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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #46, 00-05-17

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

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


1185

U.S. Department of State

Daily Press Briefing

I N D E X

Wednesday, May 17, 2000

Briefer: Richard Boucher

MEXICO
1,13	17th US-Mexico Binational Commission Meeting Held in Washington, DC
WEST AFRICA
1,2,4-6	Special Envoy Jesse Jackson's Travel to Region
3	Reported Comments by US Ambassador on Rev. Jackson's Travel
4-5	Prospects for Rev. Jackson to Meet With Foday Sankoh
SERBIA
1,8-9	Crackdown on Media in Serbia
8-9,11	US Adding More Serbian Officials to Ban on Visas
10-11	Senate Bill on US Troops in Kosovo
SIERRA LEONE
2-3,6	Arrest of Foday Sankoh / In Custody of Sierra Leone Police
3-4	Foday Sankoh and Possible War Crimes
5,7-8	Foday Sankoh and the War Criminal Issue
5,7	Situation in Sierra Leone
5-7	UN Peacekeeping Role
RUSSIA
10-11	Yugoslav Defense Minister's Visit / US Contact with Russian on Visit
12-13	Russian Contacts with Milosevic Government
COLOMBIA
13	Suspension of Peace Talks with Rebels
CUBA
14	Sale of Food, Medicine and Agricultural Products to Cuba
14	Status of Visa Requests for Elian Gonzales' Grandparents
MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS
14-17	Whereabouts of Ambassador Ross
15-16	Ambassador Ross' Meetings with the Parties
COUNTER-TERRORISM
17	President's Announcement on Anti-Terrorism Efforts
PAKISTAN
17	Reported Visit by Former Prime Minister Bhutto to the Department
17	Supreme Court Ruling on Last Year's Coup
GERMANY
17-18	Slave Labor Compensation Discussions
IRAN
18	US Position on World Bank Loans to Iran
CHINA / TAIWAN
18-19	US Position on Mediation / Dialogue
CHINA
19	Secretary Albright's Efforts with Congress on Permanent Normal
	 Trade Relations for China 
DEPARTMENT
20	Secretary Albright's Meeting with Former President Carter

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING

DPB #46

WEDNESDAY, MAY 17, 2000, 12:50 P.M.

(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

MR. BOUCHER: Ladies and gentlemen, it is a pleasure to be here. I have three things I want to talk about. Let's reverse the order.

We are going to put out a statement today giving the details of the 17th US- Mexico Binational Commission and details of the various plenary that you can cover and the press conference in the afternoon. As you know, these meetings are hosted by the Secretary, involve a great number of officials, 15 working groups from both countries. Meetings alternate between Washington and Mexico City and they discuss a full range of issues in the bilateral relationship. So that will be held tomorrow, Thursday, May 18, here in this building. We will give you the details on how to cover that.

Second of all, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr., the President and the Secretary of State's Special Envoy for the Promotion of Democracy in Africa will leave May 17th to visit Nigeria, Liberia, Mali, Guinea and Sierra Leone, security conditions permitting. As you know, he is traveling at the request of the President. His mission is to consult with regional governments about efforts under way and about ways the United States can support their efforts to resolve the crisis in Sierra Leone. We will put up a full statement on that one as well.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know.

QUESTION: Should we stay on this?

MR. BOUCHER: We can either do that or I can tell you about the crackdown on the media in Serbia and we can then go to anything --

QUESTION: The crackdown on the media where?

QUESTION: In Serbia.

QUESTION: Oh, not here. (Laughter.)

MR. BOUCHER: Let's not get paranoid, okay?

QUESTION: We're a democracy.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. BOUCHER: Okay, we can talk about Sierra Leone first.

QUESTION: Just that I noticed you had a little caveat there, "security conditions permitting," which was not on the first statement. What exactly does that mean and is there some thought that it might have to be delayed again?

MR. BOUCHER: No, I think the only issue is that things are a bit fluid. There has been a delay in making the arrangements. At this point, the plan is to go today and go to all those places. I don't want to be asked, you know, seven days from now, how come you said he was going to X spot and he didn't make it. But I will answer that question at the time, anyway.

QUESTION: You said the places that the security conditions are permitting, not the fact that he would depart today? I just want to clarify that.

MR. BOUCHER: I suppose it would apply to both but the plan is to depart today and go to Nigeria, Liberia, Mali, Guinea and Sierra Leone. That is the intended order.

QUESTION: Okay, that's slightly different.

MR. BOUCHER: No, I can't say why the order has been changed. Really, again, we get back to the issue of travel arrangements. There is a level at which, you know, things change because of all sorts of reasons.

