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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #22, 98-02-19

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


Thursday, February 19, 1998

Briefer: James B. Foley

1-6		Assessment of Ohio State University Town Meeting /
		  International Reaction

GREECE 3 Bombing of Car Dealership/No Claim of Responsibility

TURKEY 6-7 Reports of Turkish Military Forces in Northern Iraq 7 Reported Request by Turkomans for a Safe Haven

SOUTH AFRICA 7 Cancellation of Vice President Gore's Trip to South Africa

RUSSIA 7 Readout of NIS Coordinator Sestanovich's Meetings In Moscow


DPB #22

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 1998, 1:15 P.M.


MR. FOLEY: Welcome to the State Department. I don't have any announcements, so George, let me go right to your question.

QUESTION: I can't think of a single thing to ask. I'll pass.

MR. FOLEY: Okay. Thank you for coming.

QUESTION: What do you think of the reaction to yesterday's town meeting, in the international community and the Arab world and Iraq?

MR. FOLEY: Well, I think the President answered that question this morning when he said that he thought it was, first of all, a very vibrant example of American democracy at work; secondly, that Secretary Albright, Secretary Cohen and National Security Advisor Berger really had a remarkable opportunity to lay out the stakes involved for the American people in the crisis with Iraq.

There were some hecklers. I'm told that, from people who were there, that they did not amount to more than 50 out of an audience of some 6,000, who tried to mar the presentation. But they had ample opportunity, the three officials, to explain clearly to the people in the audience and the American people what's at stake. I think there was very strong support, the hecklers notwithstanding, in that audience, for a robust American policy for standing up to the threat posed by Saddam's weapons of mass destruction.

I think they had the opportunity really to hammer home that theme - that what is involved in this crisis really is the question of weapons of mass destruction, which is the number one security issue that we're going to be facing globally into the next century.

So I think that, again, it was a very lively debate. People had a really wide-ranging opportunity to ask some of the questions that, as Mr. Berger said afterwards, we've been asking ourselves as we face this crisis. But I think that at the end of the day, while everyone - and it was clear in that room - prefers a peaceful diplomatic outcome, that at the end of the day, there will be strong support, as the President indicated, for facing up to this threat by other means, if necessary.

QUESTION: Well, the media is putting a different spin than you just put. The media generally has been saying that it was unsuccessful; that it was unexpected; and that this type of heckling, et cetera was not expected; and that if you had to do it over again, you probably wouldn't have done it. And you're saying that it was a lively debate, as though you're welcoming the kind of treatment that some in the audience gave the three officials.

MR. FOLEY: Well, I'd have to say two things. First, about the hecklers, I think they demonstrated really a profound lack of confidence in their own ability to articulate their positions by acting as they did, and not speaking articulately. Secondly, they showed a lack of respect for the debate involved. If they had bothered to listen, they would have heard that many skeptical questions were posed to the three officials, who answered those questions forthrightly.

But I do think that - and this, of course, is a matter of personal opinion, and you may have different opinions. But in my personal opinion, I would think that the American people were turned off by the hecklers and were interested in listening both to the questions, the serious questions posed, and the serious answers given.

The second point I would make is that Secretary Albright, Secretary Cohen and Mr. Berger laid out the challenge, which is Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. And we did not hear, in that forum, any - certainly from the hecklers - any proposal, rational, coherent proposal for dealing with that problem. Certainly, there are questions and risks involved in grappling with this problem, and the essence of leadership is taking responsibility and taking sometimes difficult -- even, in some circumstances -- unpopular actions to deal with threats to national security. But I did not hear any alternatives proposed.

I think that public opinion polls themselves demonstrate the kind of sentiment that was expressed in the room -- that people do prefer a peaceful solution; that military options are risky and have downsides; but that the threat of weapons of mass destruction, uniquely posed by Saddam Hussein, must be stood up to.

QUESTION: But Jim, I mean, the US Government chose the forum of a single television network that has international reach because you were trying to get a message across to Saddam Hussein. And while it might have been a lively display of American democracy at work, which is all well and good, at a time like this when you're in the run-up to a serious military action, don't you think that it is injurious to US policy to have the message - a unified message of US purposefulness kind of diluted by the cacophony of American democracy?

MR. FOLEY: I think that, if one were to take your premise to its logical conclusion, one would conclude that American democracy is something that we have to be afraid of; that we should be running away from; and that government officials could not have the courage of their convictions to go out to the American people and explain a very difficult situation that we're facing in the world today. I think you probably don't actually imply that, but I think there's really no alternative to democratic debate.

The President pointed out in his remarks this morning, we tend to forget in hindsight, because the Gulf War in 1991 proved to be very popular, that it was not so popular before the war began. There was significant opposition to the use of force, significant support for continuing to wait for sanctions to work, and that when President Bush took the decision, following Saddam's - and there are echoes today - unwillingness to resolve the issue diplomatically, that the American public rallied behind the President, rallied behind our forces and they got the job done. And the President predicted that that would be the case again, if it should come to the use of force.

