U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #53, 00-06-05
From: The Department of State Foreign Affairs Network (DOSFAN) at <http://www.state.gov>
U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing
I N D E X
Monday, June 5, 2000
Briefer: Philip Reeker
1 May Baptista, Foreign Affairs Fellows Program, Joins Press Office
1,10-11 Murder of Jesus Maria Pedros, City Councilman and Member of
Spainís Govening Popular Party
1 Violence Against Serbs in Kosovo
IRAN / LIBYA
2-4 "60 Minutes" Program About Iranian Defector / Iran Involvement in
Pan Am 103 and Khobar Towers
4-7 National Commission on Terrorism Report Released Today /
5,7 US Not Considering Sanctions Against Greece and Pakistan
5-6 Issue of Tracking International Students in United States
7 Reported Cuban Proposal to Negotiate Settlement of Claims
13-14 Update on Elian Gonzales Case / Status of Visas Under Review
MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS
7-9 Secretary Albright's Travel in the Region / Meetings
9-10 Chechen Representative Ilias Akhmadov Visit in Washington
10 Reports PRC is Assisting Iran and Syria in Developing Ballistic
11-12 Reports Ethnic Militant Group May Be Attempting to Take Over
12 Update on Earthquake/Status of Americans
12-13 OAS Meeting in Windsor / Discussion on Peru
14 Update on the Situation in Sierra Leone
14-16 Mandate of UN Forces
14-15 US Support of Peace Process
16-17 Foday Sankoh Role
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
MONDAY, JUNE 5, 2000, 1:45 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. REEKER: Good afternoon to everybody and welcome to the State
Department. As you will suspect, I will be deferring to a number of
traveling parties on various topics that may be of interest to you, so I
donít want you to be disappointed before we begin.
I would like to begin, though, by welcoming to our office May Baptista, who
graduated from California State University at Long Beach and is going to
begin next semester at University of California San Diego, a graduate
program. She is participating in the State Departmentís Foreign Affairs
Fellows Program, and she will be working as a press officer in our office
until August 18th. So, slowly, weíre building our staff up to
levels that can meet your needs. But weíve very pleased to have May here,
and I think the press office and the work we do will give her a very broad
exposure to State Department and foreign affairs.
I have a couple of statement, first of all, that Iíll release in paper
right after the briefing, but Iíd like to note that the United States
strongly condemns and denounces those responsible for the cowardly shooting
and murder Sunday of Jesus Maria Pedrosa, a city councilman and member of
Spainís governing Popular Party, in the Basque City of Durango. The murder
follows a pattern of terrorist acts during the past 32 years. The
assassination marks the fifth killing by ETA since it suspended its 14-
month cease-fire in December of last year.
The perpetrators of this horrible crime, during which Mr. Pedrosa was shot
point blank in the head during broad daylight, must be brought to justice.
The United States extends its deepest sympathies to the wife, daughters and
extended families of Mr. Pedrosa.
Iíll also be posting a statement afterwards regarding violence against
Serbs in Kosovo. As many of you noted last week, several horrible acts of
violence, including a landmine explosion under a car, shootings and grenade
attacks took the lives of four Serbs in Kosovo and badly injured many more.
These were only the latest in a continuing series of attacks aimed at Serbs
living in the province.
The United States condemns these senseless and destructive acts. We have
repeatedly urged ethnic Albanians in Kosovo to refrain from violence and
vengeance. The United Nations and KFOR have stepped up measures to help
protect the Serb community from such attacks, and we support all efforts to
find the perpetrators of these incidents, these crimes, and bring them to
With that, Iíll be happy to go to the questions of the good Mr. Gedda.
QUESTION: Can you go beyond what was said yesterday about the <I>60
Minutes</I> segment on the alleged Iranian defector?
MR. REEKER: Let me find the right spot. QUESTION: You donít have a
traveling party in Iran, do you? (Laughter.)
MR. REEKER: No, sir. The US Government is continuing to follow up on
the information about an Iranian defector in Turkey which you noted in last
nightís television program. We became aware of his defection last week and
we will carefully assess the credibility of the information he provides.
Now, concerning the reported assertion that Iran ordered the Pan Am 103
bombing, we have stated repeatedly that we will follow the evidence
wherever it leads. In the meantime, the United States stands by the facts
of the case as outlined in the indictment that we have presented of the two
Libyans currently on trial for the attack, and we believe that case is very
In terms of Iran support for terrorism our most recent terrorism report
makes very clear our concerns about Iranís use of terrorism and has
continually called Iran the most active state sponsor of terrorism. I
think that might cover what you need.
