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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #15, 98-02-04

U.S. State Department: Daily Press Briefings Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The Department of State Foreign Affairs Network (DOSFAN) at <>


U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing


Wednesday, February 4, 1998

Briefer: James P. Rubin

1		Statement on Sarajevo Conference on displaced persons and
		  refugee returns

IRAQ 1 Secretary Albright consultations with Congress about Iraq 1 Congressional resolution on Iraq being discussed 1-2 Pres. Yeltsin's comments on the ramifications of any possible U.S. military action in Iraq/Secretary Albright's conversation with FM Primakov on Yeltsin's comments/Clarification of Yeltsin's comments by the Russian presidential spokesman 2-4 U.S. reaction to reported Iraqi proposal to allow UN Security Council representatives to visit 8 presidential sites/ Secretary Albright's conversations with allies/ Egyptian view on access to presidential sites 3 Success of Secretary Albright's diplomatic efforts 4 Secretary Albright's phone conversation with Turkish PM Yilmaz / U.S.-Turkey dialogue / U.S. view on Turkish FM Cem's visit to Baghdad 4-5 Reaction to critics of U.S. policy goals in current crisis / UNSCOM's success 5-7 Status of diplomatic efforts/U.S. view on diplomatic envoys sent to Baghdad by France, Russia, others 7 Role of Incirlik air base in Turkey

GREECE / TURKEY 7 U.S. knowledge of 1996 invasion of Imia/Kardak 7-8 Destruction and looting of a Greek church on the Turkish island of Imbros


DPB #15

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 4, 1998 12:45 P.M.


MR. RUBIN: Welcome to the State Department briefing. I see none of the press corps traveling with the Secretary made it today. That's unfortunate. We have one statement on Sarajevo that we'll be putting out after the briefing, so let me go right to your questions.

QUESTION: I understand the Secretary is paying a visit to the Hill this afternoon. Could you tell us what that's about?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, I believe she'll be meeting with House Democrats later today and early this afternoon. She'll be reviewing the results of her trip and talking about the current state of play with the crisis with Iraq.

QUESTION: What about the resolution that's being discussed up there?

MR. RUBIN: Well, our view is that we would welcome support for our position and our determination to resolve this problem. But as you know, we also believe that we have the authority we need, under the Constitution and the laws of the United States. We've had good consultations with key members of the Senate yesterday, and will continue consultations on the Hill in the coming days. But we would welcome expressions of support from Congress.

QUESTION: What's your interpretation of President Yeltsin's remarks about the possibility of a world war breaking out as a result of Iraq? And have you been in touch with Russian officials on the meaning of his remarks?

MR. RUBIN: Yes. Since those remarks were made, Secretary Albright has spoken to Foreign Minister Primakov. Our position on the Iraqi crisis is crystal clear: Iraq must comply with all UN Security Council resolutions and permit full and unfettered access for the UN -- UNSCOM -- to do its work. The Secretary spoke with Foreign Minister Primakov. It is our understanding that the Russians fully share our goal of achieving Iraqi compliance. It is a dispute not between any countries, other than between Iraq and the international community. We have a very strong and constructive relationship with Russia. The two presidents are frequently in touch. Their relationship is strong. Secretary Albright and Foreign Minister Primakov talked at length about Iraq, and this was not a major part of their conversation.

QUESTION: Have Russian officials made any attempt to tone down or put in context his remarks?

MR. RUBIN: Well, it does appear that the presidential spokesman has said that some of the translations perhaps weren't accurate. But again, we are moving on with the important business of working together with all our partners in the Security Council and our allies beyond the Security Council to try to achieve Iraqi compliance, which is the point of this whole issue.

QUESTION: Jamie, do you think it was productive for President Yeltsin to make these remarks at a time when tensions are obviously on uncertain ground and we have a lot of uncertainty in respect to Iraq?

MR. RUBIN: Well, this is an issue where the entire world is focused on the problem; and the problem is Saddam Hussein's refusal to give UNSCOM full and unfettered access. And so we want to keep our eye on the ball. The ball is in Baghdad, and the question is whether Saddam Hussein will reverse course and allow the UN, that is UNSCOM, do its job.

