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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #121, 00-12-01

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

From: The Department of State Foreign Affairs Network (DOSFAN) at <>


U.S. Department of State

Daily Press Briefing


Friday, December 1, 2000 Briefer: PHILIP REEKER, DEPUTY SPOKESMAN

1	World AIDS Day
1-3	Wire reports of bombing incident against Ambassador Patterson
	 and Senator Wellstone.
4	FARC Activity and connections with Mexican drug cartels.
5	Comments on Chilean Judge ordering the arrest of General
5	Comments on Saddam Husssein's threat to cease oil sales
	 through the Oil for Food Program
6-7	Links between Hussein's threat and the Syrian Pipeline. Likely
	 actions by the United Nations.  
7	Reactions to reports of Russian deployment of strategic bombers and
	 fighters in the Arctic. 
7	Update of meetings between Deputy Secretary Talbot - Deputy Foreign
	 Minister Mamedov. 
8	Comments on commercial space launches
8-9	Update on the Edmond Pope trial.
9-10	Discussion of Yossi Beilin presentation and upcoming meetings
10	Secretary Albright's meetings in Mexico / Representing U.S. at
	 inauguration of Mexican President Fox.



DPB #121

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 1, 2000, 1:00 P.M.


MR. REEKER: Welcome back. At least it's Friday. Friday, December 1st.

It is, as you all know, World AIDS Day, and I would just like to call your attention to a statement released by Secretary of State Albright in anticipation of this day. The Press Office can provide you written copies of that statement.

But the Secretary did note that today, more than 36 million people live with the HIV virus or AIDS and each day more than 10,000 people are newly infected. Annually, 3 million people die from this disease and whole societies are being robbed of parents and workers in what should be the most productive years of their lives. This is certainly a staggering litany of loss and that's why the United States has properly identified AIDS as more than a public health crisis and a grave humanitarian challenge; it's also indeed a peril to global security.

That is why we have made countering HIV/AIDS one of the highest foreign policy priorities, and over the past decade we've invested more than $1 billion in prevention, education and treatment efforts overseas and our commitment continues to increase. For fiscal year 2001, the President has requested and Congress has appropriated $460 million in the international fight against HIV/AIDS and other deadly infectious diseases.

But, of course, resources alone will not defeat HIV/AIDS, and every government on every continent must commit itself to halting the spread of this disease. The tide will only be turned through a global effort marked by gutsy global leadership, energized by caring people everywhere and backed generously by America and other donors. So we will make that statement, again, available for anybody who would like a copy of that.

And, with that, I would be happy to take your Friday afternoon questions.

QUESTION: What can you tell us about the incident in Colombia, involving or perhaps not involving Ambassador Patterson and Senator Wellstone?

MR. REEKER: In response to a number of press reports and certain headlines, let me just say that there was not, I repeat not, an assassination attempt made against Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota and our United States Ambassador to Colombia, Anne Patterson in the town of Barrancabermeja, Colombia. The Embassy in Bogota has put out a press release just a little while ago addressing these press reports and trying to clarify.

They noted that we are aware that the Colombian police discovered two explosive devices near a road in the town of Barrancabermeja yesterday, November 30th. The US Ambassador, Ambassador Patterson, and Senator Wellstone were traveling to that town on the same date, but we are aware of no indication, no evidence that these explosive devices were targeted against the Ambassador or the Senator. They noted from the Embassy also that such explosive devices are frequently found in the area of Barrancabermeja, which is an area of extensive activity by illegally armed groups in Colombia.

So the Ambassador, accompanied by the Senator, traveled to the town via air. They were not traveling along the road near where these explosives were found. They are both fine. They returned as planned yesterday to Bogota, and in fact, Senator Wellstone departed Bogota for Washington as scheduled this morning. I would also note that the Senator's office put out a statement a short while ago also noting that there is no evidence at this point that either the Senator or the Ambassador were targets, as some press reports indicated.

QUESTION: If I could just follow up. I understand that you have no evidence that there was an assassination attempt, but you have -- but, from the suspects that are arrested or anything to say that they have committed this attack, definitely not, you have no evidence that it was not an assassination attempt?

MR. REEKER: I'm not even aware of an attack. Again --

QUESTION: Or, I'm sorry, of the land mines. I mean, you have no evidence that it was not? I mean, you just think that it was not?

MR. REEKER: Well, I guess, sort of constructing a double negative -- exactly. We have no evidence to suggest that anybody was trying to attack or assassinate anybody.

