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U.S. Department of State

Daily Press Briefing

INDEX
TUESDAY, MARCH 16, 1999
Briefer: JAMES P. RUBIN

STATEMENTS
1,4Anniversary of Halabja Massacre
1Bombings in Sarajevo/US International Response to HIV/AIDS
NORTH KOREA
1,2,4Agreement on Access to Underground Site
1Multiple Site Visits by US Team
1-4"Pilot Agricultural Project"/Agreed Framework
3,4Food Aid /Humanitarian Assistance
IRAQ
4Status of Washington Accord between Kurdish groups
5Secretary's meeting with Kurdish leaders
5,6Flight to Jeddeh for Haj
5Violations of UN Security Council Sanctions
5Oil for Food Funds
CHINA
6,7China's Admission to WTO/ Human Rights
EUROPEAN UNION
7Banana Trade Dispute/Resignation of European Commission
MEXICO
7Casablanca Investigation
8Corruption of Government Officials
SERBIA (KOSOVO)
8Secretary will not travel to Europe
8Implementation of Agreement
8-11Military Implementation/NATO Allies/Troops
10,11Rambouillet Agreement
CUBA
11,12Sentencing of Dissident/US calls on release of dissidents
MEPP
12,14Settlement Activity/Permanent Status Negotiations
14Implementation of Wye Agreement
ISRAEL/GERMANY
12Dispute over meetings with PA officials/What is US position?
US-AFRICA MINISTERIAL
141999 HIV/AIDS Report Released


U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
DPB #32
TUESDAY, MARCH 16, 1999, 12:35 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)


MR. RUBIN: We have several statements on the Halabja massacre anniversary, on the bombing in Sarajevo and two other subjects. But let me move quickly to North Korea.

Secretary Albright is pleased to be able to report that an agreement has been struck in New York with the North Koreans on access to the suspect underground site at Kumchang-ni. This agreement comes after four rounds of intensive talks between Ambassador Kartman and the North Korean Vice Foreign Minister. The agreement we've reached addresses the concerns that we've had. It will enable us to confirm and monitor the current and future use of the suspect site that we have been concerned about.

Specifically, the North Koreans have agreed to multiple site visits by a US team to the underground site at Kumchang-ni. The first visit to the site will be in May 1999, with follow-up visits continuing as long as our concerns about the site remain. During each visit, the US team will have access to the entire site.

In the agreements we did not agree to North Korean demands for compensation in return for this access. We did repeat to the North Koreans something we've often said publicly: that removal of our suspicions concerning Kumchang-ni, this suspect site, would enable us to resume progress in our relationship as outlined and envisaged by the agreed framework. In this regard, we have decided to take a concrete step in the form of a bilateral pilot agricultural project. The United States is prepared to resume moving in the direction envisaged by the agreed framework, and we hope the North Koreans will take the requisite actions that will enable us to do so.

In addition, Secretary Albright is pleased to be able to announce that we have agreed with the North Koreans to resume missile talks on March 29 in Pyongyang. In short, Secretary Albright believes this is an important step in our effort to be vigilant as we work towards stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and, in particular, the danger of nuclear proliferation.

QUESTION: Can you tell us what you mean by "pilot agricultural project"?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, on that, let me just say that we have always said that as the agreed framework were to be implemented and if it were to continue to be implemented, that we would move in this direction. We described a bilateral program as an example of what we were considering. Discussion of that program resulted in an agreement to proceed.

The specific program, again, falls in the pattern of the kind of step that we always envisaged as the agreed framework were to be implemented. Remember, the concerns we had about this site made us say that the viability of the agreed framework and all that came with it was to be jeopardized. Now that site access has been provided as we've demanded - multiple site access - we think that in the context of North Korea's implementation of the agreed framework, that this step that I have described can facilitate improvement in ties. We will now begin a pilot program which involves American support for an effort by a US private voluntary organization - that is, not a US Government program - to improve potato production in North Korea.

