Return to: Index of 1994 Daily Briefings || Electronic Research Collections Index || ERC Homepage

.
U.S. Department of State
96/09/27 Daily Press Briefing
Office of the Spokesman

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing

I N D E X


                         Friday, September 27, l996



                                          Briefer:  Glyn Davies


ANNOUNCEMENTS
   Burma:  SLORC Obstructs NLD Meeting..........................  1

AFGHANISTAN
   Taliban Assumes Control of Kabul.............................. 1-2
   U.S. Relations/Contacts With the Taliban...................... 2-4
   U.S. Reaction to the Execution of former President Najibullah  3-4

PEACE PROCESS
   U.S. Position on Violence in West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza.... 4-5,
                                                                  15-16
   Reports of a Possible Summit Meeting to End Violence.......... 5-7
   Third Party Efforts to Restore Calm to Jerusalem.............. 7

BOSNIA
   OSCE Subcommittee Call to Recount Votes....................... 7-8

SYRIA
   President Assad's Health...................................... 8

TURKEY/GREECE
   Apparent Agreement on Aegean Problem.......................... 9-10

IRAQ
   Evacuation of Kurdish NGO Employees........................... 10-11
   Turkish Concerns that Evacuees Are Related to PKK............. 12,14-15
   Asst Sec Pelletreau's Comments/U.S. Commitment in N. Iraq..... 12-14
   Kurdish Assistance to U.S. Evacuation/Protection Efforts...... 13

RUSSIA
   Concerns of Mutiny Within Red Army............................ 16
   U.S. Reaction to Lebed's Comments............................. 16-17

KOREA
   Threats of DPRK Retaliation if Submarine Not Returned......... 17

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING

DPB #156

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 27, 1996, 1:07 P. M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

MR. DAVIES: Welcome to the State Department briefing. I have just one announcement to make before going to your questions. The announcement pertains to Burma.

The United States deplores the actions taken by the State Law and Order Restoration Council in Burma to prevent the National League for Democracy from holding its all-Burma Party Congress. The SLORC reportedly has arrested at least 33 NLD party members, maybe more, as well as activists who had planned to attend the congress, including 16 elected members of parliament.

These measures taken by the SLORC clearly are designed to disrupt the party congress, a legitimate meeting of a legally registered party in Burma. These arrests and other forms of intimidation by the military regime are geared to prevent Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters from exercising their basic political rights, including freedom of speech and peaceful assembly.

We call on the SLORC to immediately and unconditionally release all of the NLD members and activists who have been detained for exercising their legitimate political rights.

George.

Q Before we get to the Middle East, could you talk about Afghanistan and what you know about what's happening there and what you think about it?

MR. DAVIES: We know that Kabul has fallen to the Taliban rebel group. We know that Kabul appears at this stage to be relatively calm -- certainly calmer than it was in recent days as the fighting swept over the city.

We understand that the Taliban has taken complete control of Kabul, the capital. We understand further that American citizens who wanted to leave as the Taliban approached have been evacuated. They were able to do so. There may be some Americans who remain in the city, but we believe that they are there by their choice.

Taliban leaders have announced -- they've been reported to have announced that Afghans can return to Kabul without fear, and that Afghanistan is the common home of all Afghans. We take those statements as an indication that the Taliban intends to respect the rights of all Afghans.

So our hope at this stage is that the new authorities in Kabul will move quickly to restore order and security and to form a representative interim government that can begin the process of reconciliation nationwide.

The UN, of course, remains ready to assist in this effort, and we support the UN in its activities.

Q You said Americans were trying to leave. You didn't say how. Do you have any details on that?

MR. DAVIES: I don't. I don't have any details on that.

Q There are reports that Taliban is ordering -- imposing strict Islamic law, ordering women to wear -- to go into purdah, etc. Is that consistent with the government which you describe as apparently willing to respect the rights of its citizens?

MR. DAVIES: What I expressed was I hope that the Taliban -- that according to what they've said so far, that's an indication to us that they intend to respect the rights of all of their citizens. We've seen some of the reports that they've moved to impose Islamic law in the areas that they control, but at this stage we're not reading anything into that. I mean, there's on the face of it nothing objectionable at this stage.

