U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING I N D E X Friday, September 13, l996 Briefer: Nicholas Burns IRAQ Reports Iraqi Officials Requesting "Dialogue" With U.S. ..... 1,2,15-16 Reports Saddam Has Ceased Resistance to "No-Fly" Zones ...... 1,2 U.S. Policy Toward Iraq/Saddam Hussein/What Saddam Has to Do. 1,2-3,14, 15-17 Principals Meeting at White House on Situation in Iraq ...... 3 Possible Travel by USG Officials to Discuss Iraq with Allies 3 Saddam Hussein's Control in the North/U.S. Influence in North 3-4,6 Situation Report in Northern Iraq ........................... 4 --Turkish Government's Cooperation with U.S. re: Kurdish Employees in Northern Iraq .............................. 4-5 --Status of Refugees Fleeing Northern Iraq .................. 5-6 Purpose of Military Build-up/Prospects for Another Strike ... 6-7 --Reaction of Coalition Members/Allies ...................... 7-8 --Consultations with the Allies re Iraq ..................... 8,11-12,13 --Russian Government's Reaction/Call for UNSC Consultations . 8 --Consultations with Arab Countries/Level of Support ........ 9,11-13,14, 15,21 U.S. Warnings to Iraq regarding Military Activity in South 10 Contacts with Kurdish Factions/U.S. Efforts ................. 6,10-11 U.S. Position on the Territorial Integrity of Iraq .......... 11,21 Purpose for NATO Diplomats Meeting at Department Yesterday .. 13-14 Prospects for Implementation of UN Resolution 986 ........... 17-18 Clinton and Bush Administrations' Policy on Iraq ............ 18-19 Iranian Actions in Iraq ..................................... 19-20 FORMER YUGOSLAVIA Preparations for Bosnia Elections Completed/Voting Tomorrow . 21-24 Voting by Indicted War Criminals/Possible Election to Office 24-25 International Funding for Bosnian Political Parties ......... 25-26 DEPARTMENT Reports U.S. Ambassador Ray Flynn Plans to Retire ........... 26-27 Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery Results .................... 29 New Foreign Service Officer Class Sworn In .................. 29 MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS Status of Israeli-Syrian Track .............................. 27 RUSSIA Reports Russians Have Stalled Withdrawal of Troops from Chechnya ................................................... 28 LEBANON Reported Israeli Action Against Hezbollah Bases ............. 28
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 1996, 1:14 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. BURNS: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the State Department briefing. A lot of issues to discuss today. There's Iraq -- certainly, a situation there which we're watching very carefully. There's Bosnia -- the Bosnian elections. I want to talk about that. But let's go to Iraq first.
QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to reports out of Baghdad that Saddam has ceased his resistance to the "no-fly" zones?
MR. BURNS: I haven't seen those specific reports. We've seen some statements by unnamed officials in Baghdad, some statements that they'd like a dialogue with the
United States which we find quite curious because, you know, we're not at all clear what they would want to talk to us about.
Saddam Hussein knows what has to happen if he's going to step back from the brink of this problem that he has with the United States. He has to stop his aggression. He has to stop his military movements which have posed an unacceptable risk to the United States and to our partners -- our partners in the region and certainly our partners who are flying with us in "Southern Watch" and the southern "no-flight" zone and also in the northern "no-flight" zone. So I'm just not sure if the Iraqis want to talk what we could talk about.
Would we talk about the fact that they continue to execute people who are opposed to him in Iraq? Would we talk about the fact that he has tried time and again to destabilize Saudi Arabia and Kuwait?
The United States position here is very clear. We believe that in the past two weeks we've been able to actually constrain Saddam Hussein's military movements. He basically now has the ability to use his aircraft in the greater vicinity of Baghdad and that's it -- the beltway around Baghdad.
By extending the "no-fly" zone in the south and by patrolling the "no-flight" zone in the north quite vigorously, he does not have any possibility right now of using military force against his neighbors, which is a very good thing. That is the heart of American policy.
QUESTION: Are you ruling out the possibility of any dialogue?
MR. BURNS: I just don't know what the United States could talk to Saddam Hussein about reasonably. He's a major violator of human rights. He's a supporter of terrorism. He's an invader of other countries, and he's someone right now who is crossing all sorts of lines that were drawn in the sand for him and that he hasn't crossed in a number of years.
We would have to have a better idea of what the discussion would be about, but I can't imagine that there's anything he could say to us that would convince us that he isn't bent on aggression.
I think one thing we've learned about Saddam Hussein over the last five years, and that is, he can't be trusted -- he cannot be trusted. He has repeatedly broken his word to his own people -- for the Shi'a in the south, to the Kurds in the north, and he's broken his word to his Arab neighbors. He's broken his word to the United States.
We remember the history of the last five years. We have not forgotten it and we're not naive. We're taking a very realistic approach to him right now.
QUESTION: What's the endgame of your policy toward Iraq?
MR. BURNS: Sid, the fundamental objective of our policy towards Iraq is to protect America's vital national interests in securing the stability of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the other Gulf states -- the stability of the flow of oil to Europe, Japan, and the United States, and to make sure that he, Saddam Hussein, is not able to pose a security threat to those countries. That is the heart of our interests.
It's been interesting to watch the press commentary over the last couple of weeks and the television commentary. There is the appearance that Saddam Hussein has actually won a number of tactical victories. But the reality is that he is more constricted now than he was two weeks ago today, in the most important respect, in his ability to strike out at his neighbors.
I would say, in that sense, the United States, Britain, the French, and the Turks have done a very good thing in deterring him over the last two weeks.
QUESTION: Nick, there apparently was this meeting at the White House and the principals this morning. I was wondering if you could at all tell us what came out of that meeting, and, specifically, beyond that, is there going to be the dispatch of any senior Cabinet official to talk to allies?
MR. BURNS: There was a meeting of what we called the "Principals Group" this morning at the White House. It lasted for over two hours. Secretary Christopher attended as did the normal people who attend those meetings -- National Security Advisor, Tony Lake, and Secretary of Defense Bill Perry, and Ambassador Madeleine Albright, and representatives of other agencies, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
They discussed the situation in Iraq. They had a very good and comprehensive discussion. Obviously, we're not going to be reporting to you on that discussion because that was a private discussion.
