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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #121, 99-09-15

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


Wednesday, September 15, 1999

Briefer: James P. Rubin

1	Refugee returns to Bosnia.
1-2	Secretary Albright scheduled to address the Carnegie Endowment for
	 International Peace on Russia, Thursday, September 16 followed by
	 Q's & A's. 

INDONESIA (East Timor) 2 Congressional consultations regarding peacekeeping force / humanitarian interest

NORTH KOREA 2-3 Perry Report

PAKISTAN 4 US/Pakistani relations / Kashmir

COLOMBIA 5-7&9 US aid and assistance / President Pastrana's visit to US /Counterinsurgency assistance

ISRAEL 8-9 Treatment of American prisoners in Israeli jails / Secretary Albright's meeting with Foreign Minister Levy / Torture and Human Rights Issues

IRAQ 9 Diversion of food aid

IRAN 9 Travel Warning / US grain sales

VENEZUELA 10 Proceeds of sale of government aircraft to build homes for poor

TURKEY 10 Secretary Grossman's visit

AZERBAIJAN 10-11 Minsk process / Peace Initiative

NORTH KOREA 11 Visit of Foreign Minister to the US


DPB #121

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 15, 1999, 12:43 P.M.


MR. RUBIN: Welcome to the State Department briefing. Welcome to those of you who have traveled around the world and back again, and welcome to those of you haven't. I have one statement, on refugee returns in Bosnia, that notes some positive developments in this area about tens of thousands of returns last year and projected returns for this year. That will be available to you after the briefing.

Let me also tell you that Secretary Albright will be delivering a major address on Russia, tomorrow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. I believe it starts at 9 o'clock. There will be a Q & A session, and I will endeavor to see that any of those of you who get up that early in the morning might get an opportunity to pose a question or two.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) - on each?

MR. RUBIN: Probably only one each, actually.

QUESTION: Has the Secretary ever delivered a minor address before?

MR. RUBIN: No. What the difference is: When we bother to tell you about an address, we only tell you about those that are major addresses, because if we told you from the podium, here, every time the Secretary of State made an address, I think you would find that a little time-consuming.

QUESTION: Will you be regulating who asks the questions or can we expect a lot of think-tankers to --

MR. RUBIN: I would expect that the invitees are from the Carnegie Endowment, and not from members of the media. What I am suggesting to you, as is often is the case, that I will do as good as I can to look out for your interests, and encouraging the moderator, whosoever that might be, to make sure that they have an opportunity to steer in your direction. I mean, they may not be three-part questions with a lot of context.

QUESTION: Well, here's a simple one: In the last couple of days, what has the administration been doing, that you know of, to consult with Congress about the operation in East Timor, and what kind of a reception are you getting?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, a number of administration officials, including the President, have been consulting with Congress about this operation, and essentially indicating that we do think it's important for us to participate; that having a role in the logistics, in the communications and in the intelligence area is an appropriate role for the United States, because these are capabilities that we have unique expertise in; that an ally of ours - a very close ally, Australia, who has been with us through thick and thin - has asked for our assistance, and we think, therefore, it would be appropriate to help.

We are talking about hundreds of American service men and women, not thousands. I think, in general, there has been a recognition by members of Congress that this kind of an assistance to the Australians, and others from Asia -- including Thailand and the Philippines and Korea and perhaps Malaysia and others who are intending to contribute -- is an appropriate way for us to share the burden without bearing the full brunt of it.

QUESTION: The US administration being pressed as to what national security interest - or is the humanitarian situation compelling enough that there is a disposition to go along with this limited involvement?

MR. RUBIN: Well, we think there is a national security interest in our participation, and the national security interest is a very simple one: Indonesia is a country -- the fourth-largest country in the world, the largest Muslim country -- that has been going through profound changes in the last year moving from an authoritarian dictatorship to the beginnings of a real democracy, and that development of Indonesia is of interest to the United States, in and of itself, and because Indonesia stands astride critical sea lanes and lines of communication for our forces and our goods and services around the world.