What we haven't had an opportunity to do, of course, is get in touch with the Taliban and discuss with them their intentions. So this is based on some of the statements that we've seen coming out of Kabul.

Q But you are willing to establish full relations with the Taliban?

MR. DAVIES: Sid, I don't think we're at that stage yet. We're simply at the stage today of noting the fact that today the Taliban took Kabul, and they control Kabul; and we're at the stage of indicating the direction in which we hope the Taliban goes.

Q Have you tried to get in touch with the Taliban, and what kind of contacts have you had with the Taliban up to this point?

MR. DAVIES: We've had some lower level contacts with the Taliban. I'm more than happy to look into what our intentions may be in terms of contacting the Taliban in the future. I don't have anything to report to you right now.

Q Overall, how do you view this situation? I mean, is this a good thing? Do you think it will bring stability to Afghanistan finally?

MR. DAVIES: We hope that this presents an opportunity for a process of national reconciliation to begin. We hope very much and expect that the Taliban will respect the rights of all Afghans, and that the new authorities will move quickly to restore order and security, and to form a representative interim government on the way to some form of national reconciliation.

Q It's important that you do not rule out -- given the way they took power, you do not rule out full diplomatic relations with them?

MR. DAVIES: I just think it's really too early to pronounce ourselves on questions like diplomatic relations.

Q Do you have any response to the demise of the former President, Najibullah? I mean, does that fit in with this sort of reconciliation?

MR. DAVIES: We regret the deaths of former President Najibullah and his associates, but I would only repeat our wish, our hope and our expectation, that the new authorities in Kabul seek peaceful reconciliation in Afghanistan. Clearly, the deaths of Najibullah and the others, especially the way in which they appear to have taken place, is regrettable.

Q (Inaudible) extrajudicial execution. How can you do anything but condemn it?

MR. DAVIES: It's very regretful, absolutely.

Q Regret is something different from condemnation.

MR. DAVIES: Remember, we don't have any American officials in Kabul. We haven't had them since the Soviets left, because we've judged it too dangerous to maintain a mission there. So what we're reacting to for the most part are press reports, reports from others, who in fact have sources there. In other words, second and third-hand reports.

What I don't want to do is get out front of our certain knowledge of what is happening there and what has happened there, to react too definitively to any of this. According to the reports we've seen, Najibullah did not get due process. That appears to be a theme of the press reports about how he met his demise.

Based on those press reports, all we would say is that it appears as if that was a regrettable development. We'll see if we can characterize it further later, and that we hope that the Taliban will move on to establish a representative government and to move on to a process of national reconciliation.

Q So, let me get this straight. This group -- this Islamic fundamentalist group that has taken Afghanistan by force and summarily executed the former President, the United States is holding out the possibility of relations?

MR. DAVIES: I'm not going to prejudge where we're going to go with Afghanistan. What happened today was that the capital city fell. Our reports are that Kabul is quiet. It's quite clear that the Taliban is in charge in Kabul, and that they control a good portion of the countryside of the country, though not all of it.

Since they appear to hold the majority of the cards at this stage, our call on them is to use their new position of authority to move to establish democratic institutions and to move to a process of national reconciliation.

Q (Inaudible) the United States not had any diplomatic representation in Afghanistan? Does it go back to 1989 when the Soviets left?

MR. DAVIES: I believe it does, yes.

Any more on Afghanistan? No.

Q Do you have any reaction to Mr. Netanyahu's explanation at the non-compromising position that he undertook this morning?

MR. DAVIES: Here's what I'm going to do, I think, on all questions that pertain to the violence in the West Bank and Gaza. Since the Secretary of State is today meeting with a number of his counterparts from the region, and since Nick Burns is briefing the press regularly up in New York, I'm not going to try to get out in front of what is a very fluid diplomatic situation in New York, and between leaders in the United States and leaders in the region.

What we've said is that the U.S. is working very hard, very intensively, on the problem posed by the violence in the Middle East. We've called for the violence to stop. We've spoken of our desire for a meeting between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat or their representatives. I think what I'll do is really just hold on that and not try to interpret for you events that are occurring six hours north of here in New York, much less events halfway around the world.

Q (Inaudible) together with what you have just said, I heard overnight that there are hints from some of the networks that there is a possible summit under the patronage of the United States is underway with the leaders of Israel and the Palestinians and possibly Egypt and Jordan.