QUESTION: Phil, in the most recent overtures to Iran by the United
States Government, were these done following any kind of conclusions that
the US Government at that time had reached about non-involvement by Iran in
the whole Pan Am 103?
MR. REEKER: I think our case on Pan Am 103 has been fairly clear and
weíve made clear all along our concerns regarding Iranís policies in
support of terrorism and their opposition to the Middle East peace process.
What we have encouraged and called for is a government-to-government
dialogue with Iran to address these and other policies of concern to the
United States, and the Secretary outlined that quite clearly in her March
QUESTION: Would that, therefore, not be affected by any new evidence
that pointed to Iran? In other words, does the US Government want this
government-to-government contact whether or not some new piece of evidence
points to --
MR. REEKER: Our goal is to get Iran to stop supporting terrorism, to get
it off the list of state supported terrorists by seeing that they end their
support for terrorism. Their opposition to the Middle East peace process,
their continuing efforts to gain weapons of mass destruction, that is our
goal. Thatís been very clear all along. We would like to see a government-
to-government dialogue so that we could address those things and issues of
QUESTION: Can you say anything about your statement about your
continuing to follow up on this alleged defector from Iran? This
government, according to CBS, talked to this particular man on Friday.
Have there been subsequent meetings? Have documents been offered? Do you
feel that this man is, in fact, who he purports to be?
MR. REEKER: I don't have any details for you on that, other than what I
said, that we will carefully assess the credibility of any information that
he is providing. And I am not in a position to comment on any specifics of
any individual cases.
QUESTION: Is the State Department ready to concede that it is possible
that Iran may have been involved in Lockerbie?
MR. REEKER: Right now, I think I stated quite clearly where we stand in
terms of the evidence outlined, the facts outlined in the indictment that
we presented of the two Libyans. That case is ongoing. We have said we
are not going to discuss that in detail while the case is ongoing in a
court in the Netherlands. We believe that case is very solid and that case
QUESTION: By saying that you are going to follow the facts wherever they
lead, you are conceding, are you not, that it is possible --
MR. REEKER: We have stated always that we will follow evidence wherever
it leads. That has always been our position. Right now, we are assessing
credibility of any information that may be provided, and thatís all I have
to say at this point.
QUESTION: When you say "continuing to follow up," are you referring --
is this a reference to what the CIA is doing? Are there diplomatic
contacts going on? Can you tell us anything further on that?
MR. REEKER: No, I canít. I think Iíve made myself very clear in terms
of follow-up information.
QUESTION: Thank you, Phil. It is also possible, is it not, that this is
-- this defector is a red herring who is spreading misinformation to
distract and deter the truth from being told in Holland? Is that
MR. REEKER: I don't have anything to add to what I said. We will assess
any information that we get that is provided in that case and then act
QUESTION: It has been alleged in the past that the Iranians, so to speak,
put a contract out on an American plane and gave that contract, so to speak,
to the Libyans. Has that particular aspect of potential Iranian involvement
been examined and, to your knowledge, excluded?
MR. REEKER: I don't have any information for you further on that.
QUESTION: Can we talk about the terrorism report?
MR. REEKER: Yes, sure.
QUESTION: Before we do that, for those of us who donít have the US case
being made in Holland by heart, does that case that you say is solid make a
link back to the Libyan Government or is it --
MR. REEKER: I haven't examined the indictment in any great detail. I
could try to get you what information we have on that afterwards but I am
just not familiar with the details of that.
QUESTION: But if it turns out that it does, then, by not ruling out Iran,
apparently the US position that you are stating here is that you stand
behind the case as made in Holland but there may be other avenues. You
wouldn't abandon the case thatís being made in Holland?
MR. REEKER: The case thatís being made in Holland is being pursued by
the prosecutors under an indictment that, as I said, I can try to look into
getting for you. We think thatís a strong case and it will be pursued, but
weíve said that all evidence will always be pursued to wherever it
Are we ready to move on?
QUESTION: A brief question. Anything on the visit to Libya by two State
Department officials about two months ago? You know, the one where they
investigated to see if it was safe to Americans.
MR. REEKER: No. As I indicated last week, I donít believe that report
has been moved forward.
Are we ready to move on?
QUESTION: On the Hill today, the terrorism report was by released by the
blue ribbon congressional panel, and talked about monitoring students,
foreign students; it talked about dropping the restriction on hiring as
intelligence assets people who are themselves criminals, suspect; and also
affected Greece and Pakistan.
Do you have a reaction to that?
