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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #2, 99-01-05

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


Tuesday, January 5, 1999

Briefer: James P. Rubin

1		Department Condemns Beating of Student Leader

MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS 1 Secretary's Meeting with King Hussein of Jordan 9 Status of Israeli-Syrian Track 9-10 Israeli Foreign Minister Sharon's Visit to Washington 10 Prospects for Meeting Between Foreign Minister Sharon and Secretary

JORDAN 1 Secretary's Meeting with King Hussein of Jordan 1-2 Iraqi Oil Sales to Jordan/Smuggling Across Jordanian Border 2 Status of King's Health

IRAQ 1-2 Iraqi Oil Sales to Jordan/Smuggling Across Jordanian Border 2,7 Status of US and UK Humanitarian Workers/Visas 2-3,4 Latest Violations of No-Fly Zone 3,6 Enforcement of the No-Fly Zone 3-4 Reaction to Saddam Hussein's Speech Today 3 Authority for Establishment of No-Fly Zones 4-6 Status of UNSCOM/Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction Program 4-6 Prospects for Lifting Sanctions 7-8 Humanitarian Efforts/Oil for Food Program 8-9 Comparisons of Humanitarian Programs for Iraq and Cuba 10 Prospects for Use of Force Against Iraq

ISRAEL 6-7 Update on "Concerned Christians" Group

EGYPT 11 US Embassy Warden Message Issued Regarding Threats to Americans


DPB #2

TUESDAY, JANUARY 5, 1998, 1:25 P.M.


MR. RUBIN: Greetings all. Welcome again to our regularly scheduled program.

Today being Tuesday.

We have a statement on the beating of a student leader, a Serbian student movement leader who was badly beaten, that we will issue after the briefing. Let me go straight to your questions.


QUESTION: The King of Jordan is homeward bound after a meeting at the White House. A little idea if you could of what happened and if you can bring us up to date on Jordan's aid situation and whether a lot of smuggling to Iraq goes through Jordan and are they making an effort to stop it?

MR. RUBIN: On those subjects, let me say first of all that we have been very pleased to learn that the King has completed his treatment and that he is in Washington today meeting both with the President and the Secretary. He has a very close relationship with the United States and I think the Secretary is particularly pleased to be able to meet with him.

As far as the subjects are concerned of the meeting, let me simply say, that in addition to talking about the Middle East peace process that the King contributed so significantly to, they did discuss the bilateral relationship that Secretary Albright discussed in detail with the Crown Prince and other members of the Jordanian government when we were there just a couple of weeks ago. I don't think this discussion went much beyond that. It was more of a first, official meeting since the King's treatment, with the exception of the meetings that were held at Wye.

There is a situation that has been recognized since the Gulf War with respect to certain oil sales to Jordan, and I don't think that that has changed significantly. We want to make sure that it doesn't become a way for Saddam Hussein to get undue revenue and we do talk about it. But I don't think that came up in the discussion with the King and to get you the -

QUESTION: Well, that's an approved arrangement, isn't it, the oil sales?

MR. RUBIN: It's understood, I don't know about approved.

QUESTION: Authorized?

MR. RUBIN: Authorized, I think, would be a bit strong, but let me get you after the briefing some specific information on where that stands.

QUESTION: But that border - you know, stuff gets into Iraq regularly through neighboring countries.

MR. RUBIN: I wouldn't overstate that. I think the general view still is that with the exception of that -- some through the north, through Turkey and some through Iran's allowing of certain sales or tolerating them or not doing enough to stop them -- but by and large, I think the view is that the sanctions are the tightest and most comprehensive sanctions regime in memory and that the situation has not deteriorated, and they remain quite tight.

QUESTION: A follow up - is there anything you can add on the state of the King's health either that he reported or -

MR. RUBIN: We know that the King has completed his treatment at the Mayo Clinic. He plans to return to the kingdom very shortly, and we are extremely pleased that he is able to do and we wish him the best. With respect to any specific medical information about the King of Jordan, I'd recommend that you talk to Jordanian authorities.

QUESTION: Now that you've seen the letter, the note, delivered yesterday by the Iraqi Ambassador on the status of US and British humanitarian workers, perhaps you'd like to reconsider what you said yesterday, which perhaps was over optimistic or over positive?

MR. RUBIN: That's not my understanding; and certainly reconsidering what we said yesterday wouldn't be our practice. As you know, policies never change here at the State Department on any subject, so a reconsideration of policy or policy statements are extremely rare.

Yesterday, the UN office was formally notified by Iraq that UN humanitarian workers from the US and the UK would no longer be given visas. UN policy worldwide prohibits discrimination against UN staff on the basis of nationality. Iraq is obligated by an MOU with the United Nations to issue visas to all UN humanitarian workers and to allow their unimpeded entry.

