U.S. Department of State 96/08/23 Daily Press Briefing Office of the Spokesman U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING I N D E X Friday, August 23, l996 Briefer: Glyn Davies ANNOUNCEMENTS Welcome to 6 Press Secretaries from Ukraine................... 1 Office of Passport Services Issues Five Millionth Passport Since October 1, 1995.............................. 1 Machine-Readable Non-Immigrant Visas Now Available Worldwide.. 1-2 FORMER YUGOSLAVIA A/S Gelbard Travel to Bosnia with Interagency Team for Consultations on Public Security........................ 2,10 Carl Bildt Comments on Upcoming Elections/OSCE Efforts to.... Prevent Registration Irregularities/Mtg. of Provisional Election Commission........................................ 2-4 Signing of Treaty of Mututal Recognition Between Serbia and Croatia/Normalization of Relations.......................... 4 MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS Diplomatic Efforts on Israel/Syria Peace Track................ 4 CYPRUS Continuing Peace Efforts...................................... 4-5 RUSSIA Cease-fire Agreement Reached in Chechnya/General Lebed Role in Securing Agreement.................................. 5-7 Health of President Boris Yeltsin............................. 13 NORTH KOREA Travel of Cong. Tony Hall/Status of Liaison Offices........... 7-8 DPRK Criticism of Bob Dole Comments on Agreed Framework....... 8 BELARUS Asylum Request by Belarusian National Front Leaders Zenon Paznyak and Sergei Navumchik.......................... 8-9 SAUDI ARABIA Status of Investigation of Bombing at Al-Khobar............... 9-10 TWA FIGHT 800 CRASH Investigation Ongoing into Causes of Crash/Department Has No Direct Role......................................... 10 BURUNDI Amnesty International Report on Deaths/Continuing Violence.... 11 GERMANY Arrest and Extradition of AmCit Gary Lauck.................... 11-12 CUBA "Brothers To The Rescue" Plan to Resume Flights............... 12-13
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
FRIDAY, AUGUST 23, 1996, 12:54 P.M. (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. DAVIES: Welcome to the State Department briefing, and a warm welcome as well to six press secretaries from Ukraine. We've had a lot of press secretaries from Ukraine here. Six more are welcome in the United States as part of a program to help press secretaries from that part of the world develop media skills.
I have a couple of announcements. The first has to do with a very important accomplishment by our people who perform consular work. We have just issued the five millionth passport, so we've set a record. We wanted to take note of that. We're pleased to announce that the Department of State's Office of Passport Services has issued its five millionth passport since October 1, 1995. With six weeks left in this fiscal year, we estimate that 5.6 million passports will be issued in Fiscal Year 1996; a record number and a six percent increase over last year.
This is a particularly impressive accomplishment, of course, because of the six weeks during the winter when we were shut down due to the furlough.
We would like to take this opportunity to remind those who need a new passport that the best time to apply for a passport is between the months of October through February when demand is usually lower. The most convenient way to do it is at Post Offices or courts around the country.
Yet, another milestone is being reached today, also in the world of consular business; and that is, on August 23, the U.S. Consulate General in Perth, Australia became the final U.S. Consular post to begin issuing what are called MRVs -- machine-readable non-immigrant visas. This is now available in all 221 U.S. visa-issuing posts throughout the world. This is important.
Why do I mention this? Some are asking, why am I mentioning this? This is important, this is important. Because these computer-generated visas enhance U.S. security and accelerate visa processing at U.S. ports of entry. They help border security by allowing our agents at U.S. borders more quickly to scan information about individuals coming into the United States. It reduces processing time for all concerned, including Americans who might be caught in line behind some carrying visas.
Coincidentally, approximately five million non-immigrant visas are issued every year. This is what the machine-readable visa looks like. So it's handsome in addition to being utilitarian.
We're proud of the fact that the Bureau of Consular Affairs, which has embarked for many years on re-engineering and upgrading modernization computerization of its processes has achieved this milestone.
On substantive matters, I wanted to give you a quick overview of what Assistant Secretary Bob Gelbard has been up to in Bosnia. His visit to that part of the world is not over, but we won't be here tomorrow to talk to you about what he does at the end of today and Saturday. So let me just update you.
Assistant Secretary Gelbard has been in the region for a week working with the Government of Bosnia-Herzegovina, with IFOR, with the United Nations International Police Task Force, with the OSCE, with the Office of the High Representative to ensure the best possible environment in which to hold elections. He has placed, during his trip, particular emphasis on coordinating all security organizations on enhancing the IPTF at local police operations in preparation for the upcoming elections.
