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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #43, 99-04-02

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


Friday, April 2, 1999

Briefer: James P. Rubin

1		Update on Three Captured US Servicemen/Reported Court
1		Department's Contact with Sweden as Protecting Power
1-2,4		Rambouillet Accords/International Security Presence
2		Prospects for Introduction of Ground Troops
2,9		Contact/Access to Dr. Rugova
2-3,6		Deputy Secretary Strobe Talbott's Travel to Albania,
		  Macedonia, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and Brussels
3		Secretary Albright's Contacts with Foreign Ministers
4		Reports of Bombing Moratorium During Holiday
4		Department's Recommendation to INS Regarding Temporary
		  Protective Status
4-5		Update on Situation on Ground in Kosovo
5-6		Update on Refugee Situation/Humanitarian Assistance/UNHCR
		  Efforts with Regional Countries to Assist Front Line
6-7		Status of Kosovo
9-10		Contact with Mr. Thaqi/Description of Situation on Ground
9-10		Prospects for Airlifting Supplies to Refugees

FRY/MONTENEGRO 3 Reports Milosevic Plotting Coup Attempt Against President Djukanovic

RUSSIA 7,8 Secretary's Conversation with Foreign Minister Ivanov 7 Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE ) Adaptation 7-9 US Imposition of Sanctions on Three Russian Entities for Transfer of Lethal Military Equipment to Syria


DPB #43



MR. RUBIN: Greetings. Welcome to the State Department briefing. I have no statements. Let me go right to your questions.

QUESTION: The Yugoslavs have started the court proceedings against the three Americans. Do you have any observations to make?

MR. RUBIN: I'm not aware of precisely of what is going on inside Yugoslavia with respect to the three detained soldiers. Let me say that we've been quite clear that we don't think there is any justification for them being held, nor is there any justification for them to be undergoing a trial. The Geneva Convention, which pertains here, makes clear that these men should be accorded the following treatment: humane treatment at all times; this includes protection against acts of violence, intimidation, insults, public curiosity or reprisals; all medical attention required by their state of health; protection from any form of coercion or threat to secure any information beyond the name, rank, serial number and date of birth of the prisoner; evacuation from any area of danger; adequate food, clothing and quarters; and access by protecting powers and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Let me say that we are deeply troubled that the protecting power and the ICRC, to our knowledge, have not had access to these people who were illegally abducted.

QUESTION: Jamie, can you tell us about a communication, whether it was by note or verbally, whether it was Secretary Albright or somebody else within the State Department and the Swedish Ambassador in Belgrade?

MR. RUBIN: We have contacted the Swedes in order to try to get protecting power access to them through the Department, through diplomatic channels. But they have not been able to obtain that access, and that is troubling to us.

QUESTION: Can I go to something the President just said. I know you're not his spokesman - I guess you watched it. One possible interpretation of something he said regarding the Rambouillet accords about the peacekeeping component of that. The President said there has to be some sort of international force to protect their security. Sounds as if there might be some daylight there, as far as that being a NATO-led peacekeeping force. Can you address that in any way?

MR. RUBIN: I think, to my understanding, the President was making clear what the key elements of Rambouillet were; that is, self-government for the people of Kosovo by their own leaders, and an international security presence to protect that government. With respect to any of the planning and thinking that you've probably read about in the newspapers, that is surely prompting at least part of your question -- not at all, I know.

QUESTION: Not so much, really more just does it have to be -

MR. RUBIN: The US has no plans to introduce ground troops into a non- permissive environment in Kosovo. That has been our position all along. What the President was indicating, to the best of my knowledge, was that the key elements of Rambouillet - self-government and a security presence to ensure that self-government - remain the key principles that we think a negotiated outcome has to be based on.

QUESTION: As far as you're concerned, does it have to be a NATO-led peacekeeping force?

MR. RUBIN: Well, as far as the US position is concerned, we've been quite clear that it has to be a NATO-led peacekeeping force.

QUESTION: There's no flexibility on that point, perhaps though maybe with a greater Russian involvement? I mean, there's been some talk about this.