The North Koreans are seeking to resolve their significant and substantial problems with famine by becoming better able to produce basic agricultural products. In connection with this effort, the private voluntary organizations - not the United States, a private organization - will work with farms in North Korea to try to improve potato yields and will oversee a food-for-work project to complement these efforts.

US private voluntary organizations have managed such food-for-work projects in the past with food contributed by the World Food Program. As in all food assistance the US provides, it will be monitored to assure that it reaches the civilian population it is intended to reach, and is not diverted. We will be in a position to provide a briefing by an expert on this particular potato project, but it's a step consistent with what we've always said; which is, to the extent the agreed framework is succeeding and that they have now resolved our concerns about this site by allowing us site access, this kind of very modest potato project by private voluntary organization is appropriate.

QUESTION: Is it possible that they have reconfigured this underground site since it was first discovered last August to hide what they were originally doing?

MR. RUBIN: Well, without getting into the kind of detail that I couldn't in this forum, let me just say that we have not said that we believe this particular site is one which is now a problem. What we've said is we have no basis to conclude that North Korea is in violation of the agreed framework. But we had serious and substantial concerns about this site in the future.

What we've done now, by allowing this visit in May and then again in May of the year 2000 and subsequent visits to the site when requested, as long as our suspicions about the site remain. So all I can say is that the intelligence community has to be vigilant in trying to predict what a particular site is going to be used for. Now we will have the kind of on-site inspection to satisfy ourselves, with a credible inter-agency team of experts, to get visual and complete access so that we can answer the questions that can't always be fully answered from afar.

QUESTION: Jamie, all along there were members of Congress who were arguing for a very tough line - isolation, et cetera. The US held out for engagement diplomacy. Is this validation of the US' strategy do you think? The Administration's strategy?

MR. RUBIN: Well, we and the critics in Congress share the same objective, which is to prevent North Korea from becoming a nuclear threat. We made very clear that this agreement that we struck in 1994 was a good agreement because we stopped in its tracks the North Korean aspects of the program that we were focused on, and we were able to have a process by which we could assure ourselves that they would not develop a large nuclear program and threaten the world.

We believe that throwing away that agreement, as some have suggested, would be detrimental to the national security of the United States because we wouldn't have a lever by which to prevent them from developing nuclear weapons. Now this process where when we have a concern and we go to the North Koreans and we say, this is a real problem, we have to fix this problem, and we got the on-site inspection through our vigilance, our determination and the patience of Ambassador Kartman.

Let me say in that regard, Secretary Albright believes he did a splendid job over several weeks and months of negotiations, along with the assistance of Ambassador Sherman, to keep insisting on getting this access and thereby getting new information, new access and being able to confirm what we can only surmise from afar. Those who would have thrown away the agreement would have denied us this ability to confirm what the site is and is not through on-site inspections. So we would have lost this valuable tool in working to stop proliferation.

QUESTION: What does the agreement you've reached say about the frequency of visits, the maximum possible permissible frequency? And also, what does it say about advance notice of your visit; can you visit on short notice?

MR. RUBIN: Let me say this - there will be a visit this May, as I indicated; there will be another visit in the year 2000 in May. And we have agreement for subsequent visits to the site when requested, as long as our suspicions remain.

With respect to those kind of details, let me say there will be a briefing in New York in a couple of hours, an hour and a half, and those are the kind of details that will be addressed in that briefing in New York. But broadly speaking, we have the access that we think was necessary to get to the bottom of this issue because we took a vigilant stance, a determined stance to make sure our concerns were resolved. We now have access we've never had before to this kind of location, and we have access not only this spring but next spring and when requested, as long as our suspicions remain.

QUESTION: Also, what's the latest on food aid to North Korea, and is there any link between the two?

MR. RUBIN: Well, not surprisingly, the North Koreans, during these talks and regularly, raised their food requirements, as they always do in their negotiations with us. We restated to them our decisions on humanitarian assistance are based on need, as assessed by the World Food Program. We told them we are considering a response to the current WFP appeal.

