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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #21, 98-02-18

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 18, 1998

Briefer: James B. Foley

1		Secretary Albright's Meeting with Central American Foreign

NORTH KOREA 1-2 Reported Arrest of Two North Korean Diplomats in France

INDONESIA 2-3 Financial Situation/IMF Program

IRAN 3 American Wrestling Team Visit to Tehran 3-4 Iran-Libya Sanctions Act/Gazprom-Total Deal

UK/NORTHERN IRELAND 4 Status of US Visa Request from Gerry Adams 4 Sinn Fein and Peace Talks

CYPRUS 5 Re-Election of President Clerides 5 EU Commissioner Visit to Cyprus 5 Ambassadors Holbrooke and Miller's Travel Plans

SOUTH AFRICA 5 Prospects for Lifting US Arms Trade Embargo

JAPAN 5-6 Okinawa Base Proposal

IRAQ 6-8 US Foreign Policy Team's Participation in Town Meeting in Ohio

MIDDLE EAST 8 Ambassador Newton's Travel to the Region

DEPARTMENT 8 Department Policy on Promoting US Tobacco Exports Overseas

BOSNIA 8-9 Ambassador Gelbard's Meeting with Republika Srpska Prime Minister


DPB #21

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 18, 1998, 12:45 P.M.


MR. FOLEY: Good afternoon. I don't have much material for you today; although you may have material for me. Just a word of warning that I'm not, for obvious reasons, going to cover Iraq today in my briefing, since senior Administration officials, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense and National Security Advisor will be conducting the town meeting, starting a little more than an hour from now, and fully addressing the range of Iraq questions.

So, George, let me go to your question.

QUESTION: Could you give us a brief run-down on the Secretary's meeting this morning with the Central American foreign ministers?

MR. FOLEY: Well, I expect we're going to have a statement to release on that meeting later this afternoon. So I don't have a read-out myself on the meeting. I do know that trade was going to be high on the agenda, as well as discussions of immigration concerns. I believe, also, the Secretary was planning to discuss with the foreign ministers US views on the current situation in Iraq. The foreign ministers of Central America issued a very robust statement, I believe it was on February 10, calling on Iraq to fully comply with UN Security Council resolutions. So I'm sure the Secretary took the opportunity to go over the current situation with those leaders. But as I said, we should have a statement for you later this afternoon.

QUESTION: You broke your rule - you weren't supposed to talk about Iraq.

MR. FOLEY: I talked about Central America.

QUESTION: Jim, have you seen the report that two North Korean diplomats were arrested in France with some --

MR. FOLEY: Arrested where?

QUESTION: In France.

MR. FOLEY: I've not seen that.

QUESTION: With a bunch of cocaine in their --

MR. FOLEY: I've not seen that report, no.

QUESTION: Could you look into if that rings any bells in this Administration about North Korea and extracurricular activities?

MR. FOLEY: You want me to check if it's ringing any bells?


MR. FOLEY: Well, I'll look into the question and see if we've heard about the report and know anything about it. I'm not sure that it involves the United States and requires a comment in any way, but I'll be happy to check the information for you.

QUESTION: Do you see some bad signs in the firing of the Central Bank governor for the IMF plan?

MR. FOLEY: Well, Ron, I think that insofar as there are questions concerning the financial situation in Southeast Asia, questions of that nature, we generally refer to the Treasury Department for comment. I don't have any comment to make myself on that development. But I can say that we continue to believe that full implementation of the IMF program is absolutely key to restoring financial stability to Indonesia. But again, I'd have to refer you to the Treasury Department for a comment on that.

QUESTION: You don't - well, can you see political ramifications that the Treasury Department wouldn't see?

MR. FOLEY: Well, again, the key for us is full implementation of the IMF program. We believe that that is the pathway to restoration of Indonesia's economic health and stability. We regard Indonesia as a nation of critical importance in the region and beyond. And we believe we have not only significant economic, but also security interests in a stable, prosperous Indonesia. But again, the IMF program is the path to restored fiscal and economic health, and that's what we continue to support.

QUESTION: Yes, I know what you support; but I'm saying, do you have any worries about that plan, considering the latest developments in Indonesia?

MR. FOLEY: Which latest development, apart from the --

QUESTION: The firing of the Central Bank governor.

