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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #39, 98-03-30

U.S. State Department: Daily Press Briefings Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The Department of State Foreign Affairs Network (DOSFAN) at <http://www.state.gov>


1007

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing

I N D E X

Monday, March 30, 1998

Briefer: James P. Rubin

1		Statement: Travel by the Secretary to the Caribbean
1-2		Statement: Travel by the Secretary to Vermont and New
		  Hampshire

MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS 2-3,6 Secretary Albright's Conversation with American Jewish Leaders Regarding the MEPP 3 Proposal for a Middle East Peace Process Summit held in Washington 3 Option of US Disengagement from Catalytic Role in the Peace Talks 3-4,6,16 Update on Ambassador Ross' trip to the Middle East 4,5,6 Next Steps in the Middle East Peace Process 4 Contact Between Sec. Albright and Former Sec. Baker 5,6,7 Public Comment by Sec. Albright on the "State of Play" 5 Speech by Sec. Albright at the ASNE 8 Secretary Albright's Conversation with Def. Min. Mordechai in Regards to Lebanon 8,9 Negotiations between Lebanon and Israel 10 US role in discussions between Lebanon and Israel 10 Comments by the Iranian Foreign Minister Concerning Israeli Withdrawal

SAUDI ARABIA 10-11 Update on the Khobar Bombing Investigation

IRAN 11 Opening of a Iranian Office in the Swiss Embassy for the US

PAKISTAN 11-12 Update on Security of the US Consulates and US Embassy in Pakistan

TAIWAN 12 US Policy Update Regarding Arms Sales to Taiwan

JAPAN 12-13 US Reaction to Governor's Comments Regarding US military Bases

GREECE 13 US Position on the Transfer of S-300 Missiles to Cyprus 13 Reports of Terrorist Attacks on the Turkish Military Attache

IRAQ 14 Defections of PKK Leaders

MEXICO 14 Complaints by Tourists of Police Harassment in Cancun and Acapulco

COLOMBIA 15 Update on the Kidnapping of American Citizens

CUBA 15 US View on the Threat Posed by Cuba to US National Security

RUSSIA 15 Status of Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission

UKRAINE 16 Update on the Parliamentary Elections


U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING

DPB #39

MONDAY, MARCH 30, 1998, 2:20 P.M.

(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

MR. RUBIN: Greetings. Welcome to the State Department briefing. I'll try to get here earlier in the future, so the crowd will be thinner.

I have two brief announcements on travel. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will travel to Haiti and Trinidad and Tobago on April 4-6. On April 4, she will stop in Haiti to underscore the US Government's continued strong commitment to Haiti's democratic and economic development. She will express our support for efforts to resolve Haiti's nine-month political impasse and for governmental and legislative steps needed to unblock large amounts of donor assistance. Her visit will also point up our mutual interest in strengthening Haiti's defense against drug trafficking and the trans-shipment of narcotics to the United States.

The Secretary will then travel to Trinidad and Tobago. On April 5, she will meet with the Trinidadian Prime Minister Panday. The following day, April 6, in Trinidad's capital city of Port of Spain, she will meet with representatives of the 15 nations who participated in the May 1997 Caribbean Summit with President Clinton. This meeting grows out of commitments made during that summit to maintain a regular schedule of US-Caribbean consultations.

In addition, on April 7, Secretary Albright will be visiting Portsmouth and Nashua, New Hampshire, as well as Burlington, Vermont. She will be going there visiting Steve Hurst, our former CNN correspondent -

(Laughter.)

-- and having a luncheon meeting, and I'll be giving you a readout of that meeting afterwards. Or perhaps we'll let Mr. Hurst give the readout. I'll give you more details on that trip to Nashua and Vermont.

QUESTION: Jamie, forgive me for laughing. Is there a speech involved?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, there will be speeches. She'll be giving an address at St. Michael's College, as well as a speech in Nashua at the Nashua Chamber of Commerce.

QUESTION: Any classroom activity? I won't use the phrase "town meeting," but will there be any classroom or any straight-up with students type activity?

MR. RUBIN: I do not believe that is on the schedule at this time, but as we have more details for you -- we wanted to give you some advance notice of where we will go - we will be happy to do that.