In that regard, let me point out that last year we gave 500,000 tons of food aid through the World Food Program to North Korea. We have told the North Koreans we will look at this based on our long-standing policy on humanitarian food aid, in response to demonstrated need but not on the basis of any other considerations. So we refused repeatedly to provide the kind of direct compensation that they were seeking.

QUESTION: Do you have any information on the other private organizations that will be taking part in this?

MR. RUBIN: No, I will try to get you a briefing on that specific program.

QUESTION: Jamie, in light of the charged atmosphere in Washington over China, just moving to North Korea do you think some in Washington might view that the North Koreans may be viewed as having the upper hand with the US here - that they denied access and now they're getting something in return by granting the US access?

MR. RUBIN: On the contrary, we never had access to this site before. This is a unique and unprecedented thing to be able to have a concern about a particular location and say we need to go there or the agreed framework's viability is undermined. So we've adopted a vigilant stance all along. We have no illusions about North Korea; that's why this agreement is structured through a step-by-step process all along, that as they demonstrate compliance we provide additional work on the reactors and in the heavy fuel area.

So we have the same skepticism that others have, but we just have to figure out how to achieve results. The results here are that we got access to the site, through determination, vigilance and patience of Ambassador Kartman, that one couldn't get if one wasn't talking to the North Koreans and explaining the importance of getting this site access.

QUESTION: What does the US hope to achieve in the resumption of the missile talks?

MR. RUBIN: Well, our standard position on that has been to try to convince the North Koreans of the dangers not only of their own program, but also of the possibility of those missiles from North Korea being transferred to other countries. We have tried to get them to agree on limitations on their own indigenous programs and on the possibility of transfer. Those would be our objectives. I could get you a more specific definition of the objectives. Broadly speaking, the objective is to prevent -- now that we've worked very hard on the nuclear side in preventing them from developing a nuclear capability, but also to turn to the missile side of the equation and get them to advance our proliferation goals in that area.

QUESTION: New subject - at the opening remarks, you mentioned the anniversary of Halabja. Do you have any sense of what's going on on the Washington accord between the Kurdish groups? There have been no noticeable public activities since January. Is there something going on in the private front?

MR. RUBIN: Well, we have been working closely with the Kurdish groups in Northern Iraq to promote cooperation between them and to make sure that they are working together. That activity is ongoing. There are sometimes when it reaches a very public moment, as in the Secretary's meeting with the two Kurdish leaders, or when Beth Jones, our deputy assistant secretary, was in the region; but we stay in regular touch with them. I don't have any particular new development to report.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the Iraqi plane which flew to Jeddah with some 110 pilgrims, in violation of --

MR. RUBIN: Today an Iraqi aircraft flew 110 Haj pilgrims to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in violation of UN Security Council sanctions which require that any flights to and from Iraq be approved in advance by the UN Sanctions Committee.

We regret the government of Iraq's refusal to accept the UN Sanctions Committee's proposal for Haj flights. Aware of the importance of the Haj, the Sanctions Committee has persisted since early February in its efforts to find a mutually acceptable mechanism to facilitate the travel of Iraqi pilgrims. However, Baghdad has repeatedly rejected the Committee's proposals and insisted upon arrangements which are not permitted under relevant Security Council resolutions.

It is important to note that UN sanctions on Iraq do not now - nor have they ever - prohibited Iraqis from making the pilgrimage. Iraqis have never been restricted from traveling overland to make the Haj. UN sanctions do, however, require that any flights to or from Iraq must be approved in advance by the UN Sanctions Committee. The Committee has frequently approved flights for humanitarian purposes and would be fully prepared to do so for this year's Haj.

In order to ensure that UN sanctions would not pose a financial burden on Iraqi pilgrims, resolutions passed in 1998 allowed for the use of Oil-for-Food funds for Haj travel. That authority was renewed in November 1998.

