection and unhappiness, but I can't confirm them as fact for you.
Q Another topic?
MR. BURNS: Sure.
Q The Canadians are suggesting they can use Helms-Burton, Nick, as precedent to claim large sections of the eastern United States.
MR. BURNS: Who's claiming large sections of the eastern United States?
Q The Canadians thought that they might be able --
MR. BURNS: The Canadians are claiming large sections? They shouldn't do that. Actually, I saw the article. It's a very interesting article. I thought this parody put forth by certain members of the Canadian parliament is quite interesting and it's humorous. That's about it. That's where I'd take it. It's only humorous. It's not really serious because I'm not aware of any Loyalists, Steve -- former Tories from the Eighteenth Century -- who have claimed, or whose descendants have claimed the right of compensation from the United States Government.
I would agree with some commentary from Capitol Hill on this that if anyone is looking for compensation for Tories, they might want to look in the direction eastward over the Atlantic Ocean towards the former colonial master of this continent and not towards the United States Government in Washington.
I think what makes the parody different from the reality of the situation that produced Helms-Burton is this: The parody says that there were people 200 years ago who fled democracy, who fled liberty from Boston and Philadelphia -- they were Tories and they went north -- and they basically left their communities behind of their own free will. They were not driven out of the colonies.
That stands in sharp contrast to the fact that Americans were driven out Cuba just 30 years ago. These are people who are alive, who lost their financial assets, who lost their companies, who lost their wealth because it was nationalized by a dictator. That dictator has not compensated them.
So I think the parody is interesting and it makes a good story, but it stands in very stark contrast to the reality of Fidel Castro, and the fact that 5,911 Americans have certified legal claims, sitting upstairs in the Legal Advisor's office in a file cabinet, which need to be addressed by the Cuban Government.
I'm not aware of any Loyalist claims in the office of the Legal Advisor.
Q On the refugees in Guantanamo, have you anything new beyond what you already said yesterday? How those people arrived in Guantanamo?
MR. BURNS: The six people remain at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo. We still are talking to them. We have no intention of taking any action on their cases until we can satisfy ourselves that their situation is normal and that they have not been and will not receive any retribution from the Cuban Government should they choose to return to Cuba.
So it's a quite complicated situation, but we're going to do the right thing here and give these people reasonable doubt and continue to talk to them. Then, we'll see what transpires. We do expect the Cuban Government to live up to its obligations.
Q If it's found that those people have been harassed illegally, do they have a chance to come to the United States or do they have to stay in Guantanamo?
MR. BURNS: That just depends on the discussions they have. If it comes to that with the Immigration and Naturalization Service -- I don't know if it will come to that or not.
While we're on that topic, I should tell you, I'll be posting, immediately after the briefing, a public statement about the Migration Agreement with Cuba.
Basically, what this statement says is that the United States has upheld its part of the bargain. Over the last two years, 40,000 Cubans have been approved for migration by our Interests Section in Havana. We remain fully committed for the September 1994 and May 1995 Migration Accords.
The only way to migrate to the United States legally and safely and in an orderly way is through the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. It is working. Forty thousand people have gone through the doors of the U.S. Interests Section and are now free, and in a free country, because they followed our advice and worked through us, through these Migration Accords. This is available to all of you. I know George will be interested in it.
Q On this Migration Agreement, this harassment that is being checked inside by the Interests Section, do you have anything new? Have you found out anything else?
MR. BURNS: I do not have anything new on that today, no, unfortunately.
Q Back on the Cuba/cocaine question. Ambassador Gelbard testified last month he was not aware of any Cuban Government cooperation in drug smuggling to the United States. Do you stand by those statements of about six, seven weeks ago?
MR. BURNS: I always stand by Ambassador Gelbard's statements. He's the leading authority in our building on that, and I certainly stand by his statement; yes.
Q But you don't want to address yourself to the reports in the Miami Herald and elsewhere?
MR. BURNS: I've seen those reports. They were interesting reports to us, and we are looking into them. I'm not able to stand here and say that we can confirm the facts because we don't have all the facts.