QUESTION: The Secretary said that the arrest of Foday Sankoh was good news. Can you expand on that? Does this make it easier to resolve the crisis in Sierra Leone?

MR. BOUCHER: I think the key point I want to make today is the issue of what happens next for Foday Sankoh and the peace process is really in the hands of the people and the Government of Sierra Leone. As far as we understand, they have made no decisions on this issue but that's where we stand now. We do understand he was arrested. Our information is that he appeared in a Freetown neighborhood early on the morning of May 17th with only one bodyguard. Sierra Leone police took him into custody. For his safety, he was transported to an undisclosed location by a British military helicopter. He remains in custody by the Sierra Leone police.

QUESTION: Do you know if he's been mistreated or anything else?

MR. BOUCHER: We understand the government -- well, no. I don't know. We don't know of anything unusual.

QUESTION: Richard, do you think he ought to have access to a counselor. He'd like to have fair treatment and rule of law and all that kind of stuff?

MR. BOUCHER: We always want that, Barry, as you're pointing out in your question. But exactly what the next step is, what happens to him is in the hands of the people and the government of Sierra Leone. So should they decide on a course that requires fair treatment, or a lawyer, or anything else, we'd certainly support that.

QUESTION: I don't want to quibble but why the people? Why not the government of Sierra Leone? I mean, would you like the people to act on all detentions in various countries?

MR. BOUCHER: It's a democratic government. The government and the people are together, I understand.

QUESTION: The US Ambassador there apparently is telling reporters he would rather Jackson not go. And the Sierra Leonians are threatening to cancel his visa. Do you know anything about that?

MR. BOUCHER: No, I haven't heard either one say anything like that.

QUESTION: Yesterday, you made a point, I thought, or at least I got the impression you were making a point, that Foday Sankoh was not -- he still had the chance to be rehabilitated, to come back into the process. Is that still the opinion of the US, or are you just leaving it up to whatever Sierra Leone wants, Sierra Leone gets?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think you have to go back to the history of this, and that the fact that he was in the peace process was a decision of the government and the people of Sierra Leone. And the next step in either the peace process or with him personally is up to them as well.

QUESTION: Does that mean that the US would not object if President Kabbah said, "Okay, Foday, you can come on back?"

MR. BOUCHER: Again, it's up to the government and the people of Sierra Leone. I'm not going to push them towards one direction or the other.

QUESTION: Are you still supporting Lome agreement?

MR. BOUCHER: We want to see the Lome agreement implemented. Obviously demilitarization and surrender of weapons, integration into a political process all remain important tasks.

QUESTION: You kind of avoided the question about whether this made it easier to resolve the crisis. I mean leaving Sankoh's future role aside to the fact that he is kind of under control. Does this make it easier --

MR. BOUCHER: I think it would really be speculative at this point for me to say one way or the other on that.

QUESTION: Is there any planned possibility of Reverend Jackson meeting with Foday Sankoh? Is the US Government for that or against that? Or does it have any position on it?

MR. BOUCHER: There's no plan for him to meet with Foday Sankoh.

QUESTION: But he did say Friday, and he hasn't fully retracted that part of his comments, that he thought that there was a role for Sankoh to play. So has the US Government given Reverend Jackson specific instructions not to meet with him?

MR. BOUCHER: We've obviously stayed in touch with Reverend Jackson as he prepares for his trip. I'm sure he knows the view that we're expressing here now.

QUESTION: He's your envoy, so what are his instructions?

MR. BOUCHER: I'll leave that between him and the people who give him his instructions. Our view is this, and that's the view that he'll be carrying forward.

QUESTION: But our view is what? Because he said on Friday --

MR. BOUCHER: Our view is that it's up to the people and the government of Sierra Leone.

QUESTION: What if Sankoh wants to meet with Jackson?

MR. BOUCHER: Again, there's no plans for him to meet Foday Sankoh at this point.

QUESTION: If Jackson wants to meet with Sankoh, will you allow him to? Because he did say on Friday that he thought he had a role to play.

MR. BOUCHER: First of all, a lot of things have happened since Friday. Second of all, there's no plan to do this at this point. That's where we are. I don't know how to say it any other way.

QUESTION: I just want to clarify whether --

MR. BOUCHER: If this, if that, if this, if that. I can't answer every possibility.

QUESTION: But one can assume that he's been given some guidance from the State Department, since he is their envoy, and I'm just wondering, has he been given specific instructions to not talk to Foday Sankoh?

MR. BOUCHER: There are no plans for him to meet with Foday Sankoh at this point. And that's what I can tell you.