MR. RUBIN: Again, this is an ongoing situation, and I know that you're trying to elicit new policy pronouncements from me. I can understand why you might be wanting to do that, but I don't intend to provide it on the subject of ground troops.

QUESTION: Yesterday, you said that the United States would try to be reaching Rugova, and I wondered if you had any success in doing that.

MR. RUBIN: No, we would like to have access to Dr. Rugova. We would like to ensure that his family and he have freedom of movement, and are in a position to communicate with us. In the absence of that access, we don't intend to respond to any purported statements based on a meeting that he had with President Milosevic. Ambassador Hill is in Macedonia, and we think it would be appropriate for him to get access to Dr. Rugova. There are others who could get access as well. But clearly, we do not intend to react to purported views of Dr. Rugova, or results of a meeting with President Milosevic, in the absence of being able to independently discuss this matter with him.

QUESTION: You don't want to say whether he's under duress?

MR. RUBIN: I just don't want to react to it, because I don't know. It seems to me at a time like this, one shouldn't say what one doesn't know.

QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit about Deputy Secretary Talbot's trip and, specifically, to what extent is he going to explore the issue of Montenegro and your concerns about what Belgrade may be trying to do there?

MR. RUBIN: Well, he is traveling to Albania, Macedonia, to Greece, to Bulgaria, to Romania and to Brussels. He leaves this evening and will return next Wednesday. He leads an interagency group, which includes, as an interagency group would, officials from all the departments. He will thank countries in the region for their support of the NATO operation, and underscore the US commitment to provide support necessary to address the impact of the humanitarian crisis in the region.

He will meet with senior government officials in Albania and Macedonia, as well as officials concerned with humanitarian issues. The President indicated, just a few moments ago, the determination we have to deal with this humanitarian crisis.

With respect to Montenegro, let me say: The Secretary, in her regular contacts with ministers from other countries -- and in that regard, let me report that she spoke today to Foreign Secretary Cook, Foreign Minister Papandreou, the Czech Prime Minister. She spoke to Foreign Minister Fischer. She's expected to speak as well with Foreign Minister Dini, Foreign Minister Vedrine. Yesterday, she spoke several times with both Foreign Minister Dini, Foreign Minister Vedrine, as well as talks with Fischer, Cook, Axworthy and Ivanov.

During the course of all of her conversations, she has raised the question of Montenegro. We have made clear that our information, from a variety of sources, clearly suggests that Milosevic is intensifying his threats against Montenegro. The US support for the Djukanovic government is strong and unwavering. As you know, the President announced a $50 million package yesterday, part of which will be to assist Kosovar Albanians in Montenegro.

In addition, we have offered immediate economic assistance. We are sending a very clear message to Belgrade. Any attempt to overthrow the democratically elected government of Montenegro would only fuel wider instability, and lead to deeper isolation for Yugoslavia, and escalate the conflict with NATO.

We understand that several key Yugoslav Army Commanders were replaced in recent days. This sudden change of key military officers in Montenegro indicates that President Milosevic has serious concerns about the loyalty of his troops. We do not have exact figures. We believe that a large percentage of the Yugoslav military personnel stationed in Montenegro are ethnic Montenegrins.

So Montenegro is a very important place right now. We are watching it very, very closely. Secretary Albright is discussing this daily with her colleagues from other NATO countries. It's a matter of some concern to us.

QUESTION: Will Secretary Talbott though deal with this issue on his trip in any way?

MR. RUBIN: I would think that of all the components of the regional crisis would come up during the course of his trip, but it's not specifically tailored to deal with that issue.

QUESTION: Could you go back to the security force that the President mentioned. You said, there are no plans to send a peacekeeping force into a non-permissive environment. Can you define what permissive is now? Is it the same as it was before - a permissive environment is only if the Serbs sign the peace accord or agreement?

MR. RUBIN: Let me say that I understand the motivation of the question. It is a perfectly legitimate question. I am not going to speculate, from this podium, about thinking that may or may not be going on in this government or other NATO governments. What I can say, in this forum, is describe what our current policy is, and other than that, you're probably hearing about thinking that is going on. Our current policy is to not send in ground troops in anything but a permissive environment.

