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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #20, 98-02-17

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


Tuesday, February 17, 1998

Briefer: James P. Rubin

1		Sondra McCarty, former Deputy Director, Press Office,
		  passed away
1		Romanian supports all means to ensure Iraqi compliance with
		  UN Resolutions

IRAQ 1-2,4-5 Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia commitment to Iraqi compliance 2,5-6 U.S. position on proposal for UN SecGen Kofi Annan travel to Iraq; criteria for decision, goals; timing; likelihood of Perm-Five agreement 2-4,6-10 Necessity for UNSCOM inspectors' full, unfettered access to all suspect sites, UNSCOM integrity; composition of inspection team; number of sensitive sites 3 Opportunity for diplomatic resolution not yet exhausted 3 Timing of potential U.S. military action against Iraq 6 U.S. military objectives in dealing with Iraq; potential repeated use of force toeliminate reconstituted WMD 6 Hamas threat to attack "Jewish targets" in response to any U.S. military action 8 U.S. relationship with Russia, Russian opposition to any U.S. military action 8,10 Effect of "mapping team" on diplomatic dialogue 9 UNSCOM leadership structure 9 Secretary Albright, SecDef Cohen, NSA Berger town meeting in Columbus, Ohio: stakes, threat, diplomatic efforts used, why use of force may be necessary; Nashville, Colombia stops 10 Sen. Specter letter to WH re need for Congressional cooperation, resolution


DPB #20

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 17, 1998, 2:10 P.M.


MR. RUBIN: Greetings. Welcome to the State Department briefing. Sorry for the delay. As you know, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton will be conducting a meeting. Secretary Albright will be there, as well, at 2:30 p.m. So I'm going to try to move as quickly as I can. I have two announcements.

First let me start with a very sad announcement: Yesterday, Sondra McCarty passed away at George Washington University Hospital. Sondra is gone, but far from forgotten. She had a direct, personal and significant impact on a whole generation of State Department press and public affairs officers. She entered public service in May 1966, coming to work in our press office in April 1971. She rose through the ranks, becoming Deputy Director in June 1991. She retired in December 1996. Last year the Department recognized Sondra's contributions through more than three decades of public service with the John Rogers Award for Career Achievement. I know everyone who knew her was touched by her and will miss her.

Secondly, the Romanian Government announced in Bucharest on the 14th of February that it is prepared to lend its full support to the international effort to require Iraq to comply immediately and unconditionally with all UN Security Council resolutions; particularly with regard to UN inspection activities.

Specifically, the Romanian Government stated that in the case that diplomatic efforts are exhausted, it is prepared to support the use of other means, including those of military nature. This decision is reflective of the courage and leadership of the Romanian Government, which, in addition to participating in Desert Storm, has provided troops for peacekeeping missions in Bosnia, Albania, Angola and Somalia.

Let me go directly to your questions.

QUESTION: Jamie, you've been listing, and so has the White House, countries as they come into the fold. I wouldn't expect you to list countries that leave the fold, but have Bahrain and Qatar shown some new unwillingness to be supportive of the U.S.?

MR. RUBIN: Well, let me make two points on that. With respect to Bahrain, the President spoke with the Emir of Bahrain over the weekend. Based on that call and other contacts within the region, we believe that we have all the support we need within the region should the President decide that military force is warranted. I won't be able to discuss any operational details, but we have confidence that we will have the support we need and that that has not shifted.

With regard to the other country you mentioned, I would point you to the statement of the GCC, to which that country is a member, which stated quite clearly that it will be the - the consequences will fall on Saddam Hussein, and it will be his fault if military force - or if diplomacy fails.

So again, there's a pattern around the world; and that pattern is that sometimes people glom onto a particular statement here or a particular quote there. But the reason why Secretary Albright and Secretary Cohen went to the region and had direct, face-to-face discussions with many of these leaders is so that we could hear directly from them in a formal way their formal position. And as we have indicated in the past, sometimes there are some subtle differences between what direct communications are made between governments and the occasional quote found here or there in a news account.

QUESTION: What is the latest US position on the mission of Kofi Annan to Baghdad?

