U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING I N D E X Friday, October 18, l996 Briefer: Nicholas Burns DEPARTMENT Statement On Behalf of the Chairman of the Monitoring.... Group.................................................. 1 Statement on Belarus: Proposed Referendum................ 1-2 Secretary Christopher's Meeting with Lebanese-Americans.. 2 Upcoming Visit of Ukrainian Foreign Minister............. 2 IRAQ A/S Pelletreau's Meetings wit Mr. Barzani and Mr. Talabani 3,19 --Meeting with Turkoman Leadership........................ 20 Reported Movement of Iraqi Forces/Involvement in Fighting. 3-4,5,6 Security of Humanitarian Relief Workers................... 5 Possibility of a Cease-fire............................... 6-7 Iraqi National Congress................................... 7 MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS Progress of Talks......................................... 7-8,11-12 Consultations by Mr. Djerejian............................ 8 Travel to Region by French President Chirac............... 8-9 --Case of Alex Brunner.................................... 9-10 Statement on Behalf of the Chairman of the Monitoring Group 1,12-15 19-20 GERMANY Church of Scientology Ads................................. 10-11 NORTH KOREA N. Korean Missile Program/Missile Tests/U.S. Contacts..... 15-16 Status of Carl Hunziker................................... 23 AFRICA U.S. Contacts with Mr. Savimbi............................ 16 GREECE Meeting Between PM Simitis and U.S. Ambassador Niles...... 16-17 Disputed Islets in the Aegean............................. 17-19 FORMER YUGOSLAVIA Travel of Ambassador Kornblum to the Region............... 21 RUSSIA Dismissal of Lebed....................................... 21-22
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 18, 1996, 12:58 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. BURNS: Welcome to the State Department briefing. I have a couple of announcements.
First, I want to welcome students from the National Affairs School of George Washington University, the Elliott School. You're most welcome. Thanks for coming.
Second, I want to tell you about a statement that you will find in the Press Office after the briefing. It's a statement I'm making today on behalf of the Chairman of the Monitoring Group. You remember the Monitoring Group established by Secretary Christopher in late April to deal with problems on the Lebanon-Israel border; and the Monitoring Group has made a statement about an incident that took place about a week ago on the border, a dispute involving Lebanon and Israel.
It's a rather long statement. I can go through it with you at some point today in the briefing or you can just look at it and we can talk later. I want to refer you to that.
Second, I wanted to --
Q Can you give us the gist of it?
MR. BURNS: Yes. It's quite complicated. I think to give you the gist I'm going to have to go through the whole thing because it's a very specific statement, made after several days of discussions among the French, Syrians, Lebanese, Israelis, and Americans; so I can do that at some point in the briefing. I'll be glad to go back to it.
Let me just say two other things.
First, I wanted to read a statement that I issued last night, but I want to read it for a particular reason. It's a very important time in Belarus.
The United States has consistently sought to have a productive, friendly relationship with the Government of Belarus throughout its five years of independence since Belarus became independent on December 25, l99l.
The United States wants to see a democratic Belarus develop as a market economy and as a democracy, and there are essential steps needed to help Belarus integrate into the political and economic life of modern Europe and reap the benefits of international trade and investment and of association with Western countries.
After independence in l992, in l993 when President Shushkevich came to visit President Clinton, Belarus began to take steps that could have led to democracy, but that is now in jeopardy. The Belarusian people are being asked to choose sides in a dispute between the President -- President Lukashenko -- and the Parliament over a proposed referendum that would build in far-reaching constitutional changes into the Belarusian political system.
The proposed constitution under consideration would fail to provide any semblance of a separation of powers, of protection of individual freedom and rights and of the rule of law. Unfortunately, by declaring his unwillingness to work with Parliament, President Lukashenko appears to be on a course that would further split Belarus.
We call on President Lukashenko to enter immediately into consultations with the leadership in the Parliament to find a way to try to compromise that protects basic human rights, the democratic process, and fundamental freedoms, and that avoids violence.
This is an important moment in the five-year history of Belarus as an independent country, and the United States is expressing its very deep concerns today.
Finally, I just wanted to note for you Secretary Christopher met this morning with a group of Lebanese-American leaders following his -- Secretary's meeting with Prime Minister Hariri last evening -- yesterday afternoon.
Secretary Christopher will be attending the President's meeting over at the Oval Office later on this afternoon with Prime Minister Hariri, who's on an official visit to the United States.
Next week, we'll be welcoming here the Ukrainian Foreign Minister - - Foreign Minister Udovenko -- and after the briefing we can get into other events that will take place next week.
Q Do you have any details on Secretary Pelletreau's itinerary this weekend?
MR. BURNS: I can tell you that Pelletreau, who is not in the office today, will be leaving over the weekend -- tomorrow -- for the Middle East. He had a regularly scheduled trip there to meet with some Gulf countries. He will go through with that trip, but he will also have meetings individually with Mr. Barzani and Mr. Talabani.
