U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #20, 98-02-17
From: The Department of State Foreign Affairs Network (DOSFAN) at <http://www.state.gov>
U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing
I N D E X
Tuesday, February 17, 1998
Briefer: James P. Rubin
1 Sondra McCarty, former Deputy Director, Press Office,
1 Romanian supports all means to ensure Iraqi compliance with
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,
10 Sen. Specter letter to WH re need for Congressional
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 17, 1998, 2:10 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
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
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
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?
MR. RUBIN: Yes.
QUESTION: You're not signaling any change, are you?
MR. RUBIN: No.
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
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
MR. RUBIN: We are sticking with the window analogy; and the window is not
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 --
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 -
MR. RUBIN: Yes.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.)