We expect a representative of the Secretary General to brief on this subject in the Security Council today. But the suggestion by the Iraqis that American and British workers cannot be protected as a rationale we regard as a blatant attempt to violate -- as phony -- and it remains a blatant attempt to violate UN principles and disrupt UN operations.

We do note that Iraq has said it would enforce this ban against some, but not all, American and British UN staff despite the purported safety concerns. Let me again point out that there are a very small number of Americans on the UN staff that are involved here; we're talking about handfuls.

QUESTION: -- air combat that went on today?

MR. RUBIN: Well, the Pentagon has spoken to this. Let me say that we have made clear that the no-fly zones are a necessary and important means to contain Saddam Hussein. And as long as he remains a threat to the people of Iraq and his neighbors, we will preserve the right to maintain the no-fly zones. Whatever activities were taken by the Coalition aircraft as they patrol these zones were taken to enforce the obligations that Iraq has; and acting in self-defense, the pilots were in a defensive mode. I think the Pentagon has put out more specific information about what transpired.

Let me say on Iraq that the Iraqi leader has given a speech, which we think is a not surprising diatribe on television that indicated his isolated position in the Arab world. The intemperate, unmeasured and desperate tone, I think speaks very clearly to the isolation that Iraq faces in the Arab world and the isolation that Saddam Hussein faces around the entire world.

QUESTION: We may have touched on this yesterday, but I'm not sure. What is the legal standing for establishing the no-fly zones, in your view?

MR. RUBIN: In our view, it's based on three relevant resolutions: 678, 688 and 687. Put together, they make clear that measures need to be taken to protect the Iraqi people from the brutal actions of their government. We, the United States, and Britain and France set these zones up after the Gulf War, precisely to avoid allowing Saddam Hussein to use his aircraft to repress his people. We expanded those zones in various ways in the subsequent five years, including in 1996 when he moved to the north, we expanded the no-fly zone. So we've tried to use the no-fly zones as part of our containment policy - in other words, making it more and more painful for the Iraqi leadership to do what a government expects to be able to do, which is to over-fly its own territory and act in that way. They cannot do so because of the actions of Saddam Hussein.

We believe the combination of those three resolutions does not specifically create a UN operation to enforce the no-fly zones, but provides the authority that we believe the US, the UK and France are acting pursuant to those resolutions.

QUESTION: Didn't you say that there's Security Council consensus for maintaining the no-fly zones?

MR. RUBIN: I was in New York for four years; I've been around this issue for a long time. I've never heard any real suggestion by any respected government, other than the Iraqis, that cast any doubt on the importance of the US and UK and France taking this action. That doesn't mean that everybody wants to participate in the operation for a variety of reasons but never heard any real opposition.

QUESTION: Until this week, it had been almost seven years - I think since 1992 - that Iraq had challenged the no-fly zone by putting aircraft up in the air. Why do you think that Saddam is challenging this now?

MR. RUBIN: Well, as I indicated yesterday, I think the challenges to the no-fly zone and this intemperate diatribe on television by Saddam Hussein are both reflective of the same reality. He's lashing out as a result of his isolated condition. He has no support in the Arab world, he has no support around the world, and is acting out of frustration, in spitting forward this diatribe in an unmeasured and intemperate and desperate way against other Arabs, and trying to demonstrate that he can still fly aircraft, which he obviously can't because the moment they tried to fly they had to turn tail and go home.

QUESTION: As you've said many times, the fundamental policy of the United States is to - one of the fundamental tenants of the policy - is to contain Saddam. Do you think that this has been further complicated by the absence of inspectors on the ground?

MR. RUBIN: Our policy is a mix of tools to achieve an objective. The policy is to contain the threat he poses plus to promote change in Iraq through working with opposition leaders in as an effective way as possible. On the containment side, as opposed to the change side, there are various tools and each of them has different weight at different times. Certainly the no-fly zone tools remain strongly in effect, and we've seen how effective they are by today's action, which is that when Iraq tries to break out of that part of the box they have to turn tail and go home.

On the inspection side - let's remember that containment isn't just about the weapons capability themselves, but it's also about deterring the threat of using them. What was extremely important was that by using military power last month, the United States provided the kind of credibility to our threat to respond to Saddam's action that can only be provided by action. What he saw was, despite a lot of suggestions around the world or his own suspicions about what we would or wouldn't do, that if he pushes the situation too far, the United States will respond and respond decisively. That is a key component of the credibility of containment that needed to be weighed as against the advantages of having a UN inspection team there.