Unfortunately, rather than cooperate with the international community to facilitate the Haj for Iraqi pilgrims, the government of Saddam Hussein has once again chosen to violate Security Council resolutions. This decision illustrates once again Baghdad's lack of concern for its people.

QUESTION: What will the United States do if it happens again? Can you tell us whether the planes monitoring the southern no-fly zone detected these flights and what action they - what orders they are under?

MR. RUBIN: On detection matters, that would have to be addressed by the Pentagon. Let me just say this on the subject - any flights to or from Iraq without the approval of the UN Sanctions Committee are in violation of UN sanctions. However, Iraqi pilgrims are not a target; on the contrary, the no-fly zones that we established were to protect the Iraqi people from their own government's repression. Therefore, we will not take any action that would put innocent Iraqi pilgrims in danger.

The bottom line is that Saddam Hussein has found another cynical ploy and tried to exploit the Haj for his own purposes. All he's done is harm himself further internationally by this violation of international sanctions.

QUESTION: Are we going to see second, third and fourth and so on - other flights taking off?

MR. RUBIN: Well, again, we are prepared to work on a system, to work with them because the resolutions do not prohibit approved flights. But if he tries to just use this as a cynical ploy, clearly he will harm himself internationally.

QUESTION: A China question. Senator Helms and Hollings seem to be trying to foster a move to have China's admission into WTO not become a reality. Do you have any reaction?

MR. RUBIN: Well, let's remember that China has a lot of access to American markets right now. We are trying to get access to Chinese markets. That's what the World Trade Organization accession talks are about: allowing American companies, American firms, to get the access they deserve to Chinese markets, to the advantage of our national interest and our commercial interests and our firms' interests. That's what these negotiations are about. We think that trade should be handled on the merits. So our view is that China must prove a willingness to open its markets on commercial terms. This is an effort that has been going on for several Administrations. We want to see if China comes forward with new market-opening proposals.

We are obviously pushing this very hard, and we think progress should be measured by substantive market-opening commitments and not other issues of concern. We've long had issues of concern with China on many subjects. But we think it would be unfortunate to link these two because we'd be shooting ourselves in the foot. The advantage to our own national interest, our own commercial interest and our own firms' interests would be harmed because what we're going to get out of this agreement is access that we now do not have to the Chinese market for American products.

QUESTION: On a slightly different subject, the Chinese have been talking to the EU about their possible sponsorship of a human rights vote.

MR. RUBIN: They're going to sponsor a resolution, the Chinese? That would be good.

QUESTION: No, the Chinese have been talking to the EU, trying to persuade them not. Have the Chinese been talking to the US about this? Has the US made any decision what to do on March 22?

MR. RUBIN: We have not made a decision on what we intend to do in the UN Human Rights Commission. It doesn't come as a surprise to us that China doesn't want to see its human rights record challenged there. We have spoken very clearly that China has taken a number of negative steps in the wrong direction on human rights. Our human rights report was very clear on that. Secretary Albright, in her meetings in China, made very clear our views on these human rights practices that we reject and deplore. So there's no surprise here.

As far as our decision is concerned, we haven't made it.

QUESTION: Following up on Helms and Hollings, another senator, Shelby, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is calling on the US to have a moratorium on scientists from countries like China visiting US labs and Americans from going to foreign installations. Do you have anything on that?

MR. RUBIN: I don't have anything on that. I know that we have considered this particular case a very serious matter. We've looked very carefully at it. We're going to do all we can to protect our nation's secrets. But as far as a broader policy question, I don't have anything for you on that.

QUESTION: On another subject, you've seen, I'm sure, the report that the European Commission resigned en masse. Does that make any difference in relations with the United States?

MR. RUBIN: That particular resignation of members of the European Commission is an internal matter for the European Union. It's therefore an EU political and constitutional matter. The issues being discussed are clearly to be decided by the European Union, including the European parliament.