We have not yet nailed down the site of either meeting or the date of either meeting, although I know there's been a lot of speculation -- particularly, in the Turkish press -- about this; but we've not nailed them down, so I'm not in a position to confirm the date and time.
When that happens, when we have the date and time worked out with Mr. Barzani and Mr. Talabani, I will, either over the weekend or on Monday, be very glad to give it to you; but we don't have it yet.
But let's get back to the substance. The purpose of his trip and the purpose of these meetings is to launch an intensified diplomatic process that would have the KDP and PUK agree to a cease-fire, agree to a resumption of their reconciliation talks, and agree that Iran and Iraq should stay out of the fighting. Those are the goals that the United States has.
We began this diplomatic effort yesterday here in the State Department when we hosted the Kurdish KDP delegation. We had excellent talks with them. We made the points -- the three points that I've just made. We heard, of course, a variety of things from them; but we're going to stay on this course. While we stay on a diplomatic course, we don't want to see Iran or Iraq undertake any action that would limit our ability to be successful, to have a peaceful resolution of the Kurdish disputes.
Q On Iraq, there are new reports of quite sizable Iraqi forces moving north. Do you have any confirmation of that?
MR. BURNS: I have no confirmation, no. There have been a variety of press reports -- and contradictory press reports -- about troop movements. I am not in a position to confirm those.
I think our position here is very clear, as we've enunciated over the last couple of days and weeks. Iraq should stay out of the fighting in northern Iraq.
Q On that topic, I asked you yesterday. Let me ask it again. If there is some kind of surrogate activity by the PUK, as has been reported, if there is perhaps even some personnel from Iran but at least some equipment coming toward Irbil, does not Iraq have the right -- or even the responsibility -- of self-defense, their own security in this matter? How does the U.S. see it?
MR. BURNS: Bill, I'm afraid -- as we've said many times here in the past, Iraq gave up its right to unlimited military action and exercises and presence in the north back in March of l99l when it tried to exterminate the Iraqi Kurds. When the United States, Turkey, France, and Britain established "Operation Provide Comfort," it was to provide a zone where the Kurds could find some relative peace and relative stability from the designs of the Iraqi Government.
This is an unusual situation. We don't question Iraq's sovereignty. We don't question Iraq's sovereignty throughout the whole of Iraq; but above the 36th Parallel, of course, there is an operation to protect the Kurds. It will remain that way. The United States does not believe that Saddam Hussein has any kind of role to play militarily in the northern part of Iraq, and we have consistently warned Iraq to stay out of northern Iraq.
Q Then who does have the security responsibility in Kurdistan - -
MR. BURNS: The ultimate responsibility to protect the Kurdish people and to provide peace and stability in the area rests with the major Kurdish groups, with Mr. Talabani and Mr. Barzani. They have responsibility. We -- the Turks, the British, the French, and the Americans, others -- are trying to help them achieve that.
Q And, finally, are we prevailing on the PUK to stand down? Are they standing down as we are?
MR. BURNS: We are asking both groups to stand down. If you take a look at the reporting out of northern Iraq this morning, you'll see that there is fighting -- that both of them continue to fight in and around Irbil and Sulaymaniyah, that there have been reports that the KDP has taken this town or that. Both of them continue to fight. It's up to both of them to stop the fighting.
Q Your statement -- yesterday's statement -- emphasized that the U.S.A. called on the KDP to take all steps necessary to ensure the safety of humanitarian relief-workers throughout the KDP-controlled territory. Did you get to this kind of promises? Did you get any security for these humanitarian relief-workers?
MR. BURNS: That was one of the major points that Bob Pelletreau and Mr. Deutsch -- Mr. Deutsch, the younger -- made yesterday with the KDP delegation -- that one of the concerns that we have, in addition to the fighting, in addition to the Iranian and Iraqi threats, is what will happen to the Kurdish people as winter approaches.
When there's fighting, it means that international relief efforts will be impeded, and the Kurdish people are in need of shelter -- some of them who are still refugees. They're certainly in need of continued food assistance, and the Kurdish groups need to take responsibility for that.
We will help them, and the international relief organizations will help, but the Kurds have to provide the basis for those efforts to be successful.
We'll make that same point, by the way, to Mr. Talabani. We're not directing these points at one group versus another. We're making these points about relief efforts, cease-fire, political talks, to both groups.
Q Mr. Barzani had a press conference this morning. He suggested that they were considering seriously to enlarge Iraqi forces - - to help them out. He's doing this after the meetings here yesterday and right before Ambassador Pelletreau is on his way to the region. Don't you think it's kind of the urge --
MR. BURNS: What was the word?
Q Don't you think it's kind of strange that he chooses to make this announcement today?
MR. BURNS: Oftentimes, in situations like this, we see that people negotiate privately and they negotiate publicly. So it's perhaps not surprising to see him say this, but it's not welcome because Mr. Barzani knows the very strong, clear views of the United States Government. And that is that Saddam Hussein has no role to play that can be positive or useful or constructive in northern Iraq.