We have said the best way to deal with the discovery and the destruction of weapons of mass destruction is through UNSCOM. Another way to deal with that is through disarmament by force. That was done to a certain extent and to an additional extent, the credibility of our threat to use force if he were to use such weapons, move to the north, threaten his neighbors, was bolstered in a way that can only be done by that kind of action.

QUESTION: But is the US at all concerned that by saying that sanctions cannot be lifted so long as inspectors aren't on the ground to verify whether or not weapons of mass destruction exists or not, that sanctions will remain in place in perpetuity is a policy that will be difficult to maintain over the long-term?

MR. RUBIN: On that point, let me simply say that that is not our choice; that was his choice. Saddam Hussein made a decision to make UNSCOM ineffective by refusing to cooperate with it. UNSCOM was always a tool that required Iraqi cooperation. UNSCOM was never a tool that could, without Iraqi cooperation, force its way into disarming and discovering weapons of mass destruction. It always required Iraqi cooperation.

The fact that Iraq has decided not to cooperate is a decision we don't have control over. But having done so, they have thrown away the key to unlocking the sanctions regime.

As far as international support for that regime is concerned, we do not see evidence or any significant change in the international support for the sanctions regime. As I indicated yesterday, although we see writing and commentary suggesting that the support isn't there, I've never, in all the years that I've followed this - including four in New York at the Security Council - seen any Security Council member propose an easing of the sanctions regime in the absence of UNSCOM declaring their work completed.

So no country is in favor of easing sanctions right now, because UNSCOM's work is so obviously not completed. So the support for the sanctions regime that has been there - that doesn't mean that everyone likes it. We don't like the fact that we have to put sanctions on Iraq, and we try to ameliorate the effect it has by the oil-for-food program. But we don't see any signs of significance that the sanctions regime is eroding.

QUESTION: Jamie, the Russians are about to put a proposal on the table at the UN, as you know, which, among other things, envisions a much larger role of the Secretary General at the expense of UNSCOM and takes some shots at Mr. Butler. The French are talking about import controls as a substitute for the oil embargo. As we head into this period now, do you continue to feel confident that there will not be an erosion and attacks on this basic policy?

MR. RUBIN: There will be tactical disagreements about the best way to encourage Saddam Hussein to cooperate with the UN in disarming and destroying his weapons of mass destruction. There have always been tactical disagreements as to what would induce or compel Saddam Hussein to cooperate with the United Nations. Some countries were pointing to the importance of holding out the hope of sanctions relief in the near term rather than in the long term as one inducement. Other countries have thought that if you send a new diplomat with a new face and a new name, you somehow get different results.

What we've seen is a pattern of obstruction and concealment and obfuscation from Iraq all the way through; because we believe that he is trying to have both sanctions lifting and keep his weapons of mass destruction. Other countries can never quite answer that conundrum if you ask them, well, don't you think he's intent on keeping his weapons of mass destruction.

So, yes, I would expect there to be different ideas thrown about. But at the end of the day, no country - Russia or France or any other country - believes that Saddam Hussein should have sanctions eased in the absence of confirmation by professional experts that he has disarmed and destroyed his weapons of mass destruction.

As far as what our position will be going into such a discussion, that will be our view. Our view is unless we have confidence from some testing process that UNSCOM or inspectors will be able to do their jobs, we don't see the point of renewing the exercise of obfuscation, concealment and obstruction. We believe that it's up to Iraq to show that it has had a change of view; that it now wants to comply with the UN and change the sanctions regime - a fact which all the evidence of the last two weeks points in the other direction, whether it's the no-fly zone or the speech today or the new restrictions on US and British workers.

So, yes, I expect there to be a discussion. But meanwhile, the key player on getting sanctions relieved is Saddam Hussein, and all the indications from his government are going the other way.

QUESTION: Just to follow up if I may, and we're prepared to continue vetoing any resolution that would weaken this policy either way?

MR. RUBIN: We don't see any reason we would need to veto a resolution that would propose sanctions relief in the absence of disarmament, because we don't believe there is any country in the Security Council that is proposing that.

Obviously, at the end of the day, if we got into it we'd recognize our capabilities as a permanent member of the Council. But there is no spectrum of views out there that now envisages changing the sanctions regime without disarmament and destruction of weapons of mass destruction.

QUESTION: Going back to the specific issue of the no-fly zone, you say that you've heard of no strong opposition --

MR. RUBIN: Other than Iraq, right.

QUESTION: But hasn't France withdrawn its participation from the patrols over the southern no-fly zone?