Preliminary reports indicate that all elements are coordinating effectively to minimize election-period violence.
On this same trip, Bob Gelbard is leading an interagency team to discuss with the Government of Bosnia-Herzegovina the growing organized crime problem, consisting mainly of racketeering enterprises and a burgeoning drug trade. That team consists of officials from a number of different government departments, including the FBI and the Department of Justice.
Q Did you see the comments by Carl Bildt expressing concern about the registration process among Bosnian Serbs?
MR. DAVIES: Yes.
Q Any comment on that?
MR. DAVIES: We haven't had any illusions that the elections in Bosnia are going to be perfect. But what we've said -- and we'll be repeating in coming weeks as we lead up to the September 14 elections -- are that these elections are a pre-requisite to creating the multi- ethnic government institutions which will put Bosnia on the road to a lasting peace.
We're concerned about evidence that there's been some manipulation of voter registration, but we have confidence that the OSCE is taking proper action to correct these irregularities.
It's my understanding that the Provisional Election Commission, which has responsibility for control of the elections is, in fact, meeting now. I don't want to take any kind of a position that would prejudice their meeting. But they have noted various refugee voting statistics, particularly those pertaining to refugees choosing to vote in person in municipalities to which they intend to return but have not lived in the past. Those statistics have implications for the election process. The PEC will be considering them carefully in coming days.
The message that the Secretary put out -- Secretary Christopher -- when he was in Bosnia so recently was that boycotting the elections simply would reduce the choice of leaders available to the Bosnian people and silence their voice in the political process. So we're encouraging people to register.
We're aware of the fact that there are these irregularities and the OSCE is working on it.
Q The difference between what you just said and what Mr. Bildt has been saying is that he thinks there's a level of imperfection, where it wouldn't be right to go ahead with the elections. From what the Secretary says, imperfections or not, it would be better to go ahead. Am I correct in that analysis?
MR. DAVIES: More to the point, when we're talking about elections in Bosnia, we're talking about a task that is Ambassador Robert Frowick's to deal with. Perhaps Carl Bildt has said that. What's important is the work that's being done now by Frowick, by the OSCE, by the Election Commission which is meeting to discuss this.
There's no question that there are irregularities such as have been reported. Some of them quite glaring in places like Brcko and Srebrenica. That's no secret to anybody. The question is, how to deal with that. That is exactly what the OSCE is engaged in in trying to figuring out right now. Bob Frowick is the person on that case. He's the one who has to work that out.
The Election Commission will come up with a report and we'll take a look at it.
Q Do you have any reaction on the signing of the agreement on mutual recognition between Croatia and Yugoslavia?
MR. DAVIES: We regard the signing of that treaty as a positive step towards establishing lasting stability in the Balkans. We hope that increased cooperation between Belgrade and Zagreb will facilitate implementation of the peace agreement. The normalization of relations between the two countries -- in fact, between all of the countries of that region -- is an important part of the Dayton process. So what we're seeing today is a very important and positive development toward implementation of Dayton.
Judd. Anymore on Bosnia? No.
Q Mideast. Sort of fishing on a specific question. Are there any initiatives in the works now that the Syrians have apparently said no to the message the U.S. delivered on behalf of the Israelis early this week? An update on what the Department is doing?
MR. DAVIES: No, other than the continued day-to-day hard work of our diplomats in the region and those back here who work on the process. I don't have any other initiatives to announce. Certainly, not here in the third week of August. No.
Q That's what I've been telling everybody.
MR. DAVIES: You're straight on that. That's good.
Q (Inaudible) on Cyprus. You were talking earlier about the possibility of sending an envoy out there?
MR. DAVIES: I don't know that I ever said anything quite that specific. Essentially, it's the same answer. Certainly nothing to report at this stage; nothing to announce.
Q Is it because it's the third week of August, or because there's no need for one?
MR. DAVIES: No. We've never said that there's no need for there to be an effort toward peace on Cyprus. In fact, we have quite a number of people working on that, including Ken Brill, our Ambassador on Cyprus, and others.
The good news out of Cyprus, of course, just recently, is that the troubles that we saw over the last week seem to be over. Both sides seem to be doing the right thing: working hard to prevent individuals, not authorized to do so, from entering the buffer zone. So that is absolutely a positive development.