Mr. Barzani will hear that from Ambassador Pelletreau when they meet in just a couple of days. He's heard it consistently from Ambassador Pelletreau on the telephone almost every day this week.
Q What about the evacuation over the weekend -- Kurds and Iraqi dissidents from northern Iraq?
MR. BURNS: I'm not in a position to comment on any aspect of that issue.
Q Why is that?
MR. BURNS: I'm not in a position to comment because I choose not to comment on that particular issue.
Q Do you deny it?
MR. BURNS: I'm not in a position to say anything because if I said anything it would not be helpful to that particular situation.
Q Getting back to the earlier question on troop movements, I'm just curious whether you're saying that the U.S. doesn't know whether there are troop movements or whether this relates to intelligence material and, therefore, you can't.
MR. BURNS: Oh, you can rest assured or be assured that the United States is looking very carefully at the entire situation in northern Iraq in all of its dimensions, including the issue of troop movements. We're looking; we're watching. We've a lot of information available to us. I'm not in a position, however, to confirm any of these press reports.
Q One of the points the KDP people were making yesterday is that if they declare a cease-fire and (inaudible) they captured a tank of (inaudible) the PUK, but if they declare a cease-fire, they want some kind of assurances that it is going to be respected by all parties.
What sort of assurances are you able to offer them?
MR. BURNS: Well, ultimately, this is similar to any negotiation. The intermediary, in this case the United States, can suggest a way to resolve a dispute or a problem but, ultimately, it's the parties to a negotiation that have to make the commitments to each other that will convince each other to move forward towards an agreement.
So what I am saying here, in shorthand, what I am saying is it takes two to tango. The KDP and the PUK have got to sit down together and make some commitments to each other about the state of play militarily in northern Iraq and about what they will need to do together to maintain a relative peace so that they can talk, which is far preferable to fighting.
So both of them need to step forward and make these commitments, not just one party.
Q In your list of objectives, I note that you don't talk about the Iraqi National Congress any more. Is this now history?
MR. BURNS: Well, we continue to have a relationship with a variety of people in northern Iraq and people who now are outside of northern Iraq, in some cases.
We continue to talk to a lot of people who -- Iraqi citizens -- who do not wish to see Saddam Hussein continue his policies or continue his rule.
Those conversations take place in a variety of places. You should read nothing into the fact that we haven't mentioned them. No one has asked. You have now asked, and I have talked about it.
Q Okay. Also in the Middle East, there were some excitable stories out of the Middle East this morning saying that there might be or might have been agreement in the Palestinian/Israeli talks as early as today.
I gather that was mostly hyperbole?
MR. BURNS: Yes. Dennis Ross just called Secretary Christopher about an hour and a half ago, called him from Israel. As you know, the talks were held this week between Sunday and Thursday. The talks have adjourned until Monday in Taba. The talks were adjourning as they usually do over the weekend because of the Jewish and Muslim holy days, and our view based on this week's discussions is that the Israelis and Palestinians have clearly made progress and have been able to close some gaps
They also clearly have a ways to go. They have some tough issues and challenges ahead of them, and the United States will stay at the table with them until the talks succeed and conclude. That's our commitment to them and their commitment to each other is that they won't stop these talks until they are finished.
I think in the Middle East, and I know a lot of you are experts because you have been there a lot and you have studied it, you will agree that it is not over until it is over.
We have seen, interestingly enough, press reports from both Israeli and Palestinian newspapers this week that the talks have succeeded and it's not the case. So I think we need to understand that until they complete the agreement and shake hands, it's not over. The talks are clearly not over and they clearly have some ways to go. Sid.
Q On the other track, the Syrian track, of course Ed Djerejian is (inaudible), is he acting as an envoy for the Secretary, or an official American envoy in his journeys between Damascus and Israel and Jordan?
MR. BURNS: I'm just not aware that he is. I'll have to ask our experts in the Bureau of Near East Affairs. He is a distinguished American and well remembered and fondly remembered by a lot of his colleagues here in the State Department, but I'm just not aware that he is carrying any messages for us.
Q You are aware of his activities, though.
MR. BURNS: I understand that he was in the Middle East recently or may still be in the Middle East. That's all I know. So I just can't speak to the question of whether or not he is representing the United States Government's interests there. I just haven't heard anything like that.
Q The Secretary is not in contact with him.
MR. BURNS: I don't believe the Secretary has been, no. Carol.
Q Has the Secretary had any contact with Chirac about his coming trip to Damascus this weekend?
MR. BURNS: The Secretary, I don't believe, has had any telephone conversations with President Chirac. We understand, of course, through our Ambassador Harriman and others that President Chirac will be travelling to the Middle East and we welcome this.
You know, France has had an historic role in the Middle East going back, well many, many -- going back to the last century. France is a country that is playing a positive role in the Middle East today, and President Chirac's interest in trying to help the Israelis and Palestinians, the Lebanese and the Syrians move towards peace is positive, and we welcome his trip.
