|MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS|
|1-2||Dennis Ross' Meetings in the Region|
|2-5||Four Party Talks/Food Aid|
|5||Possibility of Further Meetings|
|5-6||U.S. Contact with President Mobutu|
|6-7||Readout of Lome Summit/Peace Plan|
|8,9-10||EU Membership/Comments by German FM Kinkel|
|10-11||Departure of Diplomat from U.S./Anti-democratic Actions|
|11-12||Travel by Congressional Delegation|
MR. DINGER: Welcome to the State Department briefing. I don't have any announcements. George.
QUESTION: Give us a verbatim rundown on Dennis Ross' activities.
MR. DINGER: You know what I could do on that is just repeat what the President said yesterday, and that is that he does not plan to have any comment on the Middle East until Ambassador Ross returns with his assessment, and I will certainly follow the President's lead on that.
QUESTION: The White House said this morning that they were very encouraged by Dennis' meetings with Arafat. Do you care to add to that because they obviously are saying something.
MR. DINGER: No. If the White House had a comment for you, I would certainly recommend it to you, but, no, I don't have anything to add to it. I believe the President was just asked that question in his press availability, and so he had some comment. Secretary Albright had a brief comment on it this morning, too, which you could all listen to on the radio. I just don't have anything to add.
QUESTION: That is, if we monitored the radio for the Secretary of State.
MR. DINGER: Actually, I believe we'll have a transcript available for you.
QUESTION: Is she doing any other talk shows these days? "Mr. Rogers Neighborhood" or anything? (Laughter)
MR. DINGER: Of course, that's not fair, and the Secretary has been very available to the press. In fact, you will have at least some opportunity to address some questions to her this afternoon. I think at 3:00 o'clock she has a photo opportunity with the Estonian Foreign Minister.
Just to sort of put this issue to rest, the President has sent Dennis Ross to the region to assess the situation and to return to report to the President on the weekend. I simply won't have anything for you until Dennis does that.
QUESTION: Is he going to be stopping in Egypt on his way back?
MR. DINGER: I don't have anything on his itinerary; nothing for you on his trip. I just can't do that for you.
QUESTION: Also on the Middle East, but not on Dennis Ross, have you seen the statement by Meir Dagan, I think it is, who is chief of the Israeli counter-terrorist agency, who says that it might be necessary to topple the Palestine National Authority in order to make them do something about controlling security?
MR. DINGER: No, I haven't seen that report. But since I'm still getting these questions, let me then actually have the transcript of the President's remarks yesterday, in which he says, "I don't want to comment anymore about anything I would consider on the Middle East until I hear back from Mr. Ross." I think that says what my position will be here on the Middle East.
QUESTION: You know nothing about the Middle East - the entire Middle East until Dennis Ross returns?
MR. DINGER: No, I think we're more narrowly defined here, but I think you clearly have to understand that those are the wishes of the President, and I will certainly follow them.
QUESTION: All right, can we try North Korea then?
MR. DINGER: Sure.
QUESTION: The South Koreans are saying that the North Koreans have said, sure, we'll participate in Four-Party Talks if you guarantee food aid. (A) have you gotten any indication --and I don't want to tie it to a formal reply -- from the North Koreans about their intentions on the Four-Party Talks; and (b) are they making guaranteed food aid a condition of their participation?
MR. DINGER: Let me give you what I have, and then you can see if you have any follow-on questions.
U.S. and South Korean government officials held a working level meeting with officials of North Korea's U.N. Mission in New York, March 26. The purpose was to further explore issues involving the Four-Party peace proposal. This followed up on a joint U.S.-ROK briefing to the DPRK on March 5, also in New York.
No agreement of any sort was reached at yesterday's meeting. We understand the DPRK is still considering our proposal. The meeting, though, was useful in clarifying positions, and we hope that the DPRK will agree soon to Four-Party Talks. I don't want to get into the details of our discussions. The North did raise, as expected, its severe food shortage situation; and, as you all know, we appreciate the severity of that problem. In fact, we have donated a considerable amount to that effort.