MR. DAVIES: The United States is very interested in doing everything it can to bring the conflict there to an end and to move on from the conflict to the peace process that was underway. But again, you're talking about a specific proposal. I'm not going to get into talking about specific proposals, because I'm down here and most of the world's in New York, and, of course, the action that we're all referring to is out in the Middle East. So it would be a mistake for me to try to guess for you which way this is going to head.

Q This was a diplomatic report from a diplomatic correspondent overnight at the network, which I think he gleaned from what he heard here in this building, that a possible summit might come before the U.S. election.

MR. DAVIES: What I don't do is I don't do "gleanings." I can't do gleanings. I get in big trouble if I glean. I'm sorry. (Laughter)

Q Without focusing on the specifics, if you could just sort of tackle a big picture question at this time of crisis. The President of the United States is apparently not soiling his hands with it, and the Secretary of State is not making any public comments today, and he canceled all press questions at his photo op.

MR. DAVIES: I don't know that that's the case.

Q It is the case. How come at this time of crisis no American officials, who are supposed to be shepherding this process, are saying anything?

MR. DAVIES: Wait a second. As I recall, the President of the United States had something to say yesterday, and I think what's most important right now today is that we put all of our energy into the diplomacy that's going on. At this stage I don't, here, have anything to report to you by way of a resolution to that diplomacy. Clearly, the United States would like to be as useful as possible, and it would be wonderful if I could announce something or if they could up in New York.

But I think the important place to put our energies is in the diplomacy and not necessarily in front of the microphones. Let flacks like me do that.

Q Could I ask you about the status of the peace process in the Middle East? Would that be a fair issue?

MR. DAVIES: You can try.

Q Let me try this. Mr. Genscher -- Hans Dietrich Genscher said today that the peace process and the peace itself in the Middle East are now in danger. Several others have said that the peace process has taken a step backward. Now I want to ask, Mr. Netanyahu today in his press conference stated that there was a misunderstanding about this tunnel -- this major issue -- and that he implied that there was some kind of misinformation being spread among the Palestinians about this particular matter. I would ask you to comment on Mr. Genscher, what he has said, and on whether there are external forces unfriendly to the peace process at work here, according to United States' perception.

MR. DAVIES: Bill, I don't mean to disparage your question. It's a good question -- a good series of questions, I suppose -- but again I think the best thing for me to do is not to get into commenting on what people in Europe or people in the region or people in New York have said, but really to point you in the direction right now today of New York and the conversations that are occurring there and the diplomacy that's taking place by the Secretary of State and around the Secretary of State. I'm just not going to get into characterizing -- it just wouldn't help matters for me to characterize the peace process, characterize what's going on and say anything beyond what I've already said.

Q What can you comment about external forces that might want to disrupt the peace in the Middle East?

MR. DAVIES: Again, Bill, it wouldn't help matters for me to start popping off from down here.

Q Is there room at the diplomatic table for others to participate, such as the French?

MR. DAVIES: I think all of those kinds of questions are great questions, and I think they ought to be addressed to Nick Burns up in New York. I'm serious.

Q Can we ask something else?

MR. DAVIES: Yes.

Q One more. Former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger this morning on CNN described the presentation of Mr. Netanyahu as uncompromising, and he said that it was a mistake to open the tunnel. And on the tunnel -- this is the same part of the question -- I understand that President Arafat warned Israel through -- a warning went to David Levy at the United Nations through some emissaries that if the tunnel will not be closed, more violence will come. Will you be taking this into consideration -- the United States Administration as it tries to bring about a peaceful settlement of the issue?

MR. DAVIES: What I can't do is comment on conversations or appeals or messages that have passed between third parties here. I can really only speak for the United States on issues it makes sense to speak on. We've addressed the subject of the tunnel. We've chosen, clearly, not to get into discussing it too specifically, because what's important now is to put an end to the fighting and to get back to the peace process.

So I'm just going to dodge that one, as I've dodged the others today, out of prudence and respect for the Secretary of State.

Q On Bosnia, an OSCE appeals group apparently today called for a complete recount of the votes of this election, further putting its credibility in doubt. Does the United States believe that a recount is necessary?

