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U.S. Department of State

Daily Press Briefing

INDEX
FRIDAY, MARCH 13, 1998
Briefer: JAMES P. RUBIN

 

IRAQ/UN

 

1

Ryan Crocker and David Newton named to observer group for inspecting presidential sites

CHINA/NON-PROLIFERATION

 

1,6

Reports of nuclear deal with Iran inaccurate

2,6

"Sea-change" in Chinese non-proliferation policies, practices

4

Uses of chemical, AHF, anhydrous hydrogen fluoride

5

1-2-3 agreement could begin soon

5

No connection to President's travel plans

NORTH KOREA

 

6-7

Annual winter military exercises

6

Limitation on foreign travel in-country/ food-assistance visits not affected

7

Four-Party Talks: preliminary meeting in Berlin

IRAN

 

4-5

U.S. efforts to curtail nuclear capability efforts

7-8

Warm welcome for U.S. wrestling team encouraging

8

Court decision on terrorism being studied

9

Travel warning still in effect

NORTHERN IRELAND

 

9-10

High-level visit scheduled for next week

10

Multi-party talks in the region continue/ unsung work done by Sen. Mitchell

10

U.S. expects Sinn Fein to honor cease-fire

FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF YUGOSLAVIA

 

10-11

U.S. considers FRY politically responsible for crackdown

11

U.S. considers War Crimes Tribunal to have deterrent effect

12-13

No evidence yet that FRY is implementing steps enunciated by Contact Group

13-14

Events in Kosovo could impact U.S. national security interests

LATVIA

 

12

Situation with Russian minority

ALBANIA

 

13

Official visit by NATO Secretary General

IRAQ

 

14

Senate resolution/ U.S. supports assembling war crimes data for record

16

GOI has still not provided UNSCOM with information it needs

MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS

 

14

U.S. extremely concerned about current situation

TURKEY-GREECE

 

15

Greeks reportedly reject Turkish call for unconditional dialogue

RUSSIA

 

15

President Yeltsin's health, official schedule noted

15

Contacts with GOR on Kosovo situation

15

Primakov trip to Belgrade

 

 

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
DPB # 33
FRIDAY, MARCH 13, 1998 12:30 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

 

 

MR. RUBIN: Greetings. Welcome to the State Department briefing. It's Friday; it seems there aren't many of you here, but we will brief nonetheless.

We put a statement out earlier today, as you know, on the War Crimes Tribunal. In addition, I want to say that we have submitted to the United Nations two names for US diplomats to participate in the process of the special group to inspect presidential sites. They are Ryan Crocker and David Newton. We'll be getting you some bios on that a little later today. They are senior US diplomats who have long experience in sensitive matters such as this. We think that the process continues to move forward, and we thought it was important to contribute to that process.

QUESTION:(Inaudible.)

MR. RUBIN: These are the diplomats who would participate by observing the inspectors inspect.

QUESTION:Are you prepared to talk about the China-Iran nuclear deal? Does it seem to you that the Chinese tried to pull a fast one by attempting to go ahead with this deal just a couple of brief months after promising they would no longer engage in such transactions?

MR. RUBIN: First let me say, with our usual disclaimer about not commenting on intelligence matters, I can discuss this incident. I think contrary to the suggestions that some have drawn from this event, this is a case that demonstrates how non-proliferation works, not how non-proliferation doesn't work. And there are always people who want to comment how there are a few drops less in the glass than there should be; and there are some who want to explain how full the glass really is.

This is a case of the glass being well more than half full on non-proliferation. It's an indication of the progress we have made with China on nuclear non-proliferation. We raised with Chinese authorities a possible - and let me emphasize the word "possible" -- transaction between a Chinese entity and an Iranian organization involving a chemical that is not on any international nuclear control list, but could be used in the processing of nuclear materials.

The Chinese authorities investigated the matter and promptly informed us that a transaction like that had not been agreed to, and that China had no intention of making such a transaction; nor do we have any evidence that a shipment of the chemical occurred, or that such a transaction is proceeding.

So again, the fact that this was discussed and resolved to our satisfaction is an example of what happens when non-proliferation practices are working. The suggestion is that this was something that was going to happen is neither correct, as well.

What we understand is there was a preliminary contact at a relatively low level, and that our response was to use the diplomatic process to stop this kind of transfer and ask them to look into it. And indeed, when we did, the Chinese conducted an investigation and responded promptly to our inquiry. It therefore is an indication that when you have these kind of commitments at the highest levels and you address a problem - not a problem that has happened, not a problem that you know will happen, but what we in this business call a concern that something might happen - that these problems can be resolved.