We look forward to the day when negotiations can be started up on a face-to-face basis. We hope we'll play a role in that, but I don't have for you today any kind of an announcement that we're dispatching an envoy to the region.
Q On (inaudible) to Russia. Yeltsin seems to be giving Lebed the cold shoulder. Do you have any comment on what's going on?
MR. DAVIES: Another good-news situation. Chechnya, as a whole, because --
MR. DAVIES: Good news seems to be busting out, and I thought I would give you the good news. There's a more vast audience out there that I'm sure is attentive.
Yesterday, when we got news of the cease-fire agreement achieved by Lebed in his negotiations with the Chechen rebel leader, Maskhadov, we welcomed it and welcomed the separation of forces and urged both sides to implement the agreement and continue their dialogue to seek a durable settlement.
We understand that today, when the cease-fire went into effect, in fact, the level of fighting in and around Grozny subsided dramatically; that the hinted-at assault on Grozny by Russian forces did not materialize, which is terrific news on a humanitarian basis for the people of Grozny.
What I will not do is get in the middle of personnel disputes or discussions of the President's schedule. What we saw is what I think everybody else saw, was that Lebed was refused an appointment with the President. I don't know that that's true, whether he was told to come back next week. It's up to them to work out when they have their meetings amongst themselves.
The good news is that there is this cease-fire, that it's holding and that the people of Grozny who have suffered now for two years have a respite. We hope that the Russians and the Chechen rebels build on this cease-fire agreement; and at best, we end up soon with some kind of a longer-term peace agreement that solves ultimately the Chechen crisis.
But, for the time being, what it does is alleviate this terrible humanitarian situation -- Chechnya being a country that doesn't have a working hospital, for instance. The Red Cross is actively involved and has made an appeal. We're looking at that appeal to see if there's some way we can respond.
Q My question yesterday, to come back to -- have you spoken to our Embassy people in Moscow or our experts here in the building to know if Mr. Yeltsin is, indeed, approving of this cease-fire? Or have we been able to get a readout on what the Kremlin's inter-workings are regarding this -- what do you call it? -- armistice?
MR. DAVIES: The Kremlin's inter-workings are not something that we would talk about publicly anyway, even if we did have something to offer.
What's important is that there is a cease-fire in place. It's been achieved. It appears to be holding. We hope that the Russians can build on this momentum; that the Chechen rebels do as well and that ultimately there is a permanent cease-fire and a political settlement found to this problem.
Lebed went at this three times. On the third time he succeeded. So, for him, it appears the third time was a charm.
Q Did you mean to change U.S. policy a minute ago and recognize the independence of Chechnya? You referred to Chechnya as a country that does not have a hospital.
MR. DAVIES: I'm sorry. I did not, obviously. It's a part of Russia.
Q There's no change in U.S. policy?
MR. DAVIES: No, it is not a change. Thank you very much, Judd. That could have gotten me in major hot water. Chechnya is part of Russia. It's a region.
Q Do you think that General Lebed did a pretty good job?
MR. DAVIES: So far, it appears he's done a pretty good job. He has stopped this fighting; he's allowing Chechen civilians -- the work that he achieved -- again, it takes two to achieve a cease-fire along with the Chechen rebels -- is allowing the civilian residents of Grozny, who are both Chechens and Russians -- all Russian citizens -- to leave, to get out if they wish but to try to put their lives back together, to come out of their cellars. That's very positive.
The bloodshed has stopped, for the most part, and that's what is positive about this.
Q Does the State Department conclude, since there is still a cease-fire, it's going forward, that it's, in effect, being accepted by Mr. Yeltsin? Could it be otherwise?
MR. DAVIES: We're talking here about what the Russian Government has achieved through its agent on the ground, Alexander Lebed. What he has achieved along with the Chechens is something significant and important, and that's what we're commenting on.
I'm not going to get into the extent to which various members of the Russian Government, including the President, have expressed opinions on it or support aspects of it. That's not something I have a lot of information on, to begin with, and it's not something to comment on even if I did. So I'm not going to do that.
Q But would you welcome a continued role by Lebed in seeking a peace agreement?
MR. DAVIES: We would welcome a continued cease-fire, and we would hope that it becomes permanent and leads to a political settlement of the Chechen crisis. That's essentially our position.
If Lebed wishes to remain involved, and that is, in fact, the view of his government that he should, of course, we would welcome it. Anything that will give peace a chance and a permanent chance, we welcome. Absolutely.
Q North Korea. Did you hear anything from Richardson, who is accompanied with Congressman Hall in North Korea?