QUESTION: But was it prudent for him to make these remarks at a time when tense negotiations are going on; for the President of Russia to come out and say such a declarative statement?

MR. RUBIN: Again, the presidential spokesman has clarified to some extent what the Russian President has said. We have a good and constructive relationship with the Russians. Secretary Albright and Foreign Minister Primakov spoke on the phone earlier this morning from the aircraft just before we landed, and they focused their attentions on Baghdad and will Saddam Hussein reverse course and allow full and unfettered access.

QUESTION: It's reported that the Iraqis might be making some sort of an offer of access to eight presidential sites, with some caveats on access. Do you see this as an idea that might be considered, or is this simply more stalling?

MR. RUBIN: Let's put it this way - the issue with Iraq is simple: We need full compliance with UN resolutions. According to those resolutions, UNSCOM must be permitted full and unfettered access. UNSCOM remains the UN Security Council's organ designated to undertake inspections and monitoring. Its integrity and effectiveness must be upheld. These are the straightforward and clear standards by which we will judge Iraq's actions. We do not have all the details of these reported proposals that have emerged over the last couple of days, sometimes being denied by one capital or another. But insofar as we understand the current Iraqi proposal, it does not meet these straightforward criteria, this simple standard; and thus would fall short of the standard of full and unfettered access for the UN -- that is, UNSCOM -- and that is the standard which must be met. I would add, however, that the Iraqis seem to be moving towards some recognition that the blocking of so-called presidential sites is untenable. This shows the necessity of standing firm; it shows the necessity of our determination and our united resolve that the Iraqi regime comply fully and unconditionally with the requirements of the UN Security Council resolutions. This is our bottom line when it comes to the crisis with Iraq. Secretary Albright has spoken today, as I indicated, with Foreign Minister Primakov. She's also spoken with Secretary General Kofi Annan, with Foreign Minister Vedrine of France, with Foreign Minister Cook of London. And these are the essential points that she has communicated to those other leaders.

QUESTION: Jamie, on the issue of President --

MR. RUBIN: A follow-up? Yes.

QUESTION: Do you see, or does the Secretary see in any of these phone calls that she has made the possibility of some sort of a diplomatic solution to this crisis at this point, or is it too early to say? _MR. RUBIN_: Well, Secretary Albright has had a number of meetings in the recent days, with a number of the countries who have planned to send envoys to the region. The message that she has delivered to those countries and that they have agreed with is that Saddam Hussein must get the message: Full and unfettered access is the only way out. We are not any more optimistic than she has been in recent days as a result of her discussions. That is because this crisis has dragged on for a long time. We still don't see a willingness on the part of Saddam Hussein to reverse course and allow the full and unfettered access that we think we need.

QUESTION: On the issue of presidential sites, the Egyptian National Security Advisor, Osama El-Baz, is in print in an interview with an Egyptian newspaper saying that Iraq should stand firm in refusing full access to presidential sites, because it's a matter of national sovereignty. Is that what the Egyptian side told the Secretary in Cairo?

MR. RUBIN: Well, often news reports in that part of the world are less than a good basis from which I should comment. But let me say this - she met with President Mubarak; she had an excellent meeting with him. When she left the meeting she felt that one thing was clear - that the Egyptian Government, like every other government she met with, believes that UNSCOM, the UN, must have unfettered and full access - no fetters, no partial access - to all the sites that UNSCOM believes it needs. So to the extent that any interview, correct or incorrect, purports to suggest that the Egyptian position is different than that, that is not what we believe the international community is united behind. Every country that - every government that she met with was united on a simple proposition that it's Saddam Hussein who has caused this crisis, and it is Saddam Hussein who has to comply with the demands of the United Nations, which means full and unfettered access: not partial access, full access.

QUESTION: Turkish traffic on the Iraqi crisis picked up quite a bit recently. I have two questions.

MR. RUBIN: The what?