As for your second question, I just don't have anything to say about future onward travel.
QUESTION: The Secretary say he'd travel abroad?
MR. BURNS: I just don't have any comment to make at this point, Steve, on anyone's travel.
QUESTION: Nick, on the previous question, when you talked about Saddam Hussein being more constrained now than two weeks ago in terms of his ability, vis-a-vis the neighbors in the south, what about Saddam Hussein in the north? And what about a victory or lack of a victory, and what about the U.S.'s position vis-a-vis two weeks ago when we had assets in there then that we don't now?
MR. BURNS: In the north, as you know, through his tactical alliance with Mr. Barzani, Saddam has reached for a window of opportunity there. He certainly extended his own influence through his security squads who have been busy knocking on people's doors and executing people, by the way. That's what he's up to in the north.
I don't agree with the conventional wisdom that somehow Saddam Hussein has won himself a major victory in the north from the following perspective. The Kurdish population in the north, including the Kurdish group with which he is now tactically aligned, I don't think will be faithful to Saddam Hussein, and they ought not to be because Saddam Hussein has very negative intentions towards them. He's demonstrated that in the past.
I think it will be difficult for Saddam Hussein to control the north, to control the Kurds. I think they will continue to be a disaffected population for the government in Baghdad. I think he's going to find he's got a lot of problems there.
In addition to that, he does not have what he needs to have effective control in the northern part of his own country, and that is the ability to use his air force either for internal reasons or for external reasons.
The United States, with our partners -- Turkey, Britain, and France -- will continue to fly the "no-flight" zone in the north to contain him. We have the political will to maintain that "no-flight" zone for as long as it takes, as we do to maintain the "no-flight" zone in the south.
QUESTION: What about the aspect of U.S. having less influence there than it did?
MR. BURNS: The United States, of course, has always considered that the "no-flight" zone in the north is the most important operation that we have undertaken since March 1991. That continues, and that will continue.
We are concerned about the situation in the north. I have some information to give you today. You remember that the President spoke earlier this week about the fact that we would like to help the roughly 2,500 individuals who worked with the United States and Turkey and France and Britain over the last five years. These are Kurds. They're Turkomens; they're other members of other ethnic groups. They worked for us as humanitarian food and medical officials, as drivers. They worked in administrative capacities in our offices that we had established in northern Iraq.
They and their family members are obviously now targets of the security forces of Saddam Hussein. We have reached an agreement with the Turkish Government that the Turkish Government will work with us to bring these people across the border, and we will work to find them refuge, in the long term, that is secure for them and will provide for them a better and safer life than they could have had they stayed in northern Iraq.
This is a very complicated operation because it involves a great number of people in a hostile environment. So I'm going to keep to what Glyn and I have been doing this week, and that is not to give out operational details on this. But we are encouraged that the Turkish Government has decided to work with us in this because we needed the support of the Turkish Government to get the operation done.
Again, in northern Iraq, the United States remains concerned about the fate of the many thousands of refugees who fled Irbil and Sulaymaniyah after those cities were taken over by Mr. Barzani. The UNHCR -- the UN High Commission on Refugees -- has a team, visiting the Iranian side of the Iraqi-Iranian border; this is east and northeast of Sulaymaniyah. The UNHCR reports roughly 30,000 refugees just inside of Iran who have fled there from Sulaymaniyah. The UN team has two more sites to visit. So, there very well may be in excess of 30,000 refugees there.
In addition to that, Iran has been reporting that a great number of people continue to cross over the border into Iran. At the same time, we believe that there are about 40,000 refugees inside Iraq but close to the Iranian border. So we have a substantial refugee problem which is between, we think, 80 to 100,000 people east and northeast of Sulaymaniyah.
The UNHCR and the International Committee on the Red Cross are providing the food and medical assistance, the tents and the shelter that these people need. Part of this region is mountainous and therefore quite cold, especially in the evening at this time of year.
Our Assistant Secretary of State Phyllis Oakley has meet with the International Committee on the Red Cross and reaffirmed the position of the United States, which is that we are quite willing to contribute financially and by other means to the success of the refugee relief operation in northern Iraq.
To date -- that is, until this morning -- we had not received a request from either organization for additional financial assistance. But I would just note that the United States already is the single largest contributor to both organizations for their refugee operations in the region.
You'll remember back to March of 1991. This was one of the major issues that the United States had to contend with. We're very grateful that the United Nations and the Committee on the Red Cross have agreed to take the lead this week on this issue.
QUESTION: Three strikes and I'm out, but let me try it one more time. From the standpoint of the U.S. not having political influence left in the north because we've been driven out on the ground, did not Saddam Hussein achieve an objective?
MR. BURNS: I don't agree, with all due respect, with the premise of your question. I think that sooner or later the two major Kurdish factions of Mr. Talabani and
Mr. Barzani will look to the United States and the United Kingdom and other countries for political mediation to try to resolve the problems that resulted in the civil war and the fighting that we've seen over the past couple of weeks.
The United States is ready to assume that role. We have told the Kurdish groups that we think the answer to their problems lies not in alliance with Tehran or Baghdad but in a political discussion with each other. We are ready to take part in that. We're ready to provide the auspices for that. We're ready to engage in that.
We think that ultimately they'll have to come back there. Because we predict that Mr. Barzani will find that Saddam Hussein is an unreliable ally. So I take issue with the premise of your question that somehow we are devoid of political influence. I think we have it.
There's no question, Charlie, that we had to make the decision last week to bring the Americans and the Iraqis, who worked for us, out of northern Iraq. It would have been unconscionable had we left our operations in northern Iraq during the fighting because it would have subjected those people to the possibility of getting caught up and perhaps even losing their lives. I think that we made the right decision to bring them out.
We have temporarily suspended those operations. I can't predict when we might be able to go back and re-establish them, but we have not made a decision that they will never go back.
David was next, and then we'll go right down the line here.
QUESTION: What is the purpose of the military buildup around Iraq that the United States is now putting into place? Is there another strike planned against Iraq? And, if so, what will the strike be for; what will the purpose of it be?
MR. BURNS: The purpose of repositioning United States military assets, as the Department of Defense has announced in a variety of places in the Middle East, is to make sure that the United States retains a number of options -- military options -- available to us should it be necessary for the United States to take action. That's very clear.
