U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #22, 98-02-19
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
Thursday, February 19, 1998
Briefer: James B. Foley
1-6 Assessment of Ohio State University Town Meeting /
3 Bombing of Car Dealership/No Claim of Responsibility
6-7 Reports of Turkish Military Forces in Northern Iraq
7 Reported Request by Turkomans for a Safe Haven
7 Cancellation of Vice President Gore's Trip to South Africa
7 Readout of NIS Coordinator Sestanovich's Meetings In Moscow
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
OFF-CAMERA DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 1998, 1:15 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
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
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
I would also say it's certainly premature to draw any conclusions about the
motivation behind the attack. Again, nobody has claimed responsibility at
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
QUESTION: Has Sestanovich had his meetings in Moscow?
MR. FOLEY: He's back.
QUESTION: He's back?
MR. FOLEY: Yes.
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.)