The U.S. at this time, however, has no plans to provide additional food aid to North Korea. We continue to closely monitor the food situation there and the assessment of the situation made by the WFP and other international humanitarian relief organizations. Regarding South Korea, I would refer you to the South Korean Government.
Just to give you all the information I probably will have for you, I'll note that the DPRK suggested the meeting. All parties involved had agreed that it would be useful to hold a follow-up meeting to discuss the Four-Party proposal.
At the present time, we don't have any plans for any further working level meetings along these lines.
Just to complete what I have, the lead participants were working level officials from the South Korean Embassy in Washington, the North Korean Mission to the U.N., and from the Department's Office of Korean Affairs - that was the Director, Mark Minton - and from the National Security Council.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, in principle is there any problem - would there be any problem with guaranteeing to North Korea that you and the South Koreans would provide them with a certain amount of food in return for what you consider a big gain, which is peace talks?
MR. DINGER: I guess two points on that. First, we think it's in everybody's interests and certainly the North Korean's interests to engage in these Four-Party Talks. I think they stand alone as being in everyone's interest.
Second, we have from the beginning provided food aid and humanitarian assistance based on humanitarian needs, not linked to political developments, and that is how we intend to continue.
QUESTION: John, a follow-up to that. Brian Atwood has written op-ed pieces in the International Herald Tribune suggesting that food aid to North Korea is linked to reform in North Korea. You're saying it's unconditional. Who's right?
MR. DINGER: I haven't seen Administrator Atwood's articles to which you refer. I can only say that our food aid has been, is, and will be provided based on humanitarian needs.
QUESTION: You never really answered Carol's question, in which she said she didn't want to link anything - any communications from the North Koreans to any formal process necessarily. You said there was no agreement on their participation in the Four-Party Talks, but has there been any kind of indication, informal or from any source, that they are prepared to say yes, perhaps provided that there will be more food aid?
MR. DINGER: I just don't want to get into the details of these meetings. We have consistently not revealed details of the back-and-forth in the meetings. I can tell you that the North did raise and they have raised and we expect them to raise their food situation in these meetings. Of course, we've addressed that by replying to several appeals by the World Food Program.
QUESTION: Can you tell us if that was raised in the context of their putting conditions on these sessions?
MR. DINGER: I just can't tell you that.
QUESTION: This is Chung-soo Lee, Korean Broadcasting System. I'd like to ask a follow-on question. It is said that in Seoul, North Korea told South Korea and the United States to accept the Four-Party meeting conditionally if South Korea and the United States guaranteed the food aid - substantial food aid to North Korea, that they can accept the Four-Party meeting. Is it right?
MR. DINGER: I did just address that issue. I could repeat it briefly. The North did raise the dire food shortage situation in North Korea, as we expected. The U.S. has no plans at this time to provide additional food aid to North Korea. We continue to monitor the situation closely. We will consider future appeals for food aid, but we contribute food aid based on humanitarian needs.
QUESTION: Does the United States take the position that no more major food aid will be provided until the Four-Party Talks begin?
MR. DINGER: No, we do not take that position. We are monitoring the situation. We have responded to appeals in the past. We are certainly willing to address or analyze future appeals. We do not at the present time have any plans to provide additional food aid.
QUESTION: Although food aid is not directly linked to the Four-Party Talks, is the U.S. willing to discuss food aid at the Four-Party Talks? Has that come up?
MR. DINGER: I tell you, I believe that in virtually every encounter we have with the DPRK, they do raise the issue of their food shortages, so I really don't want to speculate on what would come up in talks that have not been agreed to. But this is a subject that is routinely raised by the North Koreans.
QUESTION: Without going into details, can you say if the tone of the meetings was more positive than past meetings?
MR. DINGER: I don't have any characterization along those lines. As far as I know, we had actually quite good - I don't remember - does anybody remember the words that we used last time - constructive, I suppose - purposeful? I don't remember what they were.