MR. DAVIES: What's just happened, of course, is that a subcommittee of the Provisional Elections Commission has, according to press reports that we've seen, made this appeal for a recommendation for a recount. All I can add to that -- but this is significant, I think very significant -- is that the commission itself -- that is, the body to which this subcommittee or subcommission is subordinate -- has unanimously rejected that recommendation.

What we're waiting for from Sarajevo are details. We don't have the documents yet -- the document from the subcommission or the decision by the Provisional Elections Commission. So I can't take you beyond the very spare facts, but I would underline, I think, the significance of this report that we have that the PEC has rejected the recommendation of the subcommittee.

Q I mean, are you, therefore, leaving room open that the judgment of this subcommittee may have validity, or are you basically saying, you know, the results are certified --

MR. DAVIES: Absent details, what I'm doing, Carol, is I'm drawing back, and I'm saying this is up to the OSCE to figure out; and that the very latest word we have is that they've made a call based on the recommendation of the subgroup, and they've rejected it.

I don't know what that means, because we don't have the text of what they've said. We don't have the text of what the subgroup said about the count. So it's very difficult for me at this stage to go beyond that and to inject myself into the process and to say what this signifies necessarily.

I hope later on today we'll have more details, but this is a ticker that just hit our desks less than 60 minutes ago, and we don't yet have the documents from Sarajevo that will help us understand this better.

Q The United States, despite its huge role in Bosnia, was not alerted beforehand that this information was -- this judgment would be coming out?

MR. DAVIES: This is an OSCE process. It's independent of the policy-making that's done in this building or anywhere else. The OSCE is set up to look at the elections on an independent basis, and that's the process that's underway right now, and it hasn't yet played out. We haven't gotten to the stage where Ambassador Frowick has made a determination about the elections, and we really have to wait for that before we can give you any kind of a good reaction.

Q The Turkish Foreign Minister yesterday said that the Syrian President is quite ill. He said it publicly. Some U.S. official said she was informed of that by the Secretary of State. Do you have any observations on Hafiz Assad's health?

MR. DAVIES: I don't have any observations on his health, and I can't confirm to you that the Secretary made any such observation or remark to Mrs. Ciller. So I can't shed any light on that. I mean, I've seen the same report.

Mr. Lambros.

Q After Warren Christopher's meetings in New York City with Greek and Turkish Foreign Ministers, Theodhoros Pangalos and Tansu Ciller, Nicholas Burns stated regarding U.S. help for a new effort to restore some of the Aegean problems: "It's welcome by both Turkey and Greece. Both of them want the U.S. to be involved. Minister Pangalos agreed, I believe also, from our conversation with Mrs. Ciller, we have Turkish agreement. It's good to see that both the Greeks and the Turks agree on that." My question, is the statement valid today?

MR. DAVIES: You're asking me whether I'm going to walk back in the ferns. No.

Q It's your official process and not a personal question.

MR. DAVIES: Yes.

Q It's from the process. A quotation.

MR. DAVIES: Whatever they had to say on the issue, I'm sure is quite valid and, of course, we stand by, Mr. Lambros.

Q But let me try to proceed. Minister Pangalos --

MR. DAVIES: Are you going off on -- is this going to be a series of questions that builds on that first question or --

Q Let me --

MR. DAVIES: I want to prepare. I want to get some water.

Q One clarification. But Minister Pangalos and Ciller denied categorically. Therefore, could you please clarify U.S. position vis-a-vis to the Greek-Turkish difference over the Aegean to this effect: Did finally Greek and Turkish Governments via their foreign ministers agree that a three-party meeting or summit, whatever, would be appropriate between Greece and Turkey under U.S. auspices?

MR. DAVIES: If I didn't know better, I'd say you're just trying to get some stuff on the record here, Mr. Lambros. I can't help you with that, because I don't know anything about this denial that you're talking about. You started off that second question talking about --

Q My question is, is finally Greece, Turkey and the USA in process to proceed to the kind of three-party meeting or summit for the solutions over the Aegean between Greece and Turkey?

MR. DAVIES: I don't have anything fresh for you beyond what Nick had to say. The United States remains very interested in helping to the extent the parties would like us to help. Beyond that, there's nothing that's changed today from earlier in the week when Nick spoke.