QUESTION: I understand. Right. You said there was not. So what is your conviction that there wasn't?

MR. REEKER: Again, the Embassy has been in touch with the Colombian police and are aware that they found two explosive devices near a road. I understand it may have been as far as two kilometers from a road in the Colombian town of Barrancabermeja. It did happen that the US Ambassador and Senator Wellstone were visiting that town on the same day that those were discovered, which was yesterday, as the press reports of today have begun to point out. And they noted that such explosive devices are frequently found in the area. And they are aware of no evidence that these devices were targeted against the Senator or the Ambassador.

QUESTION: But I guess my question is, but you haven't determined why they were there?

MR. REEKER: No, again, I don't think we have determined why explosive devices are frequently found in the area, all the time. I don't think we do an analysis of that except to note that it is an area used extensively -- or an area of extensive activity by illegally armed groups in Colombia. And we certainly talked about the existence of such groups in Colombia in the past.

QUESTION: Has the United States asked for a further investigation on this to the Colombian authorities?

MR. REEKER: I don't think it's a matter of any further investigation. They've been in touch. Our security office, through the Embassy in Bogota, has been in touch with the Colombian National Police, based on these press reports that came out suggesting an "assassination attempt" and, based on those discussions, the Embassy has put out their statement. And we are also saying from here that there was not an assassination attempt made against American officials there.

QUESTION: The initial report said the devices were found along the airport road. You're saying it was two kilometers from the nearest road?

MR. REEKER: I understood that there was a road -- if I even have more facts here -- in or near the town of Barrancabermeja where the Senator and the Ambassador were visiting. And some reports said that they had found them as far as two kilometers from the road. I suppose there are probably a number of roads, and I don't believe there was any particular, again, connection to the place where they were found, these devices as they were described, explosive devices, were found and the Senator and the Ambassador were visiting there, several hours later during the day.

QUESTION: Do you know whether they were aware of these devices before or during the time of their visit?

MR. REEKER: I'm not. As I said, the Embassy is very much aware that the area frequently has devices that -- such explosive devices are frequently found in this area. It's an area of extensive activity by illegally armed groups, as I noted. So I think the Embassy, in security arrangements they make, take that into full consideration, obviously, at all times whenever anybody is traveling to visit there.

QUESTION: Can you give some indication of how close or how far the Senator and the Ambassador were from the devices?

MR. REEKER: I really can't. I don't believe there was any connection at all and I don't know what other devices in an area, as they said, where these devices are frequently found, might be. As I said, the Embassy and the Senator have both indicated they didn't feel there was any connection to them, so they obviously weren't making any comparison of locations of these things at any given time.

QUESTION: I'm slightly confused. You said they flew to the town. Did they fly to the town instead of driving because these bombs were changed? Or did they always intend to fly?

MR. REEKER: According to the Embassy statement, they traveled to the town via air and did not travel along the road near which the explosive devices were found, nor had they planned to do so. And, again, you can get a copy. We will be able to give you a copy of the Embassy statement, which said just that.

QUESTION: On Colombia but another subject? The Ambassador Patterson has said yesterday that the FARC and the paramilitary groups are working in Colombia as the big drug cartels used to do. She said they have under control the whole process of exportation of the drug. She said also the United States are going to ask for the extradition of the members of the guerilla and paramilitary groups that are involved in narco-trafficking. Do you have any comments on that?

MR. REEKER: I don't have anything. I don't believe there is anything particularly new there at all, and I think Ambassador Pickering covered virtually all of that subject when he briefed last week.

QUESTION: She was talking about the connection between the FARC and the Mexican cartels?

MR. REEKER: We put out a statement about that -- which date, Chuck? -- a couple of days ago, on the 29th, we put out a statement noting that.

QUESTION: But the statement didn't say anything about this part of the extradition for the -- the petition of extradition --

MR. REEKER: I'm afraid I just don't have anything on that.

QUESTION: Is it the case also that the Intelligence Agency here have evidence that can prove that the FARC are the new cartel, that is new --

MR. REEKER: Well, I think we have discussed at great length the links between the FARC and narco-trafficking in Colombia. Ambassador Pickering -- again, I would be happy to get you a transcript of his remarks from earlier in the week; Monday, I believe it was -- discussed that at great length, based on the recent visit he had to Colombia. So I don't think there is anything new or surprising in any of those comments.