QUESTION: Yes. Frank and substantive.
MR. DINGER: Frank and substantive. As far as I know, the tone of these talks was consistent with our previous meetings.
QUESTION: I'd like to ask you to comment on this scenario. When North Korea first announced to accept the Four-Party meeting unconditionally, almost simultaneously South Korea announced its intention of the guarantee of substantial food aid to North Korea. What's your comment on this scenario?
MR. DINGER: I have no comment on that scenario at all. They had talks. We believe that we have put forth a very reasonable proposal for Four-Party Talks. We laid that out in the joint briefing on March 5 in New York. The North Koreans said that they needed to study it; that they would come back to us with a formal reply. We believe there's no reason not to have a positive reply, but we have not yet received that reply.
MR. DINGER: Sure. Still one on North Korea.
QUESTION: John, in yesterday's meeting, did you talk with those issues like joint research on the MIA, missile talks, liaison offices?
MR. DINGER: I don't have those details. This was a tripartite discussion. I would just be assuming. I'm sorry. I don't have those details. It's very possible that since these were tripartite talks, that what are basically bilateral issues, if they came up at all, were not central to the discussion. But I'm sorry, I can't verify that.
QUESTION: Any prospects of a follow-up meeting or higher-level meetings?
MR. DINGER: No. At the present time, we don't have any follow-up meetings planned.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) is still studying the proposal -
MR. DINGER: I'm sure they are.
QUESTION: Have you been able to get in to see President Mobutu yet - the Ambassador in Kinshasa?
MR. DINGER: To the best of my knowledge, our request to see President Mobutu is still pending.
QUESTION: Do you feel you're being stonewalled or anything?
MR. DINGER: No, not really at all, because - obviously, President Mobutu remains President of Zaire. He's an important, influential figure. We think it would be useful for Ambassador Simpson to meet with him.
QUESTION: Has he been seeing any other ambassadors from Western -
MR. DINGER: Sorry, I just don't know that. I would emphasize that our embassy remains fully staffed. I think it's at approximately 35 U.S. Government employees. We have had an active presence in Zaire and in Kinshasa for a long, long time. We have great contacts both within the government, within the opposition. We see lots of people. It would be good to see the President. Nevertheless, we can do a lot of things without seeing him.
QUESTION: Are they telling you why you can't see him, or any indication?
MR. DINGER: I don't know that they've given us any indication. It's almost stating the obvious, that he's a busy man. He's a got a lot of things on his agenda. I don't think it's too surprising that meeting foreign ambassadors may not be at the top of his agenda. It would be useful to see him, but we can do a lot of work in Zaire and in Kinshasa both with the government and with the opposition leaders, and all other opinion leaders and opinion-makers there short of seeing President Mobutu.
I could just briefing - if there's interest in Zaire - go through the Lome meeting. There was a meeting in Lome that adopted a resolution that essentially calls for immediate negotiations with the aim of achieving a cease-fire and a complete cessation of hostilities in Zaire. This resolution reflected the U.N. Special Representative Sahnoun's five-point peace plan, and we fully support that plan.
The summit provided an opportunity to both the delegations representing the authorities in Kinshasa and the rebel alliance to make presentations to the heads of state in each other's presence. We understand that informal contacts in Lome among all the attendees continue.
We would like to underscore the importance of both parties agreeing to set a fixed date and place for immediate negotiations.
I would just like to, once again, emphasize the active role that the United States has been playing in all this, and in particular, I would like to emphasize the joint effort of the United States and France.
I mentioned the other day to some of you that the United States and France issued joint demarches, or executed joint demarches throughout many, many African capitals. I think it was 30-to-35 capitals, many of whom were going to be in Lome. It was really an extraordinary level of cooperation.