QUESTION: Is Sankoh considered a potential war criminal because of some of the activities of the forces that supposedly respond to him? I mean, like the kidnapping of UN peacekeepers. If not a war criminal, then a terrorist? Is there some category that he's now fallen into as a result of the events of the last couple of weeks?

MR. BOUCHER: We've said he's in violation of Lome Accords. We've expressed our serious and deep concern about the actions of taking UN soldiers hostage.

But the next step and exactly what category -- category implies some specific action, and that really has to be left up to the government of Sierra Leone.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the Lome Accords, then, I'm not sure what the status of the Lome Accords at all. Maybe you have an answer on that. It's just that -- in a sense, the worst, the conflict started up again. His forces have violated it, so you have a state of conflict there. And there are specific rules protecting UN forces from what's happened to them.

MR. BOUCHER: Yes, Roy, as you know, getting someone on a war crimes charge is a different thing than saying he's violated a peace accord. Now, whatever happens in that direction really we'll be seeing in coming days. There's no decision at this point.

QUESTION: How would you describe the state of affairs in Sierra Leone? Is it a conflict now? Has the conflict resumed?

MR. BOUCHER: There's fighting, I mean, that's pretty obvious. There are UN hostages being taken. There are actions that violate the Lome Accords. The state of affairs, though, is -- the point we keep making is that we want to see peace, the Government of Sierra Leone will have decisions in front of it, what to do about Mr. Sankoh, what to do next in the peace process, how to achieve the demilitarization and political integration that were envisaged in the Lome Accords, and obviously we're in support of their efforts and particularly the UN effort to see implementation. But exactly what happens next in terms of specifics of charges or trials or things like that is not a decided question at this point.

QUESTION: Richard, you're saying it's up to the Sierra Leone government to decide on their course of action and the Secretary said this morning that Congress is tying her hands on any kind of US participation or even support for a peacekeeping force. And then you have an envoy going.

What does he have in the way of either carrots or sticks to get anybody to do anything and what can you say to convince us that his mission is not essentially futile?

MR. BOUCHER: It may come as a surprise to you but the United States does have a certain role in the world, even if we don't always have the money to pay our peacekeeping costs. And this is one area where our funding is specifically being held, the funding that we need for this peacekeeping operation.

But, be that as it may, we still attempt to do the best with what we've got even if it's less than the penny and we can take actions and get involved in situations, such as by sending a presidential envoy that has a certain clout and certain influence in the area.

QUESTION: If you are sending Reverend Jesse Jackson, are you saying that UN have failed really in Sierra Leone.

MR. BOUCHER: No.

QUESTION: So what role is the UN playing, then?

MR. BOUCHER: The UN has a quite obvious role in terms of the troops. There is an accelerated deployment under way that we're trying to help with. We are trying to build up to the ultimate levels of I think it's 11, 000 there to see to the implementation of the peace accords and try to help the Sierra Leone government, which has made these accords, bring peace to its country.

QUESTION: What's new with the Serbian media?

QUESTION: Charles Taylor is making some noise that the capture of Sankoh might complicate the release of the rest of the hostages. Do you think that -- does the State Department think that's the case?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't want to speculate one way or the other. Obviously, the release of the hostages remains the most immediate concern.

QUESTION: Yesterday, a Canadian general who commanded UN peacekeeping troops in Rwanda said that he was absolutely disgusted by the Western powers for setting up Third World peacekeepers for failure in Sierra Leone. He said that the -- he called them the "big boys" -- left it to developing countries to try to take on missions for which they are not fully trained or equipped. Do you think the general's comments have merit?

MR. BOUCHER: I didn't see the general's comments. I don't want to get into a back-and-forth with the general that I haven't had a chance to listen to it. What I would say is, let's remember the basic facts of the situation. There was a Lome agreement between the government and this rebel force to try to demilitarize the situation, to achieve political integration, achieve peace in Sierra Leone. The UN designed a force to go in and do that, help them do that, help in the process of disarmament.

When one of the parties to that agreement turned on the agreement and began to take the UN hostages and violate the agreement, that obviously changed the situation. Now, there was a plan for a deployment of UN forces up to a higher level that was in process. What we're doing now is trying to accelerate that and make sure that in other ways we can make the UN force effective. But it wasn't the UN's fault that the situation changed and got more dangerous. It was Foday Sankoh's fault, of him and his rebels breaking out of this agreement.

QUESTION: Different subject?

MR. BOUCHER: One more on this and then we're going to do -- I want to get a chance to talk about the Serbian media.