If Indonesia is unable to deal with a situation like East Timor -- if it were to continue to spin out of control -- it could affect the future of Indonesia, and thus our national security. Secondly, there is a humanitarian interest. We do believe that we should look at how to be helpful, where we reasonably can be helpful, where our unique capabilities can make a difference, and that is why we believe it would be appropriate to help ensure that the hundreds of thousands of people who are suffering get relief.

But again, what happens here is that people often try to develop a simple formula for what the United States should and shouldn't do, and there is no simple formula for American intervention, or American use of force. That is what the President, and the Secretary of State, are paid to decide: not to simply plug in a formula, but to make the judgment calls that are necessary in cases like this.

QUESTION: New subject?


QUESTION: The Perry report has apparently gone to Congress. Can you tell us anything about that?

MR. RUBIN: Well, Dr. Perry is briefing members of Congress. I understand he briefed the majority leader of the Senate today. Dr. Perry has been working on this report for some time, as you know, and it is a report that addresses the myriad issues associated with the subject of North Korea. Let me say that I am hopeful that Dr. Perry will be in a position to speak more publicly about his findings and recommendations in the coming day or so.

QUESTION: Does that mean some kind of --

MR. RUBIN: Some sort of public way of those of you who might be interested to obtain an opportunity --

QUESTION: Show up at two different places at a certain time and --

MR. RUBIN: That kind of thing. Now, we'll have to see how that develops, but I would expect that to happen in the next day or so. It's normal procedure for a situation like this, given the nature of the report and the nature of the information involved, for that to begin with discussions with Congress prior to the discussions with the press.

QUESTION: Which means that we'll probably read about it in tomorrow's New York Times.

MR. RUBIN: Well, some of you may read certain newspapers and some of you may not.

QUESTION: Part of is in written form?

MR. RUBIN: There is a written report, yes.

QUESTION: And would we be able to obtain --

MR. RUBIN: Unlikely that there is - I'm not aware there is an unclassified summary of the report. I'm not aware of that. That doesn't mean that some form of that can't be created by the fact of such a briefing, but I don't believe that there is a classified and unclassified version - and it's just a question of when you get your hands on the unclassified version. I don't believe that's the way it has been produced.

QUESTION: Still on North Korea: Can you comment at all on the release by - some contents of the report by the South Korean Foreign Ministry apparently has briefed some of its reporters on the main contents of Dr. Perry's report?

MR. RUBIN: Well, you have to be more specific than that. Certainly, Dr. Perry ought to be the person briefing Dr. Perry's report, as a matter of principle. But let me also say that one of the key premises of our policy -- that Dr. Perry, I believe, shares -- is the importance of close consultation and coordination with South Korea and Japan.

Is that the one-two punch on that one? Did I get that right? Boy, does everybody need a pep pill today?

QUESTION: Another subject? The former -- (inaudible) -- of Pakistan and also now he also a politician in -- (inaudible) - he was speaking at the CSIS the other day and he said that US and IMF should not support the corrupt government of Nawaz Sharif, number one. Number two, Mr. Sharif has canceled his visit to the UN. He was supposed to meet with the Secretary and the President, and I understand, according to Mr. Khan, that because he does not want to sign CTBT which he promised last year next year he will sign at the UN.

MR. RUBIN: Well, maybe Mr. Khan has developed the role of spokesman for Mr. Sharif and therefore, if you have any other questions about Mr. Sharif's intentions or desires, you can direct further questions at Mr. Kahn. But from our standpoint, we believe that the path we've taken in working with Pakistan on a number of issues, but also imposing restrictions as a result of their nuclear testing, is the right course. Our policy is based on working with the Government of Pakistan, and we will continue to work with the Sharif government.