Q But there is no coordination between the United States and France in this regard?
MR. BURNS: Well, when Secretary Christopher met Minister de Charette in early September in Paris, they agreed that on the question of the Middle East -- as in Bosnia, as in Africa -- that they would stay in touch, and that as far as we can, we would try to coordinate our measures, because France and the United States want the same result. In the Middle East, we want peace between Israel and the Arabs.
We are not negotiating together. As you know, the United States is the only country sitting at the table in Taba and Eilat with the Palestinians and Israelis, and I suspect it's going to remain that way because that's the desire of the parties. That's the way it has been set up.
Here you don't want to have a mini-United Nations around the table, but we are very respectful of the French role, and we hope that President Chirac's trip will be positive and productive and that he can help to convince the Arabs and the Israelis in general. And he is going beyond Israel and Gaza and the West Bank. He is going to other countries. We hope that as a result of his trip, progress can be made.
Q (Inaudible) President Chirac will be raising the case of Alex Brunner with the Syrian leadership -- the Nazi? What do you think the Syrian responsibility is at this point?
MR. BURNS: I'm not familiar with the particulars of that case. I am vaguely familiar with it. I can check into our own understanding of that issue. Obviously, any attempt by the French Government or other governments to try to bring to justice former Nazis is positive. And the United States has consistently supported for many, many decades, going back to the 1950s, efforts to locate people who may be guilty of crimes, war crimes, against humanity in the Second World War. But in this particular case, I'd like to ask our experts about our understanding of this particular individual.
Q (Inaudible) have a responsibility under international law to produce and extradite, isn't that correct?
MR. BURNS: If it is in fact Mr. Brunner, obviously any country a member of the United Nations, any country that wants to try to bring justice to the remaining questions that exist from the Second World War, any country has a responsibility to do that.
You remember other cases in the past with Eichmann and with others where the United States has applauded efforts to bring Nazi criminals to justice. We have had a very consistent supportive record in this regard.
Q Nick, speaking of Nazis, --
Q Can we go on with this one?
MR. BURNS: Yes. Jim has a follow-up.
Q Has the State Department seen the ads, one ran yesterday in The New York Times by the Church of Scientology, comparing the current German Government to the Nazi regime?
MR. BURNS: Yes, we have, and I do have something to say about this. For those of you who didn't notice this, the Church, or at least some Scientologists, I should say, in the United States placed an advertisement in The New York Times about their grievances against the German Government, and let me make two points about this issue.
The United States has said consistently for a number of years in our Human Rights Reports in 1993, '94 and '95 from this podium just in the last couple of months, that we do believe that Scientologists in Germany have suffered from discrimination, and we have spoken to the German Government about our concerns about Chick Correa, a noted Scientologist, about other Scientologists, many of whom are Americans who have not had their rights respected in Germany.
Now, having said that, and having had a very consistent opinion on that issue, we are outraged by the language used by the Scientologists in this advertisement in The New York Times. The New York Times bears no responsibility for this, but the Scientologists do.
The language used in the advertisement yesterday compares the actions of the current German Government to Nazi actions against Jews and other groups during the Second World War. That is an outrageous comparison. It is needlessly provocative. It is unfair to the German Government. The German Government has dealt responsibly, as has German society, with the issues that are with us still and with them still from the Second World War about the Nazis and about the responsibilities of the Nazis for the mass atrocities of the Second World War.
Chancellor Kohl, Foreign Minister Kinkel, have led the effort in modern Germany to deal with these questions, and to accuse the German Government of Nazi-like tactics is simply outrageous. It is indefensible, and the Scientologists have made a very, very grave error in using this language in a major American newspaper.
Q Nick, on the Middle East. Hanan Ashrawi gave a speech yesterday in Washington, and painted a rather grim picture of the state of negotiations. There is a lot of different things coming out. The Israelis have been saying they're close to an agreement, but both Arafat and Ashrawi have said there seems to be no movement whatsoever. In particular, she was concerned about the way that the measures that were being taken, with the expansion of settlements and the like, was creating a form of apartheid. This was also the term that Arafat himself used, I believe, creating a de facto situation at the same time that negotiations are ongoing and thereby creating for themselves a situation in which, for them, it is a real win.
Is the United States not concerned about these measures that have been taken in creating these patches of Bantustan-likes areas in the West Bank. Does it not require, as Ashrawi also indicated, some pressure from the U.S. to get off of Square One towards some kind of a solution to the situation?
MR. BURNS: As in the case of the Scientologists, I think it's very dangerous for people to use apartheid-like terms and words from the apartheid era to describe Israel and the Palestinians. It doesn't fit. It doesn't fit at all.
Let's remember that in the last five years, Israel and the Palestinians have made a tremendous leap forward. The Palestinians now have authority for their own affairs throughout almost all of Gaza and almost all of the West Bank. With the completion of the current negotiations, that will be true in Hebron, when there's redeployment.