QUESTION: Is this one trip or two trips?

MR. RUBIN: That is one trip to Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Vermont.

QUESTION: One day?

MR. RUBIN: One day on April 7; that will involve her returning on Tuesday evening.

QUESTION: Is she connecting the Caribbean trip and the --

MR. RUBIN: We'll stay overnight here on Monday night and then travel there in the morning.

Whichever of the esteemed AP correspondents that wish to start out --

QUESTION: Can we take care of some loose ends on the Middle East?

MR. RUBIN: Sure.

QUESTION: Her telephone conversation has been portrayed various ways.

MR. RUBIN: That happens.

QUESTION: Yes, it does. Well, it depends who you talk to afterwards. What was her objective in doing this?

MR. RUBIN: Her objective, on a regular basis, she tries to consult with American Jewish leaders about the state of play in the Middle East peace process. If you look back, you will see often it is timed to a particular step that we're taking, like Ambassador Ross going to the region or her travel to Europe to meet with the leaders.

In this case, basically the message she delivered was the same message we've been delivering publicly -- and that is expressing the deep concern that we have about the state of the Middle East peace process: the fact that it is in dire straits; that there hasn't been any movement for nearly a year now; that there is no direct negotiation; there's no progress on the multilateral track; there's no progress on the Syrian track. And there's deep concern in the United States amongst President Clinton and Secretary Albright that we need to work assiduously to get the peace process back on track.

She obviously also values their counsel. She emphasized to the leaders that we are working to try to get the process back on track. However, there is no substitute for the leaders themselves making the tough calls. And I think she made clear that in the absence of the leaders themselves making the decisions, that she was at a loss to see how we could make progress. So it was an analytical type of discussion, laying out the state of play, the purpose of Ambassador Ross' mission, which I'm sure you're all familiar with at this point, and to discuss with them the difficulty we have.

QUESTION: There was a report that seems to have subsided, mostly from Arafat's people, that you all are working on a Washington summit. I'm sure it's a thought that occurs all the time, but is it any more than a theoretical option at this point?

MR. RUBIN: Our focus is substantive, not procedural. In the event that we were to be able to make a breakthrough and bring the peace process back to life and remove it from the dire straits it's now in, it is normal and appropriate that such steps would be accompanied by high-level meetings, whether in Europe or in the United States, in Washington at the White House - all of those are possibilities; they've always been possibilities. But they're no more than possibilities precisely because we have been unable to bridge the gaps on the hard questions: how much territory; what kinds of security steps the Palestinians would take; et cetera. Until we break the substantive logjam, any discussion of summits or high-level meetings is premature in the extreme.

QUESTION: One last question, combining the two stories, it sounds like that's the traditional view of summitry - you're not going to lock them in a dungeon and try to get them to emerge with an agreement. If that's the case, did she tell these Jewish groups - or is it her view that the United States might just say, look, that's it; you haven't taken the decisions so we wash our hands? No hard feelings - or maybe some hard feelings, but we're not going to tread water; we give up.

MR. RUBIN: I think in any discussion of options at a moment when there are not a lot of good options in the sense that we've worked very hard to try to come up with credible, negotiating proposals that would bridge the gap between the two sides, and in the absence of decisions by those leaders to bridge the gaps themselves, that there isn't that much the United States can do; that ultimately, like in any serious peace negotiation, whether it's in Bosnia or in Northern Ireland or in any part of the world, at the end of the day if the two sides aren't prepared to make the hard calls, the catalyst can only do so much.

One option has always been for us to disengage from this kind of direct, catalytic role; but it's not an option that the Secretary is advocating or an option that we would like to see happen at all. Rather, what we're doing and what Ambassador Ross is doing, is trying to see whether, by refining our ideas and finalizing those ideas, that we can provoke progress. That's what we've been trying to do and so far, we have not been able to do that. Ambassador Ross is expected back here tomorrow, at which time he will brief the Secretary and the President, and then we'll figure out where to go from here.

QUESTION: Jamie, the reports about Ross' current mission to the Middle East have been almost uniformly bleak. There's talk of no progress at all. Are those accurate?

