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U.S. Department of State

Daily Press Briefing

INDEX
TUESDAY, APRIL 27, 1999
Briefer: JAMES P. RUBIN

RUSSIA
1Deputy Secretary Talbott had meetings with Special Envoy Chernomyrdin, Foreign Minister Ivanov, in Moscow.
1Secretary Albright spoke with Foreign Minister Ivanov by telephone this morning.
1US continues to search with Russia for diplomatic ways, means to solve Kosovo crisis.
3,4Oil issue did not figure prominently in Deputy Secretary Talbott's discussions.
FRY (KOSOVO)
1,2,5-6,9NATO objectives: Serb forces out, refugees return, security force in with NATO core.
1Deputy Secretary Talbott has flown to Berlin to meet German Foreign Minister Fischer today, UN's Kofi Annan tomorrow, then to Brussels to meet NATO's Javier Solana.
2,7Systematic destruction of Serb military machine by air continues.
2US, NATO would like to see situation resolved diplomatically.
3,4-5,9If Serb forces were to withdraw demonstrably, verifiably, a pause in air campaign could be discussed.
5NATO wants all Serb forces - army, police, paramilitary - removed from Kosovo.
6Milosevic can end this conflict whenever he chooses.
7-8US working on comprehensive economic sanctions on FRY, including petroleum.
10Ways to implement NATO required conditions can be worked out.
6,10All means of getting oil to Serb military machine are fair game for NATO.
10-11NATO planning will take Montenegro's position into account.
11Reverend Jesse Jackson's mission is humanitarian in nature.
11,12ICRC people met with the three detained US servicemen, had them examined by a physician.
12-13A US delegation is en route to Macedonia to assess refugee processing possibilities.
13Need to use all 20,000 slots for refugees is an open question.
NORTH KOREA
13Four-party talks in Geneva were useful, productive. Next session will be held in August, again in Geneva.
ISRAEL
14Secretary Albright will meet today with Defense Minister Arens.
MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS
14President Clinton has made clear US support for Palestinian aspirations.
15US opposition to unilateral actions, statements by either side is matter of principle.
15President Clinton's letter to Chairman Arafat does not contain policy changes. With proper environment, seriousness on both sides, permanent status issues could well conclude in one year.
15-16Regarding closure of Palestinian offices in East Jerusalem, US urges both sides to avoid steps which could further complicate an already volatile situation.


U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
DPB #53
TUESDAY, APRIL 27, 1999, 1:00 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

MR. RUBIN: Greetings. Welcome to the State Department briefing on this Tuesday.

Let me begin just with a brief word on Deputy Secretary Talbott and the trip to Russia that he made. He reported early this morning to Secretary Albright on his visit with key Russian officials. He indicated that he had two two-hour meetings each with former Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and Foreign Minister Ivanov. He believed that these were very constructive sessions.

On behalf of the United States, he laid out very clearly the objectives NATO has set forth in its communiqués, and the importance we attach to achieving those objectives. The Russian side indicated its analysis of the situation, based on its discussions with officials in Belgrade and others connected to Belgrade, and laid out its analysis of what the thinking was in Belgrade. The two sides discussed the issues extensively, and worked on the basis of building on the common objectives Secretary Albright and Foreign Minister Ivanov worked on in Oslo. That is - from our perspective - is making sure that the refugees get back; making sure the Serb forces leave; and making sure that an international security force is deployed, and obviously a security force with NATO at its core so that the refugees can return, and that it can be robust enough to do its work.

The Russians did not indicate any major changes in their position. It was very much an analytical discussion - a detailed discussion about the nuances, about the importance of our explanation of our objectives, and the simple fact that our position laid out by NATO leaders is irreducible.

From Russia, the Deputy Secretary has now flown to Berlin, where he is expected to meet with Foreign Minister Fischer and expected to meet with Kofi Annan tomorrow. Secretary Albright followed up the Deputy Secretary's trip with a conversation with Ivanov this morning to sort of sum up where we are. Deputy Secretary Talbott is expected to go on from Berlin to Brussels to meet with Secretary General Solana sometime tomorrow. I don't have the details of all of his schedule.

In short, we continue to work with Russia in search of diplomatic ways and means to implement NATO's objectives and to have this situation resolved peacefully. That effort continues and will continue with a number of officials, from other parts of the world, who believe that they can help in that regard.

Our goals remain the same. We are always looking for diplomatic ways and means to achieve those goals, but meanwhile the punishing, sustained and systemic destruction of the Serbian military machine continues from the air, as laid out very carefully this morning by the Supreme Allied Commander, General Clark.

QUESTION: Before the meeting, it must have been, the Russian Foreign Minister was quoted saying in several ways that Russia doesn't intend to simply, parrot-like, repeat the US "no compromise" position to Belgrade; nor, as he said, "we're not just a postman." Indeed, when Strobe Talbott was sent off, it was with the NATO position that there should be no compromise, no yielding. So I guess I'm asking you to say how that issue - how Russia's views figure in this. Do you feel that Russia will take on the assignment of telling Milosevic that the NATO people want X, Y and Z? Or is the result of this meeting in Moscow some blending in of Russia's views?