I would point out that when Defense Minister Millon met Ambassador Albright the other day, one of the things they discussed was the excellent cooperation we've had in Zaire. In fact, U.S., France, and so many African states, and the United Nations have all been cooperating very well. There's some reason for pleasure at the fact that they've coalesced so well behind this five-point plan.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) contacts with representatives at Lome -
MR. DINGER: I can't confirm that. I think what happened yesterday was that there was - it's called the Lome Summit, which primarily was these other actors were talking and the delegations from the two Zaire parties were present. I've heard that there was a handshake, but I'm not sure that they're talking to each other yet.
QUESTION: New subject. There's the occasional article about how long it's taking for the Administration to come up with ambassadors to some of the more important countries. Could you give us a progress report of how that's going?
MR. DINGER: I just saw the President asked that same question not even an hour ago.
QUESTION: He addressed it as well?
MR. DINGER: He addressed it. I will let the President speak on that issue since these appointments are all, of course, his appointments.
QUESTION: Without commenting on how fast or slow it is, are we about to see some announcements? Are there some selections that have yet to be announced because the clearance process isn't completed?
MR. DINGER: I will leave that to the White House to address. These are Presidential appointments. They're the prerogative of the President. He was asked, in general, this question just moments ago and responded to it. I'll let him speak to it.
QUESTION: How is it affecting the workings of the State Department?
MR. DINGER: I'm frequently asked these days that question. I think the answer is that it is always better to have appointments made, always. At the same time, whether we're talking about ambassadors or whether we're talking about senior officials here in Washington, in the State Department, we have very, very capable people in place. I'm proud to say, probably in almost every case, they are career Foreign Service officers. Certainly, overseas that's true.
If you look at some of the vacancies overseas, our charge de'affaires are just outstanding --- officers often very, very experienced in their countries. We're proud of what they do. They do a great job, and certainly we are happy with what they're doing until permanent replacements are announced.
QUESTION: John, has Ambassador Wisner resigned from the Foreign Service, or has he let the building know that he plans to?
MR. DINGER: I saw mention of that today. I certainly don't know about his personal plans. That, obviously, deals a lot with privacy, so I'd be hesitant to go into that.
QUESTION: But this is a problem, isn't it? With the delay in these announcements, people have other commitments they have to, at some point, say yes or no to and can't wait?
MR. DINGER: I'm definitely not going to address the issue - for example, of Ambassador Wisner, who as we all know, is an incredibly capable and experienced Foreign Service officer. He was rumored to be nominated for a post. So, clearly, I'm not going to address the fact that he is rumored to have withdrawn from a post he was rumored to be in line for.
QUESTION: I was asking a more general question.
MR. DINGER: That just draws people into speculation about who might be rumored to be - we're confident that there are a host of career and non-career people available to fill these jobs in all due time.
QUESTION: Would you take that question, though - that straight-on question of whether or not he's given his formal retirement notice, and if you can answer that question?
MR. DINGER: I'll see if I can answer that question in due regard to Ambassador Wisner's privacy.
QUESTION: John, on another subject. As I understand it, the U.S. policy is to support Turkey's application into the European Union. Have you seen the statement by the German Foreign Minister in Turkey today saying that Turkey is not ready economically, politically, and also in terms of its human rights record?
MR. DINGER: I don't think your characterization of U.S. policy is exactly correct --most importantly, because, of course, this decision is one that the EU has to make. It is not our decision. We, nevertheless, have made clear our view that we support a closer, cooperative interaction between Turkey and Europe.
We have said on quite a few occasions that we would hope that the door to EU membership could remain open for Turkey. I believe Foreign Minister Kinkel did not contradict that hope. He did not close the door.
QUESTION: But he made it clear it's way down the road?
MR. DINGER: That's a decision for the EU to make.
QUESTION: Do you know of the secret arms transfer from Russia to Armenia which Turkey protested? They claim it's a violation of the CFE agreement.
MR. DINGER: I don't have anything on it. It sounds very much to me like it would be an intelligence issue, so I doubt that I would be able to find anything to comment on.
QUESTION: Can you take the question, please?
MR. DINGER: Not on an intelligence issue, no.