MR. RUBIN: I'm not going to be in a position of characterizing his discussions prior to his report to the Secretary or the President. But clearly, the peace process is in dire straits, and that was true upon his departure. When he has a chance to meet with the Secretary and report to the President, at that point we might be in a position to give you the latest update from his latest meetings. I believe he's scheduled to have some more meetings later today before he departs. So until his sessions are complete, it would be premature for us to characterize what progress he did or didn't make.

QUESTION: Assuming that this remains in dire straits, is there a Plan B? Is there something that the United States would be prepared to do in the future to break the logjam some way or another?

MR. RUBIN: Well, again, I think it would be premature to describe next steps until we've had a report from the ambassador who's conducting the negotiations, has had the discussions, and see whether he believes that any of the refinements he brought or any of the discussions he had yield new fruit that can be eaten.

(Laughter.)

And then we can see whether there are next steps in the negotiating track or other next steps. But I'm not going to be in a position to preview those next steps until we have a report from him.

QUESTION: Has the Secretary spoken to former Secretary Baker in the last week?

MR. RUBIN: I don't believe so. But she does stay in regular contact with him, and I don't always know every phone call. But she hasn't told me about a particularly salient discussion with former Secretary Baker in the last few days. I do know that she talks to him a lot about a lot of different issues, but I don't have anything for you on that.

QUESTION: You said there isn't much the US can do in the absence of the decisions by those parties. But certainly the experience in US diplomacy in the Middle East over the last 20 years suggests there's all sorts of different approaches you can take, and some of them have not been taken by this Secretary of State, but they've been taken by others - sometimes successfully, sometimes not. I'm kind of puzzled that you seem to see yourself at the end of the road.

MR. RUBIN: I specifically didn't say we were at the end of the road. I specifically said that we were waiting to get a report from Ambassador Ross. In response to a question, I said that one option was to recognize that there's not a lot the US can do. There are many options, and one option has always been to disengage on the theory that it is up to the parties to make these decisions. I was not signaling that that is a likely option, that is a preferred option, that is the best option. I was merely pointing out the obvious, which is that it's an option.

QUESTION: Well, is it even a realistic option? I mean, I've never heard of the idea that the United States would disengage from this --

MR. RUBIN: Well, to the extent that if the parties don't demonstrate a willingness to make these decisions - and again, the United States can't make decisions for them. These are decisions that the parties themselves have to make, and for us to recognize that it's there decision is a recognition of reality. I am not signaling that we are going to disengage. I specifically didn't say that, and I hope that the questioner didn't hear that either. All I said was that that's always an option, and it has long been an option. Whether it is a selected option is an entirely different situation.

QUESTION: Well, I think the Secretary herself has said that in the event of an impasse, at a certain point, she will say who's responsible for it.

MR. RUBIN: I don't believe she's used that formulation. I believe she said that she would tell it like it is, that she would say what the state of play was. I think that you're reading into new reports in finding a quote that saying that she would say who is responsible, and I don't recall her making that statement.

QUESTION: Doesn't telling it like it is imply that you're saying who's responsible?

MR. RUBIN: You can make that jump, but you are asserting a quote that I don't believe exists.

QUESTION: I'm thinking of Geneva last December, I guess it was -- where she said she would level with the public about -

MR. RUBIN: The state of play, but the formulation you used I just don't believe it exists on the public record.

QUESTION: Is she nearing that point and maybe would it come this week?

MR. RUBIN: We are nearing the point of finalizing our proposals in the form of ideas to bridge the gaps. Ambassador Ross is refining those existing ideas and finalizing them. So to that extent, we are saying that it's not obvious to us what other steps that we can take in the diplomatic track to convince the two parties to adjust their positions sufficient to bridge the gap. If we decide that we have reached the end of the road and we tell the parties so, we will tell you so; but we haven't reached that at this time.

QUESTION: Jamie, is she giving a speech this week -- the one at the ASNE, or - what do you call it?

MR. RUBIN: She is making a speech at the ASNE, yes.

QUESTION: And is it on the Middle East?

MR. RUBIN: I doubt that that would be the exclusive subject of such a speech.

QUESTION: The Jewish leaders came away from their conversation under the impression that the Secretary had told them that she would not go public with whatever it is - the plan, the proposal, the refinement, whatever it is. Can you comment on that in any way?