And let me remind all of you that in thinking about this, the United States is firmly of the view that there has been a "sea change" in Chinese policies and practices on non-proliferation. Whether it is signing up to the unconditional extension of the NPT; whether it is stopping nuclear testing and signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; whether it's supporting a fissile material cut-off treaty; whether it's supporting a safeguard system for the International Atomic Energy Agency; or whether it is assisting us in our work to stop North Korea from developing a nuclear program, across the board the Chinese have - we've seen a sea change as a result of the work of the United States in recent years in bringing China into the fold, moving away from the practices in the past that were of such danger to us, and moving towards the kind of relationship that advances and protects the security of the United States, its interests and its allies.

QUESTION:I think I know the answer to this, given your strong words, but I'll ask it anyway. Are you confident - is the United States confident that this wasn't an attempt by the Chinese authorities to sort of test how vigilantly the United States was watching, having been caught trying to talk about a deal that we felt was problematic? Then they said, OK, we'll go and we'll make sure we stop it to --

MR. RUBIN: Well, unlike some commentators, we aren't capable of getting into the heads of the Chinese. And we don't have evidence that this was a deliberate attempt to bypass a national decision. The evidence, to the extent that we have it, is that this was a low-level contact that, once brought to the attention of those policy-makers who can influence the process - was looked into and was stopped. That's called non-proliferation.

There's no question that China and Iran have a diplomatic relationship. What we've done here is moved the practice from a presumption of transferring dangerous systems to a presumption of denying the transfer of dangerous systems. That's called non-proliferation.

QUESTION:On their part?

MR. RUBIN: On their part and our part, in working with them.

QUESTION:What was the timing? Can you discuss at all the timing of this?

MR. RUBIN: I don't have any direct information on the timing. The words that I've been given to use are "recently." But let me see if after the briefing I can try to get you some more detail on particular dates, but that can often be difficult.

QUESTION:In relation to the summit.

MR. RUBIN: Yes, yes.

QUESTION:Just following up on what Carol was asking you, is there any concern on the side of the US that had you not raised this with them or been there monitoring on some level, this deal, that the Chinese could have made a decision the other way? That seems to be a valid question.

MR. RUBIN: We're always concerned. We're concerned about a lot of things. What I'm saying is that those who have speculated and psychoanalyzed the motivations, as far as we know, don't have evidence. The evidence that we have was that we don't have an indication that the transaction would have gone forward if we hadn't contacted the Chinese. We don't know the answer to questions like that. What we know is that this was a low-level contact, and that when it was raised, that it was not a signed, sealed and delivered project, but rather an inquiry. And when the inquiry was investigated, it was terminated.

There's no reason, as far as we know, to presume, as so many commentators are wont to do, that it would have resulted in this. We have no illusions about the difficulties of pursuing non-proliferation, and the fact that in many countries in the world there are those who will transfer either equipment or technology or expertise even sometimes without the authority of their government. What we can do is when we find out about a potential problem, is raise it and resolve it; and that's what we did in this case.

QUESTION:And in this case was the low-level contact within or outside the government, the Chinese Government? Because you just made - you don't know --

MR. RUBIN: Right, I am going to have to be a little tricky - not tricky, but a little careful -

(Laughter.)

QUESTION:Tricky works.

MR. RUBIN: A little careful. I know that that word didn't come out right. What I was trying to say is that what we're trying to do here is provide you with a lot more information than we normally do in a case like this. And in order for me to do that, there are certain lines that I have to draw.

In China, in this area, it's fair to say that the entities involved are not completely independent; but it's also fair to say that there is a difference between the policy-maker level and the technical level. And so while this entity was clearly not a policy-making level operation, I think it's also fair to say that it didn't take the Chinese very long to ask them what was going on, unlike in the United States when we might ask our companies for information about what they're doing; they may seek to block the access and information.

QUESTION:And can you tell us whether the US had observed the contact, as you put it, the low-level contact, occurring over some duration of time, or was it a one-shot thing? I don't --

MR. RUBIN: Again, that's skirting on the edge of what I can say in this forum about this kind of thing. We were made aware of a contact at a low level, and this hadn't gotten very far along. When it was investigated, it was told to us that there was no agreement to transfer, nor was there an intention on the Chinese part to do so.

