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U.S. Department of State
96/07/18 Interview with MSNBC
Office of the Spokesman
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesman
For Immediate Release July 18, 1996
SECRETARY OF STATE WARREN CHRISTOPHER
ANDREA MITCHELL - MSNBC
July 18, 1996
MS. MITCHELL: Mr. Secretary, welcome. Thank you so much for taking the
time after this dreadful tragedy and everything that the United States
Government is doing.
President Clinton has just said, "Don't jump to conclusions. Don't make
the mistake that some people in the media made after Oklahoma City."
All of that said, how do you rule out terrorism? How does this
government go about ruling out a terrorist attack?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Andrea, we're not ruling anything in or anything
out. As the President said, we do not know what the cause is. A very
extensive investigation has now begun under the leadership of the FBI.
We have our people and experts joining in that investigation. We'll get
to the bottom of this. But, as the President so well said, it's not
helpful; it's not useful. It really is not responsible to speculate at
the present time.
MS. MITCHELL: Why in a case such as this -- just let me understand what
is the standard operating procedure -- why at around 2:00 o'clock this
morning did the FBI announce that its anti-terrorist task force was
going to lead the investigation? What is the procedure in a case such
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: They have interagency contacts through the
night. We have this system now in which we can have videoconferencing
on a secure line, and there were some videoconferences last night. Wea videoconference?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: One of the Assistant Secretaries, perhaps, from
the Consular Affairs Bureau -- the Assistant Secretary involved in
terrorism. But I want to emphasize every time I use that kind of a
word, there should be no assumption that that's involved, but we
wouldn't be doing our job well if we didn't include that among the
possibilities, would we?
MS. MITCHELL: No, and in fact the American people expect that of you,
and the President and you have been very clear for many years now that
terrorism is a top priority. So that's why I think this is a good
opportunity at least to try to explain what it is that does happen. One
of the things that does happen, we know, is that at Langley they have a
coordinated interagency task force. We've done reports on that. They
have cooperated in telling us.
So that's where the FBI, the Federal Aviation Authority, all of these
groups get together. They monitor and intercept communications. Is
that the basic goal?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: That certainly is one of the things they do,
but, as you know, the Transportation Safety Board has been involved in
this as well, because various other causes have not been ruled out.
Indeed, they'll be pursued just as aggressively.
MS. MITCHELL: One of the questions that has been raised is the Athens
Airport. This flight did -- three hours before it took off from New
York, it arrived from Athens. Athens Airport has a history of bad
security problems. Last March this State Department and the rest of the
world, the international aviation authorities, issued security warnings
to travelers about Athens. What is the status of Athens right now?
MS. MITCHELL: It continues to be an airport that we're concerned about.
But it just is not useful for a person in my position to walk down that
road of speculations, Andrea. I think it's better to do as the
President has said. We'll get to the bottom of it. Let us do that and
let us not speculate. Let us now reflect our deep concern for the
families, our condolences to the families and friends of those people
involved. We were all deeply shocked and saddened by this last night.
As you said, it was a fairly long night for many of us. I think now the
effort -- it's a very strong, determined effort, and we'll get to the
bottom of this.
MS. MITCHELL: On the human side, you referred to the Consular people.
Many of our viewers may not know what they do. Is that focused on the
foreigners who might have been on this flight who need to be helped --
the connections with other countries?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: It could be that, but we want to try to contact
any of the families involved; try to make sure that they have all the
information that we have here in the United States.
For example, when Secretary Brown's plane went down, we took the primary
responsibility for contacting the families. In this instance, I believe
that TWA is doing it, but we're trying to provide backup
responsibilities. We're in contact, of course, with Ambassador Harriman
in Paris to see if we can be helpful there.
There were a number of travelers on this plane. It obviously was going
overseas, and they had some overseas contacts. So we'll want to make
sure that if there are foreigners involved and citizens of foreign
countries, that we keep in touch with them through our Embassies around
the world as well as we can.