The extensive relationship with the European Union that we have relies on institutions, not specific individuals. We expect to continue working without interruption with ranking officials of the European Union to address issues on our trade and cooperation agenda.

QUESTION: How about things which are technical and also political in nature; for example, the trade dispute over bananas and such?

MR. RUBIN: I think in capitals this is getting a lot of attention from countries without the need necessarily for the EU to be decisive. Again, we'll have to see how this shakes out; but our position is that it's an internal matter for them and in the meanwhile we will continue to work with them on trade matters, including the banana dispute.

QUESTION: There is a story today on the front page of The New York Times saying that during the investigation of Casablanca last year with Mexico, the US Government dropped the investigation when they found out that the defense minister of Mexico was involved in money laundering. Do you have any reaction to that?

MR. RUBIN: Operation Casablanca was a successful law enforcement operation that was pursued vigorously and produced a large number of criminal indictments. This operation was not concluded prematurely for broader foreign policy interests. The decision to conclude the operation was taken by the Departments of Treasury and Justice; therefore, they would be the appropriate authorities to address questions on that particular decision.

We are well aware of the problem of corruption of government officials by drug traffickers, and we have close cooperation with the government of Mexico to combat such corruption. Concerning the highly speculative allegations against General Cervantes, we note that it is common for drug traffickers to falsely claim high-level connections in the Mexican Government. We continue to work closely with General Cervantes in the fight against narcotics trafficking.

QUESTION: But it was --

MR. RUBIN: It sounds like you're going to get into a specific question that I would recommend you address with the appropriate authorities at the Treasury or Justice Department. The foreign policy side, I indicated quite clearly, it was not concluded prematurely for foreign policy reasons.

QUESTION: Could you tell us anything new on the Secretary's travel plans to Europe for the Kosovo talks?

MR. RUBIN: There are no such plans; that's all I have. As far as what's going on in Kosovo is concerned, on that --

QUESTION: Or in Paris.

MR. RUBIN: Or in Paris, let me just say that Secretary Albright spoke to Ambassador Hill, as she has most mornings for the last month. He reported to her that the Kosovar Albanian delegation has been receiving briefings on implementation of the agreement, a series of briefings, which is, again, what the conference was about.

Ambassador Hill also reported that the Serb side has not only not engaged seriously on the question of military implementation, but has raised a whole series of issues on the political side of the text that people thought were closed. This conference was supposed to be focused on implementation, finalizing the details of implementation. Not only are the Serbs not engaging on implementation questions but reopening series of issues that the negotiators, as a group, thought were closed following the Rambouillet talks. So there's not a lot of reason for optimism coming from the Serb side.

QUESTION: What does this say for the intentions of the Serbs, and what do you plan to do about it?

MR. RUBIN: Well, clearly the ball - the Kosovo peace ball - is in the Serbs' court. It's up to them to pick it up and decide they want a peace agreement rather than a catastrophe; to have a peace agreement rather than have a far worse situation in Kosovo for the Serbs there and for Yugoslavia as a whole.

As far as where we stand, let me simply say that our efforts now are focused, in Paris, on obtaining acceptance by Belgrade of these accords in their entirety. Time and patience are clearly running out. Belgrade must seriously engage in this process. To date, they have not engaged seriously on the critical question of the military implementation; because a peace accord without implementation in this part of the world is no peace accord at all.

I don't want to speculate for you on what will happen. I only need to remind you that on January 30, NATO expressed its readiness to take whatever measures are necessary to compel compliance with the demands of the international community and the achievement of a political settlement. Secretary General Solana has the authority to order air strikes against targets on Serb territory. That is where the situation stands. In the meanwhile, we are focusing our attention on making the Serbs understand that they don't have a choice; that their only choice is to negotiate seriously. The only rational choice for the people of Serbia is to resolve this conflict before it gets worse, before additional resources and additional lives are lost on the Serb side in Kosovo.

