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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #123, 99-09-29

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 29, 1999

Briefer: James B. Foley

1,2-3	Secretary Albright's Travel to California, Michigan and Canada,
	 October 4-7 

MIDDLE EAST 1,4-5 US to Contribute Additional $3.5 Million to UNRWA

INDONESIA 1-2 US Provides $5.1 Million for East Timor Assistance 2,3 US Condemns Murder of Nine Religious Officials and Staff in East Timor 3-4 Situation in West Timor and Displaced East Timorese 4 Status of Ambassador Roy and Ambassador Gelbard

MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS 5-7 Status of the Israel-Syria Track

5-7 President's and Secretary Albright's Meetings with Syrian Foreign Minister

NORTH KOREA 7-8 Prospects for Further Missile Test/North Korean Pledge

KOREAN PENINSULA 8-9 Alleged Atrocities by American Soldiers in the Korean War

CYPRUS 9-10 Status of Talks

RUSSIA 10-12 US Ongoing Contacts with Russian Authorities / Situation in Chechnya

SERBIA (Kosovo) 12 Update on US Office in Pristina


DPB #123

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 1999, 1:05 P.M.


MR. FOLEY: I'm a little anxious, though, given that we don't seem to have a lot of news today. I hope we don't repeat our August experiences, namely that this could turn into a marathon session in the absence of news.

In any case, welcome to the State Department. I have a few announcements, and I will post them so you can get all the detail. I won't interrupt your anticipated questions by reading them at length. But this one I will read at length, because it involves Secretary Albright's travel plans for next week.

As part of her ongoing outreach efforts to communicate about the importance of foreign policy directly to the American public, Secretary of State Albright will travel to California and Michigan next week, October 4 through 7, to deliver three foreign policy speeches.

On October 5, she will deliver the luncheon keynote address to the Governor's Conference for Women at the Convention Center in Long Beach, California.

The following day, Wednesday, October 6, she will deliver luncheon remarks at the Hoover Forum at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

On October 7, Thursday, she will travel to Detroit, Michigan, where that afternoon, she will speak to a combined audience of the Detroit Economic Club and the Women's Economic Club at Cobo Hall. She will then travel on Thursday, later that day, to Canada, to join the President's trip and visit in Ottawa.

In terms of other announcements, the United States will contribute an additional $3.5 million to assist the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East with its current operations. One million dollars is for the general fund and $2.5 million is for special projects. This brings the total US contribution, for fiscal year 1999 to the UNRWA, to $80 million -- $80.53 million.

Secondly, in this respect the US Government is pleased to announce a contribution of $5.1 million for the humanitarian needs of the people of East Timor. The United Nations Interagency Appeal for East Timor will receive $4.1 million, and the International Committee for the Red Cross will receive $1 million. This initial fiscal year 1999 donation to the UN Appeal provides $2.6 million to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, $1 million to the World Food Program and $500,000 to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Finally, the United States Embassy in Jakarta has confirmed church and press accounts that indicated that nine religious officials and staff, accompanied by an Indonesian journalist, were murdered while driving in a vehicle between Los Palos and Bau Cau in East Timor.

The initial reports indicate that their vehicle was hit by automatic weapons, fired by a unit of the Indonesian military, which was evacuating the area. Reportedly, the group of civilians had been involved in moving relief supplies to East Timorese who had fled Indonesian military and militia violence over the past month. The United States strongly condemns this wanton act of murder, carried out against innocent civilians seeking to provide humanitarian assistance to those in need.

Such acts, horrific in themselves, also impede the humanitarian response to hundreds of thousands of East Timorese in urgent need of relief aid. We call upon the government of Indonesia to move, swiftly and transparently, to identify the perpetrators of this brutal and cowardly attack, and to bring those responsible to justice.

We express our deep regret over the loss of these latest victims of the violence afflicting East Timor.

QUESTION: On the Secretary's speech, do you have topics that you can disclose, and will efforts be made to make texts available here?

MR. FOLEY: The answer to your second question is yes, we will distribute the texts here in Washington as soon as they're available. As you know, sometimes these go down to the wire, but I'm sure we'll be able to fax the "as prepared for delivery" text here as she's about to deliver those remarks -- or as soon as they are available.

I can tell you, in general terms, that when she's speaking in Los Angeles, at Long Beach on Tuesday -- and my understanding is it's going to be a general foreign policy address -- obviously she will be discussing our efforts to promote women's rights around the world, given the audience. But it's also going to be a wider speech on general foreign policy.

At the Hoover Forum on Wednesday, she's going to focus, I think, largely, on the foreign affairs budget which is in real trouble with the Congress right now. They are underfunding the President's request to the tune of $2 billion.