MR. REEKER: I will refer you first to what the Secretary said yesterday
on a nationwide -- or, actually, international Sunday morning show on which
she spoke from Moscow. The National Commission on Terrorism did submit, as
you noted, its report to Congress today. We havenít seen the final report
or havenít had a chance, at least, to go through it fully. I will note
that various departments and US Embassy officials met with members of that
commission during the six-month review of US counter-terrorism policy, and
we certainly tried to facilitate their work.
Under Secretary Pickering met with the Commission. Ambassador Sheehan, our
Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism met several times with the Commissionís
Chairman, former Ambassador Bremer. And we believe that report, as the
Secretary said, deserves very careful study. But Iím not going to have a
lot of specific response at this time to specific recommendations.
With that said, the Secretary did note yesterday that the Administration is
not considering sanctions against Greece or Pakistan, and we also continue
to support Greeceís full participation in the visa waiver program once
Greece has satisfied remaining conditions, which the Attorney General laid
out last year.
I think the Secretary underscored the fact again that terrorism is a very
serious problem. We certainly take it very seriously. President Clinton
and Secretary Albright raised that issue in Greece when they visited last
year. We cooperate closely with the Simitis Government and the Greek
police to support their counter-terrorism efforts, and support Greek
sovereignty and authority over that.
I think itís important that you note that weíve been concerned for over two
decades about the numerous terrorist attacks that have occurred against
American interests in Greece. Five embassy employees have been assassinated
in Athens since 1975; there have been numerous other attacks on US
officials and facilities; 24 American businesses were bombed in Athens
during the last two and a half years.
No one has been arrested or charged for these murders, and we are
continuing to work with the Greek authorities to promote a more effective
defense against terrorism, and that will go on. Ambassador Burns has a
very effective working relationship with the Minister of Public Order in
Greece and the Greek police as they continue to address these issues, and
weíre going to continue our efforts in that direction.
QUESTION: Not on Greece, though; on the students, since this Department
does have a role --
MR. REEKER: Right. You did raise the students. Again, we havenít
looked at that fully. It was released, I think, as you know, at 10 oíclock
this morning so I can't get into the specifics of that.
But, in general, our policy is to encourage more international students to
attend US schools. There was an April 19th Presidential
memorandum on international education policy which pointed out that nearly
half a million, nearly 500,000 international students now study in the
United States at the post-secondary level. They contribute some $9 billion
annually to our economy, but make a tremendous effort at enriching our
communities with their cultures and, of course, developing really a life-
long appreciation for our culture by studying here. The goodwill that
these students bear will, I think, in the future constitute one of our
greatest foreign policy assets, and weíve supported that.
QUESTION: Could I ask you what the Department does in terms of issuing
visas to students to safeguard the fact that those people coming here are,
indeed, students and what do they do to track them once they are in the
MR. REEKER: Well, visas, as you know from lots of other cases that we
discuss, are issued on an individual basis without any prejudgment. There
are applications for student visas; there are appropriate forms that
involve information provided by the institution, the educational institution
here in the country. The oversight of foreign nationals in the United
States is the responsibility of the Immigration and Naturalization Service
and they are required by Congress to employ a system that provides for a
database on holders of the various student visas in the J, M and F
categories for statistical purposes and immigration purposes. And any
details on that, I would refer to the INS, Justice Department.
QUESTION: Could you repeat that number of students again, please?
MR. REEKER: Itís about 500,000. Thatís the number that are currently
studying in the United States, approximately.
QUESTION: While we are on numbers, could you repeat the number of
American diplomats killed in Greece, please? You had a couple numbers in
MR. REEKER: Charlie, you do this to me -- 24. That was in the last two-
and-a-half years. Letís be specific here. There have been five embassy
employees assassinated in Athens since 1975 and numerous other attacks on
US officials and facilities.
QUESTION: Thank you. One of the recommendations by this commission was
also that the State Department give more information about countries that
are cooperating fully or are not cooperating fully. But I looked back in
<I>Patterns of Global Terrorism</I> and thatís been a law since 1996. So
how does that square up? Do they feel that the State Department is not
giving them enough information or none?
MR. REEKER: You would have to ask them and I would have to look at the
report more fully, which I haven't, because it was released at 10:00 a.m.
QUESTION: Has that been a complaint before?
MR. REEKER: So I have not reviewed that fully. I think that <I>Patterns
of Global Terrorism</I>, which we put out annually, addresses that.
Certainly we have tremendous discussion of that at the time it comes out
and we continue to bring it up from this podium often.
So in terms of specifics of the report released today, I just canít go into
it. We will be looking at that very closely.