QUESTION: Back to kind of what Roy's point on the war crimes thing -- you know, a week ago or two weeks ago, you were warning that he, that Sankoh, could lose the immunity that he got under the Lome Agreement. And I am wondering why it doesn't cost any bit of a penny to say that he's lost it or not, why won't you? Why all of a sudden this is just left up to the people of Sierra Leone and President Kabbah, who is kind of ineffectual?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, first of all, I don't agree with your characterization of the government of Sierra Leone. But, second of all, the fact is the fact. I don't think it bears restatement.

QUESTION: What characterization of the government? That it's ineffectual?

MR. BOUCHER: Ineffectual, yeah.

QUESTION: You think that that's an effective government in Freetown?

MR. BOUCHER: Let's not get into a big argument about this. They have an important and crucial role to play. Ultimately whether or not there is peace in Sierra Leone will depend on them and the decisions they make. So you can't write them out of the picture.

QUESTION: So decision on Sankoh's immunity is up to them entirely?

MR. BOUCHER: No, we've made clear that the Lome Accords provide for amnesty for events that happened before July 7, 1999, provided the accords are abided by. So that fact remains true.

QUESTION: That calls up the fact that the accords are not being abided by and that these activities have occurred after the date of the signing. Doesn't that suggest that if there is a state of conflict and Sankoh is committing breaches of law, that he's a war criminal?

MR. BOUCHER: Roy, what things may suggest to you and what we have to conclude and carry out in policy terms are a little bit different and we're just not there yet.

QUESTION: This is just a question of the man's culpability and whether he's a statesman or whether he's a criminal --

MR. BOUCHER: You know as well as anybody that when you start accusing people of war crimes, a lot of legal questions and questions of evidence. I think you and others have complained that it took so long for the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal to actually bring indictments because of that process.

I am not going to stand up here today, just because the man's in custody, and start bringing charges against people. For the moment, the situation is that he's in custody of the Sierra Leone police. The next steps, the immediate next steps, are in the hands of the Sierra Leone government.

QUESTION: Serbia media, anything new?

MR. BOUCHER: I want to make a statement about the crackdown on the independent media in Serbia by the regime and make clear that the Belgrade regime's move to silence Serbia's independent media represents a major step in efforts to preserve Milosevic's dictatorship. This nighttime police raid smacks of desperate Bolshevik-style oppression.

The United States strongly condemns the Belgrade regime's crackdown on the independent press and the democratic opposition in Serbia. Next week, Secretary of State Albright will consult with our allies in Europe to determine what joint actions we will take in response to this blatant attack on the independent media. She will also meet with foreign ministers of the states neighboring Serbia to coordinate further responses.

Today, we will add six judges and prosecutors who have taken repressive actions against independent media to our ban on visas and we'll ask the European Union to do the same.

We will continue to monitor and add other names to the list. We will also immediately add family members of several top officials of the regime to our visa ban list and encourage the European Union to do that as well.

We will continue to review further actions to demonstrate our support for the independent media and the people of Serbia. We understand that citizens of Serbia have said that they will protest the government's action. The courage and activism of these people should be a signal to those around Milosevic that the people of Serbia have grown tired of the regime and its oppression.

QUESTION: Richard, that consultation is in Florence, or is that a separate stop?

MR. BOUCHER: The NATO meetings in Florence, you'll have a chance to talk to all these people and various states of the region are there as part of the Partnership for Peace, as well.

QUESTION: Can you name the six judges, and not necessarily now in public because the names tend to be a little complicated. Perhaps on a piece of paper?

MR. BOUCHER: We'll try to do that.

QUESTION: And you say how many people are on that list of visa ban, visa ban list?

MR. BOUCHER: That's something I'll have to check on as well. We'll get you that answer this afternoon.

QUESTION: "Smacks of Bolshevik-style repression," who's writing this stuff?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, I mean look for the --

QUESTION: A former Radio Moscow correspondent that's gone bad?

QUESTION: This is the second time -- I don't really want to dwell on the rhetoric. But this is the second time in three days that you've come out with a statement, the first one basically cheerleading the thousands of protesters in the Belgrade square, and labeling a police -- the Serb police arrest of a person they say is an opposition activist for the murder of this official on Saturday, labeling their arrest and acclaim that he is an opposition as outrageous. Does the US have the facts to be able to say that this accusation is outrageous? I mean, it would seem pretty clear that Milosevic's cronies have one main enemy and that's the Serb opposition, which you're supporting. Is it out of the realm of consideration that the Serbian operation is running around "offing" Milosevic's top guys?

MR. BOUCHER: Are you asking me about what I said today, or about something else?