I think the Secretary has described this as a meat-ax approach to supporting our foreign policy, and so she's going to make the case directly to this group at Stanford and, though them, to the people of America, on behalf of what the United States is trying to achieve around the world through our programs and our budget.

In Detroit, it's going to be an economic speech. Beyond that I don't have any specifics. But if we're in a position to say more, then maybe Mr. Rubin will do so on Friday. Questions.

QUESTION: You reported about the US Embassy in Jakarta confirmed --

QUESTION: There had been some talk about some kind of an Internet bilateral that she was going to do in San Jose. Is that still happening?

MR. FOLEY: Yes, I believe that there will be such.

QUESTION: Do you know who it is that she's going to be bilateraling with?

MR. FOLEY: I can check that for you after the briefing, but I believe we're working on that.

QUESTION: Can you explain the procedure on that? Will that be open to the world?

MR. FOLEY: I'll have to check for you. I don't have that in my notes, and so we can get it for you later.

QUESTION: And another question -- at any of those speeches, will there be questions and answers?

MR. FOLEY: I can't say at this point. I would be surprised if, at least in one or some of the fora, that there weren't opportunities for questions, but I don't know that.

QUESTION: This attack that you told us about: this happened today, yesterday?

MR. FOLEY: It happened over the weekend, I believe. It's been reported in the press. This is not news that this happened. But before making as official and serious a reaction as I just gave you, we wanted to be able to confirm the facts through our Embassy in Jakarta.

QUESTION: The US - you're strongly condemning this attack. Has that been expressed to the Indonesian Government, and does the Secretary plan to make this "Topic A" when she meets with the foreign minister later today in New York?

MR. FOLEY: Well, it's hard to say what "Topic A" is, since our bilateral relationship with Indonesia is so important. The situation in Timor is so serious that they have a large number of topics to discuss. Perhaps "Topic A," though, if I may hazard a guess, is bound to be the situation in West Timor.

As the Secretary indicated in remarks in New York, our concern remains that the situation of displaced East Timorese in the camps, and those who are hiding near the border around Atambua continues to be critical. Despite pledges by the Indonesian Government to facilitate international humanitarian access, there is still no secure access.

So we reiterate our call on the government of Indonesia to immediately take steps to restore order, to disarm and disband militia groups that continue to intimidate and threaten East Timorese on both sides of the border.

We also call on the government of Indonesia to enable safe and secure access by international humanitarian organizations to East Timorese in need -- both in East and West Timor. Military-supported militia activity continues to restrict such access. Again, my assumption is that that will be very high on her agenda in that meeting today.

QUESTION: Could you give the location of that attack, again, between the two towns?

MR. FOLEY: Yes. Excuse me a minute. They were driving in a vehicle between Los Palos and Bau Cau in East Timor.

QUESTION: Could I ask another question about the Palestinian funds that you just mentioned?

QUESTION: Has Ambassador Gelbard left yet; when does he arrive? Is Ambassador Roy still there?

MR. FOLEY: I believe Ambassador Roy is still there. I ran into Ambassador Gelbard, here in the State Department, about a week or so ago, and he was going to be departing for post within a matter of days. But I can't tell you whether he is en route to post yet or not. But this transfer is imminent, I believe, but I don't have the date. I can check that for you if you want.

QUESTION: Yes, on Palestine.

MR. FOLEY: Right.

QUESTION: Is there something special about --

MR. FOLEY: I don't have a lot of detailed information. There's more that's in the statement. I'm going to post it for you.

QUESTION: Is this linked with the revival of negotiations, for example?

MR. FOLEY: No, no. This is obviously - has been for many years - a matter of high priority to the United States. Our support to the UN agencies that help deal with the millions - there are 3.6 million registered Palestinian refugees in the five fields of UNRWA's operations. I'm reading from the wider text. They are in, as you know, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, and Gaza.

But we have been, for time immemorial, the leading contributor to these programs. I believe, typically, we provide between 25 and 30 percent of the budget.

QUESTION: The same general area.

MR. FOLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: We have a story about Syria pulling away from negotiations with Israel, and the reports that they are raising the ante in terms of their territorial demands. Do you have anything?

MR. FOLEY: Well, as you know, President Clinton met this morning at the White House with Syrian Foreign Minister Sharaa. Secretary Albright is scheduled to meet with her Syrian counterpart this afternoon in New York. It's not been our habit to go into the details of our private talks with the parties, including the Syrians. But we are doing what we can to help move the process forward, and find a way to restart negotiations.