Let me also give you a little information on this chemical, because I think there's a little bit of hyperbole in some of the descriptions of this chemical. This chemical, AHF, anhydrous hydrogen fluoride is not used to enrich uranium to weapons grade. AHF is used in the conversion process, which takes uranium from its basic form to a gaseous form suitable for beginning an entirely new process called uranium enrichment. Much work and an entirely separate process is then used to enrich uranium to weapons grade.

AHF is also used to convert basic uranium to a form suitable for manufacture of reactor fuel. In addition, AHF has other uses. One of the reasons why it's not on any international nuclear control list is because it has many uses and is used in many different chemical processes, including, as some have indicated, as a precursor to the nerve agent Sarin. That's why it's on the Australia Group list. It is a highly caustic and difficult-to-manufacture-and-handle chemical.

The point of all this is that we've moved to a point now in the recent years in non-proliferation, where rather than trying to stop countries from transferring nearly complete weaponization programs for either nuclear weapons or missiles, we're down to a very low level. We're down to the ingredients that can be used for processes that then can be used for possibly enriching uranium. So we're working way down in the weeds here to try to prevent non-proliferation dangers from sprouting. Therefore, it is easy for people to make more of what a particular agent or chemical or capability can do than it really can do.

In other words, it's a long way from taking the uranium to a useable form for making uranium into enriched uranium that can be used for bombs. And it is not as simple or as dramatic as there's a tendency to make it.

QUESTION:Did the US inquire of the Chinese about this because the US feared it might have been used in connection with the Bushehr plant or some other aspect of Iranian nuclear --

MR. RUBIN: Again, with the usual caveat that I'm under in situations like this, let me just say that we spend an enormous amount of time and effort keeping track of, keeping tabs on, working on the process of preventing Iran from developing a nuclear capability. So whenever we see something that might in any way advance their knowledge or make it marginally easier, we raise our eyebrows, we ask questions and we try to stop it. But that's not the same as implying that Iran was on the verge of getting an ingredient that is so unique and so dangerous that it would put them on the fast track to a nuclear weapons capability; because this clearly was not the case in this incident.

QUESTION:Is it true that the ban on US civilian nuclear-related sales to China ends in ten days unless Congress blocks it? Is that --

MR. RUBIN: I don't know the number of days, but it is correct that the peaceful agreement - the 1,2,3 agreement, as it is called - would go into effect if Congress doesn't act negatively in a small number of days.

Now, this issue obviously arises in the context of discussions of us trying to show what progress we've made. And in that regard, let me point out that we believe, as a result of our discussions with the Chinese, that the Chinese are taking very seriously their assurance that they are not going to engage in new nuclear cooperation with Iran. And our discussions with the Chinese and our independent judgments support the fact that the Chinese are taking very seriously this assurance.

QUESTION:Any effect on the President's travel plans to China, of this episode? I mean, does this episode play into that at all?

MR. RUBIN: I don't think so. I think the President himself said that -- not surprisingly, the same thing that I said - which is that this is an indication of how the process can work well; that when you want to fight the fight against non-proliferation, that you need to work together rather than cutting off your ties. That's why he believes this is an area that you want to work with them on. I believe he was quite forward-leaning on the timing for his trip, in comments he made at the White House.

QUESTION:Jamie, can you help me procedurally? In a situation like this, where you have a "concern," is it normal, procedurally, to raise it in the form of a demarche?

MR. RUBIN: Well, demarche is a broad-based term we use here in the Department. It could be as simple as a phone call; it could be as elaborate as a letter from the President of the United States. And there's a lot in between. But what that means is that there is contact with a government from another country about an issue of concern to us, and that did happen in this case.

QUESTION:I want to go to another subject, but are there more questions on this?

QUESTION:(Inaudible.)

MR. RUBIN: On China, yes.

QUESTION:There's also a report in The Washington Times, that in addition to Iran, there's also transfer of something - they don't say what - to Palestine. Do you have anything on that?

MR. RUBIN: Well, there's always a report like that in that paper. I've given up trying to comment on it.

(Laughter.)

QUESTION:Sorry if you've taken this one up, Jamie, but there seems to be a good PRC element and a rogue PRC element involved here in these nuclear matters. Is the PRC government not aware of what its right hand is doing - the left to the right?

MR. RUBIN: I think I tried to answer this in response to Ralph's question. We are now engaged at a level of non-proliferation that is very low down. We're talking about the kind of cooperation that isn't directly related to nuclear -- manufacture of nuclear weapons or even the precursor to that; but rather, a transfer of a chemical like this.