Again, the objective is to make sure that Saddam Hussein is contained, that he is in a box and the box in which he currently lives, in a strategic sense, is smaller than the box in which he lived two weeks ago.
Now as to your second question, David -- when would the United States take military action -- obviously, I know you don't expect me to report publicly on that question. But let me just tell you, we're going to keep Saddam Hussein guessing as to the intentions of the United States and as to any timing of any possible action.
We're going to keep him guessing, because he doesn't deserve to have any forewarning from the United States. He has acted in an aggressive and unconscionable manner. He's violated international law, and he'll just have to wonder about what the United States has in store.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that point. Has the fact that many of your allies are less than delighted about the prospect of further military action delayed any potential American response?
MR. BURNS: Again, here the United States, we feel, that in the most important respect here in our containment of Saddam Hussein, we've had excellent support -- unstinting support from the United Kingdom. We have had support from Turkey and France in the "no-flight" zones; from Saudi Arabia as we patrolled the "Southern Watch," the "no-flight" zone in the south.
I think we have a great deal of support in the Arab world that perhaps you don't hear publicly for a variety of reasons. I think sometimes in that part of the world expressions of support are given in whispers but not in public statements. We understand that reality.
So we are confident that we have sufficient support to go ahead. But I should also tell you that we have the capability and the political will to act on our own, should that be necessary. I don't believe it will be necessary, but we certainly have the political will to maintain our present posture towards Iraq.
QUESTION: Do you think the United States has done a good enough job explaining its intentions, first to its allies and to people back here at home?
MR. BURNS: Chris, I can tell you, we've had hundreds of hours probably of diplomatic consultations this past week alone. You remember when Secretary Christopher was in Britain and France and Germany just a couple of days ago. He had extensive conversations with President Chirac and Chancellor Kohl and Foreign Minister Rifkind in London.
Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott is returning this afternoon from a trip to Paris where he had -- the purpose of that trip was to discuss NATO issues, but he obviously took the opportunity to discuss with the French and the Russians and other Europeans in Paris what we are doing in Iraq.
All of our Ambassadors in Europe are active, consulting with the governments, and we've been very active talking to our Arab friends in the Middle East. So there's been no problem with consultations. We've been very aggressive in consulting around the world, but ultimately the United States has national interests. We have vital national interests in the Middle East, in the secure flow of oil from the Persian Gulf, and we're going to act to defend our own national interests.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) strike and then I'll be out. The Russian Foreign Minister is reported to have said yesterday that any further American action without consultations at the UN Security Council would be unacceptable. What's your response?
MR. BURNS: We were disappointed with the reaction of the Russian Government last week. We consulted extensively with the Russian Government in advance of the military action that the United States took last week. I think we've been disappointed that the Russian Government hasn't seen the importance of maintaining a very tough posture with Saddam Hussein.
The Russians know him as well as we do. They know that he's someone who has broken his word in the past, someone who's been an aggressor, and who would like to be an aggressor in the future. We believe the Russian Government ought to rethink its own attitude towards this problem and join the consensus in Europe and the United States that this is an individual who should be contained.
QUESTION: Nick --
MR. BURNS: Just to be fair, I think I just want to go down the line here.
QUESTION: I want to go back to trying a diplomatic solution. You're saying that your friends in the Arab world are telling you something in private, but in public, they're saying very strong things. In fact, the defense minister of Saudi Arabia said he will not let the United States use Saudi Arabia to hit Iraq -- to strike Iraq, and all the Arabs are saying they are tired of the military option against Iraq; that they are paying the price financially, straining their resources, and the Iraqi people are paying the price.
What's wrong with talking to Saddam Hussein about (inaudible) these people, about the UN resolutions, about threatening his neighbors? What's wrong with trying a peaceful solution once, since five years did not produce any results?
MR. BURNS: If there were a diplomatic solution available to the United States, we'd surely take it. We don't want to put our young men and women at risk if we don't have to. If we felt that we could contain Saddam Hussein, if we could get him to stop his aggression in the region and live up to his international responsibilities, we'd take that option, and we'd be glad to negotiate any place in the world.
But the reality is -- and we have to live in a real world, not in a surreal world -- the reality is he's not interested in negotiations and never has been. He's not interested in negotiating a peace with the United States or with his Arab neighbors. He's more interested in running a black-market operation inside Iraq, in exterminating his political opponents. There's no other way to put it.
He has his security goons run around the country killing his political opponents in trying to subjugate the Kurdish people in the north and in threatening his neighbors to the south. As long as he focuses his own actions on aggressive military moves, then we have got to be realistic, and we've got to stand up to him, as we are doing, and prevent him from destabilizing that part of the Middle East.
There is no diplomatic option that he has given us. There's only the language of force that he seems to understand. He does not understand the language of diplomacy.
QUESTION: Nick --
MR. BURNS: I think Abdulsalam, Barry, and then we'll go to you.
QUESTION: Have you set a deadline for Saddam forces to withdraw from their current position?
MR. BURNS: I think you know that the United States warned him a week ago today that he ought not to reconstitute his air defense systems in the south. We are, of course, concerned about what military activities are underway in the south, and we're watching that very carefully.
I don't want to go into the detail of what we've said to the Iraqi Government, but I can assure you that the Iraqi Government has a very clear intention of the policy of the United States.
QUESTION: I didn't finish. You have been dealing with the Kurds in the north in the last five years. You're trying to pamper them by trying to unite them. You met with them just a few weeks before this explosion happened, and they never got together, and now you say that you have some indications that Barzani and Talabani-- they will get back, and they will ask for the help of the United States.
What assurances that you have from these groups, or whether it is Talabani or Barzani, that they really would like to get their act together and not to continue fighting. Every time you send so many missionaries and emissaries to that region of the world, and the minute that the U.S. missionary or your envoy will leave, they will go on fighting each other like hell. So what is the guarantee that you really will make a deal with these people there?
MR. BURNS: Mr. Abdulsalam, you're correct in noting that the United States had tried to mediate the deep political divisions between the two Kurdish factions right up until the attacks by Saddam Hussein's forces. Our advice to both Mr. Talabani and Mr. Barzani is to get back to those negotiations, because we don't believe that a military solution is possible for either one of them -- not even for Mr. Barzani whose forces have done quite well in the fighting.