QUESTION: In the same region, tomorrow a bunch of Congressmen and Senators are going to be calling on the administration to appoint a special envoy to deal with Kashmir, and I'm just wondering if the State Department is wont to stray from its initial position which is that it doesn't want to get involved unless both sides ask?

MR. RUBIN: Our basic view of this is that we would be prepared to be helpful if India and Pakistan sought our assistance in mediation. They have not done so. The UN has played a role through the force that is there, but they key solution is for India and Pakistan to develop the kind of bilateral relationship that permits problems to be solved through direct dialogue, the Lahore process being a prime example of that. So that is the way we see the best chance of solving this problem, and the appropriate course, therefore, for us to take. But members of Congress have not pre- briefed me about what they intend to announce tomorrow, so I'd prefer to wait to see what exactly it is they're recommending, before I react formally to something that hasn't even happened yet.

QUESTION: Can you talk about this package of aid that's being prepared to Colombia. The Times reported $1 billion to $1.5 billion as the figure.

MR. RUBIN: Let me say that we have made no decisions on what and whether to ask Congress for more assistance for Colombia. We have been undergoing a comprehensive policy review, to ensure that we develop the most effective strategy to deal with the myriad problems Colombia faces: not only the drug problem, but the crime problem, the economic problems and the human rights violations. That is an ongoing process. Colombian officials have begun to consult with us on their strategy, and we are continuing to work with them. As you know, Secretary Albright made a very strong point of this publicly: that Colombia's problems are real; that they affect the region as a whole; that we need to have a regional solution to them; that we need to deal with all the problems in their interrelationship, and not focus exclusively on one particular problem, such as the drug problem.

As a result of her interest in the subject and concern about the fate of Colombia, Ambassador Pickering, Under Secretary Pickering, has visited there, and has been leading in efforts in this building to develop and work with the Colombians, as they develop their comprehensive strategy. There has been no decision about what, if any, additional resources the US government would provide, because that is premature at this point. First, we have to develop the objectives and agree on the strategy, and then one can make decisions about the financial or budgetary implications of any new strategy.

Of primary focus of whatever assistance we developed would be to counter the production and trafficking of illegal drugs. At the same time, we will continue to advance other interests in Colombia. We've been discussing this problem with the Colombian government for some time. We've assisted them in developing a comprehensive, integrated strategy to deal with this problem. That is a Colombian strategy. We would expect more about that strategy to be discussed publicly in the coming weeks, and certainly a big piece of this puzzle is not only the drugs, but the peace process, the human rights violations, the crime problems, and the human rights problems.

So that is where we stand. This reminds me of the situation that arises when reports develop about some contingency plan for the use of force, and you ask me about it, and I have to tell you that it's only prudent that our Pentagon colleagues would be making contingency plans for any number of military options, because that's their job, and that if we weren't having contingency planning for a particular military option, then we wouldn't be doing our job.

Similarly, it is appropriate for officials on the diplomacy side, and at the State Department and elsewhere, to have contingency planning for different options if any particular option is chosen. There's a big difference, however, between contingency planning for particular options, and them being a real option before the government. There are no options before the President or the Secretary for a financial aid package for Colombia. That is premature, and sometimes these things get ahead of themselves.

QUESTION: But, nevertheless, discussions about an aid package are underway, correct?

MR. RUBIN: Well, again, we give aid to Colombia every year.

QUESTION: Well, I know that, but -

MR. RUBIN: And every year, we discuss the plans for the upcoming budget year, because that's how you develop a budget, is discussing an aid package.


MR. RUBIN: What I'm suggesting to you is that we and the Colombians have not -

QUESTION: Wait -- maybe I can -

MR. RUBIN: Let me just finish. We and the Colombians have not developed a particular strategy that yields a particular budgetary result.


MR. RUBIN: So any suggestion that we, the United States, now have a new plan for a multi-billion-dollar aid package is premature.

QUESTION: But what I was trying to get out was: Is it wrong of that report -- in the report -- that what is being considered is $1 billion to $1.5 billion?