QUESTION: Well, I'm just asking, this is the second time, I mean, in three days --

MR. BOUCHER: Well, let's look at the facts of the situation. I think the facts are clear. The regime has taken continuous attempts to try to silence any kind of criticism. They've moved against the opposition. They've tried to repress the opposition. Now they're trying to repress the media. There's been a pattern of repressive measures by this regime and we think it fits the same pattern as the Bolsheviks. That's why we're saying it.

QUESTION: And then going back the labeling the claim that this suspect in the killing is outrageous. What's the evidence that it's outrageous? Just because the Serb police are --

MR. BOUCHER: I'd have to go back on the exact statement and look at it again. But I think there's been no evidence presented that there's any connection other than the opposition.

QUESTION: Did you say how many people are on the visa ban list at this point?

MR. BOUCHER: I was just asked that, and I promise to get it for you later.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) your urgent request to the Russians for an explanation of the --

QUESTION: On the media --

QUESTION: Yugoslav defense official - war crimes suspect. You're exercised about it, and were going to take it up urgently with the Russians. They had refused before then to comment on the situation --

MR. BOUCHER: We don't have any response at this point. I was asked the question yesterday about whether we talked to the Russians before Mr. Ojdanic left Moscow. The answer is no. There was limited publicity, and there was no publicity in Russia until after Ojdanic had returned to Belgrade.

We are in the process, as we said, of raising it with senior Russian government officials in various ways at various levels. I don't have a response at this point. Our goal is to ensure that Moscow understands clearly how seriously we view the obligation to uphold UN Security Council resolutions in this area. And I think there have also been statements from the court in the Hague as well.

QUESTION: This is kind of related to Secretary Albright's concerns about the way Congress is treating Kosovo. Have you taken note of Governor Bush's description of the attempt to cut off funds and force the troops out as legislative overreach, which the chairman of the committee says may doom the proposal by Mr. Warner and whoever the other fellow was -

QUESTION: Byrd.

QUESTION: Byrd. Yeah. Is that --

MR. BOUCHER: I haven't taken note of that but --

QUESTION: Is that good news?

MR. BOUCHER: I haven't taken note of that and I have to say, except in very, very limited circumstances, would we comment positively or negatively on things that are said in the campaign. So I know we've -- well, I just want to leave it at that. I will try not to have any comments on things said by candidates.

QUESTION: A candidate, but I mean the effort to cut funding is probably as political as anything else. The whole process is a political process.

MR. BOUCHER: The Secretary expressed quite clearly what our view of that is this morning.

QUESTION: She did.

MR. BOUCHER: And Secretary Cohen has expressed a view as well.

QUESTION: Sure.

MR. BOUCHER: And so I will stick with the comments of the Administration and leave it to others to say what they want.

QUESTION: Can we go back to the defense minister for one second? You said there was no publicity while in Russia and it was only afterwards that you learned about it. But two days before this guy left, there was a report in the Yugoslav media, the state agency, saying he was going. Was the Department not aware of this report?

MR. BOUCHER: I am not sure we saw that. We certainly didn't feel like we knew about it in advance.

QUESTION: On the media again?

MR. BOUCHER: I just have to say, we didn't have the information in time to raise it while he was still in Moscow.

QUESTION: You said you would consult with allies on what steps to take. Can you give us any idea of what kinds of things are under consideration and can you say also whether there's been consultation on the visa ban? Are these same people on another visa ban which applies to European countries, for example?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, what I did say in the statement is that we will ask the European Union to do the same. So the measures being considered immediately are visa ban for prosecutors and judges and to some additional family members of several top officials. But we will also talk with our partners in countries in the area about further steps that might be taken.

QUESTION: Have they traditionally followed our requests on that? Have they gone along with us on other suggestions for visa bans, the EU?

MR. BOUCHER: I think so. I'm too new to know. Phil says yes. He's been around longer than I have.

QUESTION: Is that request being made now or is it going to be made next week by the Secretary?

MR. BOUCHER: I am sure it will be made very, very soon.

QUESTION: Pre-trip?

MR. BOUCHER: I would expect it to be made before trip, yes.

On this or something else?

QUESTION: This is Milosevic.

MR. BOUCHER: Okay.

QUESTION: Apparently, his friendship with the Russians is not in ruins yet. They are announcing new loans for him yesterday. What's your assessment at this point of Milosevic's strength both within Serbia internationally and how should we sort of evaluate recent events in that regard?

MR. BOUCHER: I guess you can evaluate events any way you please. But if you look at the growing opposition and the growing unity of the opposition and you look at the increasingly repressive measures being taken by the regime, one has to have the sense that they're worried and that is not some kind of prediction; it's just, I think, an obvious characterization of the facts.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the Russians are subsidizing or prepared to subsidize the Milosevic regime troubling? I mean, considering the Russians are, themselves, getting all sorts of international support, some of it coming from the United States?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, the support for Russian economic reform is just that. It is decided on the basis of what is going on in Russia and particularly our desire to encourage Russia to continue working to meet its requirements for disbursement of funds, to continue with the current program of economic reform.