QUESTION: Separate from the report, have there been reports from
Congress, for example, to the State Department that they haven't been
getting enough information on countries and their cooperation?
MR. REEKER: I am not aware of that at all, no.
Let me go to Ben.
QUESTION: Are you saying that <I>The Washington Post </I>obtained this
report two days before the State Department did?
MR. REEKER: I am saying that the report was released this morning on
Capitol Hill. We worked with them appropriately throughout the six months
that they were preparing this report. I have not seen this report yet. I
am sure I could get a copy, but I was busy coming in here and unable to
fully analyze that report or ask anybody else to do that for you at this
juncture this morning.
QUESTION: So you have no response to all of the specifics in the
MR. REEKER: Exactly.
QUESTION: You have no response then to whether or not Greece or Pakistan
ought to be sanctioned?
MR. REEKER: I think the Secretary addressed that, and I stated that here
already quite clearly. The Administration is not considering sanctions
against Greece or Pakistan.
Ready for a new subject?
QUESTION: On a new subject. This report that Cuba may be willing to
negotiate compensation for American companies?
MR. REEKER: I saw those reports, I guess after the visit of the chairman
of the Chamber of Commerce, and I don't have any details on that for you.
Iím sorry. But I will be happy to look into that and perhaps we can have
something later or tomorrow.
QUESTION: Can you go over her schedule with us, just to confirm Syrian
Foreign Minister al-Shara in Cairo?
MR. REEKER: Most of that, I need to refer you to the traveling party.
As you know, the Secretary is in Jerusalem. I think you probably all saw
her participating in the joint press availability with Prime Minister Barak
following their meeting in Jerusalem.
The Secretary does plan to travel to Egypt on Wednesday to meet with
President Mubarak. I understand there are some other meetings also but I
would refer you to the party for specifics of those. Tonight, she remains
overnight in Jerusalem. I believe she is having a working dinner, as we
speak, with the Prime Minister and tomorrow she will meet with Chairman
Arafat and also have a short press availability tomorrow and I believe meet
with Foreign Minister Levy before then on Wednesday departing for
QUESTION: In a general sense -- and I realize you donít want to talk too
much in specifics about this report, but the concept of the military, the
United States military taking a lead role in the functioning of the country
in the event of a catastrophic terrorism event, is State philosophically
likely to support that kind of a concept?
MR. REEKER: I am just not in a position, without having looked at it. I
think itís only fair to let folks here in the building look at that and
make some broader observations about it. And so I am sure we will continue
to discuss that throughout the week, but at this point I think Iíve said
all I can. I was able to come up with some of the general responses from
some of the things that leaked out most, but we will have to defer that
until theyíve had a chance to look at it more.
Still on this terrorism --
QUESTION: On Rebecca --
MR. REEKER: On Rebecca?
QUESTION: No. Excuse me, Rebecca.
QUESTION: No information here. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: On the subject she raised, if I may at this point? Is this
summit that has been talked about of Israel and the Palestinians getting
together with US help here in the Washington area somewhere, is this still
on? Is this something that is being planned as Ms. Albright continues her
work in Israel presently? Whatís the status?
MR. REEKER: I think weíve long said -- and thereís no change to that --
that the President is prepared to host a summit with the leaders if there
is a proper basis for such a meeting. For any details on that, I need to
refer you to the traveling party where the Secretary is in Israel right now
meeting with the Prime Minister, and thatís where you need to get your news
QUESTION: So thatís what Ms. Albright is doing, basically. One of the
things sheís doing is trying to nail this down.
MR. REEKER: What I told you, Bill --
MR. REEKER: Do you want to listen to it one more time? Is weíve always
said that the President is prepared to host a summit -- thatís been a long-
standing position -- with those leaders, if there is a proper basis for
such a meeting. In terms of what the Secretary is doing in the region, I
would refer you to the party. I think sheís meeting with Israeli and
Palestinian leaders to help narrow gaps -- weíve said that repeatedly; move
the process forward. But, really, for details of that you need to refer to
the traveling party. Many of your colleagues are with them.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on a suit filed today by two Americans
against Yasser Arafat and one of his colleagues on the Achille Lauro?
MR. REEKER: No, I donít. Sorry, I donít have any information on that at
QUESTION: Has the State Department decided yet whether itís going to
meet the Chechen foreign minister whoís in town -- who will meet him, where
theyíll meet him?
MR. REEKER: I donít believe any decision on that has been made. I
noticed wire reports to that effect. Mr. Akhmadov was recently issued a
visa for travel to the United States. As weíve done before, we feel itís
important to hear a wide variety of viewpoints in an open society.