QUESTION: Yes, but now they are pointing FARC like a drug cartel; they are saying that they are working as a cartel --

MR. REEKER: Again, I just don't think I want to read more into anything. I think we have covered extensively our views on the scourge of narco-traffickers in Colombia and what that means for our own security, and certainly for Colombia's, and the connections to that to the FARC, and I just don't have anything to add there. And I really don't think there is anything particularly new there.

QUESTION: Same region. A Chilean judge has ordered the arrest and trial of General Pinochet. Do you have any comments?

MR. REEKER: I did see that report as I was coming out here, and obviously that would be a matter for the Chilean domestic judiciary, for the Chileans to deal with.

QUESTION: New topic?

MR. REEKER: Sure. Anything else on Latin America as we're there?

QUESTION: Okay. Good. Saddam Hussein has said he will not be selling his oil through the Oil for Food Program. Do we have any comment on this?

MR. REEKER: I think my colleagues at the White House also mentioned that. The United States is working with the International Energy Agency members and other major oil producers on an oil response, which, if needed, would more than compensate for any oil volumes which Iraq is threatening to withdraw from the market. Their discussion of suspending oil exports is certainly an attempt to coerce the international community, and they certainly shouldn't believe that a cessation of oil exports will gain them any leverage at the United Nations.

We call on Iraq to work with the United Nations, to quickly reach an agreement on the oil pricing issue, which is the basis of all this. Iraq had submitted proposed prices -- oil prices -- to the United Nations for December -- this is done on a monthly basis -- that are significantly lower than world market prices, and the UN panel of oil, the overseers who recommend to the UN Sanctions Committee the level, the price level at which the Iraqi oil should be placed, recommended against approving these prices. And the Sanctions Committee unanimously agreed with that recommendation and we very much support that judgment.

The proposed pricing that Iraq submitted may not be adequate to meet the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people under the Oil for Food Program and it would have created an opportunity for unauthorized payments outside the Oil for Food payment to the Saddam regime. So we believe that the issue should be resolved consistent with the intent of the UN resolutions, obviously, which are designed to help the Oil for Food program meet the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people.

QUESTION: Can I follow up?


QUESTION: Do you think that Saddam Hussein may be motivated in some way by the new Syrian pipeline that I guess is operating outside of the jurisdiction of the Oil for Food Program?

MR. REEKER: Well, I think we talked about the Syrian pipeline earlier in this week, perhaps last week. We were discussing with the Syrians the need to have that mode of oil transfer come under the UN jurisdiction, to be approved by the Sanctions Committee. I don't see how there would be a connection between this.

This all has to do with Saddam Hussein and his regime trying to undercut the Oil for Food Program by getting a price for oil that would be below the appropriate price and would create an opportunity for some sort of unauthorized payment or rebate that they could then get cash outside of the Oil for Food program. And the efforts to coerce the UN program that way, obviously, should not be something that Iraq thinks they can do. They should work with the UN on establishing the pricing mechanism as we always have and the Sanctions Committee is still working on establishing that pricing guideline.

QUESTION: Can you think of any steps that the US might recommend at the UN or elsewhere if Iraq does overstep the UN somehow?

MR. REEKER: I guess I'm not quite sure what the premise of your --

QUESTION: In other words, if they go ahead with this, if they do cut off some of their exports, would they be violating any rules at the UN that they would be punished for?

MR. REEKER: Iraq makes the decision itself to export its oil. And it is the funds from the export of that oil that go to the Oil for Food Program to provide the humanitarian supplies, food and medicine and other supplies, for the Iraqi people. It's the largest humanitarian program that the United Nations has ever undertaken and certainly provides more than adequate amounts to help the Iraqi people.

By trying to go around that, they are simply, once again, playing games with the UN system. There are UN Security Council resolutions in place that everybody is aware of -- certainly the Iraqis. They need to comply with those resolutions.

We, as I said, have been working with the International Energy Agency members and major oil producers so that any oil supply response, if necessary, would more than compensate for volumes which Iraq is threatening to withdraw. So once again, it is time for Iraq to get with the program, work with the UN Security Council, with the Iraq Sanctions Committee to establish the price and continue with the Oil For Food Program. And, obviously, as we have said so many times, to comply fully with the UN Security Council resolutions because that, after all, is their way out of the sanctions program.

QUESTION: Another topic?

MR. REEKER: Yes, sure.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the deployment in the Arctic region on the American side and Russian side of strategic bombers and fighter aircraft?

MR. REEKER: I don't have anything specific here. I saw the reports and I know my colleagues at the Pentagon can discuss that. It's a Russian exercise, I guess, that has taken place on a periodic basis.