MR. DAVIES: No. I don't believe he's back yet. I think he may be coming back today but I'm not certain. I could check that.
Q So you haven't heard anything from him?
MR. DAVIES: No, nothing definitive.
Q About Liaison Office, did you hear anything from him; other staff from the State Department?
MR. DAVIES: About the Liaison Office -- the status? I don't think there is any change in that. We're still looking forward to the day we can open them, but there are still some technical issues that we're working on with the DPRK.
Q What about North Korea's comments aimed at Bob Dole saying that they don't like his comments about the Agreed Framework? Is that appropriate for them to be commenting on our --
MR. DAVIES: It's not at all appropriate for foreign governments to comment on internal domestic politics. I don't have any particular comment on the substance of it. We've taken the pledge on things political.
Q Do you have anything on these Belarusian opposition leaders that have been granted political asylum today?
MR. DAVIES: Yes. As a matter of fact, I do. Quite a lot of guidance, as a matter of fact. Tons of guidance, but I'll give you the gist of it.
First off --
MR. DAVIES: Don't be sorry. I'm not going to go through all seven pages.
MR. DAVIES: That was good, actually. That was the most voluminous thing that I got today.
The Immigration Service has responsibility for handling asylum -- these are the ground rules of our very brief discussion of this. It's our policy not to comment on asylum requests in order to protect the applicants and their families in the process.
We understand that Belarusian National Front leaders Zenon Paznyak and Sergei Navumchik have publicly announced that they have applied for political asylum in the U.S.
As I say, given the fact that the Immigration Service has responsibility over this matter, I don't think we are going to be saying much more than that.
MR. DAVIES: You really want it? (Laughter) There's a long history to all of this, but that is the bottom line, for wire service purposes. We'll give you a lengthier interview.
Q Glyn, it's being seen as the first case of political asylum granted to dissidents from the former Soviet Union. It's being seen as the United States recognizing that there are grounds for political persecution in the former Soviet Union and a return to a certain kind of regime.
MR. DAVIES: You're getting out ahead of the story. What I'm telling you is that they have applied for political asylum. I very purposefully have not gotten into characterizing that application for asylum: (A) because we don't do that, as a rule; and (b) because that process isn't far enough along for us to have that kind of an opinion.
They have indeed applied for political asylum. I've got a fair amount of background on this case that I'd be happy to go over with you.
Q It was made today, to grant them political asylum?
MR. DAVIES: Pardon me?
Q The decision was made today to grant them political asylum?
MR. DAVIES: That, I can't confirm for you. They have applied for it. You would have to talk to the Immigration Service if you want more information about their application for asylum, whether it's been granted or not. I don't know whether they would be in a position to give you further information about that.
Q It's been a while, so let me ask if there's any progress in the Dhahran investigation?
MR. DAVIES: No. No news that I have on that. Obviously, it's something we continue to work on with Saudi authorities. That is an investigation that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has the lead on, just in terms of the investigation itself.
I'm sure, if there is a development, when there is a development, we'll have something to say. I certainly don't have anything today.
Q Are the Saudis cooperating?
MR. DAVIES: I can't help you with that. As we've said many times, we have a pledge in hand from the Saudi Government from the highest levels that indeed there would be full cooperation. I've got no information that would indicate that there's been anything but full cooperation from the Saudis. Happy to report that.
Q It's Friday. Maybe your defenses are down. What about the - -
MR. DAVIES: Third week of August, too.
Q -- TWA --
MR. DAVIES: Third week of August. Don't forget that. No. Once again, an investigation in progress, and not one that the State Department is directly engaged in. So wrong podium. I think this might be the only podium operating today. After a fashion, operating.
Q That was my follow-up. Let me go to Mr. Gelbard in Bosnia. Apparently, there has been quite a bit of gang activity, especially during the war, and some drug activity. What can you tell us about his visit?
MR. DAVIES: I don't have a great deal of detail about what he has discovered and what he has accomplished over there. It appears by all reports that he's had some success.
What we'll try to do at some point next week is have Ambassador Gelbard available to you to give you a little readout on what he's been able to accomplish. He's had meetings with a number of figures in Bosnia.
As the head of this team that's gone out there that includes the Justice Department and FBI, he has made some headway in coordinating our policies and actions vis-a-vis the burgeoning drug trade through that part of the world.
Q Amnesty International reported yesterday 6,000 deaths in Burundi since Major Buyoya took power. Have you seen the report, and do you have any comment?