MR. RUBIN: I didn't get a direct readout of that part of the call. But I think that we always make clear that we do not believe in surprising either party in terms of putting forward something publicly that we haven't spoken to them privately about -- at least we in Washington don't do that.

With regard to whether, at some point down the road, the Secretary of State would give a speech in which she would talk about the Middle East, I wouldn't rule that out and that is always a possibility. For those of you who were here last summer, you saw her give a speech about the problems in the peace process and the extent to which the process was frozen and the reasons why it was frozen and the steps that needed to be taken to unfreeze it. So, I wouldn't rule out such a speech in the future; but again, we are not now at the end of the road. And if we are and we tell the parties so, I will try to tell you as soon as thereafter unless they tell you before I can.

QUESTION: I mean, it's the idea that if she does decide that there has to an American proposal, that Dennis Ross or somebody would go there to the region and brief the leaders on it -

MR. RUBIN: There are numerous modalities for doing that and I wouldn't assume one is the definitive modality. It could involve her traveling, it could involve Dennis traveling, it could involve phone calls, it could involve letters. I mean, there is no one form of doing what you're presuming that we're going to do, that we certainly haven't decided we're going to do.

(Laughter.)

Let's stay on this. Go ahead, Lee, and then we'll go over here.

QUESTION: So far - two questions. So far as a result of Ambassador Ross' trip, have you heard anything that would cause you to change the characterization that the peace process is in dire straits? And secondly, if Ambassador Ross doesn't come back with any sort of agreement and, thus, the peace talks remain at an impasse, would the United States want to publicly lay out its ideas on what would have been the way to resolve that impasse?

MR. RUBIN: My characterization of the peace process being in dire straits is based on some objective realities. There is no progress in the interim issues - the airport, the seaport, the industrial park. There is no further redeployment. The Israelis believe that Palestinians have not done all they could on the security front. There are steps that both sides are taking that we call unilateral steps that prejudge the final status, the permanent status, the ultimate negotiation. There are no multilateral negotiations of significance going on. There is no Syrian-Israel peace track that's got life in it; same with Lebanon.

There's no progress on the whole battery of ideas that were designed to bring the Middle East together economically, politically. That whole process of bringing the people together has been frozen. There is a growing disillusionment amongst the people about what peace can bring. The permanent status talks haven't begun; they're scheduled to end in a year. These are excruciating issues that are going to take a long time to negotiate. That is why I characterized the peace process in dire straits.

As far as what Ambassador Ross heard from the leaders and what his report will be tomorrow to the Secretary of State in his meeting with her, and ultimately a report to the President, I am not going to prejudge here today.

QUESTION: But is there anything as of now that would give you any more --

MR. RUBIN: I think that would prejudge what he did or didn't find. I mean, all I can say is that the objective factors that I just listed - the six or seven of them - are still here today, and they were here yesterday and they've been here basically for the last many months. And that hasn't changed.

If there is an ability to bridge the gaps and we are able to breathe life into all those parts of the peace process, then we'll be in a different situation. We're clearly not in there today.

QUESTION: And about the idea of laying the ideas out publicly - the ideas, publicly.

MR. RUBIN: I think I explored that with Roy and Sid.

QUESTION: Not as directly as I would have liked.

MR. RUBIN: I see. Well, I'm not sure I will ever explore that as directly as you might like, Lee; but let me try it again. It's always been a possibility that if the peace process reaches the end of the road, as the Secretary herself has told you, that she would publicly describe the state of play in a speech or in some other public forum. That is a possibility. She has not decided to do that; she hasn't asked me to set up a forum for such a speech. I haven't seen a speech text, contrary to what I read in the newspapers about such a speech, other than that there are always speech texts in the Department.

If we gave you every copy of every draft speech, you wouldn't even know what to make of it because they usually have competing people writing them or proposing them or drafting them or putting outlines to them or editing them. But there is no speech planned as of today, Monday, March 30, to do what you're suggesting.

QUESTION: Elsewhere in the Middle East?

MR. RUBIN: Any more on this directly?

QUESTION: Yes, one more.

MR. RUBIN: Really, there's more?

(Laughter.)