MR. RUBIN: Well, we have said for some time that we support a diplomatic solution. We prefer a diplomatic solution. The Secretary General has indicated a willingness to go to Baghdad, and that is his judgment to make. The fundamental principles that have guided us from the beginning of this discussion have been what access UNSCOM will have and whether UNSCOM's integrity will be maintained. Those are the two fundamental principles that have guided Ambassador Richardson in his discussions with Kofi Annan, and those are the two fundamental principles that will determine if there is a diplomatic solution.

Details are being discussed. I'm not going to be able to get into the precise details, but what is important here, the key, the goal, is getting access for UNSCOM to places it has never had access before or in which access has been recently denied. That's what this crisis is about. The goal is to achieve that access; and if diplomacy yields that result, that is all to the better.

If diplomacy fails, however, the President made quite clear what the stakes are involved and what the possible course of action of the United States will be, and that will be to significantly diminish the threat from weapons of mass destruction posed by Saddam Hussein, and to limit his ability to threaten his neighbors.

So if Kofi Annan determines that he has a reasonable prospect to get the access to the sites that have heretofore been denied and he achieves that access, that is what the Security Council resolutions demand, and that will be the basic guideline of a successful diplomatic solution.

QUESTION: Can I glom on your words just for a second?


QUESTION: You're not signaling any change, are you?


QUESTION: You're talking about unfettered - not just someplace he closed three weeks ago or a couple of sites that they've always wanted to see. Is it the U.S. position UNSCOM should have access to any site that it suspects might contain weapons ingredients?

MR. RUBIN: We believe there are two fundamental principles: that UNSCOM has full and unfettered access to the sites it deems necessary to perform its mission; secondly, that UNSCOM's integrity be maintained in this process. There are sites - sensitive sites, presidential sites, other sites - that UNSCOM has been unable to go, unable to do its job for many, many months now. That is the objective of the diplomacy, is to get UNSCOM that access.

QUESTION: Jamie, you said that the U.S. prefers a diplomatic solution to this. However, lately you've given all the signs that the United States seems to have abandoned the notion of any diplomacy resolving this crisis. Would you say that the sand has effectively run out of the hourglass for Saddam Hussein?

MR. RUBIN: We are sticking with the window analogy; and the window is not yet shut.

QUESTION: What happened to the thread?

MR. RUBIN: The thread is fraying.

QUESTION: The string, the string.

MR. RUBIN: The string is fraying. The thread is straying. There is still sand in the hourglass; it's running out. The window is closing, but not yet closed. When we've decided --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. RUBIN: When we've decided that we think diplomacy has been exhausted; that every reasonable chance has been given to Iraq to solve this problem diplomatically; when we have concluded that they are not going to do what the Security Council resolutions and what UN Secretary General Annan are seeking - namely, give the UN inspectors the access to do their job - we will make that judgment. We have not made that judgment yet.

QUESTION: Would you say you're days away from making that judgment?

MR. RUBIN: I can't give you any more detail on that, than to say what we have said over the last few days; which is that it's not days and it's not months, and there is something in between.

QUESTION: When you speak of inspectors gaining access to sites that have been closed to them up until now, does it matter that it is UNSCOM as we now understand it, or could it be a different formulation of UNSCOM, whereby the Commission forms the core and there's a kind of superstructure over and around it?

MR. RUBIN: You have obviously been reading and hearing different reports about what form inspections might or might not take. I am limited to saying the following. These precise details are being discussed in New York; but we have two core principles: Number one, UNSCOM must have the access it needs to do its job - unfettered access. Number two, that UNSCOM's integrity must be maintained in order for UNSCOM to continue doing the effective work that it's done. Beyond that level of principles that I just mentioned, there are precise details now being discussed in New York, and I'm not going to be able to comment on them.

QUESTION: Jamie, in the U.S. view, would UNSCOM's integrity be maintained if Russian diplomats were to accompany it on inspections?

MR. RUBIN: Again, I'm not going to make a comment on numerous proposals. When we've seen something that's obviously a non-starter, like one-time- only inspections - and that does not mean full, unfettered access - we've been prepared to say that. But as far as the details being discussed in New York, I'm not going to be in a position to --

QUESTION: So it's not a non-starter.

MR. RUBIN: I've given you the best answer I can.