I've seen the report that you allude to. Again, I wouldn't care to comment on it. I think the important point is that both parties have issues that they want to pursue. Both parties have indicated that they not only want to see issues resolved, they want to see the track prosper, and lead to a negotiated settlement of their dispute. They're are not going to be able to do that unless they get to the table. When they get to the table, then all of those issues will, presumably, be put on the table and will be discussed and negotiated.

So our view is that we are not going to involve ourselves, certainly from a public forum, in the issues that divide the two sides. I'm not merely talking about the difficulty that they have in deciding on what basis they return to the table. What we want to do, and focus our efforts on, is trying to be helpful to the parties to find ways to bridge the procedural differences that thus far have impeded them from returning to the table.

QUESTION: What do you have to say to reports that the United States, Israel, and Syria are, in fact, trying to agree in advance on a package which contains the broad outlines of what might be a final deal? Rather than merely overcome the procedural obstacles to resuming the negotiations?

MR. FOLEY: Well, I hate to disappoint you, but I'm not going to be in a position to go into the nuts and bolts of what we're discussing privately with the parties --

QUESTION: It was more a procedural, rather than a substantial question?

MR. FOLEY: Well, process can sometimes be substance. In any event, Secretary Albright is meeting with the Syrian Foreign Minister in New York. Mr. Rubin is with Secretary Albright. He'll be in a position to say what he's able to say about that meeting. So you're going to have to depend on your colleagues for a readout of that meeting.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject?

QUESTION: I would like to follow up on this dead horse.

MR. FOLEY: I guess not. Well, put.

QUESTION: Would you say that, since it's several weeks since the Secretary went to the region in an effort to restart talks, would you stay that the Syrians need to speed up their efforts to agree to resuming negotiations? Or is your patience infinite on whether the Syrians agree to resume negotiations with Israel?

MR. FOLEY: Well, you are the one who prefaced your remarks by talking about a dead horse, which then you proceeded to beat. So I'm not --

QUESTION: For these past ten years.

MR. FOLEY: I'm not going to either dissuade you from beating the horse, or encourage you to do so. I'm not going to provide a scorecard for how well the parties are doing, as they approach the issue of how to resume negotiations. It is a fact that they have not yet found the formula that would enable them to go back to the table. We're trying to help them in that respect. We think that this is a moment of great opportunity in the Middle East, generally, that ought not to be wasted.

President Clinton has indicated that he wants to do everything he can, and Secretary Albright has echoed that, to achieve progress on all fronts with the aim of reaching a comprehensive Middle East peace settlement by next year, before the end of the administration.

Certainly, Prime Minister Barak has indicated his sense of urgency. We believe that all the parties in the Middle East recognize that, indeed, this is a moment of great opportunity. We think the parties ought to get to the table on the Israel and Syrian track, and on the Israel and Lebanon track. We are actually confident that they will find a way to get back to the table, because it's so manifestly in their interest to do so, and they've said so.

But I'm not going to be able to comment, on a day-by-day basis, as to how it's going. Again, I would refer to you Mr. Rubin in New York for a readout.

QUESTION: I've got a - I've got a live horse here.

MR. FOLEY: I think I would prefer a dead horse to a live horse.

QUESTION: Quick one, Quick one.


QUESTION: In the midst of all these intensive contacts with the Syrians, have there been any contacts with the Israelis at a high level today?

MR. FOLEY: Well, here we are at 1:25. I'm not aware of all the contacts that people may or may not have had. But I think the fact that President Clinton met with the Syrian foreign minister is certainly a high-level contact. Your question relates to the Israelis, whom we are not meeting with, bilaterally, today. But I would be surprised if we're not in ongoing contact with the Israelis on this and other subjects.

QUESTION: So, OK, now?

MR. FOLEY: Of course.

QUESTION: North Korea?


QUESTION: So after the North Koreans announced their moratorium. Today, they have come out again, said that they are going to launch missiles or satellites any time they damn well want to. So what's the --

MR. FOLEY: Are those your words?

QUESTION: Those are my words. But they basically said that they would - that they'll do it any time they want to, and it doesn't matter. What's the US reaction?

MR. FOLEY: Well, first of all, I hesitate to respond to something I haven't seen, especially on a matter this important and this sensitive. So in a real sense, I'll have to take the question, see what they said exactly, who said it, and what the context was.

However, we have had serious talks with the North Koreans. In those talks they provided a pledge, that they then publicly acknowledged, I believe, last week: that they would not conduct a further missile test, while negotiations between our two countries were ongoing, aiming towards achieving an improvement in our bilateral relationship. Pledges are important, actions are equally or even more important. But I am not aware that we have reason to disbelieve the pledge.