MR. FOLEY: Well, again, whether there's a new Central Bank governor or not, our view is that the government of Indonesia ought to be applying scrupulously the IMF reform program. I think that's what we're going to be looking for.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) -- scrupulously, abiding by the IMF program?

MR. FOLEY: Well, it was a personnel decision. In terms of the impact on policy, I think it's impossible to say. We've made clear our views to the Indonesian Government about what we think - what the international community believes needs to be done to restore fiscal and economic health. So regardless of the personality, we would certainly expect that Indonesia would continue its commitment to fully applying the - implementing the reform program.

QUESTION: Well, it appears that it's a sign that Soeharto plans to go ahead and peg the rupiah to the dollar, in spite of your advice and the advice of the IMF.

MR. FOLEY: Well, that's true; both the IMF and the G-7 states have expressed some concern about the risks involved in moving ahead with the currency board in the current context. The Indonesian rupiah closed just below the 10,000 level the other day, on reports of the disagreement between the government of Indonesia and the IMF precisely on the issue of the currency board. So, again, we believe that Indonesia needs to continue to work closely with the IMF, to listen to the IMF, and that's really the critical element in restoring economic health in Indonesia.

QUESTION: The American flag is on display in Tehran, and is not being trampled on or burned yet. Do you have any comment on the reception that the wrestling team is getting there?

MR. FOLEY: Well, I've not followed the progress of the wrestling team. I have no wrestling update for you.

QUESTION: I don't mean the results on the mat.

MR. FOLEY: I'm aware that they had arrived in Iran and had traveled there in response to an invitation from the Iranian Wrestling Federation. I can tell you also that prior to their travel, the US Wrestling Federation did contact the State Department, and we indicated that the US Government had no objection to the American team's visit to Tehran. So we wish them well in the competition.

QUESTION: You're not impressed by the seemingly warm reception they're getting?

MR. FOLEY: Well, again, I've not followed the progress of their arrival and movements in Iran, but I do think that it is a healthy sign that it is possible for the United States and Iran - for people of our two countries to interact and to improve the relationship which has obviously been under so much strain over the last 20 years. I think, on our side, President Clinton has spoken forcefully about our desire to see the alienation between our two countries overcome, and President Khatami has expressed similar sentiments. Certainly, the visit of the US wrestling team is a sign that our two peoples can interact productively.

QUESTION: Also on Iran, has the State Department come any closer to a finding of sanctionability or not a finding of sanctionability on the Gazprom-Total deal?

MR. FOLEY: Well, I can only repeat what Spokesman Rubin said on the subject last week -- that he expected that a decision would occur in the near future. I don't have a specific date as to when that's going to be, but it's obviously something that the Secretary is looking at very closely and carefully. We're still technically in the phase of assessment, but the decision on the merits and substance of the issue is not far off.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the visa request from Gerry Adams?

MR. FOLEY: I can confirm that he has applied for a visa to visit the United States, but no decision has been taken in that regard.

QUESTION: And can you comment on Sinn Fein's battle to not be expelled from the --

MR. FOLEY: Yes, well, first of all, the United States abhors the recent killings that occurred in Belfast. We believe that both the IRA and the Loyalist cease-fires are vital to the success of the peace process; and any cease-fire breached jeopardizes the continuing participation of the political parties affiliated with paramilitary groups. It will, of course, be up to the talks' co-sponsors, the British and Irish Governments, to determine whether Sinn Fein can keep its place at the negotiating table. We believe that inclusive talks offer the best hope for a just, lasting resolution of the problems that have divided the two communities for too long. But again, it's up to the two co-sponsors to decide, based on the facts.

We continue to be in close touch with the Irish and UK Governments and the parties - have been over the weekend. I'd refer you to the White House, but I believe the President has spoken to Prime Minister Blair and Ahern, regarding the situation over the past several days. The matter, apparently, is also the subject of some legal action and discussion in Dublin. But I can't speculate on what their decision might be. We've simply made it crystal-clear from this and other podiums that we believe the IRA cease- fire must be maintained.

QUESTION: -- request a visa was his reason for wanting to come to the States?

MR. FOLEY: I'm not aware of what he indicated at the time of his visa application. As you know, he's made previous visits over the last several years to the United States. I would assume it's in line with those previous visits. But I don't have that information.