QUESTION: You mentioned Lebanon. Did the Secretary mention the word Lebanon and withdrawal to Defense Minister Mordechai? And has Ross --

MR. RUBIN: I would be very surprised if, in a meeting with Defense Minister Mordechai, the issue of Lebanon didn't come up. All I can tell you is what our position is, that we said on Thursday and Friday, that we want to see the resolution fulfilled; that we, as a matter of policy, want to see all foreign forces out of Lebanon.

QUESTION: Follow-up on that - because the Israelis and others, including the Lebanese, are very puzzled by the United States sitting on its hands on the various signals out of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, saying that Israel is ready to withdrawal. And we don't seem to be acting as a catalyst or a mediator or anything else.

MR. RUBIN: I remember specifically not sending any signals on the Lebanese issue. So there will always be puzzlement in the Middle East; that's the nature of the region, I think. We have stated our view; our view is that we want as many discussions going on as possible between all the leaders in the region; that we want to make progress on whatever track we can make progress on. And certainly, if there is ever to be a full and complete peace between Israel and Lebanon, there needs to be discussion. With regard to the withdrawal issue, the resolution calls for withdrawal without necessarily having negotiations. You know that's one of the issues.

The primary focus of our Middle East diplomacy, however, is what Ambassador Ross has been doing; which is to see whether, through American ideas, through refining those ideas, finalizing those ideas, that we can break the impasse that has bedeviled the Israelis and the Palestinians for the last year.

QUESTION: Are you insisting on negotiations, then, between Lebanon and Israel?

MR. RUBIN: I thought I just answered it as carefully as I could in this forum; which is that in order for there to be a comprehensive peace, in order for there to be a full peace between Israel and Lebanon that meets the security needs of both sides, that covers all the issues - not just the withdrawal issue - that it would be natural and expected for them to talk.

QUESTION: So you're not encouraging withdrawal and the closing of that frontier?

MR. RUBIN: No, at the same time, I specifically said - and you've heard this, I hope - is that we do support the implementation of the resolution, which calls for the withdrawal of Israeli forces.

QUESTION: Without conditions.

MR. RUBIN: Correct.

QUESTION: And without a comprehensive peace --

QUESTION: And without negotiations, necessarily.

MR. RUBIN: Not necessarily. And as a practical matter, we also have said, realistically and practically, that something like that is unlikely to happen without some form of discussion. Whether it constitutes the kind of negotiation that one side or the other side wants, we'll have to see.

We want the resolution to be implemented. We want it --

QUESTION: Would the United States --

MR. RUBIN: Excuse me, if I can finish my answer, then maybe I can communicate to you. The United States has two goals: the resolution calling for the withdrawal of Israeli forces; we support that. We also support a real, full and comprehensive peace between Israelis and Lebanese. That would be something that would increase the security of both sides, create ties between the two countries and be to the benefit of both populations. Those are our two goals, and I don't know how else to say it other than that.

QUESTION: Jamie, just to clarify, but it is conceivable that there would be an Israeli withdrawal and negotiations about security issues, short of a comprehensive peace. You could envision that?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, I think in this very same room, just five days ago, I said that as a practical matter, even though it may not be required by any resolution, it's hard to envisage a withdrawal without some form of discussion.

The kinds of negotiations that I'm talking about - direct negotiations leading to a full peace - is something that we do think would be useful and wise if the Israelis and the Lebanese could have, so that we could close the circle of peace, so we could include the Palestinians. We could include the Lebanese, we could include the Syrians and ultimately, some day, other countries in the region. That is a comprehensive peace; that's what we want to see happen.

With regard to the withdrawal question, we support the resolution's call for immediate withdrawal. As a practical matter, we've pointed out it's hard to envisage that happening without some form of discussion. Whether discussion becomes negotiation in the Middle East context is obviously a major issue, and so all I'm saying is some form of discussion.

QUESTION: Is there some reason the United States is not taking the lead in --

MR. RUBIN: I thought I really nailed this one.

(Laughter.)

QUESTION: Is there some reason the United States is not taking the lead in trying to foster this very discussion that you say is necessary for the withdrawal to occur?