Q Were you apprised by the DEA and what they were up to?
MR. BURNS: George, we talk to the DEA everyday. But I normally don't talk about our conversations with the DEA in full public view, but good try.
Q Nick, you might have commented on the Sri Lankan bombings yesterday. If not, I would like a comment on that. And, specifically, is the U.S. doing anything in terms of aiding the Sri Lankan Government in dealing with this new bout of terrorism in the country?
MR. BURNS: The facts, as we understand them from our Embassy in Colombo, are that there was an explosion at the railway station in Colombo, that over 70 people were killed and 200 injured -- wounded.
We have no reports of any Americans having been injured or killed in this explosion.
While no group has claimed responsibility, formally, for this -- clearly what was a terrorist attack -- the nature of the bombing carries all the marks of the LTTE, the Tamil Tigers. We strongly condemn the bombing in Colombo.
We call upon the LTTE to renounce the use of terrorism as a weapon in their political struggle.
Q As of this morning, six prisoners, who have been on a hunger strike in Turkey, died; twenty of them are reportedly in a coma.
Your counterparts in European countries have been urging Turkey to take immediate action. Why has the U.S. been silent on the issue?
MR. BURNS: We haven't been silent, and I'm glad to address the question today.
We understand what is taking place in Turkey -- a situation that began, by the way, before the current government took office.
We are following the situation through our Embassy quite closely. We deeply regret the loss of life that has occurred.
We would note, however, that the new government in place in Ankara has met many of the demands of the strikers. According to the new Justice Minister of Turkey, there is a wide-ranging government investigation of Turkish prison policy that is underway. Those are positive steps forward in this very sorry situation.
There have also been allegations that some of the hunger strikers are being forced against their will by other inmates to carry out these protests.
The situation may be a good deal more complex than it may seem on reading some of these press reports. But we do regret the loss of life, and we hope very much that the Turkish Government will be successful in its current effort to respond to this situation and to end this very tragic episode.
Q Is there any concern of widespread public unrest since this hunger strike is involving about 1,000 people?
MR. BURNS: No. Our sense is that Turkey is a stable country, stable democracy. Turkey has undergone a quite significant transition period, politically, over the last couple of months, but it's through that. There is a government at work. The United States Government is working with that government, and we hope very much that that government will continue to be, with the United States, a good partner in NATO, in the region.
Certainly, given all the interests that we have with Turkey and Israel, we very much applaud the new relationship that Turkey has developed with Israel. We very much hope that Turkey will continue to be a positive influence on the Central Asian countries in the former Soviet Union and in Bosnia, where Turkey is playing a really critical role in the equip-and-train mission that the United States has underway to support the Bosnian Government.
It's hard to find a country in that region that's more important to the United States than Turkey. It's important that the new government carry out its responsibilities. Based on our initial conversations, we have every reason to expect that will be the case.
Q Can I follow up to this question? In the three biggest jails in Turkey is a revolt that also continues. Most of the prisoners are communists from the terrorist organization, DHPK -- whatever the name; I don't remember -- and some of them is the PKK terrorist. They are still inmates in these prisons.
If the Turkish officials try to capture this prison conditions, what would be your reaction against that? They are trying to establish a law and regulation on this jail.
MR. BURNS: Savas, with all due respect -- and I understand why you're asking the question -- I think the United States has to be limited in its public comments. This is very much an internal affair of Turkey. All of us outside of Turkey have to understand that, in our public remarks.
Secondly, I have explained what we understand to be the situation -- that the Turkish Government is taking steps to address the concerns of the strikers, and that some of these strikers -- some of them -- may be being influenced by others by force to continue these protests. A very complicated situation.
Q Would you characterize such a hunger strike as an action that demands for human rights, or as an action of extremism?
MR. BURNS: I think this is an internal affair of the government that the government and people of Turkey have to resolve. We have made a statement today. I want to stand by that statement.
Q Thank you.
MR. BURNS: Thank you.
(Press briefing concluded at 2:55 p.m.) (###)
-18- Thursday, 7/25/96
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