I think we're speaking hypothetically, because some people are arguing that we should let diplomacy work, and we would like to see diplomacy work. What we are saying is that if diplomacy doesn't work, then we will have to move to the military option. If diplomacy has failed, I think you will find American public opinion in a different state. I think opinion polls actually demonstrate that today.

QUESTION: A separate question - there are suspicions in Greece that the bombing of a GM office is related to anti-US protests. Does that mean US- based companies around the world right now are facing greater security risks because of a possible strike in Iraq? And if so, does the State Department have any particular advice for them?

MR. FOLEY: Well, I'd have to refer you to the Public Announcement that we put out, I believe - Lee, correct me - in the last week, advising American citizens of the need to exercise caution as they travel around the world; and we will certainly update that as necessary, in a more targeted way if necessary. I have nothing to announce today, but we certainly keep very close watch of that.

On the case, in particular, the bombing that occurred in Greece, I believe it was early today, press reports indicate that a home-made device exploded just after midnight this morning at a car dealership in a suburb of Athens that specializes in used American automobiles. Fortunately, no one was injured. Also, no one has claimed credit, so-called, for the bombing. The Greek police are investigating, and we have no further information at this time.

I would also say it's certainly premature to draw any conclusions about the motivation behind the attack. Again, nobody has claimed responsibility at this point.

QUESTION: Can we just go back to the public -- town meeting questions? Today, apparently, the protest has been somewhat less -- the demonstrators at her appearances.

MR. FOLEY: Well, I spoke to Jamie Rubin just half an hour ago or 20 minutes ago, and he indicated that the reception the Secretary has received at the University of Nashville was very positive, and they had a very productive Q & A session with the students.

QUESTION: Tennessee State.

MR. FOLEY: Tennessee State, thank you.

QUESTION: My question is, was there a screening process for the audience at the meetings today?

MR. FOLEY: I'm not aware of the arrangements that were made. Obviously, there are always going to be security concerns involved with the Secretary of State's visit. But I'm certainly not aware of any screening. I believe it was open to university students.

QUESTION: So there was no sort of blanket order that came out of Washington yesterday after the fiasco, saying, do a better job of vetting these people before you let them in the auditorium tomorrow?

MR. FOLEY: Well, I take issue, first, with your characterization of what happened yesterday, and second with the notion that we have a problem with a free and open discussion and debate. It can be messy; it can be loud; it can be boisterous. And again, I repeat that I believe that for the American public watching the debate yesterday, they were interested in the questions, they were interested in the answers. I would think that the vast majority of Americans were offended by the hecklers. I think all Americans have problems with hecklers - with the activities of hecklers, because it drowns out free speech. But no Americans, and certainly not Secretary Albright, has a problem with free discussion, with hard questions, tough questions and the opportunity to answer them. So I just can't accept the premise of your question.

QUESTION: Okay, well, reject that premise part. I would just say, judging from what happened yesterday, I would offer that you all are a little bit out of touch with what's going on outside Washington. But we're not here to talk about that.

MR. FOLEY: Why do you say --

QUESTION: We're not here to talk about that. We can talk about it afterwards.

MR. FOLEY: Well --

QUESTION: The question is --

MR. FOLEY: Well, if you're going to say that, I'm going to reject it. I don't think we're out of touch. This is a very difficult issue. We are facing the possibility of American military action, involving a threat to our vital national interests. When you are facing a situation like this, certainly the American people are going to be very interested in knowing what is at stake; what are the options; what are the alternatives; and to assure themselves that their leaders have thought this through carefully and have a plan, and can relate what we plan to do with what's at stake as far as American national interests are concerned.

Secretary Albright welcomes the opportunity, as you know, because she's demonstrated this over the past year, to reach out to the American people, even when it's a question of tough issues for which there are no easy answers.

QUESTION: My question, though, is, was there an order that came out of Washington yesterday to vet the crowd better today? If you don't have the answer, fine. If you could please get the answer.

MR. FOLEY: Well, I can't promise an answer on that, because, as I said, I don't believe that there's - I'm certain that there's no shying away from free debate and allowing Americans the opportunity to ask the tough questions. I don't see any need for any kind of vetting. American citizens all have a right to free speech and a right to pose questions to their leaders.

QUESTION: Then why were several of the protesters dragged out of the auditorium yesterday by American security personnel?

MR. FOLEY: I'm not aware that that was the case. I'd refer you to the people on the scene at Ohio State.

QUESTION: It is the case. There were protesters removed from the audience. And now, not to be belligerent here, but you're expressing great support for the form of democracy in the United States, saying there was no order out of Washington to vet the crowd better --

MR. FOLEY: Right.