Let's be fair about the process. They're in this together. They've made a commitment to each other, the Israelis and the Palestinians, that they're going to negotiate peace between them.
I think it is not helpful to use incendiary terms -- at least, not from the United States. We're not going to do that. We're going to keep working with them. We're not going to level charges against one or the other. We have a well-known position on settlements. It hasn't changed, and we express it regularly to the Israeli Government. But we're going to be constructive -- the United States is going to be constructive.
We know that in the end these negotiations are going to succeed. The Palestinians will have control over the West Bank and Gaza Strip along the lines of the Oslo Agreement. Israel will have its rights respected along the lines of the Oslo Agreement. They have done something quite substantial there. They have moved a long way. This is not 1986 or 1976. The situation is far better today than it was at any time since 1967.
Q Who is monitoring the (inaudible). If you could expand on the part where the United States joins the others in deploying the Israeli --
MR. BURNS: I think to be fair to all five countries concerned, I need to read this statement because this is not a statement that I have drafted. It's a statement on behalf of David Greenlee who is the Chairman of the Monitoring Group. He's an American diplomat. So let me read it to you, and then if you have questions, we can talk.
"The Monitoring Group met in continuous session October 14-18 at the UNIFIL headquarters compound near Naqoura, Lebanon, to consider a complaint by Lebanon of a violation of the April 26, 1996, understanding."
That was the understanding that Secretary Christopher negotiated between Syria and Lebanon, and the Israelis and the Palestinians.
"According to the complaint, Israeli forces and Israeli-controlled militia shelled the village of Safad-el-Battikh, resulting in the injury of 13 Lebanese civilians, four of them seriously, and damage to houses, the village's electrical grid, telephone lines, and the water distribution network. The complaint stressed that the Lebanese resistance did not use the village to launch its attack on the occupation forces," which is what this reads.
"The Israeli representative expressed sorrow for the injuries and damage caused, but maintained that they were an unintended result of defensive counterfire following a Hezbollah mortar attack. He said that Israel had responded in a proportionate and restrained manner consistent with the recommendations adopted by the Monitoring Group on September 25, 1996.
"The Lebanese and Syrian representatives expressed the view that the shelling was deliberate and voiced the concern that the Israeli artillery action was aimed at raising tension to prepare the ground for a wider Israeli military action. The Israeli representative assured that this was not the case and that Israel's policy was exactly opposite.
"The military representative of the Monitoring Group undertook verification missions in the area of Safad-el-Battikh, the artillery firing position within Israel, and in the vicinity of Bara'Shit.
"Concluding its discussions, the Monitoring Group deplored the injuries caused to the Lebanese civilians in the village of Safad-el-Battikh.
"In light of the findings of the verification missions, the Monitoring Group confirmed that the injuries and destruction were caused by Israeli artillery fire. The Israeli representative stated that Israel considers that this counterfire was defensive, while the Lebanese and Syrian representatives rejected such an interpretation."
I've just read -- these are not my words -- I've read this statement of the Chairman of the Monitoring Group, David Greenlee.
We can talk about this specifically, but I want to make one larger point. Before April 26, 1996, there was no mechanism for the Israelis, Syrians, and Lebanese to get together and talk about who is responsible for what. Because of that, we saw the horrific events of April 1996, where there were tens of thousands of Lebanese civilians and thousands of Israeli civilians under threat of artillery attacks.
We have, I think, taken a great leap forward that instead of responding militarily, in disputed situations like this, the parties are now sitting down and discussing it and they're putting their grievances on paper. That is a step forward.
Q Just to clarify. Are you saying this is the statement of David Greenlee?
MR. BURNS: It's a statement on behalf of the Chairman of the Monitoring Group, who is David Greenlee, an American. As you know, we have a rotation between the United States and France as chair. The United States is currently in the chair.
Q This is a statement from the U.S. Government, not David --
MR. BURNS: No. It's a statement by David Greenlee. This is an important distinction because he has colleagues; he has French, Syrian, Israeli, and Lebanese colleagues who work with him.
Q So he's somehow not acting on behalf of the U.S. Government in preparing this statement?
MR. BURNS: He is the United States Government representative. But this statement results from the discussions that five countries had -- the five countries and the Monitoring Group. I was remiss in including the Palestinians, by the way, in that number. It's the five that I just mentioned. It's their statement.
Q Does the United States Government agree with it?
MR. BURNS: Absolutely. He's our representative, and we congratulate him for the work. We think this is a major step forward, to have the monitoring group meet and discuss things in a civil way and a peaceful way without resort to some of the artillery barrages on either side that have victimized civilians in the past. This is a step forward.
Q Do the U.S. and France take any position on whether it was, indeed, justifiably defensive artillery fire?
MR. BURNS: The United States and France have both agreed that we will limit our remarks on disputed issues like this to the Monitoring Group discussions. I'm not going to sit up here or M. Rummelhardt in Paris is not going to make unilateral statements.