MR. RUBIN: As we've said, we would like to see peace in all the tracks: the Palestinian track, the Syrian track, the Lebanese track - all the tracks. Right now, we're having enough problem focusing on the one track where there has been a proven track record of peace - the Palestinian track - and we're focused on that primarily. But that doesn't mean that the Syrian track, the Lebanese track and the other aspects of the peace process are not available to be worked on if there was a reason to do so.

We would encourage direct negotiations between the sides. We'd encourage direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Syrians. We've played a role in the past in trying to bridge the gaps between the existing Syrian position and the existing Israeli position. We will continue to do that on all these tracks. But what I'm simply pointing out is, as a practical matter, our focus has been on the Palestinian track; and even there, we have been unable to see a breakthrough.

QUESTION: But there is a practical reason to push ahead, which is that the Israelis say they want to pull out. I mean, that's a change of position; that's a change of policy.

MR. RUBIN: Right, and we support discussions to the extent they're necessary; or having the resolution implemented, which means immediate withdrawal without negotiation. So that isn't for us to say.

QUESTION: One more on Lebanon - are you aware of comments reported today by the news agencies from Lebanon of the Iranian Foreign Minister saying that if Israel were to withdraw from Lebanon, that would accomplish the goal of the resistance people in Southern Lebanon? Are you aware of that? Any comment on it?

MR. RUBIN: I haven't seen those comments. I certainly - one would hope that if there were a withdrawal of Israeli forces, that would include a recognition that the border between Lebanon and Israel would not be the subject of cross-border attacks from people inside Lebanon. Yes, we certainly would hope that, at a minimum.

QUESTION: The Saudis say that their investigators have come up with all of the details on the Khobar bombing, and that they're not ready to reveal what they found, but will announce it at the proper time. So the question is, have they shared any of this with the US; and what is the proper time?

MR. RUBIN: Well, I don't know what has or hasn't been shared between Saudi law enforcement investigators and American law enforcement investigators. As far as we're concerned, the investigation is still wide open. We do not believe it's over. We are continuing to pursue it, and believe that at the end of the day, those responsible will need to pay a price. But I don't have any comments on the specific information passed between Saudi Arabia and the United States, as your question indicates, indicating a termination on their part. I don't have any specifics on that, other than to say to you that as far as we're concerned, the investigation is not over.

QUESTION: Does that mean - if the US thinks it's still wide open, does that also mean that the US has not drawn any conclusions of its own, independent of whatever the Saudis may or may not be doing?

MR. RUBIN: This particular investigation, when I first took this job, was one where I felt like not only were both arms tied behind my back, in terms of public comment, but I thought they were tying my legs together. Other than to say that it's an ongoing investigation and that it's up to our law enforcement authorities to make public at the appropriate time any of the conclusions, or people in this building, but until the investigation is completed and judgments have been reached, public comment about it is not going to give me a lot of fans in the government.

QUESTION: Jamie, has the US asked Iran to open an office within the Swiss Embassy for the US - a cultural office or other kind of office?

MR. RUBIN: I saw some reference to that. It didn't ring a bell with most of the people who - this is our having a visa officer in --

QUESTION: Some kind of officer of some sort.

MR. RUBIN: Yes, it sounded to me like the reporter was talking to someone who wasn't in the know.

QUESTION: Because the Iranians seem to be reacting to something. I don't know whether - in other words that we're considering something. So I wonder --

MR. RUBIN: Well, perhaps they read the newspapers; I just don't know. When I saw that story, I asked the people who do know and they indicated to me that particular proposal was not on the table.

QUESTION: Was not?

MR. RUBIN: Was not.

QUESTION: Jamie, can you update on the very tight security of the US consulates and US Embassy in Pakistan? Also, are these real threats to the US diplomats in Pakistan?

MR. RUBIN: We have taken additional security precautions at our missions in Pakistan. Although we do not discuss security measures in detail, we constantly review our security postures and take additional measures when needed.

We did receive some information regarding a possible threat to our diplomatic missions in Pakistan. We receive threat information on our diplomatic missions all the time, and all threat information is taken seriously. We take precautions to counter those threats, to ensure the safety of our personnel and the security of our facilities. That is what we have done in this case. We did send some consulate employees home in Karachi, as part of a security precaution.