As I've said before, we're willing to take part in that. We're willing to help bring them to the negotiating table. But let's be objective about something. The problems of the Kurds in northern Iraq, at least in part, need to be traced to the actions of the Kurdish factions. They had five years to bring stability to northern Iraq. They had a protective zone created by the United States and our partners. They had food and medical assistance. They had economic assistance to rebuild the north.
Unfortunately, they chose the gun, and we'd like them to get back to a peaceful discussion of their problems. That's the only way for them to achieve the stability that their people need.
QUESTION: And the last point in my question. Are you in favor of partition of Iraq, or are you in favor -- because there were voices yesterday -- Stephen Rosenfeld in The WashingtonĘPost and a few other people wrote in the last week that they would like to downsize Iraq and partitioning Iraq is good for the whole region. What is your position?
MR. BURNS: The United States' position -- since President Bush had this position and President Clinton has maintained it -- and that is Iraq should not be divided or dismembered; that the United States accepts and respects the territorial integrity of Iraq. We cannot imagine what chaos -- political, social, economic -- would ensue were we or anyone else to try to promote some kind of solution that you suggest, or at least that your question suggests.
So we don't agree with those who say that Iraq should be downsized. I don't know how you downsize a country in a situation like that without imperiling the lives of a lot of people.
QUESTION: Nick, whoever the messenger may be --
Mr. Perry, Mr. Lake, with a pocketful of cold tablets,
Mr. Tarnoff -- whoever does go off to consult, you have thanked the French, the British and the Turks today. You've also said the United States is capable of doing the right thing by itself. What is the message? What is it that the U.S. wants from the allies that you haven't had already?
MR. BURNS: Barry, of course, I can't speak to the question of whether or not there's going to be a diplomatic mission. We'll just have to see what transpires on that.
But putting that aside, what we would like to do is maintain the international coalition that is designed to keep Saddam Hussein in a box in greater Baghdad, so he can't act in the north or south of his country. That coalition is fairly strong.
What we ask of our allies in that coalition is stay with us. Remember what our fundamental objective is here. Remember what a threat Saddam Hussein has been to all of his neighbors in the past. We believe that that coalition is actually quite strong.
QUESTION: Yeah, I mean, you've come full circle on that answer. In other words, the coalition is strong, but you're saying to them, "Stay with us," but they are with you. So I'm afraid I'm a little bit lost.
MR. BURNS: I think you and I agree. (Laughter)
QUESTION: I'm lost. I'm afraid I'm lost. I'm lost on that and I'm lost on why you have to whisper about the Saudis --
MR. BURNS: I'm sorry you're lost.
QUESTION: Since your whole purpose is to protect the Saudi oil fields, why is this incredible understanding of Saudi silence in fact may be Saudi discontent? Why is it a given axiomatic that Arab countries for whom the
United States is taking risks are not to be imposed upon to express their unity with the U.S., which you expect of countries like Turkey and Britain and France and Germany and Israel and Japan and Canada, etc., etc., etc. Why is there a special code for them?
MR. BURNS: I don't have any special code that I can offer.
QUESTION: They're not in danger. You say Saddam Hussein can't get at the Saudi Arabians. You've accomplished that by your airstrikes. He's in a box.
MR. BURNS: If it weren't --
QUESTION: So what is the trembling about Saudi Arabia?
MR. BURNS: If it weren't for the United States, then those countries would be in danger.
QUESTION: But they're not.
MR. BURNS: And the fact is that the "Southern Watch," the southern "no-flight" zone, the planes that patrol it, are flying out of Saudi Arabia.
MR. BURNS: And the planes that fly -- the British and the French and American planes that fly in northern Iraq fly out of Turkey.
MR. BURNS: So I think we've seen from both Turkey and Saudi Arabia good support for this fundamental objective of our coalition, which is to contain him.
QUESTION: Okay, now try my original point. If the coalition -- I mean, you're surrounded, the U.S. Government is, by editorialists and by former Secretaries of State and all sorts of people -- some of them on the lecture circuit -- saying that the coalition is shattered or that it's unraveling. You say it isn't, and yet the Administration is considering sending a top-level emissary to the allies -- to what? To make sure that it's as strong as it is?
MR. BURNS: Actually, on that last point, Barry, I didn't say that. I've been asked a lot of questions about that --
QUESTION: No, I say --
MR. BURNS: -- and I said I don't have anything to say about that.
QUESTION: All right, forget the emissary. Forget the emissary. You're consulting with them -- Ambassadors. Christopher went on a trip. If the coalition is so powerfully indivisible, what is the point of all this consultation?
MR. BURNS: The point of consultation among allies and friends is that in a situation like this you want to touch base on a daily basis, to exchange views on what we are doing, what we're thinking about for the future. As you know, we've said that we reserve the right to take any action in the future to protect our interests there.
You want to keep your coalition partners abreast of what you're thinking and actions will be. That's just fundamental, Barry. So I wouldn't be too confused about that. I think that's pretty clear.
QUESTION: Nick --
MR. BURNS: Yes, Sid.
QUESTION: Speaking of consultations, you've called in diplomats from 16 NATO countries today for consultations. Is that accurate? What did you tell them?
MR. BURNS: Frankly, I'm not even aware that we had such a meeting here. If we did, I'll have to check on what it was. It may not have pertained to Iraq. It could have pertained to a NATO issue or a European security issue. I'll check on that for you.
QUESTION: Some of those emissaries, as they came out of the building, said that they did discuss Iraq.
MR. BURNS: Not surprising -- no matter what the central focus of the meeting is -- that we discussed Iraq on a day like today.
QUESTION: In answer to one of the questions, you said Saddam has not shown interest in the diplomatic option so far. At this point, is there a gesture -- is there any kind of gesture from Baghdad which the U.S. would consider as a credible willingness for a diplomatic option and as a possible means of preventing the military solution?
MR. BURNS: Let's see what Saddam Hussein would have to do to have us believe that he was a credible partner. He'd have to live up to his international obligations, all of them, which he's currently not doing. He'd have to stop his aggression against the Shi'a in the south and the Kurds in the north, which he's currently not doing.
He would have to stop threatening -- taking threatening actions against the United States, British, French and Turkish aircraft, which he's currently not doing. He fired three missiles yesterday -- wild firings that didn't come anywhere close to our aircraft, but he fired them nonetheless, and the day before that he targeted American F-15s.