QUESTION: Are there any different considerations this time, in terms of deciding whether to grant a visa?

MR. FOLEY: We're considering the application. I can't give you what the criteria are at this moment. When we make a decision, we'll be able to say so publicly, though, and explain it.

QUESTION: Will he be meeting with any US officials?

MR. FOLEY: I'm not aware of any plans for meetings at this time. But again, we haven't made the decision on the visa yet.

QUESTION: Any comment on the presidential elections in Cyprus last weekend?

MR. FOLEY: Yes. The United States congratulates President Clerides on his victory, and we welcome the opportunity to continue working with him on further strengthening our bilateral relationship. We also plan to work closely with him in bringing about a lasting and viable settlement on Cyprus.

As you know, the Clinton Administration has had an excellent relationship with President Clerides during his first term of office. We look forward to and expect that that relationship will continue into a second term.

QUESTION: It was announced today that the EU Commissioner will visit Cyprus March 5 for accession talks. I'm wondering how this EU move has been received by your government, since you are involved with the UN for a new round of talks very soon.

MR. FOLEY: Well, I think your question leads to the matter of what next steps the US may be contemplating in regard to Cyprus, and I have nothing to announce at this point. But the presidential inauguration does not take place until February 28. We're going to be in close touch with President Clerides on this issue. And Ambassadors Holbrooke and Miller will be traveling to Cyprus at the appropriate time. I have no dates on that possible travel.

QUESTION: Last week, Mr. Rubin stated that the US is committed to supporting Greece and Turkey in their effort to achieve genuine security and partnership agreement in the Aegean region. But the Greek Government spokesman denied that such a deal exists. Any comment? And if you could say more on this Greek-Turkish partnership.

MR. FOLEY: Well, I'm not aware of any deal, but what I can do is repeat what Mr. Rubin said last week; which is that we have been encouraged by recent expressions of willingness by both Turkey and Greece to move forward energetically to resolve the long-standing disputes between them.

QUESTION: The South African Government has said it expects the US to lift the arms trade embargo soon. Is that the case?

MR. FOLEY: I have no information on that. I'd be happy to look into the question for you, though.

QUESTION: My question is regarding floating base in Okinawa, Japan. Mr. Foley, last week you mentioned US policy toward this issue. But after that, the Japanese Government is a little bit confused, because they interpreted what you said from this podium as a flexible attitude to accept another idea. I want to know your clear idea -- whether you keep this idea or do you accept another option, if there is?

MR. FOLEY: Well, I want to admit, once and for all, that I have feet of clay, and that means that I'm capable of mistakes or misspeaking. And if I misspoke, in any way, I apologize for that. Our position on the matter of the base in Okinawa is that we believe that we have a very good understanding with the Japanese Government; that the proposal -- the offshore proposal -- is a viable one and is a very positive one, and we continue to support it.

QUESTION: As you know, the other day, a high-ranking official in the Pentagon also had said the same thing with you, to some Japanese journalists, indicating that another - (inaudible)-- might be okay to accept another option. Somehow the United States clearly wants to keep this option, this idea.

MR. FOLEY: I can't speak to what an unnamed official might have said or might not have said, but I agree with the latter portion of your statement - - that we believe that this is an excellent option, and we are still committed to it.

QUESTION: The town meeting today.

MR. FOLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: I'm just curious, is the Clinton Administration paying for what by all accounts seems to be an infomercial for its Iraq policy, on CNN?

MR. FOLEY: I'd have to refer you to - I want to be careful about speaking on a matter that I don't have all the information on. But I'd take issue with your characterization of the meeting. This is part of the Administration's recent efforts to bring the case to the American people directly, as to what is at stake in the crisis with Iraq. Without venturing too far into the territory of the Iraq situation, which I said I wasn't going to discuss today --

QUESTION: That's not what I mentioned.

MR. FOLEY: But although we continue to hope for a diplomatic solution, the fact of the matter, as the President indicated yesterday, is that the use of force is a live option. And in such a context, it is critical that the Administration speak clearly to the American people about what the stakes are involved, and the potential for the use of force involving American men and women. This town meeting today is an excellent forum to take that case to the American people. It is not, in any way, an infomercial. On the contrary, it's very much a part of the democratic process in this country, in which American citizens and journalists will have an opportunity to pose the hard questions to senior Administration officials, who will have an opportunity to explain the rationale behind our policy and what is at stake in the Gulf. I think there's no reason to apologize for this kind of an exchange with the American people.