That is a term of art that has a certain meaning in the context of Rambouillet. In the context of Rambouillet, it was very clearly an agreement. A portion of that agreement was spelled out: certain authorities, certain requirements of Serb forces that would constitute a permissive environment, certain things the Serbs had to do -- removing their forces, most of them; deploying their forces in non-threatening ways; and making the political decision to sign the agreement, with all that that entails. In the context of Rambouillet, that was a permissive environment. Beyond saying that, I am not prepared to speculate.

QUESTION: Do you have any information that an informal moratorium is in effect not to strike Serbia from April 4th - that means today after 11, due to the Catholic and Orthodox Easter?

MR. RUBIN: I'm unaware of any such plan or intention.

QUESTION: The other question, since you are striking Serbia for humanitarian purposes, do you have contingency plans to bring some of those thousands of Albanian refugees here to the United States?

MR. RUBIN: With respect to the US position on that, let me say that the US provides temporary protective status for any person from the province of Kosovo, who was in the US on June 6, 1998. The State Department recommended to the Immigration and Naturalization Service on March 31st of this year that this TPS designation -- temporary protective status -- be extended an additional year, and be made available to all Kosovars, who have arrived in the US since June 6, 1998. Persons who are granted temporary protected status may remain legally in the US and are eligible for work authorization. The Attorney General is currently considering the State Department recommendation.

Beyond that, what's very important here is that we not accept the ethnic cleansing that President Milosevic is conducting. The situation only deteriorates; as far as I understand, the Serb and military police forces continue to focus on clearing out the last KLA strongholds in Kosovo, while at the same time stepping up their campaign of terror against the civilian population through executions, forced expulsions and the looting and burning of towns and villages. The Serb offensive has, in large part, undermined the Kosovar Liberation Army's ability to conduct organized resistance.

With respect to the refugee situation, we have some rather chilling reports about 200,000 people being held in and around the train station in Pristina for forced expulsion. We've seen some rather chilling reports of people being herded and packed in like sardines into boxcars to be shipped out of the country. This is extremely troubling to us, and all I can say in terms of the numbers: the numbers just grow.

Yesterday, 41,000 people arrived in Macedonia by train, car and on foot, mostly from the Pristina area. This brings the total in Macedonia to 86,000, including 70,000 since March 24. The High Commissioner has requested assistance from third countries in the region to take some of these refugees on a temporary basis, to relieve the burden on Macedonia, but also to provide a more human environment for them.

So we're trying not to get to a situation where there's resettlement, but to see that the people are temporarily held in the region, so that they can go back. As the President said, our objective is to get these people back. Another 20,000 refugees have also arrived in Albania since yesterday, bringing the total number there to nearly 140,000 people, including 120,000 in the past 10 days. We are, again, exploring third-country alternatives for these people in the region, as the UNHCR has asked, as well as for those in Macedonia. Three thousand Kosovars have entered Montenegro in the past 24 hours, bringing the total in this republic to 55,000, including 30,000 since March the 24th. Hundreds of thousands of people have been internally displaced within Kosovo itself. We are not able to update the figure of 260,000 from March 24th because our reporting just isn't capable of it.

So we continue to try to do the work of getting food and tents and water and other essentials to these people. Governments including our own have mobilized funds, staff and supplies to assist the governments and humanitarian agencies in the area. The real problem right now is simply the overwhelming number of people, in trying to deal with it.

QUESTION: Since Greece has over 1 million refugees from the former East bloc and Former Yugoslavia, and more than 500,000 Albanians than any other country in Europe, why did your government is asserting pressure on the Greek Government to receive more?

MR. RUBIN: I think we're talking to all governments in the region. I don't know whether your figures are accurate. I'm going to have to check that to try to ensure that -- one of the problems here is simply a physical problem, is that the border locations are becoming overcrowded and overcome with people. We have to move them out, so that they are in a position to take the new people coming in, and be able to provide the food and shelter and medicine that they need, so they're not forced to sleep overnight out in the cold without any shelter whatsoever. So the UNHCR is looking to have the regional countries try to relieve some of the burden of the front line states - Montenegro, Albania and Macedonia.