QUESTION: Jamie, to go back to Bahrain, I just want to be clear. You're dismissing this random quote as nothing but a random quote. It's not a statement of - a new statement of policy for Bahrain, at a time when some of your closest allies - Egypt, for example - yesterday we saw that President Mubarak said very negative. It appears, in spite of what we were told by the Secretary and yourself, in spite of what Mr. Cohen told his press corps as well, it appears that what you might have gained while you were there has slipped away. Can you --

MR. RUBIN: Well, we don't believe that anything we told you wasn't true. That's one of the first principles of talking to the press, is to tell you to the best of our ability what we think the situation is; and we stand by what we said before.

QUESTION: You said - (inaudible) --

MR. RUBIN: No, you said, "contrary to what we were told."

QUESTION: Can you address the first part of Sid's question?

MR. RUBIN: Which is what?

QUESTION: Which, I believe, was whether or not the statement issued by the information minister of Bahrain that the use of its territory for any military action against Iraq would not be allowed. Is that an isolated statement? Is that new policy? Is that different from what you heard when you were there?

MR. RUBIN: What I can tell you is that Secretary Albright had contact, Secretary Cohen had contact, the President of the United States spoke with the Emir of Bahrain over the weekend. We believe we will have all the support we need within the region, should the President decide that military force is warranted, and other contacts have yielded different points.

QUESTION: That sounds like the formula that you were using for the Saudis. And there's a story out today that the Saudis have, temporarily, at least, blocked the U.S. Air Force from moving some of its planes to neighboring states for use in a possible attack against Iraq, because they want the U.S. planes there to defend them. Can you comment on that?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, I haven't seen that story. It would be hard to comment on it. But again, what you're going to see here is a situation where the top leaders of our government have had direct discussions with the top leaders of governments around the world. And discussions are held, commitments are made; and we may or may not see the occasional odd comment that differentiates itself from that.

If we believe that there has been a walk-back of a view of that government, I will try to report that to you; but as far as I know, we do not believe that is the case in either - with respect to Bahrain or with respect to Saudi Arabia.

QUESTION: You said it is Kofi Annan's judgment to make whether to take the trip to Baghdad.

MR. RUBIN: Correct.

QUESTION: Are you saying that he could go over and against American objections?

MR. RUBIN: Again, this is an issue where the Secretary General has a responsibility, under the UN Charter, to make these decisions himself. What we have said and what we will continue to say is we would fully expect that if he were to make that judgment to go, that his goals would be the implementation of Security Council resolutions. We are not in the business of dictating the Secretary General's travel schedule.

QUESTION: But are you dictating his marching orders? In other words, would you put in his hands a specific set of instructions saying that there shall be no deviation from previous Security Council resolutions?

MR. RUBIN: Again, I'm not going to comment on that kind of diplomatic level of interchange. The Secretary General of the UN obviously is dedicated to implementing the Security Council resolutions, and we have every reason to expect that that will be his goal.

QUESTION: The French are saying they expect Annan to leave Friday to go to Baghdad. What are your expectations? Do you think he might travel?

MR. RUBIN: If I were in the UN press corps and I were planning to accompany him on such travel, I would probably pack my bags.

QUESTION: If diplomacy fails, if bombing happens, you all in this building, and in others, must have thought about what you expect to happen if the bombs fall. What is it that you expect to happen after this bombing happens? What do you expect to accomplish?

MR. RUBIN: We have said quite clearly -- and I think nobody could have said it more clearly than the President -- the objective of the use of force would be to delivery a substantial blow; to significantly diminish the threat from weapons of mass destruction; and to limit Saddam Hussein's ability to threaten his neighbors. That is the military objective, should force be used.

As far as what the aftermath of that would look like, beyond saying that if we believed that Saddam Hussein were reconstituting his weapons of mass destruction, we would be prepared to act again, and we'd reserve the right to use force again, I don't think it would be helpful to go into detail on what exactly a military strike would or wouldn't do. We would obviously take the precautions necessary for our people. We would act as appropriate in the Department to protect employees of the State Department and American citizens abroad. And when we have anything to report to you in that area, we will do so.

But we're not in the business of publicly describing target sets and results in this forum.

QUESTION: Jamie, have you seen the report today about the statement issued by Hamas, threatening to attack, I believe their word was, "Jewish targets," if the United States and its allies bomb Iraq?

MR. RUBIN: We certainly would condemn - I haven't seen the statement. But I think broadly speaking, we would condemn any statement of that kind. Let's bear in mind that this action, if it's necessary, is an action authorized by the United Nations Security Council, pursuant to Resolution 687, and underlying that, Resolution 678. So this is an action in furtherance of the objectives of the international community.