We have here a statement by representatives of our governments, and it speaks for itself.
Q But did the United States and France participate in the debate with the Israelis in this?
MR. BURNS: Yes. I'm sorry if there's any confusion about this. The Monitoring Group, when it meets, includes the United States as Chair; France, co-Chair; Lebanon, Israel, and Syria. This was a very serious incident, because 13 people were injured and a village received very serious damage.
So the five countries involved sat down and discussed this over four days, until today -- until this morning. The Chair has issued the following statement that reflects the discussion.
You saw from the reading of the note that the Israelis had an opportunity to put forward publicly their point of view. The Lebanese and Syrians did as well. The United States and France, of course, are the Chair and co-Chair. So we try to facilitate the discussion.
Q Korea. There are confusing reports from Tokyo and Seoul whether North Korea eventually conducted missile tests. The one, that North Korea -- missile test -- is very imminent. The other one, North Korea has already cancelled the missile test, or may cancel the test. Which do you think is nearer to the fact on the report?
MR. BURNS: I am not in a position to confirm that North Korea has launched a missile test, or launched a missile, as a test.
I can say, however, as I said yesterday, that should North Korea undertake such a missile test, it would be destabilizing. It will be harmful to our efforts to provide stability in the Korean Peninsula. The United States would very much be opposed to this. We've made this clear to the North Koreans, and we've had very recent contacts with the North Koreans.
Q You said yesterday that North Korea understood the U.S. concern on the missile test. If so, can you believe, or are certain that North Korea can accept and cancel the test?
MR. BURNS: That is a diplomatic way of saying that we have conveyed a very strong message to the North Koreans that they ought not to undertake such a test. Whether the North Koreans agree with that message, it is up to them to say. You'll have to ask any North Koreans you can find, who are willing to speak out publicly, on this issue. I suspect there aren't many in this part of the world.
We have made our views known privately and publicly as a result of my statements over the last several days on this issue.
Q Can you give us a few more details on how and when you conveyed the message?
MR. BURNS: We normally talk to the North Koreans in New York. We talk to North Korean diplomats at the United Nations. We also have other ways of passing messages. We sometimes use those channels. You can be assured that the message has been passed. This is a very serious issue. We think it would be destabilizing in north Asia to have these types of tests undertaken. North Korea needs to think very carefully about this kind of action.
Q A different subject?
MR. BURNS: Yes.
Q I apologize if this question has been asked and answered earlier in the week. Did you ever give a readout of Assistant Secretary Moose's talks with Savimbi?
MR. BURNS: I did not, but let me just tell you the background. When Secretary Christopher left Luanda on Monday -- and, Carol, I know you were there -- he asked George Moose to travel to a provincial city to see Mr. Savimbi. Assistant Secretary Moose got on the plane. Actually, I think the plane was circling to land and could not land because of very severe weather. The pilot would not land the plane. The plane returned to Luanda.
The next opportunity would have been, I think, today, four days later. So George Moose came back to the United States. Ambassador Don Steinberg, on Tuesday, did travel to meet with Mr. Savimbi. He did convey the Secretary's messages on the important issue of whether Mr. Savimbi would attend the requisite meetings and do the right thing to promote national reconciliation in Angola.
We have since seen, on Wednesday, some very positive statements by Mr. Savimbi that he would, in fact, meet his commitments to the United Nations, to the United States and others, that he would act in such a way to promote a continued reconciliation with the Angolan Government. We now need to see those fine statements turned into concrete action on the ground.
So Ambassador Don Steinberg had the opportunity, I think, to have a very important meeting. It seems to, at least in the short term, to have resulted positively.
Q Any readout on the meeting between Prime Minister Konstandinos Simitis and the American Ambassador to Athens, Thomas Niles the other day, at the latter's request, for the Greek-Turkish differences?
MR. BURNS: Yes. I believe that Ambassador Tom Niles met with Prime Minister Simitis on October 16. This was the first meeting that they had had since the Prime Minister's election. It was an opportunity for Ambassador Niles to engage the Prime Minister in a discussion of the U.S.-Greek relationship. It was a rather comprehensive discussion. The conversations were positive and they were constructive -- an excellent relationship with the Government of Greece.
Q (Inaudible) for years, the Greek relationship. I was told that 45 minutes at least were spent on Greek-Turkish differences. So I would like you to comment to this specific question?
MR. BURNS: It hasn't been my practice to say how many minutes were spent on what issue. I actually don't know how many minutes were spent on those issues, but I said it was a comprehensive set of discussions. Of course, that would include Aegean and Cyprus issues. Of course, it would.
Q Could you please confirm information that a similar meeting has taken place in Ankara the other day at the initiative of Ambassador Grossman?
MR. BURNS: With whom?
Q With Mrs. Ciller or the Prime Minister -- a similar meeting?