He would have to try to live up to some of the obligations that were imposed upon him after the Gulf war. What happened to the 650 Kuwaitis who disappeared during his occupation of Kuwait City in August 1990. People disappeared. Never heard from again. What happened to them.
What happened to his political opponents in Irbil, over 100 of whom we believe were executed two weeks ago tomorrow. He's got a lot to answer for. He has dug himself a very deep hole, and I think he's going to have a long time coming out of that hole.
Tom and then Steve.
QUESTION: Nick, you know, we, too, have private conversations with Arab diplomats, and I'm not hearing what you're hearing. I want to run this by you now. The assessment that I have heard from quite a few diplomats from friendly Arab countries is that for reasons that may have as much to do with domestic politics as they do with international strategy, you put yourself in a position where you have to do something. You've sent all these toys out there. You have to play with them.
At the same time, you're not capable -- or you're either incapable or unwilling to do anything that's going to make any permanent difference, so this episode will repeat itself three months or six months from now. So what's the point? That's what I'm hearing. How do you respond to that?
MR. BURNS: I'd like to address the political charge first, and I think I can address it from an objective perspective. As you know, I believe that any American President two months before an election or two months after an election would have taken the same steps that President Clinton has taken. I would challenge some of the armchair Monday morning quarterbacks who went on the airwaves recently and who themselves were in positions of influence in Washington just a couple of years ago -- I would challenge them with the same question.
I think most of them would have taken exactly the same steps, because if there's one thing that Republicans and Democrats are united on in the United States, it is that Saddam Hussein's aggression has got to be contained, and that's the fundamental point of our policy.
Tom, despite -- you and I cannot generalize about 22 different Arab countries in the Arab world. But despite what you hear publicly, I think there is widespread agreement privately among almost all the Arab countries that Saddam Hussein has to be kept in that box.
QUESTION: Nick, there was something we've touched on yesterday, and I don't think I ever really got a good, straight answer on. I refer back to your question or response to the previous question about what Saddam would have to do. Let's see what Saddam would have to do in order to open a dialogue.
Maybe it was an oversight, but none of the things you listed him as doing included this alleged and proximate threat by Saddam Hussein to any of his neighbors right now. It seems to me that the crux of the United States diplomatic problems, if there is a diplomatic problem, is that none of his neighbors feel threatened immediately or proximately, and therefore they don't want to have U.S. airplanes on their soil hitting him.
What is the threat that the United States sees from Saddam Hussein in this instance to his neighbors?
MR. BURNS: The threat is that left without the protection of the United States and Britain and France in the south, there is no question that Saddam Hussein would seek to destabilize or conquer Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and some of the other states to his south.
We would be naive in the extreme were we to somehow give Saddam Hussein a clean bill of health and believe these nice words from Tariq Aziz that Iraq does not have any negative intentions towards its neighbors to the south.
We can't forget the history of the last five or six years. He's tried twice. He tried -- of course, he moved his army into Kuwait in 1990, and he threatened Kuwait in 1994. If we don't remember that fact about Saddam Hussein, then I think we would not be living up to our own obligation, which is to protect American national security interests.
So that is the crux of our position and our policy, to make sure that that defensive perimeter against Saddam Hussein remains in place.
QUESTION: I don't think that there is a dispute about what he might want to do if the United States were not there. My question is why moving around aircraft carriers and F-117s and even firing cruise missiles into the south of the country when he beats up on Kurds in the north has anything really to do with an increased threat? What is the increased threat that is causing the United States to react in such a way? What is the increased threat to his neighbors that is causing the United States to act in such a way right now?
MR. BURNS: Our effort against him -- and I think this is the best way to answer your question -- our effort against him is a long-term effort. It's already been underway for five years, and if it takes another five years to keep it in place, we will. Again, the crux of that effort is to make sure that his ability in the south to do any damage to his neighbors to the south is limited.
Look at the airstrikes that we launched against him last week. Why did we choose the air defense targets in the south? We chose that in order to cripple him militarily, so that in the future he could not engage in any offensive military capability, and that was the reason for extending the "no-fly" zone in the south.
Steve, a lot of people have asked, why didn't you strike at northern Iraq. We made a decision not to get involved in the Kurdish civil war there, and we also made a decision that he, Saddam Hussein, would not select the field of battle where we engaged him. So we selected sites in the south, because that's where our long-term interests are.
QUESTION: But I still don't understand what he had done to threaten countries outside Iraq -- what he had done to threaten his neighbors that caused the United States to act?
MR. BURNS: Steve?
QUESTION: I said I still don't understand what he had done to threaten his neighbors -- what new he had done to threaten his neighbors that required this response?
MR. BURNS: He took aggression in northern Iraq that for five years it was understood under the rules of the game he would not take. In order to punish him for that aggression, we decided to strike him where we felt he would hurt the most for him, and that is at his air bases and air defense systems in the south.
We decided to dictate what the next round would be and not to try to go against him in an area where, frankly, our interests are less great than they are in the south; and that was a decision we made, and frankly, I think in the long term, since this is a long-term endeavor, that was the best decision.
QUESTION: I have a follow-up.
QUESTION: Since this is a long-term endeavor, what is going to happen to 986, and what's going to happen to the medicine and food for Iraqi people? Do you think they can afford to wait five more years to get food and medicine?
MR. BURNS: Ask Saddam Hussein. The United States authored the UN resolution that would provide emergency food and medical assistance to the suffering people of Iraq and most notably the children of Iraq. The Iraqis were kind enough to allow CNN into their hospitals and orphanages the other day in order to demonstrate to the world that their people are suffering.
We want to help those people. We voted for the resolution, and we've told Boutros-Ghali that should he wish to surface this resolution and operation again, we'll talk to him about it. But the program put in place to distribute the goods was supposed to be centered in Irbil, and if Saddam Hussein had not encouraged the takeover of Irbil, that operation could be in place today. So the real cause of the disruption of the humanitarian food and medical supplies is Saddam Hussein.
QUESTION: But there won't be any effort to find another city other than Irbil, and this program would resurface again --
MR. BURNS: We're going to look at this on a very practical basis. If it's possible to reconstruct the program and make sure that neither Saddam nor Barzani nor anybody else pockets the assistance for their own purposes, then, of course, the United States wants to support this effort.