I will note that, as before, this visa was not issued to him as the
"foreign minister of Chechnya." We donít recognize an independent Chechnya,
as all of you know. It was issued in Mr. Akhmadovís Russian passport and
he is here in Washington and weíre considering his request for a meeting.
Previous meetings were held at the desk level, as appropriate, and I just
donít have any further details. He was here in January and, as I said, was
received at the working level to discuss some of the human rights and
humanitarian issues in Chechnya.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) -- deliver a peace plan somehow to the Department,
addressed to the Secretary?
MR. REEKER: As I noted, he has requested a meeting and, before I came
out here, there was still no word. We were considering that request and I
donít have an answer for you on that.
QUESTION: Can I also just follow up? You mentioned he was here in
January. Maybe I mis-remembered, but I thought the first meeting with the
Chechen delegation was, in fact, with the deputy speaker of the Chechen
parliament. Does that mean there has actually been two meetings with
Chechen officials this year?
MR. REEKER: I would have to go back. I believe there have been a couple
of Chechens that have been in Washington, but Iíd have to check that for
you. I think Akhmadov was in Washington in January, and at that time he
was met by people at the working level from the State Department.
Anything further on that?
QUESTION: Tangentially, at least, the Middle East. Can you tell us
anything about reports from the region that the US has warned Israel that
China is helping Iran and Syria develop advanced surface-to-surface
MR. REEKER: I think on that issue -- because I saw those reports --
weíve said many times before we have long-standing concerns about Chinese
firms selling missile-related technology to Iran. Weíve repeatedly made
these concerns known to the Chinese Government and weíre going to continue
to do so. We also take seriously reports that Syria may be seeking from
China materials for its missile program.
We take all these reports seriously. Iím not in a position to comment
specifically, but we take them very seriously. We investigate thoroughly.
We raise our concerns with China, as we have in the past, and as weíll
continue to do so. I think the pursuit of ballistic missile programs by
both Iran and Syria is well documented and our concerns about both the
Chinese entitiesí export activities and the Iranian and Syrian activities
are quite well known.
QUESTION: In the communications with Israel on this, is this --
obviously the US has been pressuring Israel not to sell the radar planes to
China. Is this sort of a -- is this related in some way to that?
MR. REEKER: I donít see a particular relation there. Iíve tried to
describe for you, based on the reports Iíve seen and your question -- our
views on what has been said many times before -- there is long-standing
concern about Chinese entities selling missile-related technology to Iran
and also to Syria.
QUESTION: Would that be a particularly recent --
MR. REEKER: I donít have any specifics to tell you. Itís an issue that
weíve raised in the past and we will continue to raise with the Chinese.
QUESTION: This assassination in Spain that you started at the beginning,
have you been in contact at all with the Spanish Government on this?
MR. REEKER: I donít know about specific diplomatic contacts in Madrid or
here on that, but I think our position was well stated in my statement and
Iíll put that out in a written form for you. We strongly condemn and
denounce what was really a cowardly attack, and this kind of violence has
got to cease.
QUESTION: No, because this is probably ETA and it appears in the list of
terrorist organizations recently in the report by the State Department. Do
you know, is there any special cooperation to try to fight ETA with Spain
MR. REEKER: Well, I think as youíll see when I put out the full
statement, that we call on ETA and those responsible for this act, to
renounce violence and terrorism that really have needlessly taken so many
lives for so many years. The Spanish people, including a majority in the
Basque province of Spain, have clearly demonstrated that Spaniards have no
tolerance for such acts of violence and that ETA should listen to the
overwhelming majority of the voice of the Spanish people, as well as the
international community, including our own condemnation of this kind of
QUESTION: Do you have anything on this new coup díetat apparently going
on the in the South Pacific region on the Solomon Islands?
MR. REEKER: The long arm of Matt Lee reaches. We donít have an embassy
in Honiara, Solomon Islands, but our embassy in Port Moresby, Papua New
Guinea, covers the Solomon Islands and they have reported in that the
Malaita Eagle Force militant group may be attempting to take over the
Solomon Islands Government in the capital, Honiara, on the Island of
They have apparently taken control of telecommunication facilities, overrun
two police stations in the capital, detained the Governor General and the
Prime Minister, and have demanded the Prime Ministerís resignation. As I
understand it, international and domestic telephone lines have been cut and
the international airport on Guadalcanal is closed. These actions began
during the evening hours of yesterday, our time.
I would note weíve had no reports of bloodshed or that any American
citizens have been harmed. There are currently 66 Peace Corps volunteers
and 4 staff in the Solomon Islands. Most are not living in the capital.