Again, we don't have any specific threat information directed against American citizens in Pakistan, but rather had some specific information which we thought might put at risk or greater risk our diplomatic operation in Pakistan.

QUESTION: Are you calling the US ambassador for consultations in this regard to Washington?

MR. RUBIN: I'm not aware that we've had a meeting here. I think this would be something that would be discussed in the region between our ambassador and his people and the government there.

Wow, so many options, so little time.

QUESTION: There has been speculation that the US may be changing its policy regarding arms sales to Taiwan. Could you clarify on that, please?

MR. RUBIN: There has been no change in our long-standing and consistent policy with regard to arms sales in Taiwan. In bilateral meetings, the Chinese frequently raise their concern about US arms sales to Taiwan, and we respond to those concerns when they do so. But nothing in those discussions signals in any way the fact that we are changing our policy. In fact, US arms sales to Taiwan remain in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act, and are consistent with the August 17, 1982, Joint US- PRC Communique.

QUESTION: Would you go on to say that there will be no consultations with Beijing prior to US arms sales to Taiwan?

MR. RUBIN: Prior consultations is a term of art in the diplomatic and congressional business that means the other side has some input into saying no. Certainly that has not been what happens in our meetings, and it is not our intention to change our existing practices. Rather, often the Chinese side raises concerns that it might have, and we respond to them. But our policy will be based on the Taiwan Relations Act and the joint communique.

QUESTION: On Japan, in Japan today the Governor called for residents of the Japanese mainland to share the burden of US military bases with the island - (inaudible) - in Okinawa. What's your reaction?

MR. RUBIN: We'll have to get you something on that. I don't have anything on that.

QUESTION: Mr. Rubin, what would be your reaction to press reports that S- 300 missiles may end up being deployed in Greece? Is this a development the US would favor?

MR. RUBIN: You mean as opposed to Cyprus?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. RUBIN: In lieu of Cyprus?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. RUBIN: This, again, sounds like a trick question to me - although most of these do.

QUESTION: Most of the answers are tricky, too.

(Laughter.)

MR. RUBIN: I do the best I can. The position of the United States on the danger associated with the transfer of these air defense S-300 missiles to Cyprus has not changed. We think this would be an escalation. We do not want to see this happen; we've made that clear to the various parties. As far as any new report about the missiles not going to Cyprus, to the extent they're not going to Cyprus, that would meet the concern we have. But whether they would be somewhere else and then could be moved and therefore wouldn't meet the concern would depend on the specific report, which I haven't seen.

But certainly, our objective is to convince those involved not to send those missiles to Cyprus, nor for Cyprus to receive them.

QUESTION: The problem will be half solved as far as --

MR. RUBIN: No, I didn't say that because I don' t know the report you're referring your question to. I have no clue what that means, and I would prefer to wait and see what the specific report you're referring to says before making an official judgment.

But in principle, to the extent that missiles we're concerned about don't go to the place we're concerned about, with regard to that place, it will be better. But it could be worse if they go somewhere else, and the overall effect could be worse than if they went to the original place, depending on what the specific proposal was.

(Laughter.)

Therefore, I'm going to wait - (laughter) - I'm going to wait until I see the specific report.

QUESTION: The Kurdist terrorist organization, PKK, two of the high-level officials from the PKK surrendered in Iraq - Iraqi Kurdish groups. And also we heard that the large number of the guerrillas also started surrendering. Does this mean that this terrorist organization is falling apart or dissolving?

MR. RUBIN: I haven't seen anything of that level of drama, but I have seen reports that Semdin Sakik, a member of the PKK leadership has defected to Masud Barzani's KDP - Kurdistan Democratic Party - in Iraq. There are also reports of a second defection by Cemil Bayik, another PKK terrorist leader, who I'm not sorry if I mispronounced his name, since he's a terrorist leader.

(Laughter.)

We are assessing how such defections, if true, may affect the PKK. Secretary Albright designated the PKK as a foreign terrorist organization last October, pursuant to the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. The United States still considers the PKK to be an active and dangerous terrorist organization.

So all I have is those two defections.

QUESTION: Also, in Athens, several terrorists attacked the Turkish military attache. Do you have anything on the subject?

MR. RUBIN: I don't have any information on that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: No, we've got some more.

MR. RUBIN: A couple more.