QUESTION: -- that the Secretary enjoys that sort of exchange. And in fact, American security people pulled the protesters out of the audience yesterday.

MR. FOLEY: Well, again --

QUESTION: I just -- the two don't square.

MR. FOLEY: I don't know that that was the case, that what was involved were not security officials from Ohio State University. What I can say, though, is that anyone who watched that program saw that the people in the audience had ample opportunity to ask tough questions, and they were all tough questions. You heard 90 minutes of tough questions. There were no softballs, to use a term of art, and that we welcomed that. Secretary Albright welcomes that opportunity for the give and take of free expression.

The question of hecklers is a different matter, and I would refer you to what must be common practice in all kinds of public fora, whether they be political rallies or public meetings of any kind, I believe that hecklers are given an opportunity to cease heckling and to participate in the debate, as happened yesterday; but that those who continue to disrupt and prevent everyone else from participating freely in the discussion are sometimes removed from the premises.

But I can't speak to the details of what happened. I wasn't there yesterday.

QUESTION: To ask about a different audience --

MR. FOLEY: If I can just add --

QUESTION: I'm sorry.

MR. FOLEY: It seems to me that the heckling continued throughout, so I question whether significant efforts were made in that regard.

QUESTION: Do you have any concerns that that sort of presentation -- the hecklers and sort of the lively debate -- might be misinterpreted in audiences outside the United States, for example, in the Arab world or parts of the world where perhaps lively debate is not the norm and may - just may, for cultural reasons, be misinterpreted as a sign of division that you're not trying to put out?

MR. FOLEY: I think that's a legitimate question. After all, it's one we faced for many years during the Cold War on issues of serious concern, for example, between us and the Soviet Union were given free and open debate in this country and none on the other side. The question was often posed whether this was fair. Well, this is the nature of our system.

I do think that there is probably a subtext that's read throughout the world. To some degree I think you're right that people wonder about the state of free expression in our country, since they don't enjoy it in their country, and it's not something with which they're familiar. But underlying that, I think there is, as I said, a subtext, certainly, that must be appreciated throughout the world - that they were able to see how Americans enjoy really a remarkable level of freedom of speech, to speak to their leaders directly about what's on their mind. I think, at the end of the day, that that is something that does great credit to our country and to our political system.

I think the question has been raised, what about Saddam Hussein; and what kind of a message he read into that. I believe he made a serious mistake in 1991 in misreading American public opinion, precisely because there was significant debate, including in the halls of Congress, in which the resolution supporting the war went down to the wire and was a very close call. And he may have been mistaken. And we would urge Mr. Saddam Hussein not to make a similar mistake in this case. He would be wrong to draw any conclusions that there would be division within the United States in the event that force were necessary.

I think the President hit the nail on the head today. The American people have time and time again demonstrated that when the chips are down, when diplomacy has been exhausted and when our national interests are at stake, that there's a rallying around behind our troops engaged in military action. It would be a serious mistake to think otherwise.

QUESTION: On Iraq, according to reports Turkish military forces by the thousands invaded deeply in Northern Iraq all the way out of the - (inaudible) - areas. Any comment?

MR. FOLEY: Mr. Lambros, I have not seen those reports. We had similar press reports, was it late last week, I believe, that were repeated over several days and looked credible just on the basis of their having been repeated by the international press. And believe me, we looked into those and examined those and were unable to verify that there was any activity at this time. I'd be happy to check again after the briefing to see if we have any reports of cross-border activity, but I've not heard that.

QUESTION: A follow-up - what is your position on the so-called Turkoman issue of Iraq, (inaudible) with a goal to create a mini-state inside Iraq?

MR. FOLEY: Well, of course, we support the territorial integrity of Iraq, and we don't entertain proposals or ideas that run counter to that principle. I'm not aware that there's a particular issue involved. Perhaps if there is, I'll get back to you either this afternoon or tomorrow; but again, I've not heard that report.

QUESTION: This has to do with Al Gore canceling his trip to South Africa. The South African Government say that they found out about it via CNN. I was wondering if you could say why they weren't informed before the official announcement was made?

MR. FOLEY: Well, I would have to refer you to the White House; in particular, to the Vice President's office. I think they can speak for themselves. My understanding is, though, that there was a private communication between our government and the South African Government prior to the President's announcement. And perhaps not all elements of the South African government were aware of that. Again, I was told that there was a communication.

QUESTION: Has Sestanovich had his meetings in Moscow?

MR. FOLEY: He's back.

QUESTION: He's back?


QUESTION: Okay. And how did they turn out?

MR. FOLEY: I'm sorry. I don't have a read-out on those meetings.


QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing concluded at 1:30 P.M.)

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