QUESTION: Was this issue discussed today between Mr. Talbott and Mr. Mamedov?

MR. REEKER: No, that was not one of the issues discussed by Deputy Secretary Talbott and Deputy Foreign Minister Mamedov.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. REEKER: Yes, I was figuring that would be the next thing to talk about, if I can find it. I think we did talk earlier in the week about the fact that Deputy Secretary Talbott would be meeting this week here in Washington with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mamedov. They held extensive discussions yesterday here in the State Department. There were also some meetings today.

They had a very good exchange of views on a broad range of bilateral and multilateral issues, including strategic stability issues, non-proliferation, of course, regional security concerns. They also discussed preparations for the upcoming ministerial level meetings, which will take place in December, which is already later this month in Brussels. And we certainly welcome the opportunities to discuss issues of mutual concern on a regular basis.

I would also note that Deputy Foreign Minister Mamedov met separately with Under Secretary Pickering for a discussion of issues on the agenda of the G-8 political directors, and they touched also on regional issues, including Afghanistan, Iraq, the Middle East, obviously. So this has been very much a part of managing a productive relationship that we have with Russia.

Russia is still very much in transition from its Communist past and has to remain one of our top foreign policy priorities. I think we have talked many times before of the tangible benefits that we see from a policy of engagement with Russia, whether it is nuclear threat reduction, which we have seen in recent years; a more active commercial relationship that we have had to expand contacts between our society; and this is certainly all aimed at ensuring that we won't have to face a future with Russia built on the fear and mistrust that characterized our past relations during the Cold War period.

So very much in pursuing our diplomacy as the foundation of this relationship and pursuing our interests in a variety of ways, these frequent meetings with Russian officials from the very top down -- you will recall that Secretary Albright met just recently in Vienna with Foreign Minister Ivanov. These are very important, and we are going to keep up this active agenda, in terms of engaging and helping us to secure some of the achievements we discussed.

QUESTION: And did the issue of allowing the quota on commercial space launches to expire this year come out of these talks and, if not, can you tell us some more about that?

MR. REEKER: Yes. I don't know that that was specifically a topic in these talks, but it is something obviously that we have been discussing. The existing US-Russia Commercial Space Launch Agreement expires at the end of the year, as you may know, and we have begun consultations, including with folks up on Capitol Hill, on the next steps to this. We are expecting a decision shortly, obviously, with it expiring in about a month and are approaching a decision.

Just to clarify, for the people that may not be familiar with it, the launch quota, which was established under this agreement, has been used effectively to encourage Russian cooperation in curtailing the transfer of sensitive missile technology to Iran, part of our non-proliferation program. And the Russian Space Agency has made measurable progress in the area recently, and the United States intends to continue to work cooperatively in the important non-proliferation area with Russia. So it is going to continue to be a top priority, but obviously no decisions have been made yet.

QUESTION: So The Wall Street Journal article is wrong, then?

MR. REEKER: No decisions have been made on the next steps in that. But, as I said, it does expire at the end of the month, so I would expect a decision fairly soon, and we will continue the consultations we are having on it.

QUESTION: Were you all able to see Mr. Pope yesterday?

MR. REEKER: No, I don't believe a consular visit took place. Let me double-check my latest update on Mr. Pope. It is still pending, that request for a consular visit. I will note, as I think the press already has, that Mr. Pope's attorneys presented their closing arguments today, and I understand that he is expected to present a statement to the Court on Wednesday, next Wednesday, December the 6th. And we would anticipate obviously then a verdict to follow some days after he makes that statement.

QUESTION: Do you know if this will be in person, in front of the Court, or a piece of paper?

MR. REEKER: That is my understanding, is that he will make a statement in front of the Court. But, as you know, we are barred from that proceeding, so we won't be able to tell you exactly how it takes place. But we do expect him to make a statement.

QUESTION: Do you have a date or any other details on the talks in Moscow on the --

MR. REEKER: I don't have a date or more details to announce. It is something that was further discussed in the meetings we just talked about between Deputy Secretary Talbott and Deputy Foreign Minister Mamedov. They worked on some of the details to set up the experts meetings. Deputy Foreign Minister Mamedov confirmed that the meeting will be held next week in Moscow. I just don't have a precise date to give you on that.

QUESTION: Is the United States at all reassured about Russia's intentions in terms of conventional arms sales to Iran following the talks yesterday and today? And is it correct to say that you feel that Russia has made progress in terms of ballistic missile transfers to Iran?