But we've got to be mindful of the practical obstacles that Saddam Hussein has put into place. If he cared about these suffering people in his own country, why would he build 15 palaces for himself and his family since the end of the Gulf war, and why would he have these enormous overseas bank accounts? That's the question that you ought to pose to the Iraqi Minister of Information.
QUESTION: I have a follow-up in response to Secretary Baker's comments on the Hill. Mike McCurry pointed out that it was the Bush Administration that left Saddam Hussein in power at the end of the Gulf war. Does the Clinton Administration disagree with the Bush Administration's decision in that regard? Does the Clinton Administration hope to remove Saddam Hussein from power? Would you like to see him out of power, or do you share the concern that the Bush Administration had that Iran would fill the power vacuum?
MR. BURNS: I don't think there's any reason for us to try to debate the history of March and April 1991. The fact is that President Bush led a very impressive international coalition, and President Bush, I think, showed superb leadership in the fight against Saddam Hussein. This Administration does not have a policy to debate him on the question of whether or not they should have finished off Saddam Hussein. That was a very difficult question. I think we'll leave that to the historians.
On your second question, the United States believes that the Iraqi people have to decide what becomes of Saddam Hussein. They're responsible for what happens in their country. They're currently victimized by him, but it's up to them to decide his ultimate fate, not the United States. Again, our primary objective is to defend our own interests.
QUESTION: Mike McCurry used as an answer to the criticism of Secretary Baker yesterday -- and I won't recite that; you know what it was -- that this -- look to the source. Look who this is coming from. This is coming from the Secretary of State who allowed Saddam Hussein to stay in power. Does Mr. McCurry mean by that, that that was a mistake?
MR. BURNS: I didn't see the statement made, so therefore I don't want to characterize it, because I'm at a disadvantage here. I haven't seen what was said, but I can tell you I think that all of us as Americans have a lot of admiration for the way that President Bush and Secretary of State Baker led the coalition against Saddam.
I really don't think, as someone who's independent of the political process -- as a career government employee -- I don't think there should be a bipartisan division on this issue, because President Clinton is implementing the same policy of containment that was begun by the Bush Administration, and I think implementing it very effectively.
When we had reports that Saddam Hussein tried to assassinate former President Bush on his visit to Kuwait, the United States took military action under President Clinton's leadership. When we had reports in October 1994 that Saddam was threatening Kuwait again, we moved troops into the area in order to tell him that he was not going to succeed.
Now that we've seen what's happened over the last two weeks with his new aggression, we're sending another message. I actually think that too much has been made of the supposed partisan differences, and I think that those who are launching some of the attacks on the Clinton Administration ought to remember how much our policies have in common.
QUESTION: On the question of Iran, which is a sort of a background of this, when you consider what actions to take to punish Saddam Hussein for his recent activities, is there a limit to how far you want to go because of your concern that you might create a power vacuum that Iran or others could exploit?
MR. BURNS: The United States does not believe that Iran can contribute anything positive to the problems of Iraq, and we have warned Iran repeatedly not to put its troops into operation across the border into Iraq, as Iran did for a few days in late July/early August of this year.
We believe that the Iranians ought to stay out of the problems of Iraq right now. We've sent them that message diplomatically, and we're glad to reaffirm it today.
Abdul salam and then Sid.
QUESTION: Oh, come on.
MR. BURNS: Okay, he's got a follow-up here.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) that the Iranians agreed to accept so many refugees?
MR. BURNS: I'm not on the ground. I can't give the Iranians a scorecard. I'll let the UN organizations speak for themselves. We did call upon the Iranians to open their border, and why don't you ask the UN what it thinks of the Iranian actions.
QUESTION: Nick, I have a follow-up, if I could. I haven't had a first-round question.
MR. BURNS: All right. We're going to let Bill and then Abdul-Salam.
QUESTION: All right.
MR. BURNS: Then we do have to get to Bosnia today, because we have something to talk about on Bosnia -- their elections tomorrow.
QUESTION: Many good questions. I want to follow up first on Steve's question, and I'll put it in this form. When we saw that Saddam was going to make a move against the Kurds, why didn't the coalition change the rules for "Provide Comfort" to be able to do in the south -- you know, in the north what we already do in the south, which is act against Saddam's ground forces? Why didn't we intercede when we could? And then I have a follow-up.
MR. BURNS: Bill, it would have taken a substantial number of troops in order to intervene effectively in the Kurdish civil war. We made the decision that our interests weren't sufficiently great in northern Iraq to warrant that.
QUESTION: And then I would ask, back to the questions that David asked. There was an attempt to blow Saddam up in early July that failed, that was a near-miss. We know that this man retaliates when he's crossed. Couldn't we foresee or anticipate in early July that he would go into the north and take out the friends of the United States there that were trying to destabilize him?
MR. BURNS: I think we've done a good job in tracking him over the years, and we've done a good job in trying to anticipate what he would do. I think our record is as good as anybody's on that.
QUESTION: You mentioned the Arab countries that you have been hearing publicly, or rather privately, that they are supporting what you are doing there. The Arab League six years ago condemned his invasion of Kuwait. Last month, the Arab League in Cairo condemned the action of the United States Government against Iraq. How could you explain this now?
MR. BURNS: You'll have to ask the Arab League how to explain it. I don't speak for the Arab League.
I would just note, however, that the situation was very different in 1990-91. There was an invasion by Saddam Hussein of Kuwait. Very different. That may account for the vote of the Arab League in 1990-91. The situation is different now, but he still does represent a threat to the Arab countries and they ought to realize that.
QUESTION: On this policy review meeting in the White House, you said that the policy now towards Iraq is still the same -- the integrity of Iraq. Can we conclude that in this meeting that this is a conclusion -- that the policy is not going to change in spite of all these calls --
MR. BURNS: American interests haven't changed and our policy hasn't changed. We're going to defend our interests.
QUESTION: In talking and meeting with the allies over the past couple of days on the Gulf situation, what type of reaction have they taken to the latest military movements toward the Gulf? And what type of efforts have you made to try to gain greater support for any future military action?
MR. BURNS: Again, I don't agree with the conventional wisdom that somehow the United States is out there alone. We've got the British flying with us up to the 33rd parallel in the south; we've got the French flying with us to the 32nd in the south; and we've got the Turks, British, and French with us in the north.