As I said in response to an earlier question, I have no illusions that in China when an official is involved in a discussion like this, that at some point along the way, the Chinese Government can directly engage. But as far as we know, the policy-maker level, when apprised of this situation, inquired, discovered that there wasn't an intention to transfer, there wasn't an agreement to transfer and assured us there wouldn't be a transfer. That's called non-proliferation.

QUESTION:On North Korea: There was some reporting overnight about some sort of a statement that the North Koreans gave out to diplomats that got people all sort of concerned about whether they were mobilizing a war or doing something extraordinary in terms of the military.

MR. RUBIN: Well, this is, as far as I can tell from the experts, a sort of an annual ritual in this area. We've seen media reports. North Korea is conducting its annual winter exercises. We will be monitoring the situation closely, and comparing this exercise to previous such activities. My colleagues at the Pentagon have suggested that in many respects, the level of operations are lower and that overall, the training level is down.

With respect to putting limits on foreigners' travel that is part of this report, it's not unusual, unfortunately, in North Korea that there are limitations put on travel inside North Korea. But the North Korean authorities have told us that they will continue to permit visits by foreigners to local areas related to food assistance during the period of this exercise.

QUESTION:The United States has been in touch with North Korea directly since this --

MR. RUBIN: I didn't say that. What I said was this is a normal procedure; and therefore, this time of year this kind of thing often happens - or annually happens. And in the process of getting assurances about what our monitors can do, or international monitors can do in North Korea, I believe the discussion was that that would need to take place even during a period of exercises such as this.

I don't have any information about contact regarding this reported issuance of a note. I do know that right now in Berlin, there is a discussion between the United States and North Korea. That is a preliminary to the four-party process. But I wouldn't be surprised, in any diplomatic contact, that such an issue would arise. What I'm indicating is that we've had prior assurances that this wouldn't interfere with the monitoring process for food assistance.

QUESTION:Jamie, touching on the Berlin talks: Did the North Koreans, for example, tell the US about these exercises or make any statements in the talks about this episode and --

MR. RUBIN: I'm not aware that this was a big deal, because, as I indicated, it's such a ritual occurrence on an annual basis.

Charles Kartman is now meeting with the North Korean vice foreign minister to discuss issues on our bilateral agenda. This is the latest in a series of meetings that Mr. Kartman and Mr. Kim have had. There will be officials from the NSC and the Pentagon there. The meeting began about a few hours ago our time, and we haven't received a report from that meeting.

QUESTION:Anything about - will it affect in any way the beginning of the Monday sessions in Geneva?

MR. RUBIN: We haven't heard anything. As far as we know, everything is on track.

QUESTION:* Yesterday the President apparently received the wrestlers who had been in Iran. How should one sort of look at that in a diplomatic sense? Is this another overture by the United States - by receiving these medalists, or these wrestlers, was the United States showing another sort of positive sign to Tehran?

MR. RUBIN: We are encouraged by the warm welcome the visitors received in Iran. As you know, we had concerns that we've talked about quite a bit from this podium, and we believe that our concerns in these areas can be resolved best through government-to-government dialogue, and they can be overcome through that dialogue. But we do welcome increased contact between our two peoples; and this is clearly a case of contact that can improve the understanding on the part of Iranians of Americans and vice-versa. So we certainly welcome this kind of contact.

As far as what this means, again, we are pursuing our policy as we know best, through our discussions, through our public comments and we're not going to pre-judge what any particular event may or may not do. What matters here is increasing mutual understanding and increasing the degree to which the people of Iran understand what the people of America care about and vice versa. As you know, we still have under review various steps we might take to increase those contacts in terms of easing certain restrictions. But we welcome increased contact between the two, and certainly this was a dramatic contact between Americans and Iranians, I think, for any of us who saw the results of that wrestling match and the warmth with which those wrestlers were received. It's certainly not an accident that the President is meeting with them.

QUESTION:* What, if anything, can you say about the fact that President Khatemi's advisor on women apparently was here yesterday.

MR. RUBIN: I have no information on that.

QUESTION:Does the court decision --

MR. RUBIN: Are you still on Iran?

QUESTION:This is on Iran, yes. Does the court decision --

MR. RUBIN: You two should be able to work out an acceptable arrangement.

(Laughter.)

QUESTION:If I don't ask it right, though, he might.

QUESTION:(Inaudible.)

QUESTION:No, we don't have any, do we?

(Laughter.)

QUESTION:Does the court decision awarding I think it's $247 million to the victims of terrorism that was allegedly sponsored by Iran in any way complicate US policy in this area?