People may or may not like the fact the United States may be forced to take that action; but they'd be making a mistake to threaten retaliation, and they would be making a double mistake to implement such threats.

QUESTION: Jamie, without getting into the details of the modalities, could you tell us just how many sites are really the subject now of the discussions in New York or here? In other words, is it the eight which the Secretary General's people are looking at? Is it a great number more than that? Can you give us some feel for this issue?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, I'm going to be general, but it's a legitimate question and I may try to get you all a briefing on this, because it is a very important issue.

There are 60-some-odd so-called presidential sites that, in one form or another, are associated with the leadership - vacation homes, family homes, luxury homes, palaces, whatever you want to call them. Then there are dozens and dozens and dozens of other sites that are generally classified as sensitive sites that UNSCOM has been denied access to. And then of course, there are hundreds and thousands of other places that UNSCOM has been in the past and is continuing to go to now.

The goal of our efforts is to get UNSCOM access to all the sites it needs; not only the ones it has now, but the dozens and dozens of sensitive sites that are not so-called presidential sites, as well as the 60 or so sites that go beyond the eight that the Iraqis like to talk about.

As the President said today, this crisis is not about what goes on in luxury residences. This crisis is about whether UNSCOM and the UN will be able to go to the numerous sensitive sites - dozens, if not hundreds, of sites - where it needs to go to do its job. That's what this crisis is about. More specific than that, I'm going to have a hard time being.

QUESTION: The eight that the Secretary General's people are looking at now - are they - some of them are huge ones, as the President said today.

MR. RUBIN: Right.

QUESTION: Are they sort of the major suspects where UNSCOM has put special focus, or are they just eight that the Iraqis offered and therefore, the Secretary General is taking advantage of their offer?

MR. RUBIN: Well, I would reject your characterization that the eight are the focus of this effort. The focus of this effort are all the sites I mentioned to you, and that is the focus -- all the sites that UNSCOM needs to go. But as far as the precise details of any of the particular sites and what UNSCOM needs, we'll leave that to UNSCOM to describe. But what we are seeking, and our bottom-line principle, is that UNSCOM needs to go - wherever UNSCOM needs to go, it needs to go.

QUESTION: Jamie, the modalities - the question of modality, as the word is now being used to describe a possible way of allowing inspections to happen -- are there some modalities under discussion now for that?

MR. RUBIN: Again, I'm not going to be able to get into precise details; other than to say that what's important is to get access to the sites that are now denied to UNSCOM -- the dozens and dozens, if not hundreds of locations where UNSCOM is unable to go.

QUESTION: Jamie, can you add anything to what you said in recent weeks about the U.S. relationship with Russia and possible friction some people have suggested over comments that Yeltsin has made and Primakov has made?

MR. RUBIN: The United States and Russia have a very constructive relationship. We work together on numerous issues. We've engaged in an elaborate discussion of the objectives of nuclear arms control, chemical arms control, conventional arms control. We've worked together in creating the NATO-Russia Partnership Council, at which we discuss issues of interest to the Russians and NATO and Europe. We have worked together on Bosnia, where Russian troops are side-by-side with American troops. And that is the nature of a complex relationship between a major power like Russia and the United States.

We've worked very closely on trying to prevent Russian entities from providing materials necessary for weapons of mass destruction capabilities or missiles, and those discussions have gone quite well. On this issue, we have a difference, and the President said very clearly that what's no for Russia is not no for the United States, if force needs to be used. But this one difference is not going to, in our view, overwhelm what is a very constructive relationship across the board.

QUESTION: Can you say anything about these UN mapping teams that are - (inaudible)?


QUESTION: How does affect the whole issue of access?

MR. RUBIN: Only to the extent that the Iraqis rather outrageously claimed that the UN was incorrectly describing the locations, sites and sizes of these sites, when they have refused to provide the information that would allow the UN or the U.S. to --I'm sorry - the UN to accurately describe them. So Kofi Annan, quite wisely, said, well, let's send some people over there and get details on them.

QUESTION: Jamie, for close to a week, the United States has been participating in discussions in New York at which possible changes to the formulation of UNSCOM and how the teams are made up have been discussed. At the same time, the Secretary General has virtually muzzled Ambassador Butler. How can you suggest that the integrity of UNSCOM is not already being compromised?