We've put forward a fair agreement that protects the integrity of Yugoslavia; that defers until a later date the final status of Kosovo; and that gives all the minorities in Kosovo their legitimate rights.

Yesterday I was asked about the principle of international law that was being considered here. Even though I don't see the questioner - there you are - I will take this opportunity to answer the question. There has been extensive consideration of the international legal issue with our NATO allies. We and our NATO allies have looked to numerous factors in concluding that such action, if necessary, would be justified - including the fact that Yugoslav military and police forces have committed serious and widespread violations of international law, and have used excessive and indiscriminate force in violation of international law. The Serbs have failed to comply with the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe and NATO verification agreements. They've violated UN Security Council agreements. They're in violation of the requirements of the International Criminal Tribunal and its own unilateral commitments.

Therefore, the Serbs are way out of line and far out of compliance with any reasonable standard of international law. With Belgrade giving every indication that it will prepare a new offensive against Kosovar Albanians, we face the prospect of a new explosion of violence if the international community doesn't take preventative action. Humanitarian suffering and destruction could well exceed that of the 1998 offensive. Serb actions also constitute a threat to the region, particularly Albania and Macedonia and potentially NATO allies, including Greece and Turkey. In addition, these actions constitute a threat to the safety of international observers in Kosovo.

On the basis of such considerations, we and our NATO allies believe there are legitimate grounds to threaten and, if necessary, use military force. These issues have been considered repeatedly in the international bodies - the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and in the United Nations and in other international bodies. So we believe, for all these reasons, the Serb side is so far out of line with accepted norms of international behavior, and the dangers of not taking preventative action are so great in terms of humanitarian suffering and further violations of international law that we believe we have legitimate grounds to act.

QUESTION: Can I get a follow-on that?

MR. RUBIN: I think that is as far as I can go.

QUESTION: You're saying international law justifies or permits the use of force against misbehavers, miscreants?

MR. RUBIN: Again, I don't want to be in a position of making adjudication as a legal advisor of the State Department. What I'm saying is, what are our sources of authority; why do we think we have a justification for doing this?

QUESTION: Well, basically it's because they misbehaved.

MR. RUBIN: No, I said that there are principles of international law and specific provisions of international law that they have violated repeatedly. In addition, there is a danger to NATO allies in the region, which thereby brings in the NATO charter. In addition, there is the prospect of a further humanitarian catastrophe. These three reasons, in our view, are legitimate grounds, in our opinion, to threaten and, if necessary, use force. That is our view.

As far as what an international legal formulation would be, I will get you that for the record.

QUESTION: The Serb people, by and large, seem to be saying that they will not heed the Rambouillet agreement. They don't want NATO troops to come in and possibly stay. I would ask, so now Serbia is non-permissive - the government is non-permissive and the mindset of the people apparently so. If there was military force applied in this situation and Serbia continued to be non-permissive, even after, say, a bombing, would that preclude NATO troops from going in, according to the policy?

MR. RUBIN: I've never heard any consideration of combat troops being sent in, in a non-permissive environment; that's been our position for some weeks now. So there is no consideration of that option being contemplated right now.

As far as what targets would be hit, what the result of such a hypothetical military campaign would be, it is not appropriate for me to talk about in this forum.

QUESTION: Is Serbia non-permissive at the present time?

MR. RUBIN: Clearly. What we're looking for is Serbia in agreement to the Rambouillet accords, the Paris peace accords, that would allow a permissive environment where the Serbs and the Kosovar Albanians would sign an agreement understanding it would be implemented by NATO and authorizing, therefore, NATO's activities. That is called a permissive environment.

QUESTION: So NATO could not be introduced in the current environment?

MR. RUBIN: There's no consideration of NATO ground troops in that situation. I gather you've had this question posed and answered on --

QUESTION: I posed it once to Mr. Foley.

MR. RUBIN: I'm told there is more than once, but I'd be welcome to answer the question again next week and the week after that.

