|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Press Briefing Following G-8 Foreign Ministers Meeting, Landtag
Berlin, Germany, December 17, 1999
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Good afternoon, I think you have heard a great deal from my colleagues and Foreign Minister Fischer was able to give you a full account of the meetings that took place here. As you know I did not arrive until this morning and so I just want to briefly tell you that the parts of the discussion that I participated in obviously involved Chechnya and I listened to the report from Foreign Minister Vollebaek about his trip to the region, discussion about Kosovo.
Then in terms of picking up on some of the discussions on conflict prevention, I specifically focused on our interest in limiting the spread of small arms, on the importance of developing a more robust and quickly acting civilian police, on the problems associated with the illegitimate trade of diamonds, in terms of perpetuating or creating the possibility for conflicts, general problems to do with terrorism and organized crime.
I also briefed my colleagues, in a general way, on the Middle East peace talks as President Clinton and I conducted them in Washington, between the Syrians and Israelis in the last couple of days. So that is what we have done in the last few hours and I'd be very pleased to answer your questions.
QUESTION: There has been a lot of talk about conflict prevention by Foreign Minister Fischer before you came in. We have reports of some serious fighting in Grozny. I was wondering if you would have any more to say than you said before about your position as regards international funding to Russia in this context?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, let me say clearly the issue of Chechnya and the fighting in Grozny did occupy some time this morning and I think that the vividness with which Foreign Minister Vollebaeck described the situation, made clear to all of us that there continued to be a great need for humanitarian assistance, better coordination, the ability of humanitarian assistance to get in there and the need for further political dialogue.
I think that it is very important for us to do everything we can to aid the humanitarian effort and I think that generally we, the international community and the United States also, have had an impact in terms of the humanitarian situation, pushing in order to have borders open, corridors created. I think, frankly, we have had a marginal affect on the political aspect of this conflict. I think there has been a recognition by the Russians of the importance for political dialogue and some contacts between the government in Moscow and various representatives of the rebel groups and President Maskhadov, and obviously some recognition of the fact that the OSCE mission had an appropriate role and might in fact have a longer-term role there. I think we have had no impact militarily, however, and that has been of concern, I think, to everyone.
What has been evident at this meeting, frankly, is that the Russians through their actions are self-isolating from the rest of the international community. That was clear today. And that to a great extent their lack of ability to face squarely what is going on and extending the time for when there might be a solution, that they are losing credibility and international standing. As we look at policy options I think the important point here is to try to keep explaining to the Russians what they could and should be doing and at the same time making sure that, in the case of the United States, that we continue to pursue our national interest, which is to have a functioning relationship with Russia. I think we have to keep remembering that that is very much a part of our short, medium and long-term goal.
QUESTION: You said it was important to impress upon the Russians the need for a political solution. If beyond the Duma elections there is no progress and they continue with their offensive against the Chechen rebels, would you see a point when it would be necessary to consider sanctions or other punitive measures in order to reinforce the message that you are sending today?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I don't think it is useful to speculate on specific measures such as that. All I am saying, and I think it is very important for people to understand this, is that this kind of action that the Russians are taking is isolating them -- as I said was evident in today's meeting. Where in the past I think there have been G-8 meetings where we were all trying to solve something together, at this one there was a different mood because after Knut Vollebaek's report, the Russians were trying to explain -- I believe not sufficiently -- their actions.
I do think though that there is no question that continued action like this does have a serious affect even on our bilateral relationship, but at the same time, I would like to make very clear, as I just did, is that it is in our national interest to maintain a relationship with Russia. It is a very important country with which we have a lot of business and that we have worked very hard to bring closer to all of us in the last years.
QUESTION: (in French) Excuse me, I do not speak English very well.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: (In French) I speak French.
QUESTION: (In French) Thank you. After 500 years torture is a tradition in Turkey. How much longer will this be possible? After 500 years we expect of Turkey -- and Turkey calls itself Europe or American -- can torture in Turkey be stopped or not? After 28 years Nelson Mandela is no longer a terrorist. The question is President Nelson Mandela is not a terrorist. Mr. Ocalan and after 28 years is not a terrorist, the president of Turkey or Kurdistan. Thank you.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: (In French) I am not entirely sure I understood your question, but I have to say that the definition of a terrorist is someone who commits actions against civilians who have not done anything -- against innocent people. I know there is a difficulty -- there are people for whom someone is a freedom fighter and for others he is described as a terrorist-- but for me it is not difficult if someone takes the lives of innocent people and what is happening now is that there is a lot of terrorism in the world where there are people who have no respect for the lives of innocent people. Because I have not entirely understood what you said, I hope that this answer will be sufficient for you.