Clearly, we also want to talk to Russia, we do talk to Russia about all international issues where we are involved together and, clearly, understanding their obligations, particularly with regards their obligations under UN resolutions is quite important. We have consistently said to the Russians, we do expect them to fulfill their obligations regardless of any dialogue they might want to have with the Yugoslav leadership and we've been urging them to avoid steps that would reduce the international isolation of the Milosevic regime.

QUESTION: Are they just having a dialogue or are they apt to do something you would find more alarming, so far as relations or ties with Yugoslavia? Aren't they talking about military ties?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't want to sort of speculate on how far this might go. But, clearly, we believe strongly that the Milosevic regime needs to be isolated internationally and not reached out to in any way and therefore we've been quite clear in our discussions with the Russians, in our discussions with others and in our discussions and public statements that we think people should be increasing that isolation and not reaching out to them.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) sanctions on Russia is for breaking with what you hoped would be a united position of other countries?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't want to speculate on things. I want to say Russia clearly has obligations and we will be making that increasingly clear to them.

QUESTION: Richard, are there any penalties for failing to apprehend war criminals that wander through your parade grounds?

MR. BOUCHER: I would have to look at the UN resolutions.

QUESTION: The Binational meeting with Mexico, can you give us more details about it? What are the most important subjects of the meetings?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, among the many, many subjects to be discussed I would hesitate to choose the most important ones. There are 15 working groups that will look at topics, such as border issues, education, environment, business and consular affairs and the working groups are often chaired at cabinet levels. There is a whole host of subjects to be discussed. This is a meeting to discuss the whole range of our relations with Mexico and it's an important meeting that we do twice a year.

QUESTION: The DEA officials yesterday before Congress raised the issue of the security of the agents working in Mexico. And they want the Mexican authorities to give the permission to carry guns for their own protection.

What is the State Department's position or view about the security for the DEA agents in Mexico or any US agent working against narco-traffickers in Mexico?

MR. BOUCHER: We clearly want our people to be safe and want them to be able to carry out their jobs. But specifically a reaction on that point, I'll have to look into it and try to get you something.

QUESTION: On Colombia, do you have any reaction to the decision of the government of Colombia to suspend the peace talks with the rebels?

MR. BOUCHER: We fully support the stand that President Pastrana has taken. We think it is courageous and it indicates to the rebels that if they are serious about reaching a peaceful solution in the Colombian conflict, that these barbaric acts have to cease.

QUESTION: If I can follow up on that? The Colombian police are saying that the FARC has received in the past few months advice from such groups as IRA from Ireland or ETA from Spain in devising this kind of device that they used to kill this woman. Do you have any information on this?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any information on that. But I think you might find in our terrorism reports some references to the kind of support that they might be receiving.

QUESTION: I have another question on Latin America.

MR. BOUCHER: Okay.

QUESTION: Yesterday, the American Chamber of Commerce of Cuba in the United States were mentioning that the President has the authority or the State Department to reestablish the banking relations with Cuba in terms to applying the amendment that has been approved in the Congress to sell medicine, food and agricultural products to Cuba. My question is, is that correct? It is possible for the Clinton Administration to reestablish banking cooperation with Cuba without the authority or the permission of Congress?

MR. BOUCHER: I would have to look very carefully at the law and the regulations to determine that and I'm afraid I can't do that for you now. Treasury might.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. BOUCHER: As pointed out by my brethren over here, perhaps Treasury Department would be able to give you a closer read on that.

QUESTION: Anything new on the Cuba visas for the grandparents?

MR. BOUCHER: No. Under review. That's right.

QUESTION: Several weeks ago, your predecessor said that we should expect a trip to the Middle East by the Secretary sooner rather than later. Any word on that expected trip?

MR. BOUCHER: No, there are no dates. We still expect her to go to the region but there are no dates.

QUESTION: You still expect it sooner rather than later?

MR. BOUCHER: Within the definition we usually use of "sooner," yes.

QUESTION: Do you expect it, say, by June?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't want to speculate on dates.

QUESTION: Richard, two questions. Yesterday, I saw --

MR. BOUCHER: Okay, we're going to stay in the Middle East for a second.

QUESTION: Middle East/Northern Europe. Do you have any new information on Dennis Ross' travels or whether they've reached the Scandinavian countries?

MR. BOUCHER: Dennis is coming home. Dennis Ross, Ambassador Dennis Ross is coming home --

QUESTION: Via?