Q According to sources, the Greek Government through your mediation most recently reached an agreement with the Turkish Government on a military level of exchanging of information on military flights over the Aegean, flying into the Athens FIR. Could you please comment on the report?

MR. DAVIES: I can't comment on that. I don't have those details. I'm going to have to invoke closure on these questions, but come back Monday, and we'll --

Q No, no, can you take this question, if finally they reached an agreement. It's very important. It has to do with the Aegean.

MR. DAVIES: I'm happy to look into that, but --

Q In this question --

MR. DAVIES: -- the Athens flight area is not one of my specialities. I just don't --

Q No, no, they say through your mediation they reached an agreement between the two.

MR. DAVIES: Okay, I'm happy to look into it.

Q Anything new on the evacuation of Kurdish NGOs?

MR. DAVIES: No. I don't have anything new at this stage. We remain very deeply concerned about the protection of people who may be at risk in northern Iraq, and we're still looking at options, as I said before -- still looking at options for insuring the safety of employees of NGOs of interest to the United States.

But this is a complex situation. It's a very fluid situation, and all I would add is that it's going to take some time to work through this. So once we have something to say, I think we'll say it.

Q The other day, though, you said that you thought that these people were at risk; that there were threats to these people.

MR. DAVIES: Or they may be at risk. That's right.

Q Well, I mean, if there are threats and if they're at risk, then it would seem to me you'd be a little bit more --

MR. DAVIES: The question is what kind of a role can the United States play in making sure that if they are at risk, and that's part of our work now, to determine to what extent they are at risk. If they are at risk, how can we help insure that that risk is lessened a great deal. Options extend all the way from bringing some or all of these people out of the country to perhaps options short of that. But this is a much more complicated situation than those who worked directly for the United States, who were card-carrying employees of the U.S., who were gathered in one place in Zakho, and on whom we could move quickly, because there weren't as many issues involved, as many organizations involved, and it wasn't as logistically challenging.

This is a much more complex process. There are more people than we brought out earlier. They're spread out all over the place, and they belong to many different organizations. So the process remains underway. We're looking at how we can minimize the risk to these people, up to and including bringing them out of the country.

Q It sounds, though, that you're a little bit less enthusiastic than you sounded the other day. I don't mean you, but it sounds like the United States may be rolling back on this program.

MR. DAVIES: I wouldn't lead you to conclude that. I mean, I'll stand on what I said. Right now, in addition to this analysis that we're engaged in of the situation in northern Iraq and the threat that may exist to some of these people, we're also looking at options to protect them. Those options include bringing some or all of those people out of northern Iraq, but we're not at a stage yet where -- and this I've said before -- where we've made any decisions on this.

I don't know how long that will take. I hope it doesn't take too long to work through this, but there are many, many ends to this problem.

Q How is the complexity of this situation tied to Turkey's concerns that any people brought out of Iraq might be PKK related?

MR. DAVIES: Turkey has legitimate security concerns that we've spoken of before, but what I don't want to do is tie those concerns into this process. I don't think we're at a stage yet where we'd want to tie those together or it makes sense to start talking about evacuating people -- Turkish concerns how this would be done. I think that's a question for a little bit later on.

Q Pelletreau on the Hill the other day said that the United States was not committed to -- no longer committed to safehavens in the north. Is this new policy, and what exactly does it mean?

MR. DAVIES: No. I don't think he said that. That was something that was boiled down from a fairly complex line of questioning of Ambassador Pelletreau, and he simply observed that if you read the UN Security Resolutions and you read the pronouncements that have been made by officials of the United States, we were never at a stage where we gave some kind of an ironclad security guarantee to the Kurds of northern Iraq.

We are very much the leaders of the effort that is best reflected in Resolution 1022 to protect the Kurds to the extent possible from the depredations of Saddam Hussein. Again, all of that in the wake of his gassing in 1991 of thousands and thousands of Kurds, and that's one of the reasons why the "no-fly" zone remains very much an active component of our approach to northern Iraq. It's also one of the reasons why we are looking very hard at ways to protect those affiliated with non-governmental organizations in northern Iraq that have a tie to the United States.

I would simply ask that you go back and look at the transcript of his testimony and look at it in context before boiling it down that way.

