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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #19, 98-02-13

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

From: The Department of State Foreign Affairs Network (DOSFAN) at <http://www.state.gov>


361

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing

I N D E X

Friday, February 13, 1998

Briefer: James P. Rubin

SIERRE LEONE
1,5		ECOMOG Expels Junta Leaders From Freetown

IRAQ 1 Argentine Government Prepared to Lend Full Support to International Effort re Iraqi Compliance with UN Resolutions 3-4 Reports of Turkish Troops Moving Into Iraq 4-5,6 Russian Cooperation with UNSCOM/Inspection Regime

CUBA 1-2 Cuban Government Release of Prisoners

GREECE/TURKEY/CYPRUS 2-3 Secretary Albright's Congressional Testimony 3 New Aegean Initiative

DEPARTMENT 4 Former Foreign Service Officer Felix Bloch/Suit Against the Department


U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING

DPB #19

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 13, 1998, 1:20 P.M.

(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

MR. RUBIN: Greetings. Welcome to the Friday State Department briefing. I hope you all have a good weekend when this is over.

Let me start by reading a statement with regard to Sierra Leone. Troops of the Economic Community of West African States Cease-Fire Monitoring Group, otherwise known as ECOMOG, have wrested most of Freetown, Sierra Leone, from control of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council/Revolutionary United Front Military Junta

ECOMOG troops have secured the US Embassy and liberated 100 people who were sheltering there. We urge all forces to exercise restraint, avoid civilian casualties and respect the human rights of all parties. The leadership of the Junta has fled the country. We hope the democratically-elected government of President Kabbah will quickly return to Freetown, and that calm will soon be restored. The United States will be working with the Kabbah government and the international community to address the pressing needs of the civilian population.

Turning to our subject of Iraq, which there may still be some questions left after Mr. Berger's event at the National Press Club, I can say that the Argentine Government has announced in Buenos Aires that it is prepared to lend its full support to the international effort to require Iraq to fully comply with all UN Security Council resolutions - particularly with regard to permitting UNSCOM to fulfill its mission. Specifically, it has stated that in the case that diplomatic efforts are exhausted, it is prepared to deploy military medical personnel and equipment. This decision to make a military contribution, should it be necessary, is reflective of the courage and leadership of the Argentine Government, which, in addition to participating in Desert Shield/Desert Storm, has provided troops for peacekeeping missions around the world in recent years.

QUESTION: Anything on Cuba's accelerating release of political prisoners?

MR. RUBIN: We naturally welcome the news that political prisoners are to be released in response to the Pope's request. Around the world, Pope John Paul II has demonstrated time and time again his remarkable ability to generate humanitarian and political progress.

If these releases lead to an increase in the sphere of freedom inside Cuba, they are an important development. But until we have further information on the scope and conditions of these releases, we cannot fully assess their significance. In particular, we're concerned that many political prisoners are not being released, and that those who are released may be forced into exile. We also want to ensure that people that are released are not detained again.

Most importantly, we need to bear in mind that the reason behind the Pope's request is the expansion of freedom inside Cuba. A repeat of past practices where so-called trouble-makers are removed from the Cuban society would not be the kind of progress that either the Pope or the international community is seeking. What the world wants to see is freedom inside Cuba for people to practice their religion, practice their political rights and allow that dissent to occur peacefully.

QUESTION: The long-standing US policy has been that significant actions in Cuba will be followed by carefully calibrated responses from this government. The Castro government accommodated the Pope's visit. He allowed live television transmission of the masses. Now he has made these prisoner releases. Have we reached a point yet where there will be some response from the United States? And if so, what would that - what would be an appropriate response?

MR. RUBIN: Well, the situation is still being determined. There are lists. There is information about those lists that needs to be gathered. The extent to which some on the lists were not released, the extent to which real political dissidents were not released -- these are all factors we need to take into account, and we don't have all the information necessary to make that judgment. Because of that, we cannot fully assess their significance; that is, the significance of these releases. And until we can do that, we cannot make a judgment whether it is significant enough to justify calibrated responses.