MR. BOUCHER: Via an airplane.

QUESTION: Via what city?

MR. BOUCHER: He is going to be an airplane and he is going to come back to Washington.

QUESTION: Where has he been?

MR. BOUCHER: He's been in Israel.

QUESTION: I thought he was going to come back at the end of the week. Today's Wednesday.

QUESTION: He's coming back today?

MR. BOUCHER: Ambassador Ross and Deputy Special Middle East Coordinator Aaron Miller will be returning to Washington this evening.

QUESTION: Why? Have they run out of work to do?

MR. BOUCHER: They met with the parties. He's met with Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat. They've had a series of meetings in the region and they want to come back and report to the President and the Secretary. As you know, Prime Minister Barak is coming here next week so we will be wanting to get ready for that.

QUESTION: Did he make any bridging proposals, which is something that was under consideration if the talks -- it's a sign of progress, I suppose, if you make bridging proposals. Has he made any?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any characterization of the talks at this point, other than to say that there is a serious effort under way by the parties to overcome gaps and reach agreement. We've obviously been out there. We're going to work through a variety of ways. To help them do that, we are going to continue to play a role.

QUESTION: Has the State Department made much -- I don't know if it is before this trip or the one before it -- of, you know, a more active role? That he be in the talks and wouldn't just be available, they would be part - - the US would be part of it. But I don't hear that as having happened. I mean, negotiations between the two sides, not with each side separately.

And also, you know, his presence in Stockholm has been verified by just about everybody except you folks here. You were historically left out of all sorts of -- embarrassed, I'm sure -- the State Department was, by all sorts of back-channel negotiations like in Oslo and Hussein and the Israelis and the Palestinians and the Israelis.

Is Dennis Ross or the US in some other way actively engaged in these back channel negotiations?

MR. BOUCHER: Look --

QUESTION: We know they're going on; you don't have to confirm that. What is the US role in them?

MR. BOUCHER: The Palestinians and the Israelis are talking to each other in different ways at different levels. I am not going to get into the who, what, when, where and how. I can certainly tell you that both of the parties are focused on trying to reach agreement. They are engaged in serious negotiations and we are actively working with them in that process.

QUESTION: Can I go back to the original question?

MR. BOUCHER: I am not going to go into who, what, when, where and how on the talks.

QUESTION: You are not going to deny that he went to Stockholm?

MR. BOUCHER: I am not going to go into who, what, when, where and how on the talks.

QUESTION: And, secondly, didn't you say earlier this week that he was going to be staying here through the weekend?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, the weekend is fast approaching in the Middle East. I don't have anything to read into the fact that he's coming in --

QUESTION: It's Wednesday. I mean, it's not really the weekend.

MR. BOUCHER: Well, he's coming back tonight, okay? The point is, he's been out there, he's done the work, he's been in touch with the parties, the parties have been in touch with each other and he's coming back now to prepare to the next step, which is Prime Minister Barak's visit.

QUESTION: But is there some change of plans on his part? He sped up his return? Or he's speeding up his return, because it is evening already.

MR. BOUCHER: I will have to check actually what his original reservations were but I understand that he's ready to come back now and that's about all.

QUESTION: You expect him to come directly back to the United States without making any stops other than ones that might be required by plane travel?

MR. BOUCHER: Were I to answer that question, the next question would be, how did he get there to begin with. So I think I am just going to stay out of the travel itinerary business.

QUESTION: Well, how about this then. Do you expect him in Washington tonight?

MR. BOUCHER: I expect him to Washington this evening.

QUESTION: To be here?

MR. BOUCHER: He will be returning to Washington this evening. I will have to check whether it's "be here" or he's getting on a plane to come here.

QUESTION: Without any progress?

MR. BOUCHER: No, I came very far from saying that.

QUESTION: New subject? The President has just announced $300 million -- a new dose of money for anti-terrorism efforts and he cited specifically the cross-border threats of the love bug and the millennium terrorism threats. Do you have anything on this? Could you expand on the announcement?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't. I think we could check with the White House and get that.

QUESTION: Yesterday I saw walking out of this building the former Prime Minister of Pakistan Bhutto. One, what she was doing, who she met? And, number two, the Supreme Court of Pakistan is saying now that whatever General Musharraf did, it was right for the country and also he will stay now in power for at least three years and 90 days. And another report said that now General Musharraf is ready to change his status from (inaudible) to president.

MR. BOUCHER: Okay, I don't know if there are two or three questions in there. On the first one, on Benazir Bhutto being in this building, I wasn't aware of that, I'll have to check on it for you.