Q Just let me try to understand. So the United States still has this "no-fly" zone, does want to help protect the Kurds, but has no real commitment to do that. Is that it?

MR. DAVIES: U.S. commitments are enshrined in UN Security Council resolutions. I mean, I'd point you in the direction of those resolutions, and I'd point you in the direction of U.S. actions in leading the coalition that remains very much in place today -- a coalition that continues on a daily basis to fly many sorties over northern Iraq to insure that Saddam Hussein's very deadly air force does not cross the 36th parallel and engage in some of the activity we saw in 1991, when Kurds by the thousands were being attacked and gassed.

Bill.

Q If I can follow Carol, it was asked yesterday to Mrs. Ciller if Mr. Barzani was sincere about seeking Turkey and the United States to help protect Kurds from Saddam. And I would ask, have there been any actions by Mr. Barzani's people to protect those NGOs near the border, anywhere else, that might be under threat from the secret police of Mr. Saddam Hussein?

MR. DAVIES: That's a question you'd have to put to his organization, the KDP. I don't have anything to report to you along those lines.

Q But is he helping? Is he helping getting the people out?

MR. DAVIES: We're not at a stage where people are getting out. We removed from Iraq slightly under 2,200 people who were employees of the United States Government. They are now on Guam. They were our first concern, because in our judgment they were under the greatest threat from the changed security situation in northern Iraq in the wake of the fall of Irbil at the hands of Saddam Hussein's three divisions.

Q But let me just finish this. I'm talking about the NGOs and anybody else that might want to leave, we might want to help leave, are we getting help from Barzani and his people?

MR. DAVIES: Again, Bill --

Q What can you say?

MR. DAVIES: Those are good questions for perhaps the KDP, for the NGOs, but I can't give you a sitrep on northern Iraq. I mean, we don't have people there right now.

Q And we don't know, really, then how Barzani is performing. You can't give us a --

MR. DAVIES: I'm just not publicly going to characterize how he's performing.

Q (Inaudible) one or two questions ago concerning the Kurdish employees of NGOs. When you talked about this two days ago, you indicated there was only one option, and that was evacuation. Now you're talking about several options. What has happened since Wednesday to change that?

MR. DAVIES: I don't have anything in particular to report to you that has changed. Our concern remains very much as it was earlier in the week that some of these individuals may be at risk, and that right now what we have to do in addition to evaluating the extent to which they're at risk is evaluate ways in which we can help protect them. That may well include evacuating some or all of those employees, but we're not at a stage where we've made a decision on that yet, George.

Q There was no doubt two days ago about the risk factor, and now you're evaluating --

MR. DAVIES: There is a very real risk factor, but it's a factor in all of this.

Q I don't see how you can protect them unless you evacuate them.

MR. DAVIES: We're looking at this, and we'll make that decision. But what we're doing now is we're talking to the NGOs. We're talking, as you would expect, to Turkish authorities, and we're making this evaluation ourselves. We're deciding what is the best course of action in order to protect these folks.

Q Has Turkey told you it would not cooperate in an evacuation?

MR. DAVIES: No.

Q Have they seemed disinclined to help you, without saying directly, flat-out, no?

MR. DAVIES: I don't have that to report to you. It's not my understanding that they're disinclined.

Q So the United States believes that Turkey is willing to cooperate in an evacuation of these people?

MR. DAVIES: I don't think that the attitude of Turkey on this narrow issue of the NGO employees is an impediment, no. When the Secretary spoke with Madame Ciller up in New York earlier in the week, Nick reported after that meeting that in fact they had a good discussion of the issue of northern Iraq, and they touched on this question of those who may be at risk. We certainly didn't have the impression coming out of that meeting that Turkey was going to be a stopper here at all.

Q Have they said yes?

MR. DAVIES: We haven't made a decision, so how can we be putting this issue to them?

Q Certainly, you would ask them, "We may have to do this. Is it okay with you?"

MR. DAVIES: We're still short of deciding how it is we'll proceed. I don't have any reaction from the Turks to report to you.

Q I mean, certainly you'd want to gauge their reaction in some fashion when you --

MR. DAVIES: We're talking with the Turkish Government, but we're not at a stage where it's in our interest to characterize publicly that confidential dialogue.