QUESTION: Did you ask other European countries like France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria to receive Albanians, you see, because they are -

MR. RUBIN: I'll have to get the UNHCR data for you to provide to you.

QUESTION: One detail and then a broader question. Would you check that figure again for Montenegro, because 55,000 is the number you gave yesterday. Three thousand new ones would be 58,000, right?

MR. RUBIN: What I have is approximately 55,000, including 30,000 since March 24th. But we can check those for you.

QUESTION: The broader question - a subject that we discussed earlier about the possibility of division of Kosovo into --

QUESTION: Can I ask one more question --


QUESTION: I apologize if I missed this. But is the United States taking on this role of trying to get some of the other countries to take on the burden of the immediate front line states?

MR. RUBIN: No, no, that's the UNHCR's job.

QUESTION: Okay, okay.

MR. RUBIN: But we are obviously working in a variety of ways with all the front line states -- and that is something that Deputy Secretary Talbott will be doing -- to try to encourage everybody to do their part. The Italians have played a critical role in dealing with this refugee crisis, and we want as many countries as possible to help, so that the war aims of President Milosevic are not accomplished.

QUESTION: In light of this massive forced exodus of Kosovars, is the possibility of discrete divided communities within Kosovo now a greater possibility than it was before this massive flood?

MR. RUBIN: I would say we're moving in the other direction. What the President has indicated is that Serbia is losing its claims to Kosovo, that with each passing day it is harder and harder to see a situation where the radicalized population that has just suffered these terrible atrocities, and Serbian barbarity, would accept the Serb claims to Kosovo. That is a view that is becoming increasingly -- taking hold throughout the world. So rather than moving towards partition of some kind, which would be more in the favor of the Serbs than Rambouillet, the direction is clearly the other direction.

QUESTION: The other direction being remaining intact with a peace-keeping force?

MR. RUBIN: Correct, yes.

QUESTION: Has the Administration begun to explore the possibility of a protectorate?

MR. RUBIN: I know there have been a lot of reports about this in the newspapers. I understand that your questions arise from those reports. Let me say that, obviously, people are doing thinking, and we would be wrong not to do thinking. But as far as our position, our view -- our view remains that the basic principles of Rambouillet -- self-government and a security presence to enforce that self-government -- remain our stated goals.

QUESTION: Can you share with us what the Secretary - if anything that you're able to share - from her conversation yesterday? I think you said she spoke with Ivanov?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, I think it was a good conversation that she had with Ivanov. We continue to disagree with the Russians about the wisdom of the use of force. But they both agreed about the importance of seeing our relationship as more than just a question of Kosovo. In that regard, let me say the CFE negotiating body in Vienna, the Joint Consultative Group, has agreed on a detailed outline for the further course of negotiations on this very important treaty, the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, and its adaptation.

This agreement resolves, in principle, most of the outstanding issues under negotiation. It establishes a new structure of limitations that will increase stability and predictability of military forces in Europe. All treaty partners, including the Russians, have agreed to greater limitations on their conventional military equipment. They have further decided on both extensive requirements for the exchange of military information, as well as enhanced verification measures. The acceptance of this document by all 30 CFE states signals genuine progress in an arduous process, and completes a critical phase in adapting this treaty.

Despite the strained international situation, the CFE decision by us and the Russians demonstrates that we are still able to work cooperatively with Russia to resolve very difficult military issues on terms that protect NATO interests, address the concerns of other parties, and advance stability and predictability of military forces in Europe generally.

They discussed that. They discussed other work that's going on between the United States and Russia. They also discussed the question of the ships. We made very clear we think it would be a grave mistake for the Russians to move from sympathy in their body politic, to a situation where they were assisting the Yugoslavs in any military way. As far as Ivanov and other indicators indicate, they have not done so. So to the extent possible, we are trying to wall off the disagreement on Kosovo, and continue to work on other matters.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on Russia? Can you confirm that the United States has imposed sanctions against three Russian entities for selling anti-tank missiles?

MR. RUBIN: Under specific circumstances, U.S. law requires that certain assistance be held from any foreign government that transfers lethal military equipment to a country determined by the Secretary of State to be a state-sponsor of terrorism. Syria was so designated. The law allows the Secretary to waive such sanctions, in whole or in part, if she determines that to do so is important to the national interests of the United States.