On the Supreme Court of Pakistan's decision, I think we would simply say that overturning democracy is not right. We've expressed our concerns and our view that the need is to get back to a democratic government as soon as possible.

QUESTION: Do you have any information on Stu Eizenstat's talks in Austria on the package they are trying to negotiate on the status of the German package?

MR. BOUCHER: I think we have talked about the general parameters of what's being discussed in the past. But, at this point, the negotiations are still continuing. I think there are further discussions expected in Washington on May 22nd. And did you say Austria or Germany? Because that's the Germany --

QUESTION: Right. He's in Austria right now and -

MR. BOUCHER: He just arrived in Austria, I think. He's been in Germany.

QUESTION: He's just traveling.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) said he was in Austria yesterday. I think they had talks with the Austrians yesterday.

MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything new on the talks with the Austrians.

QUESTION: I think they made some progress.

MR. BOUCHER: Well, I hope so. We definitely hope so but I don't have a report on that. What I do have is I know he has been discussing a draft agreement in Germany and that process will continue in Washington, on May 22.

QUESTION: And apparently the Germans now say, according to Reuters, that they have a package ready for approval with the outlines being $5 billion --

MR. BOUCHER: I think we've discussed the outlines before and the issues that were under discussion. It's not quite finished yet. There are remaining discussions that have to be held and those will be held in Washington on May 22nd to deal with a few remaining issues.

QUESTION: Nothing happened yesterday or this week that changes basically where things stand?

MR. BOUCHER: It is still under discussion but there are a few issues left.

QUESTION: Can you tell us why the decision by the US to lobby against this World Bank -- these World Bank loans to Iran is not in conflict with the Administration's desire for rapprochement?

MR. BOUCHER: First of all, it remains our policy to oppose multilateral lending to Iran including by the World Bank. Congress has directed that the United States oppose multilateral lending to countries that are designated by the Secretary of State as state sponsors of terrorism. Iran has been so designated and therefore it remains our policy to oppose loans to Iran.

QUESTION: On Taiwan, please?

MR. BOUCHER: Sure.

QUESTION: The inauguration this weekend, members of the DPP have suggested that the US could play a much more active role in securing peace across the Taiwan Strait. Do you have any idea -- new proposals, any comment on that?

MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't. We were asked about the issue of mediation the other day and we have said we are not mediating. We don't -- haven't been asked to and we don't really expect to. We don't seek to play that role.

QUESTION: What do you think the best thing that the new president could say in his speech to keep going in the direction of peace there?

MR. BOUCHER: We will leave that to him. We've always support one China, a peaceful dialogue between the parties across the Straits as the best solution. So anything that moves us closer towards a dialogue will be helpful.

QUESTION: Do you have views on the language that's coming out of the Hill now about a commission to oversee China's human rights and trade behavior?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything new on that. We understand there is the discussion up there. It could prove constructive but we'll have to see.

QUESTION: Is the Secretary putting much effort into talking to Congress about the need to approve PNTR?

MR. BOUCHER: Yes.

QUESTION: How much would you say?

MR. BOUCHER: A lot.

QUESTION: Is she -- maybe could you give some examples of whether she is making phone calls or seeing people in person?

MR. BOUCHER: She's doing both. But I think you've seen in public the examples. She's made trips around the country, she's held meetings and visited with people. She's made speeches. In the last month or so, she's been in New York and we did Denver, we went to Berkeley. She's been in a number of places around the country. New Orleans, although that was primarily a Caribbean trip. Boston.

So she's been out talking to the American people in a variety of ways about the importance of this. She's been talking through you to the American people as well. And she considers it, as she has said -- and she said again this morning -- the most important national security vote Congress will have to take this year.

QUESTION: The President is sending Congress a new proposal that at least 200,000 visas, new visas, for IT's should be entered for the next three years. One, does this Department support that? And, two, which country will the most benefit from this?

MR. BOUCHER: 300,000 what?

QUESTION: 200,000 new visas per year for the next three years for IT professionals.

MR. BOUCHER: Information technology people?

QUESTION: Right.

MR. BOUCHER: As you know, we've done that in the past. Obviously, this Department supports it and we would end up having to issue the visas. But I don't have any details for you. Again, I can try to get that probably from the White House.

QUESTION: Does the Secretary have lunch today with President Carter? Is that today?

MR. BOUCHER: What's on the public schedule? Let me say yes, regardless of what's on the public schedule.

QUESTION: Will they be talking any business in terms of the Carter Center operations or is it just a private thing, do you know?

MR. BOUCHER: It is not the kind of meeting we would ever give a readout of, so they have conversations about a whole lot of things.

Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:37 p.m.)


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