MR. DAVIES: We've seen the report. That's kind of an high-end figure -- 6,000. It may be somewhat less than that. But regardless of the figure, these are horrific numbers. The situation there, outside of Bujumbura is clearly one that we're very concerned about.
We've consistently condemned violence by both sides in the Burundi conflict and urged all of the parties to try to end this cycle of violence and bloodshed.
We strongly condemn, especially the attacks on unarmed civilians, and deplore the continuing rise in inter-ethnic violence which is fueled by this cycle of reprisals and attacks by Hutu insurgents, extremist Tutsi militias and the Burundi military.
These violent actions, no matter who the victims are, undermine the fragile civil society that exists in Burundi. In addition to emphasizing the need for an end to this violence, we repeat our call on the parties to reject extremism and work together for a better future for all Burundians.
You know that Howard Wolpe, who is the President's and Secretary's Special Representative, has been very active in the field. He has only just returned from the region in lending a hand in some ideas to efforts to try to end this violence.
Q Another subject. Have you seen the accounts of an American citizen being tried and convicted in a German court for neo-Nazi activity?
MR. DAVIES: Yes.
Q Does that raise any problems at all for the U.S. Government?
MR. DAVIES: What we know about the case of Gary Lauck is that, first off, he hasn't given us permission to talk in detail about his case. He hasn't signed a waiver of his right to privacy. So that prevents me from getting into it in great detail.
The general outline of the case is that his arrest and extradition occurred at the German Government's request. He was not extradited from the United States. He was extradited from another European nation. They did so for the purpose of his answering long-standing criminal charges in Germany regarding his alleged distribution of hate material, of racist and anti-Semitic literature.
The German court specifically charged him with a number of counts, including inciting ethnic hatred, conspiracy to organize criminal organizations, and use of symbols of unconstitutional organizations.
As I say, he was arrested initially by Danish authorities and then extradited to Germany.
We have been in consular contact with him and remain in consular touch with him -- our people out there on the ground. As long as he wants us to keep that contact up, we'll do so.
We believe that he was tried in accordance with German law, and a verdict was reached accordingly.
Q There's no policy problem with the fact that what he did -- the acts were commited in the United States where they were not illegal?
MR. DAVIES: The unfortunate fact of life is, and we warn all Americans, when they travel overseas they can no longer be afforded the complete protections of American law. They're not under U.S. jurisdiction anymore. In this case, he was in Europe and was picked up by the Danes, arrested, and then was extradited to Germany at the request of German authorities.
We, in this case, have to confine ourselves to ensuring that he receive due process of law in Germany and that he was treated the way all other Germans in similar circumstances would have been treated. We're satisfied that he was. It appears as if he has a protracted prison sentence to serve.
Q Another subject: Cuba. "Brothers to the Rescue" says it's going to resume flights over the Straits of Florida. Do you have any message for them?
MR. DAVIES: The FAA may have a message for "Brothers to the Rescue." They've certainly been in contact with the BTTR since March of this year when the shootdown occurred. I don't have a particular message.
Obviously, Americans are free to express themselves. If there were to be a wreath-dropping in international waters, that would not pose a problem. But the warnings that we issued back after the shootdown by the Cuban Government still stand, in terms of taking care not to enter Cuban airspace/Cuban territorial waters. All of that is well known.
Again, I think the FAA is probably your best point of contact if you're interested in the specifics of what it is, whether they filed a flight plan and the rest of it. That, I just don't know.
Q Did you plan to speak to them and repeat these warnings, which I think you've made from --
MR. DAVIES: I think the warnings have been repeated so many times to "Brothers to the Rescue" that I can't imagine they would bear repeating. That said, I don't know whether the FAA is planning to be in touch with them. I simply don't know.
Anything else? Bill.
Q I read that the press --
MR. DAVIES: That's ominous when you say "I read." I quake when you say that.
Q I read -- and I don't know about the veracity of it -- that Mr. Yeltsin's press secretary announced that Mr. Yeltsin needed heart surgery. There are other articles here that substantiate, at least, that there is some speculation about his need for heart surgery.
How does the State Department read his statements about Lebed, and such? Could it be that he is on medication, that he is in need of some medical attention? Is he speaking logically and truly, do you think?
MR. DAVIES: I'm going to head for medication right after this is over. Those are matters we're simply not going to get into. We've spoken before about his health, and it's just not something we're going to comment on.
Q Thank you.
(Press briefing concluded at 1:23 p.m.)
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