QUESTION: The diplomatic traffic between the United States and Turkey picked up pace. And I understand Secretary Albright talked to Turkish Prime Minister, Mesut Yilmaz, recently. In that discussion, Secretary Albright reportedly explained to Mr. Yilmaz the measures the United States agreed to take to prevent a sort of refugee influx to Turkey that happened after the '91 Gulf War. Could you please explain what these measures are? And secondly, today Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem, will be visiting Baghdad with a general peace plan. How do you see Turkey's role in this crisis? Do you support that initiative?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, Secretary Albright did speak to Prime Minister Yilmaz from the aircraft. I cannot remember which city it was, but it was over the course of her trip. She had a very good conversation with him, and I think you've seen very strong support from the Turkish Government for the principle that Saddam Hussein must come back into compliance with UN resolutions and that the responsibility for this crisis falls squarely on Iraq's shoulders. As far as what measures might be planned in the event of the circumstance you described, I'm not in a position to get into detail, other than to say that our assistant secretary, Mark Grossman, and the deputy chairman of the joint chiefs were in Turkey and had a chance to discuss in full the stakes involved, the possible outcomes and what the United States and Turkey would need to do together to deal with that. But I have no details for you.

QUESTION: How about Turkish Foreign Minister's visit today to Baghdad?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, Secretary Albright is aware of that visit. We believe that the more Saddam Hussein can understand that there is no way out but full and unfettered access, the greater the chance that he will reverse course and allow the UN to do its job.

QUESTION: What do you think of the many people who believe that the US policy doesn't go far enough, in the sense that the problem will not go away as long as Saddam Hussein is in power, which is an issue which is not among the goals which you have outlined?

MR. RUBIN: Well, the first thing I say to those people is, when you're outside of government, it's always nice to write articles about what can be easily done. When you're in government and you're responsible for policies, you deal with the way the world really works. Our view is that the President and the Secretary and the Secretary of Defense are focused on the national security concern that faces the world, and that is the prospect of a Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction threatening his neighbors and threatening the world. Our policy and our actions, whether diplomatic or otherwise, are focused on meeting that national security threat; and that is thwarting Iraq's capacity to develop and use weapons of mass destruction, and to limit his ability to threaten his neighbors. And I would also point to the fact that UNSCOM has, up to this point, achieved a great deal, even while these same critics were calling for the same policies; and that is the destruction of dozens of missiles, the destruction of hundreds of chemical munitions - actually almost 40,000 of those - 7,000 tons of chemical weapons, 3,000 tons of different precursor chemicals. So these same critics who would have had us - who made the same argument that as long as Saddam Hussein is there, you're never going to be able to deal with the weapons of mass destruction threat, need to take into account that UNSCOM has done a superb job and destroyed more weapons of mass destruction than were destroyed during the Gulf War, when the opportunity for other measures might have existed. But that's a long, long time ago, and we're focused on the problem that faces the nation and the world; and that is this weapons of mass destruction threat.

QUESTION: So despite all the destruction, he still is a global threat?

MR. RUBIN: No, I don't think I said that. The prospect - the words I used were very carefully chosen. We believe there is an inherent threat when UNSCOM is not able to complete its job; and that is why the President has taken such a firm stance and is determined to resolve this problem. Ideally, that would mean the UN inspectors going back in, being able to get the access they need - not partial access, full access - and uncovering what remains to be uncovered. But if that fails, the necessity will still be there, and the objective will be clear: to thwart Saddam Hussein's ability to acquire or use weapons of mass destruction and potentially to threaten his neighbors. That is a responsible policy based on where we are today.

QUESTION: Before the Secretary left, I believe she used the word, the phrase, "the sting was running out" for Iraq, before she left for her trip. Would you say that after coming back from these meetings that the U.S. is closer to getting to the end of that rope, or string, if you will?

MR. RUBIN: Well, during the trip, the analogies were being thrown around by your colleagues. All I can say at this point is that the diplomatic string is fraying, but it has not fully frayed. (Laughter.) Any other on Iraq?

QUESTION: Apparently the French are talking with the Iraqis about a compromise solution concerning the access to the sites by which the UNSCOM would have access to all the sites but the composition of the teams of inspectors would be different according to the sensitivity of the sites. Would that be something that meets your standard of unfettered access?