QUESTION: It's not intelligence.
MR. DINGER: I'm sorry, but you said it was a "secret" arms transfer. I can't imagine how else we would -
QUESTION: It's not secret.
MR. DINGER: I can't imagine how we would know about a secret arms transfer if it were not by intelligence. I don't think there's any point to me trying to look into that.
QUESTION: Can we go back to this EU issue? The United States, and Albright, in particular, has made a huge issue of this in her first month in office. She talked about it at every stop on her European trip. How do you view Kinkel's statement? You say, there's still the hope down the road. But the point is that the Europeans are trying to tell Turkey in every way possible that they don't want them. You cannot see this as a success of the U.S.'s intervention efforts.
MR. DINGER: We're not a player in who is admitted to the European Union. It's a decision -
QUESTION: If you are not a player, why is she even trying to make the argument?
MR. DINGER: That does not, nevertheless, mean we cannot and do not state very clearly our view that we support a closer, cooperative interaction between Turkey and Europe. That's, of course, the position that we have long held, and Secretary Albright has repeated and all Department officials have repeated for sometime. Those are not contradictory.
QUESTION: But it - you're not talking about - you don't want closer cooperation between Turkey and Europe --- Europe as some sort of geographic mass -- but Western institutions. Burns, himself, has said that EU is one of these institutions. Now, the Europeans keep telling Turkey and the United States, forget it; we don't buy it?
MR. DINGER: That is not, of course, what Foreign Minister Kinkel said. Just to paraphrase, I believe he said that Turkey is far from being ready to join the EU. This is not me saying this. I understand that is what Foreign Minister Kinkel said.
QUESTION: You view that as a welcoming kind of attitude?
MR. DINGER: I'm not going to characterize it because membership in the EU is not something that we determine. We have made our position clear. There are two points to that position that I've sort of repeated today. One, it is not our decision to make about EU membership. But at the same, it is not at all contradictory for us to repeat, again, that we do support, clearly, a close, cooperative interaction between Turkey and Europe.
QUESTION: Can we just try this one more time, not to beat it to death. Foreign Minister Kinkel's comments - are you satisfied that those kinds of remarks are the kinds of remarks that (a) the United States is encouraging Europe to make, and that those are the kinds of remarks that will achieve your goal, which is to say greater integration of Turkey with the rest of the world?
MR. DINGER: I think I can say that we are satisfied that the European Union will give this due deliberation, give it every consideration it can. In the end, the European Union will make a decision that it is its to make.
QUESTION: John, has the First Secretary of the Embassy of Belarus left the country yet? Is the U.S. still considering further actions in this problem?
MR. DINGER: I should have anticipated whether he has left. The 24 hours are up, so I will take a leap and say that he has left the United States. I would just note that the Belarusian Embassy said that he would comply with the deadline, so I believe he has complied.
If there's interest, I will take a moment to run down a few more points on Belarus. One that you may have seen in the press and which I will confirm is that the United States has told the Belarusian Government that we believe now is not an appropriate time for a new Belarusian Ambassador to come to Washington. I wish I could give you details on - I know there's a Charge d'Affaires, because it was to the Charge d'Affaires to whom we requested yesterday the Embassy officer's departure. I don't know how long there's been a Charge. I'll just state that out front.
Regarding the new Ambassador, we have told the Belarusian Government we do not believe now is an appropriate time for the Belarusian Ambassador to come to Washington.
Let me just take a moment to run through some of the issues that we have with Belarus; what's taken place over the last few months. In fact, it's quite a lengthy list, so I may skip some.
Of course, the most recent incident is the unwarranted and inappropriate expulsion this week of our diplomat in Minsk. Among other steps the Belarusian Government has taken: Detained two U.S. citizens on March 14. It expelled the U.S. citizen Director of the Belarusian Soros Foundation on March 17th. It has brought under attack organizations that are devoted to building democracy and protecting human rights ,such as the Belarusian Soros Foundation.