However, if that pledge were broken, we would certainly be in a position to know about it. But we believe that the North Koreans recognize that it's in their interest to pursue a different kind of relationship with the United States and with the international community.

While it is true, as you indicated, that they've always maintained that they could do what they wanted to do - and that's an obvious proposition - the fact of the matter is that they do apparently see an avenue towards a different, better kind of relationship with the United States, which is certainly predicated on honoring commitments such as those that they have recently made to us.

QUESTION: With regard to that commitment, is that - and pardon my ignorance - but is there anything in writing? Is there anything that's been signed between and North Korea and the United States, that North Korea will not advance its missile program? Or not launch a missile?

MR. FOLEY: I think you have to distinguish between different elements of the wider issue here, at least in so far as missiles are concerned. They have pledged, as I indicated, not to conduct another missile test of the Taepo Dong and other missiles for the duration of our talks. They have gone public with that pledge. There are a whole range of areas of concern that we have about their missile program. We expect to have those concerns addressed in future contacts, in future negotiations.

Moreover, I think Mr. Rubin indicated at the time - following Ambassador Kartman's meetings in Berlin, that we conveyed to you their pledge - Mr. Rubin indicated that we would expect further talks with the North Koreans, aiming to formalize this kind of an undertaking. So those have yet to take place. But that is the direction that we want to head in.

QUESTION: But these pledges are just verbal pledges, is that correct?

MR. FOLEY: Well, I can't speak to every piece of paper that may exist or may not exist. The fact of the matter, though, is that we're talking here about a pledge, a commitment that they have underscored publicly in the last week or so.

QUESTION: Where and when would you expect those talks to continue with North Korea?

MR. FOLEY: Well, the venue I couldn't speak to -- I think we're hoping to continue contacts with them on different aspects of the relationship, different aspects of our concerns, in the near future.

QUESTION: Can I stay on the Korean Peninsula for a second? Have you seen this Associated Press story that has just moved, midday, about alleged atrocities by American soldiers in the Korean War, in the opening months? They've got an enterprise story based on declassified --

MR. FOLEY: Who does?

QUESTION: The Associated Press has a story based on declassified documents and interviews with former Gis, who claim that in July of 1950 the Seventh Cavalry killed 400 South Korean refugees. It's sort of a Tailwind that really happened kind of thing.

MR. FOLEY: No, I haven't seen the report.

QUESTION: Not at all?


QUESTION: So this is the first you've ever heard of?

MR. FOLEY: The first I've heard of it.

QUESTION: So there has been -- my next question was, which has there been any official contact with the South Korean Government about this --

MR. FOLEY: I couldn't possibly answer that. I've never even heard that there was such a story.

QUESTION: I know you haven't seen the story, but as a matter of principle, do you know whether it has ever been American policy to treat civilians as military targets in time of war?

MR. FOLEY: Well, we follow the law of war. As you remember during the Kosovo conflict there were missiles that went awry, and we were very frank about the fact that one could not attain perfection, and there could always be, in conflict, unintended civilian casualties -- but that we endeavored mightily in the Kosovo Conflict, as in previous conflicts, to minimize to a remarkable degree.

Given the precision of the weapons involved, and some of the locations that missiles were sent, I think the record is remarkable about how careful and successful we were at minimizing civilian casualties.

But as a matter of principle, the lawyers are involved. You have to talk to the Pentagon for the particulars, but the lawyers are involved in all aspects of the military planning, and have to make determinations about the applicability of the laws of conflict and war, and that we take that very seriously and apply those laws.

QUESTION: Cyprus: Have you heard of a proposal to hold merely proximity talks between the two separate communities, and does the United States think that proximity talks would meet the requirements set out by the Group of Eight?

MR. FOLEY: I have not heard any discussion of proximity talks. I will have to take the question and look into it. What we're endeavoring to do is to persuade both sides to enter into negotiations without preconditions under UN auspices.

That's what's called for by the G-8 and UN Security Council Resolutions 1250 and 1251. As far as our policy is concerned, we remained committed to a Cyprus solution based on a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation, and that has not changed.

QUESTION: On Chechnya, you were going to check, were there any high level to high level contacts over -- for the US to condemn the escalation of fighting?

MR. FOLEY: We've had on-going -- I did check -- we've had on-going contacts at different levels with the Russian authorities about the Chechen situation. As you know, Secretary Albright met recently with Foreign Minister Ivanov in New York. I believe our ambassador has been seeing high- level officials of the Russian Government, and that is our normal practice.