QUESTION: A group of Maryland college students, just returning from Cancun, Mexico, are complaining of rough police treatment while they were there. They say that they were - one claims to have been beaten repeatedly by police. A couple have claimed that they were robbed at gunpoint by police. Are you familiar with these claims? And are you getting increasing complaints from college students or tourists in Cancun and Acapulco about rough police treatment?

MR. RUBIN: I don't have any information on that, but I'd be happy to have Lee McClenny get that for you right after the briefing.

QUESTION: Jamie, on Colombia, there are four American citizens that were kidnapped last week in Colombia. The guerrillas have announced that they are going to kill them if they have been working for any American agency. Could you comment on this, please?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, obviously those kinds of threats are horrific. These people are, as far as I know, innocent people who were simply trying to go to Colombia for tourist reasons. Our embassy in Bogota can confirm that four US citizens were kidnapped by the FARC, March 23. Our embassy is working vigorously to secure their immediate and safe release.

We're keeping the next of kin of the four citizens informed of any developments, and we're unable, for a variety of reasons, to give you the names of the people. But those kinds of threats are obviously outrageous.

QUESTION: Do you have any portrait of the people who they are - what kinds of jobs they were doing?

MR. RUBIN: I can try to get you - they have, under our system, there is a privacy waiver that's required for us to give out public information about them. But the information I had last week was that they were there on a bird-watching mission. It would be hard to imagine a less dangerous group than bird watchers.

(Laughter.)

QUESTION: They don't work for the US Government?

MR. RUBIN: Again, I've told you what I know, and we'll try to get you as much information as we can.

QUESTION: Does the State Department share the opinion of the Defense Department that Cuba is no longer a threat to the national security of this country?

MR. RUBIN: Cuba is certainly a threat to its own people - the Cuban Government. I mean, they won't allow their people to have basic democratic freedoms, to have basic rights - religious, human rights, freedom of the press, freedom of religion. So the Cuban Government is a threat to its own people. With regard to alleged intelligence documents, I wouldn't be able to comment on that.

QUESTION: Were you asked last week - and if so, forget it, but if you weren't, the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission, how's it going to do without Chernomyrdin?

MR. RUBIN: I was not asked, but I can say that for those of you who chose to travel with the Secretary of State to Bonn and saw Foreign Minister Primakov at the press conference talk about the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission, he made very clear that these were national, governmental decisions that had not changed at all; the work that had been done by the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission was going to continue. And as far as what our next steps are to operate, well, first of all this tends to be an operation between Vice President Gore and the Prime Minister. And they still have an acting prime minister, so it would be wholly premature to try to identify the new interlocutor; other than to say that at the government-to-government, at all levels, we continue to operate as if those decisions are operative.

QUESTION: Jamie, do you have anything on the Ukraine's election; was it carried out properly?

MR. RUBIN: We saw some reports of some irregularities, but in general, we --

QUESTION: The parliamentary election.

MR. RUBIN: Right, the OSCE had some observers there. They issued a positive preliminary assessment of the conduct of the voting. They also noted serious shortcomings; in particular, reports of violence, arrests of candidates, abuse of public office and some restrictions on press freedom.

The OSCE is - other than that, of course - the OSCE is in a position to go into greater detail, but this is a preliminary report and that's all we have at this time.

QUESTION: You don't have anything of your own, no?

MR. RUBIN: No.

QUESTION: One more back to the Middle East, if you don't mind, please, Jamie. Your comments today, your pretty bleak assessment were based on the situation that existed before Ambassador Ross went to the region, and not on any interim progress reports that he may have relayed to the Secretary since he arrived in the Middle East; is that correct?

MR. RUBIN: I think that's a fair assessment except to say that if there was a dramatic breakthrough in the sense that there were going to be discussions at the interim level, between the Israelis and the Syrians - I mean, all the things that I listed to you are not going to transform overnight. And so even if there were progress in any private discussions he's had, the situation today still is that all those things haven't happened. So it's still in dire straits.

So even any positive indicators that he had would still be just that - positive indicators, not the kind of concrete progress in the seven or eight points that I mentioned to you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. RUBIN: Thanks.

(The briefing concluded at 3:10 P.M.)


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