MR. RUBIN: Well, again, we're studying that court decision. It's quite complicated. This is, in a sense, a case of first impression because of the fact that it was pursued under this law. Our legal adviser has been studying this and trying to give the best advice he can about its significance legally - what steps we, the State Department, may or may not have to take.

But I don't think it's a surprise that we in this government and, therefore, the people of this country, have deep and profound concerns about Iranian support for groups that conduct terrorism. That's what this case is about; that's what our policy has been designed to change; and that's what we think can best be changed by a government-to-government dialogue and the change in actions that would flow with the encouraging words that we saw from President Khatemi and his statement to the American people.

QUESTION:(Inaudible.)

MR. RUBIN: I'm getting double-teamed by one news organization. This is a good trick.

QUESTION:You said a few minutes ago that you welcome increased contacts between our two peoples, with Iran.

MR. RUBIN: Correct.

QUESTION:Unless something's happened in the last couple of days, the US officially still refers to Iran as a place that is dangerous because of its anti-American atmosphere; and that travel warning, as far as I know, remains in effect. Is it still in effect; and how does that jibe with welcoming increased contact?

MR. RUBIN: Well, we think that through the proper kind of contact that the atmosphere that our warning still is in effect entails will ease; that would be the hope. We're not suggesting that just anybody go do anything in Iran. The wrestlers clearly had the endorsement of the Iranian Government; they had the procedures associated with that endorsement. That is different than any old American tourist being advised by us of what the risks and possibilities are for his travel or her travel to Iran.

QUESTION:Does the warning --

MR. RUBIN: You switched seats on us.

QUESTION:Huh?

MR. RUBIN: You changed seats on us here.

QUESTION:Well, I'll tell you why later.

MR. RUBIN: Don't.

(Laughter.)

QUESTION:All right. You asked. Jamie, does the warning that was received by the US Government specifically for the Pentagon that's been - that Ken Bacon said yesterday was credible in some ways, at least - does that have any bearing at all on terrorist groups that may be sponsored by Iran? Or can you tell us, enlighten us at all about where it's coming from?

MR. RUBIN: I have no information on what the basis of the Pentagon statement was.

QUESTION:I wanted to touch base with you, if I could, on Northern Ireland. A bunch of folks are coming into town - Gerry Adams is going to be here, Trimble is coming into town, Mo Mowlam. I'm curious about a couple of things. Do you anticipate any sort of substantive work being done in the meetings with those folks, or are these primarily just meet-and-greet type things? And I'm curious about the US view of Mr. Adams and Sinn Fein at this point. There's been a couple of incidents of violence in recent times. Sinn Fein always seems to claim that they are set aside from the IRA, that they're not associated. I'm curious what the US view is at this point.

MR. RUBIN: Well, our view on the relationship there has not changed. The Irish Prime Minister, the British-Northern Ireland Secretary, the heads of all the political parties participating in the Northern Ireland peace talks will be among those coming to Washington over the next few days for the various St. Patrick's Day events early next week. Gerry Adams will be among those Northern Ireland leaders in attendance at the President's St. Patrick's Day reception.

Let me emphasize that the hard work, the unsung work that is done is done under the chairmanship of Senator George Mitchell in the region. These multi-party talks continue under his chairmanship. That's where the real work gets accomplished. And I doubt that that is going to change because they're all here. At the same time, whenever an issue like this is ripe, as it is obviously ripe now, and there are many countries and many people involved who are in contact with each other, one often hopes that some contact will yield adjustments in positions or greater flexibility or greater willingness to operate.

With respect to Sinn Fein, we fully expect the cease-fire will be respected and maintained if Sinn Fein is to remain a serious participant in this process.

QUESTION:If I could on that, do you anticipate that people will be urging Mr. Adams further to return his delegation to the talks when they resume? Apparently he hasn't yet said flatly that they will rejoin, as Mr. Blair has been --

MR. RUBIN: As I understand it, one of the reasons this whole process is in the expectation that he will rejoin the talks this week.

QUESTION:Is there any doubt in the Administration's mind that President Milosevic ordered the police action in Kosovo these past weeks?

MR. RUBIN: There is no - let me give you an example. I mean, again, "ordered" is one of those words that I'm going to be very cautious about using, for obvious reasons. But clearly, today the latest reports that we have are that there was a major peaceful demonstration in Kosovo, and that the police allowed the demonstration to go on peacefully. This is in marked contrast to the demonstrations that occurred on March 2nd , and in stark contrast to the crackdown that occurred over the weekend.