QUESTION: During the first Chechen war the West did succeed in getting President Yeltsin to stop bombing the citizens of Grozny. That hasn't happened this time. I wanted to ask you why you thought that was true? Why is Russia more self-isolating this time? Is it the example, misused however it may be, of Kosovo? Is it the coming elections or do you think the Russian military is less under the control of Russian politicians?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, it is very hard for me to give you a definitive or even speculative answer on this. I do not accept the similarity between this and Kosovo. What happened that Milosevic did was to have government-directed ethnic cleansing on a large scale and a wholly different approach to how this was being carried out. So I don't accept that analogy.
I believe that from listening to Foreign Minister Ivanov, is that they basically see this as a threat to the territorial integrity and existence of the Russian Federation and that for them it is an important goal to be able to rid themselves of terrorists. That is their explanation. I think because they feel that they were not able to accomplish that earlier, they now can.
That does not mean that it is an explanation that the United States accepts or that the other members of the G-8 accepted this morning. There is definitely the feeling among the rest of us, that while there may be legitimate problems with terrorists that there is no legitimate military solution to the Chechen conflict and that the only way to accomplish what the Russians legitimately want -- which is to keep their territorial integrity -- is through a political dialogue with those representatives of the rebel groups that can engage in such a dialogue, and that there needs to be the greatest care taken for the civilians who are caught in a terrible humanitarian debacle.
QUESTION: In that respect, Mr. Fischer stated that many of the G-8, I'm quoting him now, "are demanding an immediate ceasefire." Do you support that demand?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT : Yes, we are demanding an immediate and long-term ceasefire. We are not looking for some short-term ceasefire that just would allow people to leave -- though we believe people ought to be allowed to leave -- but there needs to be a long-term ceasefire and a political dialogue. Yes, we did agree.
The other thing that we did all agree on and were concerned about, was the spill-over on the rest of the region from the kind of fighting that is going on in Chechnya and [there was] discussion about the affect it might have on the neighboring countries, very great concern about that.
QUESTION: Beyond intense jawboning that we've heard in the last few days and weeks, isn't there anything that the West can do that would perhaps make the Russians hurt a little bit? There is some talk about perhaps withholding EXIM Bank funds and other loans of that sort.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We are all very concerned, obviously, about the fact that this continues and that is why we have been proposing a ceasefire and the protection of the civilians and the importance of a political dialogue. There were not specific discussions about taking any other actions beyond what the Chairman of the G-8 stated. I think what is important here is that we are all united in making clear to the Russians that this is unacceptable. It is creating for them a situation where they are being systematically excluded from the kinds of international dialogue that we have had with them for the last ten years. Whereas for the last ten years we have been trying to bring them into things that [now] they are isolating themselves and all of a sudden being outside and that this will have an effect. I think there are number of actions that can be taken, but at this stage what we believe is important is to keep making the case to them that there should be a long-term ceasefire, that the civilians need to be protected and that the only way to reach an appropriate end is through a political dialogue.
QUESTION: I understand you have been seeing members of the Serbian Opposition today. Can you say anything about that meeting?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I will be seeing them later. I have met them before. We all met in Istanbul and one of the things we established, there which we will be doing this afternoon, is to have a U.S.-EU-Yugoslav Opposition dialogue in order to try to strengthen the possibilities of democracy actually at some stage coming to Serbia. We have all made very clear that our fight has not been with the Serb people. The problems are with Milosevic, an indicted war criminal. And that there are forces, within Serbia, democratic forces that should be allowed to come to power through free elections. That is the purpose of the discussion is to really hear from them, what they are doing and to be supportive in terms of the desire of those of us who were part of the Kosovo war to help assure the victory and really make sure that the people of the Balkans and especially of the former Yugoslavia -- have an ability to live freely and choose people of their own choice.
Thank you very much.
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