In accordance with the law, the Secretary has determined that Russia has transferred lethal military equipment, specifically anti-tank guided missiles, to Syria. She has decided to sanction the three Russian firms directly involved in the transactions, the Tula Design Bureau, the Volsk Mechanical Plant, and a third group whose name I am not going to even try to pronounce. She will waive sanctions against the Russian government.

In addition to the assistance cut off to these entities, the Department, in consultation with relevant agencies, decided to ban US Government procurement from and to prohibit the export of US munitions list items to these entities. The Russians were informed of this, I believe, yesterday. These measures will remain in place until one year after the transfers have ceased, or until the Secretary determines that it is important to U.S. interests to waive it.

QUESTION: Why did she waive sanctions on the government?

MR. RUBIN: The Secretary makes these decisions. Approximately $90 million in assistance to the Russian Government was potentially affected. We are not currently aware -- of this... I mean, this is a decision you make based on a variety of circumstances, and I will get the formal justification for you after the briefing.

QUESTION: The $90 million will go forward then? It might have otherwise been --

MR. RUBIN: She makes a decision that it's important to the national interest. As far as the justification for that, I'll give you --

QUESTION: I'm sorry, this number again, it's $90 million?

MR. RUBIN: Correct.

QUESTION: That would have been withheld?

MR. RUBIN: If we had not waived, yes.

QUESTION: If you had not waived. What's it for?

MR. RUBIN: For assistance to the Russian government. I don't have more detail on that, but I will be happy to provide it for you after the briefing.

QUESTION: Do you have the dollar value of the actual sanctions?

MR. RUBIN: We'll provide additional detail on this subject to you after the briefing, yes.

QUESTION: Do you know if the Russians will be represented at the NATO Summit?

MR. RUBIN: I'm not aware that they have decided to come to the summit.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary discuss this particular issue with Ivanov?

MR. RUBIN: No, they were informed through diplomatic channels.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about Rugova and meeting Milosevic. I think you mentioned that before. The question is, do you accept Rugova as a leader of the Albanian -- the Kosovars, or the KLA, or a combination of --

MR. RUBIN: Well, the only real answer to that question is to go back to Rambouillet, and to where Dr. Rugova was present as the leader of the party there, and, in his own right. The KLA representatives were there, and there were a number of political figures. The Kosovar Albanians decided how to organize themselves, and they had a four-member chairmanship chaired by Mr. Thaqi, the political leader of the KLA. That is the decision the Kosovar Albanians made. So in the last time they had to make a decision as to how to organize themselves, that was their organization. But we don't make that decision for them.

QUESTION: But Rugova was the last one who was elected in some form, democratically by the Albanian people?

MR. RUBIN: Again, the situation has changed since that time, and there have been terrible things that have gone on on the ground, in which President Milosevic's terrible, terrible atrocities, in moving hundreds of thousands of people out of their homes, in killing men and boys, in torching homes and all these other terrible stories, have radicalized the population. We'll have to see what the political leadership of Kosovo is in the future. But the last time they had to decide how to organize themselves, that's how they did so.

QUESTION: Just to go back to the sanctions again?

MR. RUBIN: I have no additional information that I have not already provided to you.

QUESTION: This is on the Secretary's decision. I just want to be clear what your saying. She decided that there was no sanctionable activity by the Russian government?

MR. RUBIN: Additional information on this particular subject will be provided after the briefing.

QUESTION: Have you spoken in the last 24 hours to Mr. Thaqi? Is there any sort of development on the consideration of airlifting the supplies?

MR. RUBIN: I have no new position to provide you as far as our intentions are concerned. Let me say that Mr. Thaqi has spoken to the State Department again today. He described the situation to us. He's still extremely concerned about the people in Kosovo who are at risk. I indicated to you that we're all concerned about those who are without shelter and food. He mentioned, for example, the 200,000 people that are near the Pristina station -- it's information that we've been able to confirm by other sources -- that are being herded into this station and its environs to be shipped out by boxcar in this most brutal kind of forced expulsion.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing concluded at 1:25 p.m.)

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