QUESTION: Where these prisoners are forced into exile, is the United States willing to take them?

MR. RUBIN: I'm not going to be able to make a blanket statement like that. I can say that in the past, when people have come to seek a way to enter the United States, we've looked at each case on a case-by-case basis, based on the rules that apply. Certainly, if those requests were made, we would study them.

QUESTION: How many of the seven or eight that were released earlier applied for asylum in this country; do you know?

MR. RUBIN: I do not know what the current state of play on that is. I don't believe so, but we can try to get you some details on that.

QUESTION: Mr. Rubin, Secretary Albright the other day at her congressional testimony mentioned that the United States Government was pressing Turkey for help on Cyprus. Two questions -- one, could you please further explain what is contained within that word : pressing? Is there any new program, plan submitted to Ankara? And secondly, could you help explain the timing of this initiative, since I don't believe these days Turkey and the United States are exactly seeing eye-to-eye on the Iraq issue?

MR. RUBIN: Well, I would dispute your characterization of our relationship with Turkey when it comes to Iraq. We do believe that both the United States and the Turkish Government want to see Saddam Hussein comply with UN resolutions. We do believe that both the United States and the Turkish Government want to see diplomacy succeed. I believe that both Turkey and the United States believe that if this diplomacy doesn't work, that the consequences that would ensue are the responsibility of Saddam Hussein.

With respect to Cyprus, I haven't seen the specific quote you're referring to, but I suspect what the Secretary was intending to signal there is that we expect settlement negotiations, under UN auspices, to resume following the Cyprus presidential election -- the second and final round which occurs in a few days. We have had discussions with the UN about the timing of travel by UN and US representatives to Cyprus. And over the last several weeks, we have continued our efforts to promote an atmosphere conducive to successful talks.

Ambassador Holbrooke has stayed in touch with leaders in the region by telephone. Special Cyprus Coordinator Thomas Miller traveled to Greece and Turkey in mid-January for discussions with Greek and Turkish officials. He also discussed the Cyprus question with EU officials in Brussels.

In short, the end of the election period will mark a time when efforts to try to promote a peaceful resolution of this dispute will begin again. And the United States will want to work both with Cyprus and all the parties, including those that may have influence. That is what the Secretary was referring to.

QUESTION: Does Ambassador Holbrooke plan to go to the region after the election?

MR. RUBIN: I have no information about any travel plans.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the five Turkish proposals based on the principle of equity for a solution to the Aegean issues? They have been submitted to the Greek Government before yesterday.

MR. RUBIN: We are encouraged by recent expressions of willingness by both Greece and Turkey to move forward energetically to resolve long-standing disputes. As you know, the United States is committed to supporting our Greek and Turkish allies in the effort to achieve genuine security and partnership in the region.

QUESTION: Jamie, have you been able to confirm with the Turkish Government whether they have, in fact, moved into Northern Iraq?

MR. RUBIN: The information I have is that we've seen press reports claiming that this is the case. We still have no independent confirmation of such troop movements. As you know, the Turkish Government has denied them. And through our diplomatic contacts, we were also told that there are no new military crossings into Northern Iraq; that the press reports coming out of the region are untrue, is what the Turkish Government is saying.

QUESTION: Felix Bloch apparently thinks he's entitled to some lost pay. Does the State Department have a position, or are you going to wait until the litigation?

MR. RUBIN: Well, we have not seen any filing by Mr. Bloch, and therefore, I'm unable to be too specific. Let me say this is a notorious case that is nearly a decade old. Mr. Bloch was dismissed from the State Department in November 1990. It is, therefore, inappropriate for me to comment on a suit or the specifics of Mr. Bloch's case. We haven't received any legal papers concerning Mr. Bloch's so-called suit, mentioned in today's newspapers.

This could qualify as the easiest briefing in my short tenure here at the podium. Please continue.

(Laughter.)