MR. REEKER: Well, I think, obviously, the answer to the first part of your question is that this is what the expert talks are going to be about. We made very clear our concerns about the Russian letter, which said they were going to withdraw from the aide mémoire as of December 1st. That is why Secretary Albright and Foreign Minister Ivanov agreed in Vienna to hold these expert-level talks, and I think I'll just leave for those talks to take place any further discussions on that specific topic.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. REEKER: I would have to check into that for you. Sorry. You had a second part.

QUESTION: -- details that this delegation is going to Moscow?

MR. REEKER: The delegation is going to Moscow. As I said, in their meetings, Deputy Foreign Minister Mamedov confirmed that the meeting is going to be held next week in Moscow, but I don't have the specific day to give to you yet.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. REEKER: I don't have a list. I don't believe I'm going to have a list of the experts that will be participating in those talks.

QUESTION: Do you know who will lead the delegation?

MR. REEKER: I'll try. We'll keep asking.

QUESTION: Another subject.

MR. REEKER: Yes. It's a great challenge for me to try to find things.

QUESTION: Yossi Beilin is in town, and I gather he will be seeing -- (inaudible). Can you tell us any more about these talks and what you hope to achieve at them?

MR. REEKER: Yes. Israeli Justice Minister Beilin is scheduled to meet today with Under Secretary Pickering, with Dennis Ross, the Special Middle East Coordinator, and with some other US Government officials to review and discuss current developments in the region. I think he may be over at the White House. This is obviously part of our ongoing communication with Israeli officials, and we welcome the opportunity to discuss developments there with him. I don't really have anything to add beyond that. I think we have covered in recent days -- unless you had further questions on the Middle East?

QUESTION: Well, he made a very passionate plea for progress in peace talks at a briefing this morning and said that President Clinton could still achieve a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians before he leaves office. But given the political difficulties in Israel right now, I was just wondering, are you treating Minister Beilin as a spokesman for Prime Minister Barak? Is that the basis on what you see there?

MR. REEKER: Well, I don't think it is up to us to treat him as anything other than the Israeli Justice Minister, and we welcome, as I said, the opportunity to speak with him in these talks, which are part of our ongoing communication with Israeli officials.

I think what I can just say is that both sides appear to be continuing their serious efforts to end the violence and restore calm which, after all, as we have said so many times, has to be the focus, the number one priority at this point. Secretary Albright said last week it is important that the commitments necessary to end the violence be carried out in a way that is sustainable and mutually reinforcing so that we can end the violence and create an environment for peacemaking. There is an obvious reality that everybody needs to see, and that is that there is no place for violence in this process.

The Secretary said it last week as well, that both Israelis and Palestinians need to accept that fact, that there is no place for violence, for incitement, for economic pressure in any genuine search for Israeli-Palestinian peace. And we are pledged to continue to do everything we can to assist the parties in these objectives. It is their peace process, and they have to make difficult decisions. As I said, the most important thing right now is to make sure we end the violence and try to get back on the path to peace. So we will continue to talk to both sides and be helpful wherever we can.

QUESTION: Do you have a list of whom the Secretary is or has met with in Mexico City today?

MR. REEKER: Yes, I do in fact. For a list of the official delegation that accompanied the Secretary, that would be the Presidential Mission of which the Secretary was head, the White House put out a statement, and we could even give you copies of that right after the briefing, if you would like.

Secretary Albright met with Foreign Secretary designate Jorge Castaneda early this morning, I understand. She represented President Clinton at the inauguration of Vicente Fox as President of Mexico. I believe that took place about 11:00 this morning.

During her stay, the Secretary will also meet with other key regional partners, who are attending the inauguration. Ambassador Boucher is with her obviously, and will be able to confirm those meetings have taken place, but I believe she is scheduled to meet with Argentine President De La Rua, and with Peruvian Prime Minister Perez de Cuellar, as well as with newly inaugurated Mexican President Fox. And if you want to check later in the day with the Press Office, we should be able to get you a full rundown of all the meetings.

QUESTION: I'm sorry -- who was the last person?

MR. REEKER: Mexican President --

QUESTION: She is going to meet with Fox.

MR. REEKER: Yes, right.


MR. REEKER: And I believe that includes -- I mean, he is hosting a dinner tonight, I believe.

Anything else? Great. Have a good weekend.


(The briefing was concluded at 2:15 p.m.)

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