QUESTION: Jamie, has the former Ukrainian Prime Minister been denied political asylum?

MR. RUBIN: I have no information on that.

QUESTION: Ambassador Tom Miller, when he was in Athens, described the Turkish-Greek relations and the tensions as --

MR. RUBIN: Who?

QUESTION: Tom Miller.

MR. RUBIN: Tom Miller, a very able diplomat.

QUESTION: Yes, I know. Tension is the most serious one. Do you agree with his description of this relationship?

MR. RUBIN: I support Tom Miller fully and completely, yes.

QUESTION: On Cuba, there was a very strong reaction in Europe and in Canada after the sentencing. Is there any chance or has anything been started speaking to the other countries about reviewing their policy toward Cuba?

MR. RUBIN: The Cuban Government's trial, conviction and sentencing of the four courageous leaders of Cuba's working dissident group took place without the most elemental features of due process. It violated the very concept of the rule of law. The four were convicted of sedition simply for trying to exercise their fundamental rights. They committed no act of violence; they did not seek to incite violence; they were not accused of plotting violence. They simply criticized the one-party nature of Cuba's political system.

The United States calls on the Cuban Government to release the four dissidents. We note that governments around the world have condemned Cuba's trial of the four dissident leaders and the related crackdown on dissidents, human rights activists and independent journalists. We urge all nations to condemn this unjust decision and to urge Cuba to move in the direction of democratic change.

QUESTION: Settlements are back. Ariel Sharon is saying they're conducive to peace. Of course, when they went in they were put in mostly by the labor party and Mr. Rabin and people like him. The idea was there would be a trip wire; they would slow down an aggressor. But in any event, do you agree with Mr. Sharon's observation?

MR. RUBIN: Yes. As Ambassador Ross made clear, we are opposed to settlement activity.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. RUBIN: No, has made clear in recent days. We are opposed to settlement activity because we believe it jeopardizes the chances for reaching a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace in two fundamental ways. First, these activities directly prejudge and predetermine issues that were to be reserved for permanent status negotiations. They create serious impediments by changing the realities on the ground in a way that will make already complicated negotiations that much more difficult.

Second, these activities undermine the partnership which is so vital for building trust and confidence. Without trust and confidence it is difficult to see how permanent status negotiations can succeed.

If both sides are really serious about creating the right environment for permanent status negotiations, then they need to act seriously by avoiding steps such as settlement activity that undermine partnership and take steps that promote trust and confidence.

We have been troubled by the expansion of existing settlements well beyond their periphery.

QUESTION: There's a parallel problem. Israel and Germany, apparently, are having a dispute over whether there should be official meetings with Palestinian officials in Jerusalem. I'm wondering if the US has - you would understand -- the rationale needn't be stated. It would, just like you say, prejudge, it would seem to prejudge the Palestinians having some official status in Jerusalem. In any event, does the US have a position on that? Not on their dispute, but on whether it's proper to hold such meetings in Jerusalem. I don't think the US does.

MR. RUBIN: Let me check that. First of all, without prejudice to the idea that these are comparable issues, let me try to inquire -

QUESTION: No, no, they just both broke out at the same time; that's all.

MR. RUBIN: Let me give you our considered view on the question of meetings with Palestinians in the place you indicated.

QUESTION: While we're at it, Indyk is back. He's made a sweep - four countries plus London. He didn't go to Israel; it was said, I believe, that's for a later trip. Considering this and other things --

MR. RUBIN: I don't have his future itinerary. I know that Assistant Secretary Indyk is in regular - former Ambassador Indyk - is in regular - I guess he always gets to be an ambassador, once you're an ambassador - has been in regular contact with Israeli officials. He did have a three-hour meeting in Damascus two days ago with President Assad. They discussed a variety of regional issues, including Iraq, the situation in Southern Lebanon and the Middle East peace process.