The point of that is that when the Serbian authorities want to avoid the kind of direct action that yielded the killings of innocent people and the movement of ethnically-based refugees out of a given area, they know how to do that. And it's clear from these demonstrations that a large portion of the population there very much wants their rights respected, and wants to pursue that goal through peaceful means.

We believe that these events occurred inside Serbia. As you know, we do not support the independence of Kosovo. President Milosevic is politically responsible for what goes on in his country. Therefore, it's hard for us to believe that these kind of crackdowns could occur over his objections. But with respect to any direct, legal responsibility, I did just make an announcement today about the War Crimes Tribunal, and it would be up to them to make a judgment as to what the chain of command involves in a case like this or whether, indeed, the application of the War Crimes Tribunal would apply in the sense that these are violations of international humanitarian law.

That's for them to decide, and responsibility is for them to decide. But certainly at a political level, what goes on in that country, we believe he is in a position to shape.

QUESTION:So you'd said in the Bosnian conflict - or not you, but your predecessors - that the Administration is willing to let war crimes investigations go where it will, even if it does go up to the level of President Milosevic. Now you've donated almost a little more than $1 million for similar investigations in Kosovo. I'm wondering whether you would have the same position, or maybe even suspect there may be a little stronger evidence here that President Milosevic might be implicated in at least ordering, not ordering each guy to pull the trigger, but --

MR. RUBIN: Right. Let me answer the question this way: we took quite a forward-leaning position in inviting the Tribunal to act so quickly here, and we have a tribunal in process. We're now assisting its capabilities, and that obviously didn't exist in past years.

At a minimum, we hope the involvement of the Tribunal, or the possible involvement of the Tribunal will serve as a powerful deterrent against those who might be in a position to take such acts the next time. With respect to how the Tribunal decides what the culpability is in these events, and whether that culpability rises in the chain of command, that is for them to decide, and we have no interest in interfering with that process.

We have demonstrated, I think, by the donation we have made today that we want the Tribunal to be able to do its work and, as I said, at a minimum we hope it will be a powerful reminder to those who might be asked to conduct such operations in the future about what they might face. Let's bear in mind that there are many, many indicted war criminals who now are in the dock in The Hague -- a lot of those who thought the War Crimes Tribunal would never get down to business. There are now many, many indictees there. They have been surrendering and some have been picked up. This is a serious piece of business that everyone in the region should understand has the full backing of the United States of America.

QUESTION:Jamie, conversely, I mean, you said it would be difficult to imagine this sort of thing happening in Serbia over President Milosevic's objections. Can you take that a step further and say that it would be difficult to imagine this happening without his authorization?

MR. RUBIN: I'm not going to make those kinds of judgments. I don't have the evidence for the chain of command for this event. I do believe we think that President Milosevic is politically in charge of his country. When we want to get something done by the Serbs, we go to President Milosevic, and he has demonstrated an ability to implement what he decides. With respect to these incidents, they are now under investigation, we hope, by the Tribunal -- and they won't be unless there is an acquiescence on the part of the Serbs to let them do that, obviously. But the signal has been sent that the Tribunal's jurisdiction applies. At a minimum, that will be a powerful deterrent; at a maximum, they will be able to do their work and come to some conclusion. But I wouldn't want to pre-judge that conclusion.

QUESTION:The Latvians and the Russians seem to be in a minority - the Russian minority in Latvia. Who do you blame for this? Is it the Russians trying to make a provocation with Latvia or do you feel the Latvians are mistreating their Russian minority?

MR. RUBIN: Well, there are problems there that we hope the governments work out with the maximum amount of cooperation. We have had concerns in these areas that have been contained in our human rights reports, and I would point you to those. But at this point, we don't think it's necessarily useful to point fingers. We want these problems to be resolved.

QUESTION:You're not saying one side or the other -

MR. RUBIN: Well, at this point we don't think it's useful to point fingers. We want the problems to be resolved.

QUESTION:Can I ask you something about the meeting yesterday with General Karamat in the State Department. I understand the meeting was attended, among others, by Pickering, as well as Holum, as well as Inderfurth. Because of their attendance, I was wondering whether it's really wide in scope and can you say something about that?

MR. RUBIN: I believe the Secretary even dropped by that meeting. I ran into her heading in that direction; I don't know if it actually happened. But let me get you a full readout on that meeting and what was discussed after the briefing.

QUESTION:(Inaudible.)

MR. RUBIN: Yes.