MR. RUBIN: As I indicated to you, there is no option before the Secretary or the President -

QUESTION: I'm not suggesting there is an option. I'm just asking if that's a range of what's being considered, or you don't want to say.

MR. RUBIN: That is highly premature, because what is being considered is what we, the United States, and the Colombians, themselves, should be doing and what kinds of work should they be doing; and before we agree on that, it would be strange, indeed, for us to begin to have a consideration of numbers, especially numbers of that magnitude.

QUESTION: OK, I've got one more question and this is a subject of some debate between - very short debate between myself and George, who is of the opinion that there was actually some news in this story and I was of the opinion that there was not. However, George was under the impression that it said that he believed there was news in it because it indicated a shift away from counter-narcotics, or at least a movement away from the counter- narcotics aid toward a more counter-insurgency type thing.

QUESTION: You're misquoting me altogether.

MR. RUBIN: Oh. Well, I think I should turn the floor over to George. In fairness, George, do you have any comment on your colleague's question?

QUESTION: I'll take the question.

MR. RUBIN: You'll take the question?

QUESTION: Anyway, regardless of who thought what or whatever it is, is it in what's being discussed, any kind of shift in the -

MR. RUBIN: Let me say this. If you take a look at Secretary Albright's op- ed on this subject, she pointed out the interconnectedness of the drug problem, the peace process that is failing, and the crime and economic problems in Colombia, and said that any rational approach to dealing with the drug problem, or to Colombia as a whole, has to deal with all of these issues, and not the drug problem alone

So, as we are undergoing a comprehensive review of the Colombia issue -- including, I expect the Secretary to have some consultations with outside experts in the coming day or so -- she will be focused on all aspects of the problem, and that any strategy that we want to participate in will be one that focuses on all aspects of the problem and their interrelationship. To that extent, I think it is fair to say that it is new, because during the previous presidency, we did not do any business with the previous President of Colombia, and thus limited our involvement to the work on counter-narcotics.

As we've focused on the recent weeks on the concern the Secretary has about the future of Colombia, we are trying to put in place a strategy that deals with all elements, and, therefore, that is, by your standard, new.

QUESTION: OK, so you're saying that there is some consideration, then, as we move towards establishing a new aid package to not entirely focus on counter-narcotics, but also to get involved somehow in the counter- insurgency.

MR. RUBIN: Absolutely not. I said nothing about the counterinsurgency, and let me repeat, that our assistance is focused on the counter-drug efforts. We do not intend to provide counterinsurgency aid to the Government of Colombia. Any support to the Colombian military will continue to be focused on the common counter-drug objectives, and will be given only to units that have been vetted for any indication of human rights abuse.

What I'm suggesting is that Colombia is a complicated place that's going through a number of difficult problems. And as one seeks to deal with the drug problem, as well as the peace process, as well as the rising crime, as well as the falling economy, you have to put all of those into your discussion, and not isolate out one problem, if you want to achieve success in either that problem or the whole panoply of problems.

So the long and the short of it is that Colombian President Pastrana is developing a strategy. We've been working very closely with him in his efforts. We've been briefed on a number of aspects of his strategy, and as we develop a consensus in our government around what new strategy towards Colombia we want to pursue, then -- and only then -- will there be budgetary implications for any aid package.

George, since your name has been taken in vain, I think we should turn to you.

QUESTION: As I understand it, President Pastrana is coming up here with his team. This offers the opportunity for some heavy discussions on these issues. Does Secretary Albright or other senior officials, including the President, have any plans to meet with him?

MR. RUBIN: I believe the Colombian foreign minister and Secretary Albright are scheduled to meet tomorrow, so that is an opportunity for this to be discussed. I don't have any further meetings to offer you, but it's something that we all are going to focus heavily on.