MR. BURNS: I actually don't know what meetings Ambassador Grossman has had this week in Ankara, so I'm not in a position to do that, Mr. Lambros.
Q I was told by a State Department official, ON BACKGROUND, of course, that the least of the Greek small islets in which the U.S. Government does not recognize Greek sovereignty, as you stated in this room on February 1, does not exist finally.
My question is, number one, that means, for the time being, may I assume that the statement you made on February 1, 1996, has been made by mistake?
MR. BURNS: Two points. I'm on the record. I don't respond to BACKGROUND comments made by my colleagues here in the State Department.
Secondly, my statements on these disputed islets were on the record. They're U.S. Government policy, and they remain U.S. Government policy. There has been no change in U.S. Government policy concerning the disputed islets in the Aegean. No change whatsoever.
Everything I said on February 1, March, April, May, June -- all throughout the summer -- remains U.S. Government policy.
Q Do you recognize finally the Greek sovereignty over Imia and those small islets, since you are saying that you remain firm in your statement of February 1, 1996?
MR. BURNS: I would bet that I have enunciated our policy on that issue roughly 25 times. Nothing has changed since the 25th time that I did. I can't remember when that was, but nothing has changed. Nothing.
Q In order to facilitate the process, otherwise, you still do not recognize Greek sovereignty over Imia and those small islets?
MR. BURNS: Our position has not changed.
Q It has been fully clarified by the Prime Minister Kostandinos Simits the other day during his official visit to Cyprus, that his government will address, first, to the International Court of Justice on the Imia issue and then the delimitation of the continental shelf.
This process, as you know, Mr. Burns, is against international practice. It means partition of the Aegean via the Greek small islands by the method of Imia with the full blessing, of course, of the International Court of Justice. It was reported, however, extensively, in the Greek press, that this specific process is a U.S. proposal. I would like you to comment if it's true -- yes or not?
MR. BURNS: Mr. Lambros, there's very little I can say on this except to say, very quickly, very briefly, because we need to get onto other issues, that we have told the Greeks and Turks repeatedly that should they desire it, we will be glad to help them try to resolve these problems.
We have suggested in the past that they might want to refer their disputes to a consensual body, a consensual organization. That's up to them to make that decision.
When they make a decision as to how they wish to discuss this issue, should they wish to include us, we are ready. Should they wish to follow some other avenue, that's fine, as long as these issues are settled peacefully and constructively without the threat of force, or the use of force, the United States will be content.
Q Just to clarify. As far as first to go, Imia and then the delimitation of the continental shelf, it's a U.S. proposal or a Greek proposal?
MR. BURNS: I don't want to get into who is suggesting what, which proposal, or this or that proposal. Our position is very clear. We're playing a constructive role. We're NATO allies of Greece and Turkey. We admire both governments. We work with them both. That will be our policy in the future, I can assure you. Thank you.
Q A Pelletreau question. Do you know what his game plan is? Are these proximity talks, or is he just going to meet with them separately without any exchange of ideas between them?
MR. BURNS: I don't believe they're proximity talks; along the lines of, say, Dayton? No. These are separate meetings that he will hold next week with both individuals.
In between the meetings, he maintains telephone contact with both of them.
Q You said "next week?"
MR. BURNS: Yes, because he is not leaving the United States, I believe, until tomorrow. Therefore, he won't be in the Middle East until Sunday. So Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.
Q Can I go back to the Monitoring Group again? When the negotiations were going on, setting them up, I had the distinct impression from what you and other spokesmen were saying that the Monitoring Group would involve some sort of closure or some sort of conclusion on incidents that were reported to you.
From what you've just read here, it appears that is not the case, that there is an airing of charge and countercharge, but no conclusion, no decision about whether -- which side was right.
Is that statement -- does that statement represent the way you thought it would work when the Monitoring Group was initially set up?
MR. BURNS: The objective was to make sure they had a forum to talk rather than to fight out their differences. Each case is different. I think that the Monitoring Group representatives have found that each of these complaints brought to it by any number of the principals here is different.
In some cases I imagine it will be possible to resolve a misunderstanding. In other cases, perhaps the best that one can hope for is that they will discuss their differences and perhaps agree to disagree.
In both cases those outcomes are far preferable to fighting and to shelling and to putting Israeli civilians in northern Israel or Arab civilians in southern Lebanon in danger. And that's the situation that Secretary Christopher was dealing with in April of this year.
The understanding that he negotiated, the April 26th understanding, is a major step forward because we see here that an incident like this, which in the past could have turned the situation to war, has now enabled them to talk peacefully without recourse to fighting. That's a major step forward.
Q KDP talks yesterday: a Turkish observer, which he attended yesterday's meeting, and he said, "Give any account to the Turkish objectives about these meetings, nine-eighths ex-PKK and the Iraq territorial integrity and everything." And also he said that they are looking for the Turkomans, which are the second largest group in northern Iraq, included these political talks.
Do you share this kind of view?