By the way, that's a long question, but I wanted to pick up - I don't think maybe I misheard you, but you talked about the three things that they had in common in Oslo. Well, one isn't a peacekeeping force with NATO at the core.

MR. RUBIN: I wasn't suggesting they had agreed on that. I said what our objectives were.

QUESTION: Oh, I thought you meant our meaning the two of us.

MR. RUBIN: No, our the United States of America and NATO.

QUESTION: Okay, that's clear now.

MR. RUBIN: With respect to your general question, we would like to see this issue resolved diplomatically. If diplomatic ways and means can be found that lead to Serb acceptance of our political objectives - namely, that their forces leave Kosovo; that the refugees return to Kosovo; that an international force with NATO at its core is deployed to Kosovo, both to ensure that the refugees do come back, and to create a secure environment in which the political future of Kosovo can be determined. Those are our objectives. They are unshakable; there is no compromise on those objectives.

The Russian role is up to Russia to decide. Russia is our partner in many parts of the world. They have indicated that they want to join us in working to achieve a solution. To the extent that they can help us achieve a solution based on those objectives, that would be good news. We haven't yet seen that. Russia has its own views, its own analysis of the situation. In some respects, Secretary Albright and Foreign Minister Ivanov agreed - namely, with respect to the forces and the refugees and the importance of having political arrangements based on the Rambouillet accords.

With respect to the force, they did not agree, and they stated that very clearly. I would expect that one of the things the United States and Russia will continue to talk about - talked about today, and will continue to talk about in the future - is the composition of an international presence, which we believe has to have NATO at its core for the reasons I've stated today and yesterday, and which Russia does not yet agree with.

With respect to what their role will be like in going or not going to Belgrade, that is their decision. It's up to them to decide. What we can do and what we should do is to go through -- in great detail with analysis, with explanation, with logic -- our positions and why they're NATO's positions. Again, there are some nuances that can be explained. For example, over the weekend we explained that when there is a demonstrable and verifiable commitment implemented of the Serb withdrawal, that then it would be possible to talk about pauses. So that's an example of fleshing out NATO's objectives, NATO's irreducible demands. That's the kind of thing that could be discussed - the nature of a force. We've said NATO at its core. We've said we would welcome Russian and other partners' participation. That can be discussed as well.

It's up to Russia to decide whether those discussions and understanding of the Western position - in particular, the United States position - justifies them continuing discussions in that regard.

QUESTION: That was a very clear answer. But another way, maybe, to lock this in is to ask the question this way: Whatever Russia's views are, does it remain the US position that the only grounds for a settlement, from the US and the NATO standpoint, is the US and NATO position?

MR. RUBIN: By definition.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Two quick questions. One, did Deputy Secretary Talbott discuss with both Russian officials NATO's plan to visit and search ships in the Adriatic to prevent oil from entering Yugoslavia by sea? And if they discussed it, did Mr. Talbott encourage or persuade the Russians not to ship oil to the Serbs?

MR. RUBIN: My understanding from Deputy Secretary Talbott is that the oil issue did not figure prominently in their discussions at all. We have received assurances from the highest levels of the Russian Government over the weekend, and in regular conversations between Foreign Minister Ivanov and the Secretary, that they do not want to enter this conflict.

The one case in which Russian oil or deliveries was dealt with was a couple of weeks ago, when there was some discussion of them sending petroleum supplies along with the humanitarian convoy through Hungary. That was worked out between Hungary and Russia. My understanding is that the Russians did not indicate strongly an intent to push forward with plans to provide fuel to the Serb military machine during Deputy Secretary Talbott's discussions.

QUESTION: Have you seen any evidence in the last 24 hours, 48 hours, of any new Russian ships heading for the port of Bar?

MR. RUBIN: I am not in a position to confirm specific information in that regard. I will try to get some information for you. I know General Clark just briefed on what their assessment was in Brussels, as to what is going into Montenegro. Before we get all the information together and in a usable form, I would prefer to defer that question.

QUESTION: Can I assume, from what seems to be the conclusion of this meeting, that you're not ready to have a G-8 foreign ministers meeting yet?

MR. RUBIN: I think that's a subject that comes up, but there is no plan to have such a meeting at this time.

QUESTION: How about any travel by the Secretary herself?

MR. RUBIN: None planned at this time.

QUESTION: To your last point just briefly and then another question. You say the Russians did not indicate their intention to try to make new deliveries of fuel to Yugoslavia through the Adriatic?