MR. RUBIN: There is a difference, as I indicated in response to the question, between the acceptance of the reality and the endorsement of the no-fly zone by the Security Council and the decision by governments to participate in enforcing it. It is correct that at different times, different governments have participated at different levels. As I understand it, the French participate to a certain extent, but not to a further extent.

Nevertheless, no government, to my knowledge, is proposing that our actions in enforcing the no-fly zone are in contradiction of UN Security Council resolutions.

QUESTION: Jamie, do you have anything to update - because questioning or interviews with doomsday people had barely begun yesterday when you were asked about the situation?

MR. RUBIN: I don't really have much new to say because all of discussions are held under either Privacy Act or other stipulations. I believe our folks have met with them, talked to them and will continue to do so. But as far as anything real for you to use, it's restricted by the privacy waiver.

QUESTION: What about, I asked yesterday whether the US was cooperating in any way with Israeli agencies. There are reports, since I asked the question - you didn't have anything either way - but there have been reports that the FBI has tipped the Israelis off and assisting in this.

MR. RUBIN: With respect to that question, we do not comment on law enforcement matters, and I would refer you to law enforcement authorities on this aspect of the case.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)


MR. RUBIN: I was hoping for more.

QUESTION: So the CIA is involved, right?

QUESTION: On the humanitarian workers, do you see any chance that this row would lead to the suspension of UN humanitarian work in Iraq? And how far are you and the United Nations prepared to go to enforce the principle of non-discrimination in nationality?

MR. RUBIN: Ultimately, it is Iraq's decision as to whether it will allow the world to help Iraq feed its people. Nothing can compel Saddam Hussein to allow UN humanitarian workers to help feed and clothe and provide medicine to his people. At any time, they can withhold the cooperation necessary.

What we can do is show that we're going the extra mile by providing funds, assistance, expertise, equipment to the effort to help feed, clothe and provide medicine to the Iraqi people. We have done that to the tune of billions and billions of dollars in food and medicine that have gone to Iraq, been provided to the Iraqi people as a result of the resolutions the United States initiated. Had we not done that, billions and billions of dollars of food and medicine would not have gone to Iraq and fed and assisted the Iraqi people.

Saddam Hussein has known that he can interfere with that program; he can make it harder for us to help his people. But if he were to do so, it would be clear to all that he has made a decision to use his people as further pawns in his battle with the international community and starve and harm his people even further in the cause of his misguided sense of purpose.

That's all we can do is try to insist that we will be there to help; we will provide the assistance, the equipment, and the expertise pursuant to UN rules and procedures. But if he does not permit that to occur, there's not a lot we can do about it.

As far as will there be adjustments in UN procedures or the negotiated MOU or how it will be implemented, I would have to refer you to New York for any further discussion of that.

QUESTION: You used the term billions and billions twice. Did I mishear you, or did you say that the US has provided billions and billions?

MR. RUBIN: We, as a result of the US-led resolution -- that would not have occurred had the United States not spearheaded it through the Council - - a program of oil-for-food was created. Had the US not done that, the oil- for-food program never would have existed and billions and billions of dollars of food and medicine never would have been provided to the Iraqi people.

As far as the US Government providing assistance, let me point out that many US citizens and organizations are providing humanitarian aid. That's occurring all around the world. But with respect to the government, what I was indicating was that had we not cared as much as we do about the Iraqi people, we would not have passed the resolution -- under some criticism for a perception of softening of sanctions, which they were not -- but which allowed billions and billions of dollars of Iraqi oil to be sold, put in an escrow account and then used to buy food, medicine and other humanitarian goods.

QUESTION: Jamie, is that food sold to the Iraqi Government?

MR. RUBIN: It's a very detailed program that I don't have at my fingertips; but the concept is that the UN monitors and distributes and monitors the distribution of the food. The UN monitors the escrow accounts to make sure that they're only used for the purchase of food, medicine. That is a system that has worked to our satisfaction -- that by and large the billions of dollars that have been gathered have been used for food and medicine approved by the program. But there are certain stipulations about how much goes to citizens in the north and what percentage is taken out for compensation for victims, what percentage is taken out for, I believe, funding of UNSCOM and other measures, but I can get you a fact sheet.

QUESTION: Is there a reason that a similar arrangement couldn't have been worked out for Cuba? I mean, whoever wants to buy the food could so long as it gets distributed to the people - and medicines as well. I don't quite understand why Saddam Hussein seems to have this facility and Cuba does not.

MR. RUBIN: Well, without going too far down the road of comparing apples and oranges, as you like to do but I like to do less, let me simply point out that Cuba is not under an internationally sanctioned UN Security Council comprehensive set of sanctions; so that certainly is a difference.