QUESTION: Are you paying for it?

MR. FOLEY: I'm not aware - I assume that this is being paid for by the media outlets involved.

QUESTION: Can you take that question, please, whether the Administration is paying for air time?

MR. FOLEY: Well, I stand to be corrected. Let me state right now that I believe that there is no chance that we are, in any way, paying for this. This is a matter that the news outlets were interested in and are running at their own expense. I will correct my answer if it turns out that it's not correct. But I don't think I need to take the question.


MR. FOLEY: Well, we looked at a range of options, but we selected CNN as the medium because we believed that this gave us the maximum opportunity to address both an international and the domestic audience.

QUESTION: Does it have anything to do with Saddam Hussein watching CNN?

MR. FOLEY: Well, again, we are interested in reaching as wide an audience as possible. In this crisis which involves the entire world community, the opportunity to reach both an international and the domestic audience was involved in this decision.

QUESTION: Are you hoping Saddam Hussein is watching the broadcast today?

MR. FOLEY: I think that Saddam Hussein should not be under any misimpression as to what US policy is. I think he knows very clearly what the US bottom line is in this crisis.

QUESTION: Jim, to follow up on that.

MR. FOLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: I mean, this town meeting formula had been used before without necessarily going into an agreement with specific media organizations. So why in this instance was there an agreement reached with CNN?

MR. FOLEY: I believe that there have been town meetings, at least one before, I think at the time of the health care issue that there was.

QUESTION: Well, generally, generally.

MR. FOLEY: With another media outlet, there was a town meeting of a similar nature.

QUESTION: But the pact with CNN on the --

MR. FOLEY: Well, again, this is not the first time that this has been done, and I understand that efforts have been made to accommodate the needs and interests of other media as well.

QUESTION: When you say that this will have an international audience, are you hoping that it may sway opinion in the Arab world, for instance, which seems to be running heavily against any military action? Polls among Palestinians are running 80 % to 90 %.

MR. FOLEY: Well, you're using this issue of the town meeting as a wedge to get into the Iraq issue, and I really would rather leave the issue to the three senior Administration officials who are going to be addressing both the US and the world communities this afternoon.

QUESTION: Just a - I don't know if this is too far in the subject, but Ambassador Newton, who's been dispatched to various points in the Arab world and in London to - public diplomacy effort -- do you know where he is now; what he's doing?

MR. FOLEY: Oh, I had a list the other day of the countries he was visiting. I could get that for you after the briefing, if you're interested.

QUESTION: Yes, where he is now.

MR. FOLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: And how he's being received, and whether, in fact, he's meeting only with journalists, as Martin Indyk said in his briefing to Arab reporters last week, or if he's meeting with government officials, as Mr. Indyk said he would not.

MR. FOLEY: Well, I know that the purpose of his visit was to conduct public diplomacy in the countries he's visiting. As to whether he's having any governmental meetings, meetings with government officials during the course of his visit, I'd be happy to check for you.


QUESTION: I saw something in the paper the other day about the State Department no longer promoting US tobacco exports abroad. Do you still have a piece of paper on that?

MR. FOLEY: You know, I had one yesterday, or we had one yesterday. I'd be happy to talk to you about the issue after the briefing, sure.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Have you got a read-out on a meeting Mr. Gelbard was holding with Prime Minister Dodik of the Republika Srpska?

MR. FOLEY: Yes, I don't know if that meeting has taken place. I believe he arrived in the country just the other night. He'll be meeting with Secretary Albright on Friday. So in terms of a read-out of his meetings with Administration officials in Washington, I think perhaps we should wait until Friday when we've had the totality of those meetings, we can comment on them. Obviously, we were very much looking forward to this visit. We regard his election to the prime ministership of the Republika Srpska as an extraordinarily positive development in our efforts to achieve full implementation of the Dayton Accords throughout Bosnia. So I'm sure we'll be in a position to say something about the specifics of his visit at the end of the week.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. FOLEY: Thank you.

(The briefing concluded at 1:10 P.M.)

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