MR. RUBIN: Well, because there's one fact missing: it's hard to change the terms of UNSCOM's access to places it's never been before. This is new territory.

QUESTION: So that would be an achievement? If they got into new territory under whatever structure, that would be - you would consider that - you would declare victory?

MR. RUBIN: Again, I'm not going to declare the word you used or some other word. I'm going to describe to you what our principles are. Our principles are that UNSCOM needs to be able to do its job, and UNSCOM needs to decide where it needs to go, and then it needs to go there.

The fact that people are talking about how to get access to sites we've never had access to before couldn't possibly compromise something we've never had before.

QUESTION: Jamie, I wanted to ask you about the Secretary's travel tomorrow - her appearance at Ohio State, along with Cohen and Berger. What does she feel is the main argument or arguments that she has to make in this appearance, and how does she plan to do it?

MR. RUBIN: Well, I'd hate to scoop the Secretary of State; that would be pretty dumb. But with respect to the general point, she will make clear the stakes involved in this crisis; the threat posed; the diplomatic efforts we've sought to resolve this without the use of force; and the reasons why the use of force may be necessary.

QUESTION: This is at Ohio State?

MR. RUBIN: Correct.

QUESTION: Same thing for stops beyond that?

MR. RUBIN: Correct. I think that - I suspect there will be other topics raised, but the focus of all three stops will be the crisis in Iraq.

Let's do one - a couple more, and then we have the First Lady in the building.

QUESTION: Just to add on to that, then are all three going to make an opening statement and then take questions?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, my understanding is that each of them will speak for several minutes to begin the discussion, and then questions will come from the audience.

QUESTION: A quick one, UNSCOM reports - who's in charge of UNSCOM, the Security Council or the Secretary General?

MR. RUBIN: UNSCOM is run by its executive chairman, who reports to the Security Council.

QUESTION: And a quick one, also - on the line that Mark --

MR. RUBIN: That was two quick ones.

QUESTION: Well, this is a little less quick. The line Mark was on - look, you can talk about unfettered and all that, but the Secretary General of the UN has sort of narrowed the discussion by talking about eight sites, by having mappers. He seems to be positioning himself for some compromise that is short of what the U.S. has stood for.

MR. RUBIN: There is no compromise on this issue. The United States has made very clear that the principles that will guide us in a solution that allows UNSCOM to go to places it's never gone before, or has been stopped from going. And that is the - UNSCOM's integrity must be maintained, and they must have full access. Beyond that, I just can't say, because these discussions are ongoing.

Roy and then one more in the back, and then we'll stop.

QUESTION: Senator Specter yesterday sent a letter to the President, saying that based on his town meetings in his state, he felt a lot of resistance and a lot of problems in the public mind with the possible use of force. And in this letter, he insisted that the Administration go to Congress for a positive vote of support. Would you give us the Secretary's perspective on this?

MR. RUBIN: Yes. First of all, hopefully the Ohio media market will go into Pennsylvania, and the citizens of Pennsylvania will have a chance to hear the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense and the National Security Advisor discuss this very issue, and then perhaps those concerns that Senator Specter had might be marginally alleviated.

With respect to a resolution, we have said that we would like such a resolution. Congress has adjourned without - I guess adjourned isn't the right word. They are in recess, without having taken such action. But before they left town, the Majority Leader and the Minority Leader made very clear the nature of support. Secretary Albright has been up on the Hill day after day last week, and believes there is strong support in the United States for action, if that becomes necessary, in the Congress and in the American public.

The President has now spoken to the nation through this speech at the Pentagon, and there will be further discussions. Hopefully, at the end of that process, Senator Specter will be even further ameliorated.

QUESTION: When do you seek a resolution?

MR. RUBIN: We would like to see a resolution.

Yes, in the back. Do you still have a question? I guess not. One more then.

QUESTION: Getting back to the UN again, without getting into the details of what was being discussed again, do you believe that agreement will be reached among the P-5 on the terms and conditions of the Secretary General's visit --

MR. RUBIN: Well, we'll have to see. Ambassador Richardson is having as series of meetings with the P-5 and the Secretary General during the course of the afternoon, and we'll know more at that time.

QUESTION: OK, thank you.

(The briefing concluded at 2:40 P.M.)

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