QUESTION: Jamie, (inaudible) it's under US sanctions. My question is, since the Administration - it's a government sanction - I think it's an Executive Order -

MR. RUBIN: Right - no, it's a law.

QUESTION: Why not call for the lift - for at least bringing Cuba to the level of Iraq in terms of --

MR. RUBIN: If you're making your comparison of assuming that because a particular procedure is in place in Iraq and not in place in Cuba, there is worse concern over food and medicine in Cuba than there is in Iraq. There are a whole bunch of things that could be done with Cuba through remittances, funding, direct flights. All the half-hour's worth of briefing that you sat through that we can do with Cuba can't be done with Iraq. So you can't just compare one aspect of the policy and say that it's not the same and therefore it's worse.

The reality is we have an Interests Section; we meet with the Cubans on certain, specific cases as we've described. There are hundreds of millions of dollars of direct funding going from the American citizens to Cuban family members. Other countries sell food and medicine to Cuba. So it's just not an analogy. You're trying to create a standard when the two cases are very asymmetrical.

QUESTION: It just seems that we treat Saddam Hussein on a different level than Fidel Castro.

MR. RUBIN: I can assure you we regard both Saddam Hussein and Fidel Castro as dictators.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment to the Israeli Knesset's passage on first reading of a bill that would make it much more difficult and restrictive to return the Golan Heights?

MR. RUBIN: I wasn't provided with any particular comment on that law -- proposal. I could get you for the record our standard view on the Syria track, which is that we would like to find a way to bridge the gaps between Syria and Israel on getting a permanent peace with Syria, and we're working on that as appropriate.

We have a view on the relevant UN Security Council resolutions that relate to Lebanon, and those are standard positions that have not changed a s a result of any bills going into first readings, second readings or third readings.

QUESTION: Also on Israel, it turns out the Israeli Foreign Minister will, in fact, be in Washington during his stay in the United States. I wonder whether you all - whether that's a new development - whether you all will -

MR. RUBIN: I don't know. Again, as I said yesterday, the question that was posed was, was there a snub or something like that and clearly there was not. The Foreign Minister's office indicated that he would like a chance to meet with either the Secretary or Ambassador Ross, and a meeting with Ambassador Ross was scheduled I believe for Friday. I'm not aware of any new meetings scheduled.

QUESTION: In New York?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, I believe in New York.

QUESTION: It's just curious why, since he's going to be in Washington any way, either Ambassador Ross wouldn't see him here or the Secretary wouldn't -

MR. RUBIN: Well, he may. The plan was Friday in New York, and is certainly the case that every time a Foreign Minister of Israel is in Washington there isn't necessarily a meeting. But Ambassador Ross will be meeting with him.

QUESTION: Isn't this a moment, though, when the Secretary might have a very strong message to deliver to the Foreign Minister of Israel, regarding the Wye agreement?

MR. RUBIN: Well, I think I've been delivering that message every day from the podium.

QUESTION: -- the Secretary might not want to have Mr. Sharon in just for that same very purpose.

MR. RUBIN: Well, we conduct our diplomacy in the way we see best serving our purposes and that interests of the United States. That's why we are policy-makers. Others may have different views as to the best way to conduct diplomacy, and we welcome your suggestions.

QUESTION: It's just a puzzlement because it seems --

MR. RUBIN: Well, I think one of your colleagues was arguing it the other way. So --

QUESTION: No policy arguments here, just questions towards your policy.

MR. RUBIN: No, it seems like sometimes like there are policy arguments.

QUESTION: Jamie, if Saddam Hussein continues to test the patience of the US and defy the restrictions for the no-fly zone, eventually is he running the risk of setting the stage for another possible military show-down?

MR. RUBIN: What we have said so far is that there are three cases in which we have said we were prepared to act militarily: In the case that he were to act against - go north and act against the Kurds; in the case of a reconstitution of his weapons of mass destruction; or a threat to his neighbors and our interests there, too. Beyond that, I've said that we can't speculate and wouldn't want to rule anything out. That's where we are.

QUESTION: Do you mean to exclude the Shiites in the south?

MR. RUBIN: I added, "and beyond that, I wouldn't want to rule anything out or speculate." The other three examples are things that we've said before and that we would be prepared to act militarily in those cases. I reiterated them for your benefit or not, and the other cases we've specifically said we wouldn't want to rule any particular action out and it would obviously be dependent on a situation that is, at this point, hypothetical.

QUESTION: Jamie, is there anything that you can say about the warden's message that was issued in Egypt today for Americans, citing a credible threat against Americans and possibly American facilities?

MR. RUBIN: No, but I will get it for you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing concluded at 1:55 P.M.)

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