QUESTION: Oh, no, that puts me on the spot. I wanted to ask you a little bit more about the newspaper report regarding UNSCOM and Russia, from yesterday. Secretary Cohen, having raised the issue of dual-use technology in Moscow, issued statements saying that Russia and the US agree on the need to put a halt to programs for weapons of mass destruction, that sort of thing.

Included in the newspaper story was a clear implication that Russia, in fact, had blocked efforts to locate things in Iraq; that they had debriefed Russian UNSCOM members, and in fact the implication was that they had let the Iraqis know where the searches were going to take place.

What can you say about that - if you can say anything at all -- but about the status of Russia's cooperation with UNSCOM's efforts to uncover weapons of mass destruction.

MR. RUBIN: Let me start by saying that as a Permanent Member of the Security Council, Russia helped create UNSCOM and has supported it with expertise since its inception. As far as -- we know Russia understands the need for UNSCOM's activities to remain confidential.

Russia has also taken the position that Iraq must comply with UN resolutions that mandate UNSCOM's right to investigate, without restrictions, Iraq's programs. Let me also say that if, as the subtext of some discussions indicate, that the Iraqis feel that they are so wired into what's going on in UNSCOM that they can foil it or that it's compromised, I suspect Iraq wouldn't be going to such extraordinary lengths to try to prevent UNSCOM from acting within Iraq - from going to the sites it needs to go. So that fact tends to belie this broad-based assertion that whatever may or may not be going on has compromised UNSCOM.

As far as any specific intelligence issue, I would not, obviously, be able to comment. But we do believe UNSCOM is independent; it is effective; and that if that weren't so, I suspect the Iraqis wouldn't be trying so desperately to undermine the independence and effectiveness of UNSCOM.

QUESTION: Without asking you about any particular individual in the incident, to the best of your knowledge, you're unaware of any occasions where UNSCOM plans have been thwarted due to - your plans for inspections or for visiting specific sites have been thwarted by discussions of this sort?

MR. RUBIN: I'm not going to be able to get into specifics, and that is the substance of an intelligence issue that was raised in various news accounts. But what I can say is that, in general, UNSCOM's independence and integrity is intact. We believe it is the organization that should get to the bottom of whatever may or may not have gone on with this biological weapons case that was referred to, and we have confidence that they will be in the best position to investigate these matters.

We had received indications that UNSCOM had obtained information about such an issue, but we didn't have any - and still don't have, to my knowledge - any independent confirmation of whether this report is accurate. So it's up to UNSCOM to get to the bottom of it. But we do believe this UN agency has been independent and effective, and that's why the Iraqis have been fighting to undermine its independence and effectiveness.

QUESTION: If I could just go back to Sierra Leone for one second.

MR. RUBIN: Yes.

QUESTION: Were any of those hundred people that were rescued Americans, or - I believe the embassy was closed months ago, wasn't it?

MR. RUBIN: I do not have information on that. I'll try to get it for you. I don't think so.

QUESTION: The embassy --

MR. RUBIN: This was the compound. I believe we had left --

QUESTION: Yes, it's been closed.

MR. RUBIN: Right. So I believe these were people who had taken refuge there, but I'll have to get you more detail on that.

QUESTION: Jamie, can you verify -- in your last few words on the questioning on the Russians and whether they're giving information to the Iraqis, you said that you had received information that there may have been leaks of information, and that UNSCOM was investigating.

MR. RUBIN: No, I was referring to the case of the potential transfer of a fermenter, not the leaks issue.

QUESTION: Has any country not granted diplomatic clearance for over- flights for military aircraft to bring troops or planes to the Persian Gulf region?

MR. RUBIN: I don't know the answer to that question directly. I haven't seen any indication that there has been a dramatic, last-minute effort on the part of senior officials to get such over-flight clearance so far, but I will have to check that for the record for you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. RUBIN: This did win the award for Friday afternoon briefings.

(The briefing concluded at 1:40 P.M.)


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