QUESTION:Jamie, I don't know whether you have any - whether this is the right occasion to ask or not, but there is sort of a ten-day clock ticking from the London conference -- tomorrow would be, I guess, half-way through and we don't have an opportunity to ask you tomorrow. Is there anything you would care to say about how President Milosevic is handling the ten-day period in light of London's very specific call for him to open a dialogue in Kosovo, and with regard to the behavior of Serbian police and military forces inside Kosovo?

MR. RUBIN: Well, we don't see any of the steps the Contact Group demanded -- that is, removing the police force and starting the process of dialogue - being implemented. We think there needs to be an unconditional, well-prepared dialogue so that we can resolve this issue at the negotiating table rather than on the battlefield. We haven't seen evidence of that. The Contact Group countries are in regular contact now to implement the measures that were set forth in that statement.

The Security Council is now discussing the arms embargo. We are working with other countries to implement the other steps. We are trying to develop lists of the senior officials whose visas would be denied under these steps, and preparing the way to take additional measures if there isn't a dramatic shift in the pattern of cooperation on the part of the Serbian Government that we have yet to see.

QUESTION:I take it yesterday's public call for a dialogue in Kosovo was not - you didn't even mention that just now. That does not even rise -

MR. RUBIN: Well, as I said yesterday, I believe, or it might have been the day before - I kind of don't remember. As I said earlier in the week, the initial call seemed to us to be more a propaganda exercise than a serious proposal. It was more designed to justify military action than to apologize for the deaths. It was more designed to show some willingness to negotiate while taking a posture that was -- undoubtedly the Serbian side knew would not yield the result. So our standard is an unconditional, well-prepared dialogue. That is what we are looking for and we have yet to see it.

QUESTION:I'm sure this is no surprise to you that members - your colleagues on the Hill are coming out already saying that having an American involvement in the Kosovo situation is something that they would not support and would be adamantly opposed to. I know that you don't want to hypothesize; you've said that many times. But you've already said that you're not ruling anything in or out, so is this a hurdle you think you are going to get past, should the situation warrant an American troop involvement or an expansion of NATO in the region?

MR. RUBIN: Let me say this. The NATO Secretary General obviously was in Albania yesterday and is talking to the Albanians about steps that we can take to increase the confidence they have had in their military. NATO undertook to arrange a series of 12 advisory team visits in the aftermath of the 1997 crisis to restructure the Albanian military, to consolidate democratic authority and assist with logistical and management training and draw up a broad strategic concept. In addition, the Partnership for Peace is involved, providing regular military advice and assistance in a clearinghouse format to coordinate activities. That is the base from which Secretary General Solana was going to operate from, and we think it is important for this kind of contact to go on.

As far as the critics, the critics will criticize; and we in the Administration have to do what we think is best for the national security of the United States. The last two Administrations, that is President Clinton and President Bush, have both made clear that a spinning out of control of a crisis in Kosovo could affect the vital interests of the United States because it involves NATO allies, it involves the Balkans; and that is why President Bush and President Clinton both believed that it was a serious matter in recent years. This is not a partisan issue. This is a matter of national security where the last two Presidents have made clear that this is a serious issue, that it could have grave consequences, and that we need to treat it seriously.

As I have said earlier, we have a number of options available to us. We are not ruling options out at this stage. That would be imprudent. We are considering what steps to take. In the American political system, there are critics who criticize whatever step we take. We have to do what we think is right for the American people and for the national security of the United States.

QUESTION:Different subject. A Senate resolution earlier today - Iraq, Saddam Hussein going to war crimes -- how does the State Department view that? Is there any substance, any impact from this, or is this -

MR. RUBIN: We do support an effort to document Iraqi war crimes, including those of Saddam Hussein and to establish an internationally-recognized record of such war crimes. We made clear last year that we support the "indict campaign" which seeks to assemble such a record; and we would be supportive of a war crimes tribunal that build on this assembled record.

While there now appears to be little support in the Security Council for such a tribunal, it is possible that an effective, vigorous, fact-finding process might well improve the chances of support in the Security Council. So we are supportive of this idea. We support a fact-finding mission. We supported the" indict campaign." And, hopefully, when evidence is gathered and information is assessed and analyzed, there will be greater support in the international community for a tribunal. But it is premature to make that judgment at this point.

QUESTION:On the peace process in the Middle East, there was a suggestion in one of the papers you all tend to pay attention to today that the Clinton Administration is preparing -

MR. RUBIN: There are no newspapers we pay more or less attention to. Some we have greater and lesser regard for.