QUESTION: A couple of weeks ago, the Secretary raised with David Levy the question of the treatment of American prisoners in Israeli jails. Since that time, the Israeli Supreme Court has confirmed that, indeed, they have been torturing for a couple of decades or more, and you welcomed that at the podium, as I recall.

Is there any intention on the part of the administration to seek to gain the release of the five or six Americans who have been tortured, and whose continued detention is, therefore, you know, somewhat illegal? There are at least five of them. Secondly, could you share with us any details, on the record or off the record, of the raising of that question by the Secretary with Mr. Levy, the foreign minister? I'd appreciate it very much.

MR. RUBIN: Let me tell you that Secretary Albright did not meet with Foreign Minister David Levy. She did meet with Foreign Minister David Levy, but she doesn't normally have meetings with the spokesman at the National Security Council. With respect to what occurred in the meeting, let me say that, as part of a bilateral discussion, we did discuss various legal procedures in Israel. Foreign Minister Levy was sympathetic to our concerns about mistreatment of American citizens, especially if that was based on ethnicity, and that he, like she, regarded it as unacceptable, and he indicated he was planning to look into these particular cases.

I have no new information to provide you. I will seek that information, and in the future please don't mistake the NSC spokesman for the Foreign Minister of Israel.

QUESTION: Sorry about that. Would you answer the second part of the question?

MR. RUBIN: I don't remember it.

QUESTION: Too focused on pronunciation. The question was, in view of the fact that the Supreme Court has now said -

MR. RUBIN: OK. I know - the answer is the same, which is that we first need to get more data about these cases and get a response from the Israeli government to our concerns before we can make judgments on what we would be seeking or not seeking. In addition, your question had about six or seven legal judgments built into it that I would have to ask our lawyers our view on before I responded.

QUESTION: Any intention on the part of the administration to weigh in with the Government of Israel, which is now considering a new "bypass law" to get around the Israeli Supreme Court and continue the torture.

MR. RUBIN: Our views on torture and on the human rights questions don't change; they remain the same, and they are the same concerns that we've had, that we've detailed in our human rights reports, and we will always raise the issues associated with reports that we detail in our human rights reports. But I'm not going to comment on any specific demarche with respect to any specific law, because I don't know that they have developed a specific plan in Israel in that regard.

QUESTION: On Colombia again, I'm a bit confused about why you were so categorical about the US not supplying counter-insurgency support to the Pastrana government. What if they ask for it, and what if that's deemed in this policy review to be what's needed to fight all of the questions and issues that you raised?

MR. RUBIN: Well, because that is our prerogative: to make a judgment as to where we think it's appropriate for us to provide assistance and where it is inappropriate, and we've made a judgment that we do not intend to provide counterinsurgency aid to the Government of Colombia.

QUESTION: I don't see why you've judged that to be inappropriate.

MR. RUBIN: There are a number of factors that go into such a calculation, and I will look for some formal answer to provide for you. But we think it would be unwise.

QUESTION: A question on Iraq: A report issued the other day, on page 3, there was a photograph that, of course, number one, Saddam Hussein, is diverting food for his military supposedly to feed the babies, that Kuwaiti authorities have seized a number of boxes with foods and all that to be sold outside Iraq -- came from Iraq. Which countries are buying those boxes of food coming from Iraq, supposed to feed the hungry in Iraq?

MR. RUBIN: I'll have to check that for you; it's a good question.

QUESTION: I was, kind of, struck by this travel warning that was put out late last night, I guess, on Iran.

MR. RUBIN: Right.

QUESTION: Simply because, I mean, these demonstrations that it was talking about happened two months ago. And I'm just wondering if this was a kind of an attempt to allay potential fears among some quarters -- I don't know who -- that after the confirmation of these high-level messages going back and forth, that the US was not getting too closely to -

MR. RUBIN: The answer to that is no. The consular affairs folks make their decisions based on what is safe and not safe for American citizens. If we began using those consular affairs sheets to send messages back and forth, or deny messages back and forth, or effect perceptions about messages back and forth, we wouldn't be doing our primary duty here in the Department, which is to do what we can to protect the safety of Americans abroad. That is what that travel warning is about, and it has no relation whatsoever to perceptions and misperceptions about what may or may not have been -- transpired between us and Iran.