MR. RUBIN: Again, I'm not going to be in a position to comment in detail on un-fully formed proposals. I can give you the standard, and that is full and unfettered access; and secondly, that UNSCOM's integrity and effectiveness be upheld. The proposals that have emerged, about which there isn't a lot of detail, insofar as we understand them, do not meet these simple criteria, and thus would fall short of the standards the international community has set. But it does seem that the Iraqis are moving toward some recognition that the blocking of so-called presidential sites is an untenable position. What that demonstrates is the need for the entire world to stand firm in our resolve that the Iraqi regime comply fully and unconditionally with the requirements of UN Security Council resolutions. The Secretary has been in touch with Foreign Minister Vedrine, and has laid out these two standards. But beyond that, I'm not in a position to get into detail or critique reported proposals that might then be pulled off the table in the next hour. But I think I've laid out as much as we can in this setting what our standards are and why the current proposal of the day falls short of that standard.

QUESTION: When you mentioned the proposal that emerged, referring to the proposal that emerged from Baghdad directly from the Iraqis --

MR. RUBIN: Correct.

QUESTION: -- all the proposals have emerged from the talks between the French and the Iraqis?

MR. RUBIN: Again, there's a tendency for everybody to claim there's a different proposal and that there is some - presumably one ownership, and then some later deny ownership of those proposals. All I can do is try to reflect for you our standards and respond to what is the proposal of the day, as stated in news media accounts, but with all the details unclear. But in general, I've given you the best answer I can, until more details are available.

QUESTION: Given that you've said that you've expressed the US standards on this, and that most of these proposals don't appear, at least on first glance, to meet those standards, is it helpful to have all these diplomats going to Iraq, offering up proposals that may or may not meet those standards?

MR. RUBIN: What is helpful is the message getting through, through the leadership in Baghdad. Hopefully at some point, they'll get it, and they'll realize that the international community is united that they must return to compliance, they must reverse course and allow full and unfettered access. To the extent that the messengers deliver that message - and we have every reason to believe at this point they are - we don't have a problem with that. That doesn't mean we're optimistic that the message will be understood well enough for the Iraqis to reverse course, but at this point, we don't have a problem with messengers. What we have a problem with is Saddam Hussein not getting the message.

QUESTION: Aren't you concerned with the fact that the messengers seem to be on the side of staying with diplomacy?

MR. RUBIN: Secretary Albright had a number of meetings with many of the countries who have sent envoys, including France, Egypt and several other countries she met with. They were all united in their demand that Saddam Hussein return to compliance; that he is responsible for this crisis; and in different ways, each of the leaders that she met in the Arab world made clear that they recognize the need for the United States and the international community to push for compliance. So we, like they, would prefer a diplomatic solution. We, like they, hope that Saddam Hussein gets the message. But we're skeptical. And there wasn't a lot of optimism in the Secretary's conversations with key leaders that he would. But that doesn't mean that one shouldn't try, although it is fair to point out that the diplomatic string is fraying.

QUESTION: President Clinton sent a message to Turkish President Demirel yesterday asking --

MR. RUBIN: I have no information on a presidential message.

QUESTION: Do you know if America, at any point during this crisis, asked to use the Incirlik air force base from Turkey?

MR. RUBIN: All I can say on operational military details with regard to the use of force is that we are confident we will have the support we need if it comes to that.

QUESTION: Jamie, there is a pending question on Imia, since yesterday's briefing by Jim Foley, related to the Greek Foreign Minister, Mr. Theodhoros Pangalos. I'm wondering if you have any answer.

MR. RUBIN: Well, what I'd like to do on that, since I did just get back early this morning from a very long trip, is to get my able deputy, Jim Foley, to deal with that after the briefing.

QUESTION: One more. On the island of Imbros, in the Eastern Aegean, under Turkish control, unknown Turks destroyed yesterday totally a Greek church and stole all the frescos and other items. Do you have anything on that?

MR. RUBIN: I think that's going to be another one for Mr. Foley. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing concluded at 1:05 P.M.)

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