QUESTION:But that the Administration is, as it has threatened to go public with its ideas for how much territory the Israelis should cede in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and specific steps the Palestinians should take on the security front. Can you -

MR. RUBIN: Well, let me say this -- we are extremely concerned about the situation in the Middle East right now. The reaction on the ground to the use of lethal force which resulted in the deaths of three Palestinians is a strong indicator of the underlying resentment that exists there that is a function of the crisis of confidence that has evolved so tragically in the Middle East peace process. Secretary Albright has worked assiduously on this process. We don't intend to surprise anyone.

At the same time, we think it's extremely important that the leaders of the region understand that they have to make decisions if their aspirations and the wishes and the goals and the reasonable desires of their people are to be met. We are actively talking amongst ourselves about what the best way is to revitalize the Middle East peace process. Clearly, it's not making any progress right now. As Secretary Albright has said, 1997 was not a good year for the peace process, and so far 1998 hasn't been much better. What we are doing, therefore, is looking at our options and analyzing the situation, and when we have some new proposal or new ideas -- as opposed to an American plan -- we will share those with you.

QUESTION:The Turkish Government lately, they make unconditional dialogue call for the government of Greece. But yesterday we learn the government of Greece has rejected this kind of call. Usually the State Department described this kind of rejection from the Greek side as positive step. How do you describe this time the Greek-side behavior on these rejections?

MR. RUBIN: I'll have to challenge the premise of your question, as you know, but there hasn't been a lot of progress we have seen identified publicly in this area. We want progress in this area, but I'm not familiar with the specific idea that was rejected that I allegedly might praise, so I really can't comment on that specifically. But we'll try to get my able deputy to give you a full-fledged briefing on everything we know on this as soon as our Friday calm and relaxed briefing here at the State Department ends.

QUESTION:On Russia/Kosovo, has Secretary Albright been in touch with Mr. Primakov regarding his plans and his discussions with the Serbs? And on a somewhat related matter, has the US received, either from him or others, any kind of comment about President Yeltsin's health or any kind of reassurance or information or anything like that?

MR. RUBIN: With regard to President Yeltsin's health, let me say this - at the risk of commenting on the health of a leader, and at the risk of using press reports to do so, according to press reports, the Kremlin reports that Yeltsin is suffering from an upper respiratory ailment. He is recuperating at a dacha. We wish President Yeltsin a speedy recovery. He appears to be keeping a busy schedule in general. He appeared on television yesterday. On Tuesday he met with leaders from the North Caucasus. He's been consulting extensively with government officials there. The last time a US official saw President Yeltsin was when Ambassador Collins presented his credentials on January 19th. But President Clinton did speak with President Yeltsin by telephone on February 23rd. That is what I can share with you about President Yeltsin's health.

With regard to Kosovo and our contacts with the Russian Government, I am not aware of any phone call or direct oral contact between the two foreign ministers. I suspect at the working level, there's been a lot of discussion; certainly there has been in New York with the Russian representative there. And I think at the political director's level, there may have been additional contact.

We're still working out the arrangements for the next group meeting of the Contact Group in Washington on the 25th. But I don't think any final decisions have been made.

QUESTION:Isn't Primakov supposed to go, or has he already gone?

MR. RUBIN: No, he would - it's - I would have to get you the date, but I believe it's still at least a week away before he goes to Belgrade.

QUESTION:The Iraqi Foreign Minister has asserted that Iraq no longer has any weapons of mass destruction, no warheads, et cetera. What is the US reaction to --

MR. RUBIN: Sounds like I'm not even going to need my book for that one.

QUESTION:What is the US reaction to that? Is it possible that they forgot where they buried them?

MR. RUBIN: Even at the risk of commenting on a press report that I haven't seen, let me say this - we believe that the Iraqi Government is still not providing UNSCOM the access, information and materials it needs to make a judgment. There are huge gaps in the area of missiles, in the area of chemical weapons, in the area of biological weapons that Iraq has refused to come clean on.

If they were to come clean, UNSCOM would be in a position to assess whether indeed there is additional work that needs to be done, or whether indeed particular errors can be deemed closed in terms of the declarations matching the evidence.

We are a long, long way from that because of a repeated pattern of Iraqi stonewalling over the years. And UNSCOM, as well as the outside monitoring teams, have said over and over again that Iraq has failed to provide information, failed to provide explanations and failed to do what is necessary for UNSCOM to finish its work or even to be able to resolve the huge discrepancies that still exist in this area.

QUESTION:So just more smoke?

MR. RUBIN: Again, I'm sure you can write your own lead, but we certainly don't agree with that.

QUESTION:Thank you.

(The briefing concluded at 1:25 P.M.)

 

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