Those, and similar organizations, are being subjected to special audits by the authorities. We believe that's a clear attempt to intimidate the organizations and their clients. The government is systematically harassing and repressing independent media. This should be a special concern to you in the press corps.
Most independent newspapers are compelled to print their runs in neighboring Lithuania and transport them across the border. Police and tax inspectors visit independent media offices frequently.
Of even greater concern to you in the press, the Belarusian Government announced it would "re-accredit" all foreign journalists, thereby reserving the right to cancel the credentials of journalists whose reporting is not favorable.
A decree has been issued that bars the transport across Belarusian borders of items such as videotapes and other materials used by the media. The government has imposed new restrictions on freedom of assembly that impose stiff penalties, including jail time for violations.
Various opposition political parties and political leaders and dissidents are subjected to arbitrary visits by security police.
Several key opposition leaders have been arrested and given jail sentences after perfunctory trials, just for participating in peaceful protests. Peaceful protests are disrupted by violence, and many people are being arrested without cause.
This trend toward authoritarianism really took off after the referendum on constitutional reform last November. The process leading up to that referendum was seriously flawed and was condemned by the U.S. and our allies. By manipulating the media, the regime made sure that the opposition's voice was silenced, and the result was a strong vote in favor of the referendum.
Since then, the Executive Branch has been using that flawed result as a mandate for exerting more and more control over the other branches of government, to the point where, in our opinion, it is now impossible to refer to what is left in Belarus as a democracy.
QUESTION: John, on China. A congressional delegation led by Speaker Gingrich is visiting China. What role has the State Department had in briefing or debriefing that group, and such congressional trips, which are increasingly common, do they help or hinder in articulating a coherent U.S.-China policy?
MR. DINGER: I do not know to what extent we briefed Speaker Gingrich and his group. So if it's okay with you, I will talk in generalities about congressional travel. The State Department absolutely welcomes congressional travel. We see it as positive for the State Department and for the American people in a whole host of ways.
First and foremost, we believe it is important for members of Congress to be engaged in foreign affairs, to understand foreign issues, and to travel overseas on missions that help them understand our issues. We truly support congressional travel.
In that connection, we normally support congressional travel in any way possible, and to the extent that the delegations request our assistance, we provide it to the greatest extent possible. Once again, I am not familiar with what we did for Speaker Gingrich, but in general our support can include, but is not limited, necessarily, to briefings beforehand, both oral and written material, to briefings on the ground when they're in-country by the country team - the Ambassador and his or her country team - and by helping arrange schedules, things like that. So we work very closely with Congress in their travel overseas to the extent that the delegations ask it of us. So you might check with Speaker Gingrich's office as well to see what we were asked of, and I hope that his office would say that whatever we requested, we provided in fine form, because we have a lot of expertise to offer on these delegations, and we take a lot of pride in what we can offer them.
QUESTION: Has it been your experience that these delegations, once they come back, do contact the State Department or vice versa, and do you chat about what your impressions are?
MR. DINGER: It is a case-by-case basis. We welcome those opportunities, and to the extent that it's mutually possible or there's mutual interest, we seek out opportunities to talk to them about their trips - get their impressions. Sometimes congressional delegations will see people that we maybe don't see as frequently. We like to think that we see and know and understand the positions of virtually every actor in a country, but that's not always the case. Congressional delegations will also have a little more contact with their parliamentary counterparts overseas, which can be extremely interesting for us to hear their impressions.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the state of Marzook, the Hamas leader?
MR. DINGER: I don't, and, if I'm not mistaken, that is an extradition case.
QUESTION: That request would come to you, wouldn't it - come to the State Department. You have to deal with them.
MR. DINGER: We are the gateway. We have a couple of roles. One is as a gateway for extradition requests; and (2) we do provide advice from a foreign policy prospective on extraditions. But fundamentally it's a Department of Justice issue, and as a general rule, we don't comment much on it.
QUESTION: Whose case was that?
MR. DINGER: Marzook.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing concluded at 1:43 p.m.)
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