On Iraq, Assistant Secretary Indyk reviewed our policy on the need for Iraq to comply with UN Security Council resolutions and the importance of containing Saddam Hussein. He emphasized the need for restraint by all parties in Southern Lebanon. He also said the United States was not seeking a change in the April 1996 understandings, but a more effective implementation. On the Middle East peace process, Assistant Secretary Indyk and President Assad considered how to prepare the ground for an effort to resume negotiations on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks after the Israeli elections.

As far as his future itinerary going to Israel, I don't have such an itinerary.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) - Indyk trip, there was something else that presumably he was going to discuss with President Assad. That was reports by the defense editor of the London Sunday Times that Syria is prime to replenish Iraq's lost military weaponry. Do you happen to know if he jumped into that?

MR. RUBIN: Well, I don't know whether he raised a particular report in a particular magazine; that is not generally the way we do business. But I can say he reviewed our policy on Iraq with President Assad and emphasized the need for Iraq to comply with UN Security Council resolutions and the importance of containing Saddam Hussein. Therefore, that kind of an issue, if it were raised, would certainly be subsumed in that.

QUESTION: Jamie, you said it was a three-hour meeting with President Assad?

MR. RUBIN: Yes.

QUESTION: By recollection, that's a rather short meeting for this number of topics. Did you draw any conclusions from that?

MR. RUBIN: I don't believe he did. I just saw him this morning and he didn't feel like three hours was too little.

QUESTION: How long did it take him to get into the room? That's also --

MR. RUBIN: Well, the three-hour meeting --

QUESTION: No, no, it's not how much time you meet; it's how much time you wait to meet that also - Mr. Christopher holds the record, by the way. Eight or nine hours.

MR. RUBIN: I'm sure that has been written about already, and I needn't refer to that again; other than to say that the information provided to me was that it was a three-hour meeting.

QUESTION: Can I go back to the settlements? Other than urging deferring or stopping expansion of settlements, does the United States have any other ammunition to press its argument with the Israelis? Is there any financial penalty, for example?

MR. RUBIN: That has not been our position. Our position has been to state quite clearly our views. I think the way I stated them is a more clear and direct statement than we've made in the past. So that is what we're doing.

QUESTION: Well, for example, Secretary of Defense Cohen was quoted in Israel as saying that none of the $1.2 billion of the Wye package will be disbursed until all of the Wye Agreement has been implemented. Is that --

MR. RUBIN: I don't know whether the quote was right. I wouldn't be able to comment on such a statement by Secretary Cohen. I'm not aware of any change in our position on the Wye supplemental package; but I'll get you that for the record.

QUESTION: Is any money now being disbursed?

MR. RUBIN: I don't believe we've received the money from the Hill yet, so it would be hard to disburse it.

QUESTION: On the settlements, you were quite strong on the settlements. Are they illegal?

MR. RUBIN: I think I stated our position quite clearly.

QUESTION: Today the Secretary, at the US-Africa ministerial, said that she's releasing her 1999 report on US response to HIV/AIDS. Do you have that report, and do you know the --

MR. RUBIN: I do have a statement on the subject of HIV. Let me say that with more than 33 million persons infected worldwide, the growing prevalence of HIV/AIDS requires increasingly nations to recognize the political and economic security implications of the pandemic.

As part of a US diplomatic initiative aimed at enhancing the global commitment to combating HIV/AIDS, the 1999 US report calls upon other governments to support a vigorous and sustained response to the disease as a national and international priority. It also underscores the importance of international partnerships to address the pressing challenge of HIV/AIDS.

The report examines the present world AIDS situation and assesses the US foreign policy interests presented by the pandemic. The report includes federal agency strategies that identify specific objectives to effectively address HIV/AIDS issues. To underscore the global battle against AIDS, the report also identifies the respective roles of the pharmaceutical industry, the international non-governmental organizations and international organizations.

The report is available on our website, www.state.gov.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing concluded at 1:20 P.M.)

[end of document]

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