We've got the Saudis, of course, working from their bases in northern Saudi Arabia with our air force. I think we've got the support that we need, and we have had actually widespread understanding in Europe over the last two weeks of what the United States is trying to do from a leadership position here.
QUESTION: New subject?
MR. BURNS: Yes. Let's go to Bosnia. It's the first time I've ever wanted to talk about Bosnia on my own. (Laughter) I actually have something to say on Bosnia. It's a statement. I know you'll be interested in this.
The people of Bosnia and Herzegovina will vote tomorrow for a unified national government for the first time since their country achieved independence. They will also elect regional legislatures and regional leaders.
The international community, led by the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe -- the OSCE -- and the parties have worked tirelessly since last winter to organize this election, which has been called among the most complex in modern history.
The preparations for the elections are complete. Twenty-eight thousand candidates from 48 parties are running. The OSCE has printed millions of ballots and updated thousands of voter rolls, 130 local election commissions have set up over 4,600 polling stations, and IFOR has delivered 25 million ballot papers to the voting places.
IFOR, the International Police Task Force, and the parties have coordinated a security plan which provides for 19 designated voter routes across the former front lines; all other crossing points will be available to voters as well.
The Police Training Force has worked closely with local law enforcement authorities to prepare for these elections, distributing over 100,000 copies of the security guidelines to local police.
IFOR will work with the Police Training Force and the local police to maintain a visible police presence and visible IFOR presence near polling places and in potential "hot spots." These are places where we think there is some possibility of confrontation.
There is also a conflict resolution group that has been created which will attempt to defuse potentially dangerous confrontations should they emerge on voting day.
The Provisional Election Commission will meet in continual session on election day to monitor voter turnout, access to the polls, and access the need, if there is a need for it, to extend the voting hours tomorrow evening across the country. IFOR has also set up an extensive and closely coordinated operations center, which will allow them to address situations if they arise.
This is a global undertaking. Three million Bosnians are eligible to vote, including refugees in 55 countries who have already cast their ballots, including many thousands of refugees here in the United States. Twelve hundred international supervisors and more than l,000 more monitors will monitor and observe the vote.
The United States has sent approximately 100 supervisors and observers from our private community. We have an official presidential delegation led by Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. We also have the presence of our Assistant Secretary of State, John Kornblum.
We believe that this massive effort by the international community to establish these elections does not diminish the responsibility of the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina to determine the future of their own country.
The people of Bosnia have responded enthusiastically to this opportunity. If you look at the public opinion polls, they want to vote tomorrow. A lot of former government officials in our country, a lot of op-ed writers, a lot of pundits believe it's not necessary to go forward with the elections. The people of Bosnia want to vote. They want to be given the chance to determine their future.
The United States remains committed to secure their right to vote tomorrow and to work with them after the vote to put in place the institutions that will form the basis of a new state.
We believe that's the right thing to do, -- to go forward. We reject the conventional wisdom that these elections ought to be postponed for one reason: Can the critics convince any one of us in this room that the conditions for these elections, as they are present tomorrow, will be any different six months from now or 12 months from now?
If we thought they would be different, then we would have asked the OSCE to postpone these elections. But we don't believe the conditions for voting will be different. Therefore, there's a need to get on with the voting and get on with the process of implementing the Dayton Accords. We look forward to election day.
QUESTION: There are concerns that the hardliners are seeking through electoral means what they were achieving before on the battlefield. What do you say to that?
MR. BURNS: The Dayton Accords made very clear that the people had to put down their arms and engage in a peaceful political process to establish a new state; that the only people who would not be allowed to vote and not be allowed to run for office would be indicted war criminals, those indicted by the UN War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.
We can't sit back and deny whole groups of people even if they are, like the Bosnian Serbs, primarily responsible for the fighting over the last five years. We've got to try to attempt to bring them into a different situation and a more peaceful situation -- as we did in Germany after the Second World War. At some point, you've got to make the decision to let the local population run their own affairs. That's the decision that we've made in Bosnia.
QUESTION: You didn't say that the indicted war criminals couldn't vote, because I think the State Department said yesterday they could vote. There was no bar in the Dayton Agreement to their voting?
MR. BURNS: They cannot run and I didn't think they could vote, but I'll check on that. I actually think they cannot vote, but I will check that for you, Ron.
QUESTION: Have there been enough people named as war criminals? Has the War Crimes Tribunal done as much work as it should have before this election? Would, for example, the United States Government sit down happily with Arkan if he's elected?
MR. BURNS: Not happily. Despite the fact that Mr. Arkan has not been indicted, there are enough stories about him to make us quite suspicious about his activities and the activities of his so-called security organization during the war and even after the war.
We're going to sit down with those people who have been elected to convince them to implement the election, to build the institutions of the state and to do it in a peaceful way and not to resort to either secession -- some Bosnian Serb leaders have threatened to secede if they don't like the results of the election. Our answer to them is, you don't have that right. When you agreed at Dayton to sign the Dayton Accords and when you agreed to run for political office, you did so under the framework established by the Dayton Accords and secession is not a right available to anybody under the Dayton Accords.
David, does that answer your question?
QUESTION: Well, you are going to sit down with Arkan if he's elected and if it's appropriate?
MR. BURNS: Actually, I believe Arkan is not running for office. He's actually barnstorming just to increase his own position and popularity.
Let's just take a hypothetical. There are other people like him who may be running. If we have to sit down with them, we'll have to sit down with them. We won't do it happily, but we'll do it because peace and securing peace is the most important objective that we have.
As you know, the United States cannot determine who is a war criminal and who is not. We have left that up to the War Crimes Tribunal. We think the Tribunal has done an excellent job under very adverse circumstances.
QUESTION: Nick, what do the Dayton Accords say about someone who is elected to office and then subsequently is indicted for war crimes?
MR. BURNS: I don't know specifically. I don't have a copy of the Accords with me. I'd have to check what it says, but I think it would stand to reason -- it would just stand to reason that if an individual is indicted, say in December of this year or February of next year, then it would be the obligation of the governing authority, in which that individual lived to turn that person over to The Hague for prosecution. Therefore, any person elected tomorrow who subsequently is indicted, we believe, should not serve.
QUESTION: Back to the issue of Arkan. As you say, he's not running, but the party with which he is associated is very active. Do you know if any American tax dollars have gone to his party by the OSCE?