Q Can I go back to the Middle East, Glyn. A story -- an AP story this morning says that earlier today Israel temporarily closed the tunnel, according to the spokesman for the Israeli Cabinet. Would you be advising that they will continue to close it?

MR. DAVIES: Mr. Abdulsalam, nice try. It's a nice try award.

Q Well, I mean, you know, I'm just -- I go by the book here. It says that they closed it temporarily, and I think the United States Administration -- the Secretary of State -- from my information, he told Israel to close or he appealed to Israel to close the tunnel, as well as Britain, as well as France, as well as Russia, and everybody is asking Israel to close that tunnel.

MR. DAVIES: But because we have a very fluid, very important diplomatic process underway, what I don't want to do from down here in this sleepy southern town of Washington is start confirming some of these reports that have been out there; start injecting myself into that diplomatic process.

I mean, the Israelis -- it's true that the tunnel has been closed. They have said why they've done it, and I would refer you to them for any further details on that. It's not our tunnel.

Q In the context of your diplomatic efforts that are underway by the Secretary and all of the peace team, are you -- will the Secretary, will the peace team be consulting with the allies -- France, England, Russia and others -- regarding this issue, since they have their opinions, they have their (inaudible).

MR. DAVIES: One of the great things about the UN General Assembly opening up in New York is that it's a week during which you can meet a whole lot of people, and the Secretary has met with his European counterparts, in addition to today meeting with his counterparts from the Middle East. So the answer to "are we consulting" is absolutely. Of course, we're consulting. The whole world's in New York this week, and it's a perfect opportunity to do this kind of diplomatic consulting.

Q Is it possible that you'll be taking a position similar to their position and asking for closing the tunnel?

MR. DAVIES: We'll take whatever position is in the best interest of the United States in the first instance, and in the interest of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians in the second.

Q I would like to hear from you that you would like to ask Israel to close the tunnel. You know, the Israelis themselves suggested or even did that thing this morning.

MR. DAVIES: I knew there was an agenda behind that question somehow, but --

Q (Laughter)

MR. DAVIES: -- but I just can't help you with it. I'm sorry. Carol.

Q Is the United States worried that the Russian army may mutiny over lack of pay?

MR. DAVIES: The United States, as we've said before, wishes to underscore the fact that the Russian army, according to the Russian constitution, is subordinate to the civilian authorities, and we have every expectation that that fundamental relationship will remain.

Q But do you think that Lebed is being a little hysterical in --

MR. DAVIES: There's an issue here with the deprivation that some Russian army units are suffering from. Some of them have experienced delays in pay. There are some issues that relate to getting food to some of these units. So is there a hardship in the Russian armed forces; there's little question that there's hardship in the Russian armed forces.

But there's also now established for the first time in three generations in Russia a democracy, and a constitution, and it has certain principles enshrined in it, one of which is that the military is subordinate to civilian authority. We believe that that principle is very important, and we expect that it will remain in place.

Q So you think Lebed is wrong when he predicts chaos and military mutiny over this issue, and the lack of leadership in Moscow at the Kremlin.

MR. DAVIES: No. I think what's important is simply to underscore the relationship that exists between the military and civilian authorities and to underscore that the United States believes that that relationship is important and will remain the same.

It doesn't make sense for us to get into a kind of rebutting or answering all of the various predictions that Alexander Lebed or indeed anybody else makes, especially since these come sort of every day in 30 to 60-minute press conferences. I mean, we'd be up here all day.

We have certain principles vis-a-vis Russia, and we're going to talk about those principles, and one of them is this notion of civilian control over the military, and that's very important.

Q North Korea has threatened to retaliate if its submarine is not returned. Any reaction?

MR. DAVIES: That submarine -- we've spoken about the fact that we believe that the submarine was a deliberate provocation on the part of North Korea. We were aware of the fact that the North Korean news agency, which we can assume reflects the views of Pyongyang and the government there, has made a statement about the submarine incident that may have contained some kind of a threat.

It doesn't change the assessment that we've given you about the sub incident, and it doesn't change the fact that we continue to urge that North Korea refrain from provocative acts such as that incursion by the submarine.

Q Thank you.

(The briefing concluded at 1:45 p.m.) (###)

To the top of this page