In total, there are nearly 100 American citizens living in Honiara,
including those Peace Corps volunteers and staff, but there is no evidence
at this point the tensions in Honiara extend to the other provinces of the
Solomon Islands, away from Guadalcanal.
There is a Public Announcement in force for the Solomon Islands advising US
citizens to defer travel to Guadalcanal. We strongly oppose, of course,
overthrow of democratically elected governments by force, and we are
calling for the immediate and unconditional release of any of the persons
being held hostage and a resumption of normal constitutional government.
We are in close consultation with the Australians and other countries in
the region about the situation.
QUESTION: Do you share the view of -- or does the State Department share
the view of the former Solomons opposition leader, who believes that there
is a connection between what is happening in Fiji and what is happening in
Solomon Islands, or is that not something --
MR. REEKER: Iím not aware of that. I think that we can also look at
Fiji if you want, but there has been no positive change there. Both of the
situations, obviously have similarities, but to make broad connections is
not something I am able to do at this point.
QUESTION: Are there any Americans affected by the earthquake in
MR. REEKER: I do not believe so. We tried to get as quick a snapshot
report as we could. At 11:28 p.m., local time, last night, an earthquake
struck off the west coast of Sumatra, an Indonesian island. It was
measured at 7.9 on the Richter scale and itís epicenter was approximately
100 kilometers southwest of the city Bengkulu.
There were a series of aftershocks, and the last information that we got
according to the media reports, which probably match yours, is that at
least 58 people had been confirmed dead and local hospitals are quite
The US Embassy has successfully contacted all registered American citizens
in the affected area and there are no reports of any Americans having been
injured or killed. Our Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, the regional
advisor is going to attempt to visit that area on the 6th --
that would be tomorrow -- and we are monitoring the situation as closely as
QUESTION: On Peru.
MR. REEKER: Peru.
QUESTION: Last week, this Department and the US Government was
expressing a great deal of confidence that action would be taken by the OAS
and so therefore unilateral action would probably not be necessary. Since
that failed, what is the view of the State Department now in terms of what
action the US Government may need to take?
MR. REEKER: Well, I reject your characterization out of hand because, as
you know right now, the meeting that we very much look forward to is taking
place in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. And so I really have to defer to the
folks up there. Weíll certainly be in touch with them. I believe 2
oíclock was when the ministers were going to take up discussion of a
resolution put forward by the Canadians which called on sending the
Chairman of the General Assembly and the Secretary General of the OAS to
Peru to explore options and recommendations. We very much support that
resolution but itís premature to discuss it because the meeting is ongoing
at this point.
QUESTION: Well, we got a readout before the meeting started in terms of
the general consensus of the OAS states concluding that the types of
actions that the US had been considering was deemed not something that the
body could support. So --
MR. REEKER: I think there is a resolution -- I can provide you a copy as
I had it, as a draft -- that was to be discussed now. I am obviously not
in a position to discuss whatís being said about it. Weíll have to wait
and let that take its course, as Iíve said; let those meetings go ahead.
We very much wanted this meeting to take place. Weíre very pleased that it
was included on the agenda there.
Under Secretary Pickering has joined the delegation under the Presidentís
Special Envoy for the Americas, Buddy Mackay, along with our ambassador to
the OAS, Ambassador Lauredo, and Acting Assistant Secretary for Western
Hemisphere Affairs, Peter Romero. Theyíre there now. They are in the
meetings and so itís inappropriate to look ahead until we have news out of
Anything further on Peru?
QUESTION: I bet you were hoping to get away without having to answer a
question about Elian Gonzalez. I just have to ask, once the court action
is finally over and done with involving the future of this kid, does State
plan anything to facilitate his departure? I realize INS might be involved
more heavily than State. And would it provide an opportunity to open
anything up with the Cuban Government once that --
MR. REEKER: I don't think weíve ever seen this case as having any sort
of link to that. In terms of his departure, I think you hit the nail on
the head. I don't see what the Department of State would have to do with
QUESTION: On the same subject, did you see the Bob Novak column?
MR. REEKER: I did read Mr. Novakís column.
QUESTION: Any guidance on any aspect of the column?
MR. REEKER: No, I think our position has been articulated from here all
In terms of the visa applications, in case anybody is still wondering,
those are still being reviewed. Weíre sympathetic certainly to the desires
of Elian Gonzalezís family to provide a supportive structure for the six-
year-old child and weíve already approved 14 family members and friends who
remain with Elian Gonzalez today.