MS. MITCHELL: The President referred to the fact that apparently he had
been in contact, in his conversation with Mayor Guiliani and Governor
Pataki, about the fact that TWA did not quickly notify families
overnight. Was the State Department in this case ahead of TWA in trying
to help these families?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: I don't want to make any assessment of that
situation. We did have a task force here. I activated it something
after midnight last night, and we'll proceed down that line. Actually,
I'm going up from here to take a call from Foreign Minister de Charette
in Paris, and I'm sure he'll be calling me, as other Ministers have this
morning, to express concern but also to see if there's some way he can
MS. MITCHELL: Which Ministers have called you this morning?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: I've had messages from the British Foreign
Minister, and two or three other messages have come in. Of course, I've
talked to Foreign Minister Dick Spring of Ireland this morning, and he
extended their condolences as well.
MS. MITCHELL: And when you discuss this with foreign leaders, I assume
that in addition to other issues, you are discussing the possibility of
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: I think in those conversations, they've really
been messages of condolence and concern for America. They understand
that we're pursuing the causes as aggressively as we possibly can.
MS. MITCHELL: Let me ask you about something Secretary Perry said
yesterday -- a related subject. In Dhahran there was one of the largest
bombs ever seen against an American facility. Secretary Perry said
yesterday that there have been new intelligence reports that Saudi
terrorists might be capable of an even larger destructive device. How
can we be sure that our facilities around the world are safe?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Andrea, I went out to that site in Saudi Arabia
immediately after that took place, and I began to follow there the
practice I'm going to continue to follow, and that is to not speculate
about the cause of that until the investigation is finished. Naturally,
all around the world we're concerned about our facilities.
We have tried to fashion them in a way to provide maximum security, but
we will take a new look at this. We may learn some things from this
MS. MITCHELL: Secretary Christopher, if you could just stand by for
just a moment, we're going to take a quick break and be right back.
Thank you very much.
MS. MITCHELL: Welcome back. I'm Andrea Mitchell at the State
Department. With me, Secretary of State Warren Christopher. Mr.
Christopher, Bosnia. Right now your special ambassador, Richard
Holbrooke, is meeting in Belgrade, Serbia, with Milosevic, who we
believe has the ultimate answer to whether these war criminals -- the
Bosnian Serb leaders -- are ever arrested. What can you tell us? The
meetings yesterday, we are told, did not go very well.
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Andrea, let me put it in a little broader frame.
I asked Dick Holbrooke to go back to the region to meet with all the
leaders of the three countries. He's now met with President
Izetbegovic, President Tudjman and President Milosevic.
There's been some progress in connection with economic matters. The
Vice President of Bosnia is going to be going to Belgrade to meet with
the Serbs, and that's the highest level contact that they've had. But I
know the principal that you have is in connection with Dr. Karadzic.
Dick Holbrooke had four or five hours with Milosevic, and he's now going
back, and he is in the course of the crucial meeting right now. As far
as his trip goes, he's going to be using all the influence and pressure
he can on President Milosevic to try to encourage him; to try to get him
to comply with the Dayton agreement, and that is to insure that Dr.
Karadzic is not involved in this election process in any way.
MS. MITCHELL: What pressure can we use? I mean, we've threatened
economic sanctions, but our allies are not as willing as we are to
impose them, and, if we do it by ourselves, it will not be as effective.
I mean, how can we get Milosevic to turn these two guys over when in
effect they're thumbing their noses at the rest of the world?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: President Milosevic was deeply involved in the
Dayton agreement -- the Dayton negotiations. He has a big stake in
making sure that Dayton works, and we're going to be reminding him of
that. But we have a little bit more by way of leverage than your
I was personally involved in negotiating with President Milosevic a
provision of the Dayton agreement that says that if he is not in
compliance with the agreement,.if his country is not in compliance, the
sanctions that have been suspended can be reimposed automatically upon
recommendation either of the IFOR Commander or of Carl Bildt, the High
I think he needs to be reminded of that. We're going to have a really
pretty candid conversation with him as to what the prospects and
possibilities are here. If he's able to accomplish this, I think that
there are prospects for him of some things that he very much wants to
have. On the other hand, if this is not done, I think that he will be
found not to be in compliance with the Dayton agreement, and then we'll
be prepared to take some additional action.
So I think we have both the suasion of trying to get him to comply with
an agreement in which he was importantly involved and which has brought
considerable benefits to Serbia. We also, I think, have the indication
to him that there would be some costs if he doesn't comply -- some very
MS. MITCHELL: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for bringing us up to
date. We know your time is tight. We appreciate your taking these
moments to be with us.
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Thank you, Andrea.
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