MR. BURNS: The fact is that the OSCE has helped to fund all political parties; every one of them. Chris, we've had to operate on the following basis. The UN alone can determine who is an indicted war criminal. The United States, France, and Britain cannot do that.
We are working with the people who are eligible to vote. It doesn't mean we love them or support them or have a pleasant time with them when we meet them. But it does mean that we try to be respectful of the electoral process as it's set up.
I don't know where the OSCE -- I don't know the amount of money that has been given to these various political organizations, but I do know that there has been this kind of international funding of all of these political parties.
QUESTION: Surely, you must find that rather uncomfortable, the fact that a party associated with a man like that has received American money, albeit for a third international party?
MR. BURNS: You know, this is a messy situation. At the end of a war, it is far preferable to be having an election to determine the future government of a country than to be looking on as they fight a war. What we've been able to do over the last year is stop the war, negotiate a peace agreement, and now lead the way towards elections. However messy that process has been, it is far preferable to be sitting here on September 13 talking about elections than talking about war. That's the fundamental difference between today and a year ago.
QUESTION: A completely different subject.
MR. BURNS: Anybody want to stay on Bosnia? Good.
QUESTION: There are rumors afoot in the city of Boston right now that --
MR. BURNS: Boston?
MR. BURNS: Massachusetts?
MR. BURNS: Are you talking about the Red Sox? That
the Red Sox aren't going to make it? (Laughter)
QUESTION: There you go.
MR. BURNS: The Patriots are O & 2.
QUESTION: Former Mayor Ray Flynn, now Ambassador Ray Flynn --
MR. BURNS: Ambassador Ray Flynn.
QUESTION: -- intends to retire. Those are the rumors. Has the State Department heard this? Have you been notified by Mr. Flynn??
MR. BURNS: Are you from the BostonĘGlobe or Herald?
QUESTION: Channel 7.
MR. BURNS: Channel 7. The rumors are that Ambassador Flynn intends to --
QUESTION: Intends to retire. Has the State Department been notified by Mr. Flynn of his intentions? If so, what's the reason?
MR. BURNS: I don't know if Ambassador Flynn has told the Secretary or others in the building about his intentions. He's served with distinction at the Holy See for the duration of this Administration. He's someone that all of us know quite well and respect for his energy and enthusiasm and the dedication that he's brought to our relations with the Holy See. He's done a lot to build the relations between the United States and the Vatican. We respect him for that.
He'll have to make his own decisions, and he'll have to announce his own decisions. Since you're from Channel 7, could I just say that we are all hoping here --we've got a couple of baseball fans -- Red Sox fans -- here that the Red Sox will make up ground and defeat the Orioles and White Sox for the last wildcard spot. That's our great hope. That is the official position of the United States Department of State, that the Red Sox might win. (Laughter) We've been waiting since 1918 for this.
QUESTION: I'm a Boston Red Sox fan for life.
MR. BURNS: Good. I knew that, and that's why I thought I'd --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) to resume the Syrian-Israeli negotiations. Do you have anything new on that? Do you have --
MR. BURNS: I can tell you that the United States, having had extensive discussions with the Israeli Government, is now, on a preliminary basis, sharing some ideas with the Syrian Government. That process needs to be extended. It needs to go forward, and we're by no means complete with that process.
I can tell you that some of the stories that I saw in the newspapers this morning, that somehow Syria had rejected these ideas, those stories are false. We are not at the end of that process. We still need to have further discussions.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) The Syrian Ambassador in town says they have not received any ideas or any proposals -- that he met with Dennis Ross and they didn't get anything.
MR. BURNS: We have had preliminary discussions with the Syrian Government about some of the discussions we've had with the Israelis. As I said, they're preliminary. They need to be extended. The Syrians, I think, are certainly willing to talk to us about it. The objective here is to see if the United States can help Israel and Syria reach the point where they agree to recommence their political discussions towards peace in the Middle East.
QUESTION: Nick, the presidential spokesman in Syria said the President there had received a letter from President Clinton. He said that today. Is that true?
MR. BURNS: I think there was a message that was delivered by Ambassador Chris Ross. I don't know if it was a letter or a set of talking points--certainly a message. Sure, we're in touch with the Syrian Government often, I think today was another occasion.
QUESTION: And the message was from President Clinton?
MR. BURNS: I believe there was a message from the White House, yes.
QUESTION: Did you talk earlier -- I came in late -- about the Iraqi Kurds who were trying to get into Turkey?
MR. BURNS: Yes, I did. I did talk about that, George.
QUESTION: Just briefly on Chechnya. There's a report that the Russians have stopped withdrawing their troops from Chechnya and that the Lebed accord is, let's say, lapsing. Does the United States share a concern that there might be a breakdown of the truce?
MR. BURNS: We understand that there have been some complications that have arisen that, we hope, only temporarily stalled the withdrawal of troops from Chechnya. But we do understand that despite this setback, there has been no outbreak of fighting in Chechnya. We're encouraged that the Russian Government and the Chechen forces appear to be well on their way to putting this war behind them. That is very good news for everyone involved but, most notably for the Chechen and Russian peoples.
QUESTION: Lebanon. There's a report from Lebanon that Israel shelled Hezbollah bases in south Lebanon. Do you have anything on that? The Monitoring Group is meeting; do you have any complaint from Lebanon?
MR. BURNS: I saw press reports this morning that Israeli jets took some action against Hezbollah. I don't believe we have any confirmation of that. Therefore, I don't have any reaction to that.
I have to mention just a couple of things that you will find over in the Press Office. There is a statement -- a rather long statement -- about a very important program about our immigrant visa lottery, which involves a number of countries around the world. You'll want to take a look at that. That's in the press room.
I also wanted to let you know -- and there's a statement to this effect -- that we were very glad, we in the Foreign Service, to welcome into the Foreign Service today 36 new Foreign Service officers who were sworn in at noon in the Ben Franklin Room. This brings to 127 the number of American diplomats who have started work this year with the Department of State. We welcome them. They range in age from 23 to 55, with an average age of 32. Twenty-one men and 15 women from 16 states were inducted into the Foreign Service today. We congratulate all of them.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. BURNS: Thank you very much.
(Press briefing concluded 2:14 p.m.)
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