But certainly our concerns have risen in recent days regarding Chechnya, and we have found ways publicly and privately to convey those concerns.

QUESTION: If I could just follow up, it doesn't appear, certainly, that the Russian authorities are de-escalating or the fighting is de-escalating in any way, and I wonder what else the US is prepared to do to try and persuade the Russian authorities to prevent this from getting really out of hand.

MR. FOLEY: Well, I would make a number of points. First of all, we support the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.

Second, we have condemned acts of violence against lawful authority that we've been seeing recently in Dagestan. Thirdly, we have complete sympathy for and solidarity with the Russian people, who have suffered acts of terrorism in recent days and weeks, and we want to help the Russians deal with that.

Fourth, we understand that, insofar as they face terrorist and military challenges, that there can be military responses and security responses to those challenges.

Where our concern begins has to do with the seeming escalation of the last few days, characterized both by some of the aerial bombardments and also some of the talk that we've seen about the possibility of a ground invasion.

I think there it's not really so much a question of the United States -- I don't know if you used the word pressure, but it's not really a question of pressure on the Russian authorities. It's a question of stating our view as to what is in the interest of all parties ---including the Russian Federation -- because this obviously is a situation that could escalate further.

We have, fresh in our minds, the experience of the Chechen situation of several years ago that developed into a quagmire, and I think it's our view that we understand the pressures that the Russian Government is facing.

This is not, sort of, unfriendly advice from the United States. On the contrary, we just believe that, in dealing with a real terrorist threat, and dealing with a real security situation, that measures not be undertaken that could actually worsen the situation.

After all, the President of Chechnya has indicated publicly he's ready for any political dialogue with the Russian leadership, and Prime Minister Putin himself has said that the Russian Federation is open to dialogue with Chechen authorities. We fear that a continued escalation will make such a dialogue much more difficult to take place and to succeed.

QUESTION: You're against their using ground troops in Chechnya?

MR. FOLEY: Well I said that we are concerned about the escalation that we've seen. We feel that's a negative development. We believe that any resumption of general hostilities in Chechnya would further threaten stability in the entire North Caucasus Region. I don't want to be more specific than that.

QUESTION: I would just like to follow up on Chechnya by asking, does the United States Government believe that President Maskhadov and his government are making an effort to segregate his government from the rebels, the Islamic fundamentalists, or does the US believe that those fundamentalists operate there with the blessing of the Chechnyan Government? What can you say on that?

MR. FOLEY: Well, as a practical matter, we don't believe that the rebels who invaded Dagestan from Chechnya answer to central authority there. We believe that they're independent actors.

QUESTION: The Russians, in the course of this campaign, are doing some very unusual briefings, very sort of similar to Kosovo, and they're bringing out the overhead photography, and claiming that they are doing, sort of, precision strikes on strategic targets. What is the US assessment of what they are actually hitting?

MR. FOLEY: Well, we believe that civilian targets have been hit. They may also be hitting terrorist targets as well. But what is, I think, indisputable, is that the attacks are causing increasing numbers of refugees, and that is becoming a bigger problem.

QUESTION: And when you say that civilian targets have been hit do you mean intentionally?

MR. FOLEY: I couldn't speak to that. I couldn't speak to intentions.

QUESTION: Were they nearby military targets that were struck or were they - hard to say?

MR. FOLEY: I don't have that information.

QUESTION: We've seen the statements by Russian officers that they're just following a game plan carried about by NATO in Kosovo. Do you have any reaction to that?

MR. FOLEY: Well again, the point I made in response to Bill's question: We believe that these insurgents, who traveled into Dagestan and conducted attacks against lawful authorities there that we condemn, don't answer to central authority.

Therefore, I think it's clear -- our view -- although I made it clear at the beginning that we don't question the right of the Russian authorities to take action, including military action against terrorists, against insurgents who are attacking lawful authority. We believe, nevertheless, that the central government or the authorities -- governmental authorities, rather -- in Chechnya don't control what these insurgents or terrorists are doing. So we don't think the parallel obtains.

QUESTION: There were reports a couple of weeks ago, and I think there were some recent reports last week, that some of the money for these rebels, the operation of these rebel bands in Dagestan, was coming from Bin Laden -- coming from terrorist and specifically Bin Laden. Can you comment any more on that particular matter?

MR. FOLEY: I have not seen those reports.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on the situation in Kosovo, the US Embassy?

MR. FOLEY: I don't have further information about the threat that we reported yesterday. I can repeat that if you like.

QUESTION: Is there anything new?

MR. FOLEY: I don't have further information on it, no. Is that it? Thank you.

(The briefing concluded at 1:40 p.m.)

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