MR. BURNS: We certainly share the Turkish view that we ought to maintain close contact with the Turkoman population. You are right, it's a major minority group in northern Iraq.
Ambassador Pelletreau met with the Turkoman leadership in Ankara in September, the day that he met Mr. Barzani. They had separate meetings and we'll maintain close contact with the Turkoman from our Embassy in Ankara and from here as much as that is possible.
Q And also yesterday the KDP, one of the spokesman, Mr. Zebari, Hoshyar Zebari, he said that PKK gave in less fighting with the Talibanese and Iranian forces together. They are supporting with the Talibani and Iranian forces.
Do you have any of this kind of information?
MR. BURNS: I cannot confirm that, no.
Yes, sir. Yes.
Q Coming to the Bosnian question, could you be more specific about the mission of Mr. Kornblum, especially in connection with the pending coming election, on those two tricky issues, the Mostar case and the case of the voting rights of the displaced persons and refugees abroad?
MR. BURNS: Ambassador Kornblum is returning to Washington today from Moscow. He accompanied Secretary Perry to Moscow this week. On Sunday, he will be departing Washington for the Balkans where he is going to be in Sarajevo and elsewhere.
What we are working on this week, and what we will be working on next week, is the question of the municipal elections. Preparations for those elections are going forward. As you know, the OSCE has been scheduling those elections for late November. Mr. Frowick has been meeting non-stop with Mrs. Plavsic, with the Provisional Electoral Commission and others, to try to decide on a specific date, on the modalities for these elections.
That's the current question. Now, the Bosnian Serbs have a responsibility to work with the OSCE on the administration of these elections. They have got to do that. That's part of their Dayton commitments. They don't have the option, as Mrs. Plavsic was speculating publicly, of organizing these elections on their own.
They're not in a position to do so. It wouldn't be fair to the population to have the Bosnian Serbs organize and run these elections. They've got to be run by the OSCE. That's what we agreed upon at Dayton.
So Ambassador Kornblum, who appears in the Balkans on an average of once a week, will be back on Sunday and for a couple of days next week to press this issue; to work with Ambassador Frowick, with Carl Bildt; and to see that the United States pushes forward -- as we've been doing now for more than a year -- to complete the peace agreements.
Q On Lebed, Mr. Lebed's story, now he's going to prepare for the possible elections that would follow the resignation of Mr. Yeltsin on health grounds. Apparently the democratic process has worked well in Russia, but I would ask you to comment on this defamation, this smear -- what appears to be a smear of Mr. Lebed, at least in my eyes. Is there something familiar about this, perhaps relating to Mr. Chubais and his firing earlier? Could there be some future for Mr. Lebed in that government?
MR. BURNS: Bill, I never knew you were of such a conspiratorial mind. (Laughter) This is very revealing!
Frankly, I take issue with several things that you said, with all due respect.
First of all, President Yeltsin appointed Mr. Lebed and made a decision to dismiss him. Surely, you would agree that that's within President Yeltsin's constitutional powers as head of state in Russia.
Secondly, the United States chooses not to characterize that decision, not to evaluate it, not to comment on that particular decision. That's an internal matter for the Russian Government and the Russian people.
Third, there is no Russian election being planned. Russian elections were held in June and July. It resulted, for the first time in Russian history in a millenium, of a democratically elected president. He is in power. We hope that President Yeltsin recovers from his current illness, makes a full recovery, and serves out his full term.
I don't think we ought to go beyond that in anticipating or speculating on what else may happen. The most important thing for the United States here is that we maintain a stable relationship with the Russian Federation, which we are doing.
Secretary Perry had an excellent set of discussions with the Russian Government. We hope that the Russian Government can convince the Russian Duma to ratify the START II Treaty. We have vital national interests at stake. We have a good working relationship with President Yeltsin, Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, Mr. Chubais, Mr. Primakov, and others. Our relationship is sound.
Q So our principal issue though is: Do you see that the Russian democratic system is alive and well and that Mr. Lebed could be fired and go immediately into the political arena to seek a redress?
MR. BURNS: I think, Bill, you know Mr. Lebed held a press conference after his dismissal. He is saying things freely and in public. That's a dramatic difference from l0 years ago, or 20 or 30 or 40 or 50 or 60 years ago, and that means that Russian democracy is healthy -- free press, democratic elections, separation of powers, a very solid, healthy opposition in the Russian Duma.
Q On Hunziker?
MR. BURNS: No, nothing new to report, except to say that we continue to seek consular access to Mr. Carl Hunziker. We continue to call upon the North Korean Government to release him. He is being held on unjust charges. He's not guilty of espionage; he's not a spy. He should be released immediately.
This is a very serious issue, and we are very grateful for the support of the Swedish Government as our protecting power in Pyongyang. We hope the Swedish diplomat, Mr. Ake Lofquist, can gain consular access to Mr. Hunziker as soon as possible.
Q Thank you.
(The press briefing concluded at l:45 p.m.)
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