QUESTION: On Elian, these demonstrations that keep on going on in Cuba,
they are so impatient for the child to go back. Do you have any comment on
MR. REEKER: I think thereís a court process thatís been followed, as the
Secretary said yesterday. Thatís the process that needs to take place and
I don't have anything to add to that.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on Sierra Leone, where the British troops
are due to pull out in mid-June? And I wondered, with all the discussions
that have been going on in New York about the possibility of bolstering the
forces there, whatís the US position now?
MR. REEKER: Well, in terms of Sierra Leone, which I think quite
surprisingly hasn't come up for quite some time, I think the UN Security
Council will continue to take up the question of the mandate of the UN
forces there in the course of discussions, the Secretary Generalís fourth
regular report on Sierra Leone, which he issued a week or so ago. I don't
think any decisions have been taken on a change in the UN mandate at this
point or changing the specific size or composition of the UN peacekeeping
But I would like to take the opportunity, I think, to look at Sierra Leone
a little bit. As I said, it wasnít a topic thatís come up for discussion
here for some time, I think, quite surprisingly, although there were some
press reports in major newspapers over the weekend again making some
suggestions about the US position and policy there.
I think it is very important to note that, for well over a year prior to
the Lome Peace Agreement, the United States had worked very actively to
support those peace efforts, working with the Government of Sierra Leone,
representatives of the Revolutionary United Front rebels, the regional
organization ECOWAS, and the United Nations to initiate talks that could
hope to reach some sort of lasting settlement.
We were a participant in every major West African effort to resolve the
tragedy in Sierra Leone, including a lot of bilateral consultations with
key regional leaders and participation, as I said, in the ECOWAS regional
meetings. There was work on the part of the Reverend Jesse Jackson who
spent a single day, one day, in Lome six weeks before the signing of the
Lome Peace Agreement and that helped to facilitate a cease-fire which was
signed in May 1999, just over a year ago. That cease-fire then created the
conditions for peace negotiations between the Government of Sierra Leone
and the Revolutionary United Front.
After the cease-fire, negotiations continued without the direct participation
of the Reverend Jackson; it was between the parties. And that resulted in
the Lome Agreement, which was signed less than a year ago, July í99. That
was signed by the President of Sierra Leone, President Kabbah, signed by
Foday Sankoh, the leader of the rebel group, presidents of regional
countries, representatives of the United Nations and the ECOWAS regional
organization. It was not signed by the United States.
Contrary to a number of assertions, I think, that have come out in press
reports -- and, certainly, weíve discussed it here but not for a while --
the United States did not pressure anybody to sign this agreement. We,
along with the regional states and the organization ECOWAS and the United
Nations and the Organization for African Unity, as well as other countries
like Great Britain, helped to support peace talks. We provided funding for
a secretariat that supported the talks, Ambassador Melrose met regularly
with the parties to ensure a continuation of dialogue between the parties
and the agreement that emerged was between the Government of Sierra Leone,
the democratically elected government, and the rebel forces.
We neither brokered the Lome Peace Agreement, nor leaned on President
Kabbah to open talks with the insurgents. The agreement brought an end to
the killings and the atrocities, to the mutilations which the people wanted
to stop there. The Government of Sierra Leone, acting in its sovereign
capacity, negotiated the terms of the Lome Peace Agreement that included
the blanket amnesty and the role of any rebels in government. It was the
Sierra Leone Governmentís decision to include four rebel leaders in the
government in order to diffuse some of the root causes of the conflict and
to promote stability and reconciliation necessary to try to regenerate some
sort of civil society there.
I think the United States, at the invitation of the parties, facilitated
peace negotiations. We facilitated the participation of the civil society
leaders in the talks, which we felt was very important. And I just want to
stress again, contrary to a number of the press reports on the issue, the
peace agreement was negotiated directly between the President of Sierra
Leone, his government, and the rebel leadership under the auspices of the
regional Economic Community of West African States. It offered Foday
Sankoh to participate politically in reconstruction and rehabilitation of
his country and help bring peace to all the people of Sierra Leone and he
wasted that opportunity. Weíve gone through that clearly. He clearly
wasted that opportunity.
So right now, we are going to continue supporting the effort there, the
process there and the UN mission to support that process. Thatís a long
response to your question but, since this issue had not arisen in quite a
while, I felt I did want to address that particularly in light of some of
the press reports which I think have made inaccurate generalizations and
characterizations of our role in that process and not at all noted the
commitment that the United States and this Administration have made to
helping Sierra Leone and its people. Itís been long-standing and
substantial. Weíve been the largest donors of foreign aid, humanitarian
assistance to Sierra Leone, with over $300 million in humanitarian
assistance since 1991. The vast majority of the State Departmentís
allocated budget for non-UN peacekeeping in Africa has gone to Sierra Leone
in the past three years.