QUESTION: One more on Iran. Has any decision been made about these grain sales to -

MR. RUBIN: No, I will have to check that. I know that, pursuant to our change in the sanctions laws, that the food and medicine provisions change, which permitted one to seek sales of that kind. I think I may end up referring you to the Treasury Department, where the license would have to be provided, but I will check that for you.

QUESTION: Do you have any elaboration on that travel warning, because the events mentioned in it happened several months go. I mean, was there a more recent event, or circumstances in the country which caused you to issue it?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, there were circumstances in the country that caused us to issue the travel warning. I believe these, as a rule, speak for themselves, and going beyond it -- I just don't have any additional information from the Consular Affairs Bureau justifying this, but I will seek it for you.

QUESTION: On Colombia, you said that President Pastrana is working on a strategy. Do you know - and that it would be tied to any aid package - do you know when that will be done or when --

MR. RUBIN: Well, he is coming here. He is going to be at the United Nations. We expect him to be unveiling his strategy very shortly, and we are going to be consulting with him closely on it, including the meeting with Secretary Albright we'll be having with the foreign minister tomorrow.

QUESTION: There is a newspaper report that President Chavez of Venezuela has embarked upon the sale of all the aircraft that the government owns so he can build some 6,000 homes for the poor. And I would just ask you: There is a number of Americans doing business in Venezuela that say this man is seeking dictatorship in Venezuela. Could you respond to that particular --

MR. RUBIN: I don't think I could quite agree with that view, but let me check on the specific report about the airplanes, because that is an issue that I should check on before responding.

QUESTION: Assistant Secretary Grossman (is) in Turkey right now, and before the Turkish prime minister in Washington is - what's the purpose of this visit? And, secondly, is there one of the Turkish government coalition partner leader Mr. Mesut Yilmaz, was in town in a couple of days ago. He met with several State Department officials. What was the meeting?

MR. RUBIN: I have to check that for you.

QUESTION: Very quickly: Are you aware of a rejection of a US initiative by Azerbaijan for peace in the - apparently William Taylor, who is the envoy to this republic, former Soviet republics, extended some kind of an invitation to the Azerbaijanis to meet with others, and he said - and, I'm sorry, and Aliyev said no.

MR. RUBIN: You read the wire story first, then ask the question.

QUESTION: I was afraid I was going to mispronounce the guy's name. But Aliyev said no, because he didn't see the use in such a thing because --

MR. RUBIN: Well, we've been certainly working for some time through the Minsk process, the triple co-chairs - the United States, France and Russia - to try to advance that issue and promote peace. I'm not aware of any particular new initiative that was rejected, but we'll have to check that for you. I'll be happy to do that.

QUESTION: There's some real sad news from Germany. Raisa Gorbachev is near death, not expected to survive. Can we have any comment from the State Department?

MR. RUBIN: On a humanitarian level, obviously we wish her the best in pursuing her medical treatment that I understand is being pursued, but I don't know the specifics of the case, and don't know that we do either.

QUESTION: Do you know, or can you tell us anything about, a possible visit by the North Korean foreign minister to the United States: whether or not he will be meeting with any US officials?

MR. RUBIN: I don't know the foreign minister of North Korea's schedule, if he is planning to attend the General Assembly. I do know that, certainly, one possibility in the pursuit of a more normal economic and political relationship with North Korea, following the successful developments in Berlin would be a high-level visit to the United States, analogous to former Secretary Perry's visit to North Korea. But other than saying that that would be a natural event if relations were to improve, I don't have any specific plan or date to offer you.

(The briefing concluded at 1:17 P.M.)

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