So the parties to the peace agreement, to the negotiations, took the
measures they thought necessary to end a horrible chapter in their
countryís history and we now owe it to the people of Sierra Leone to
support the UN peacekeepers, the regional initiatives to provide for a
lasting and durable peace.
QUESTION: I understand what youíre saying but it doesnít answer the
question: what is the US going to do if Britain pulls out in the middle of
June. Are you encouraging them not to do that? Is there a discussion of
them still --
MR. REEKER: I think those discussions are ongoing. They are ongoing at
the UN. We continue to discuss in the UN and will discuss that as the UN
Security Council takes up the issues in the coming days and weeks. We
obviously discuss with Great Britain extensively and, of course, in the
regional rubric, ECOWAS. Theyíve made some steps, some declarations, about
what theyíre prepared to do and I think weíre standing by to know what next
steps we will take so that we can pursue a durable peace and invigorate the
peace process and the UN mission in Sierra Leone.
QUESTION: I think you raised what you called "inaccuracies" in the
reporting, is it inaccurate, the report that several people in this
Department, including Assistant Secretaries Koh, Taft and others, opposed
Sankoh being included in the peace agreement?
MR. REEKER: Iím not going to get into specific views on that. The
important point was that we were supporting a process of dialogue. We
supported a cease-fire which made possible the dialogue that could take
place to bring an end to the violence, the absolutely horrific state of
affairs in Sierra Leone.
It was not an agreement of ours. We were not part of that agreement. It
was between the parties so it was not for us to agree or not. They came to
the decisions they made.
QUESTION: And I am getting into the part of the reporting over the
weekend that dealt with the -- what is reported to be now the commonly held
US Government assessment that it was a mistake to include Sankoh in the
power-sharing agreement or in the peace agreement. And since you are
getting into what you consider to be the inaccurate portions of the
reporting over the weekend, Iím just wondering --
MR. REEKER: Once again, Iím not in a position nor am I going to try to
reflect individualsí views and discussions that took place here. What was
important was that the parties came to an agreement, the steps that they
felt necessary to reach an agreement to end the violence and pursue a peace
process. That included Mr. Sankoh. He had a window of opportunity to make
that work and he failed miserably at that. So now the next steps have to
be looked at into reinvigorating the peace process and moving ahead to give
the Sierra Leonean people the type of process and hope that they deserve.
QUESTION: In the history that youíve just outlined, and the fact that
despite what you are saying many people at the time of the signing of the
Lome Agreement did oppose the agreementís going ahead and did oppose Foday
Sankohís being involved in those negotiations and were pressing for his
prosecution then, why is the State Department not pressing for his
prosecution now on war crimes? I mean, you kind of referred to this last
week. In fact, I think there are plenty of people who regard this man as
being no less innocent, no less culpable of those kinds of crimes of many
people who have been put on trial for war crimes.
MR. REEKER: Let me make this very clear, and I think weíve said this but
Iíll repeat it again, that the US believes that there must be both peace
and justice, and that means there should be accountability. The United
States will support the people and Government of Sierra Leone in their
efforts to bring Sankoh to justice. Decisions regarding the location,
movements, the juridical disposition of Foday Sankoh will be made by the
Government of Sierra Leone in consultation with the region. Wherever he is
held, the United Statesí interest is in seeing that the people of Sierra
Leone can have confidence that peace is achievable and that justice will be
Iíll remind you, as weíve said before, that any crimes committed by the
Revolutionary United Front since the Lome peace agreement was signed are
not covered by the domestic amnesty under that agreement. So we are in
consultation with the Government of Sierra Leone, with regional states,
with the United Nations, with the United Kingdom to review possible steps
taken to bring perpetrators of any crimes to justice.
QUESTION: But does the amnesty indemnify Sankoh against war crimes? I
don't think it does. I don't think it can. Or prosecution for war
MR. REEKER: I mean, the amnesty speaks for itself in terms of what the
parties to the agreement agreed to. What Iím pointing out is that
agreement does not include any crimes committed since the Lome Agreement.
And in terms of other issues, we believe very much there must be accountability
as part of the process of peace and justice that the people of Sierra Leone
deserve and need to have confidence in. And we will support the people and
Government of Sierra Leone in their efforts to bring Mr. Sankoh to
(The briefing was concluded at 2:40 P.M.)
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