MR. RUBIN: I don't think I said it quite that way. What I said was they did not push that issue in discussions with Deputy Secretary Talbott. Obviously, it's getting a lot of attention here and in Brussels; it has been discussed somewhat publicly in Russia. It wasn't a prominent feature of the meeting. They certainly did not, to my knowledge, indicate that they weren't going to send any oil to Serbia. But what I was asked was to what extent this came up, was Deputy Secretary Talbott able to persuade them otherwise. What I am suggesting is that it wasn't a prominent feature; they didn't push this issue hard; and we will continue to make clear to them, as we formulate our plan of operations in NATO, and we move forward with a cooperative regime designed to deter the entry into Serbia of fuel for the Serbian war machine, what our intentions are, and we will continue to discuss it with the Russians.

QUESTION: In your previous couple of points before that you talked about when you see a demonstrable and irreversible withdrawal of forces that -

MR. RUBIN: Verifiable.

QUESTION: Oh, I'm sorry, verifiable - that NATO might consider a pause in bombing to talk about it. That would be short of Yugoslavia meeting all your demands. But can you explain that a little bit more?

MR. RUBIN: Yes. We have said what our political objectives are that would mean that we would cease - that is, terminate - the bombing effort. They're very broad and very extensive.

We have said that if the Serbs were to meet our demands, and in one area were to have a plan for the immediate withdrawal of their forces, and we were able to have demonstrable and verifiable implementation of that plan, we might pause for a given period of time, reserving the right to begin again the air strikes in the event they didn't implement the plan.

So we're looking for Serb action in word and in deed, which would yield the end of this crisis. That is something that I believe was discussed rather extensively over the weekend, when there was some misunderstanding that because we - in some newspapers about what extent we had adjusted our demands.

Our demands are clear: they have to withdraw their forces; they have to allow an international security force in; and until that happens, we will not - and the other three - discontinue the air strikes. That doesn't mean that if they are withdrawing and they demonstrate that and we can verify that, that we might not consider a temporary pause, reserving the right to resume in full the air campaign, if that temporary pause did not lead to the full withdrawal.

QUESTION: Ivanov said over the weekend that he proposed some Russian compromise proposals, including that the troops be withdrawn to the October levels. I know the United States has said you want all Serb troops out, but I mean, is that kind of a level anything you would accept?

MR. RUBIN: The October levels are simply a non-starter. Where we are is that we want to see all the forces responsible for the ethnic cleansing and the repression removed. That's the police forces, the military, the VJ, the paramilitaries and any other of the forces responsible for this ethnic cleansing.

If you remember, the levels in October were very high - in the above 10,000 range if you added police and military. In Rambouillet we allowed 2,500 Serb military - 1,500 on the border; 1,000 supporting them - and 2,500 police for one year after which there were no police. We've been very clear that of that 2,500 number, which is less than 25 percent of the October number, is way too high.

We want them all out - all of the forces that were responsible for the ethnic cleansing and the war crimes and the crimes against humanity. So the October levels are, obviously, a non-starter.

QUESTION: Just one more on the oil embargo. General Naumann said the other day, yesterday, that there was no authority to use force to intercept Russian or other ships as part of this embargo. Are you satisfied with that? Do you feel that weakens your position, NATO's position?

MR. RUBIN: Well, General Clark gave a briefing this morning in which he described in general terms what the concept of operations -- the operational plans being worked out by NATO military authorities -- would involve. There are a range of options, and he indicated that the threat of force was part of that consideration.

But many of the necessary provisions are voluntary; that is, screening cargo before ships arrive, pre-notification. In previous examples, such as Operation Sharp Guard, there were very few exceptions -- I gather two in over a number of years - where anybody sought to not act in voluntary conformity with such arrangements. So to the extent it's not a hypothetical question, it's something that would need to be spelled out following the operational plan being spelled out in Brussels.

QUESTION: Previously, you and other US officials have had four or five points that you've gone through. Now you're only saying that there are three non-negotiable points. What happened to the autonomy for Kosovar Albanians. Is that still non-negotiable?

MR. RUBIN: I was saving you some time. If you would like, in the future, for every time I say our demands, I'll hold up the 17-sentence piece of paper so that you'll know what I'm referring to. That hasn't changed.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) - NATO at its core.

(Laughter.)

MR. RUBIN: With NATO at its core.

QUESTION: Not NATO-led, but NATO at its core.

MR. RUBIN: And I'll be happy to read through each one of those sentences in the future whenever I'm asked a question about our objectives.

The objectives were laid out in NATO's communiqué over the weekend. I'd be happy to read it for you, but in the interest of time and the patience of your colleagues, I won't. But nothing has changed in that regard.

QUESTION: Okay, would you characterize what is happening right now with the Russians as that there is a real momentum that is developing here on the path to bringing about a negotiated diplomatic solution to the war in Kosovo?

MR. RUBIN: President Milosevic has had the opportunity to end this conflict at any time of his choosing. Even as his military machine is destroyed, his political apparatus is destroyed; even as his own minister's now telling the Serb people and the world that Yugoslavia is getting weaker every day, that NATO is getting stronger every day - that he should accept an international force with NATO participation; even as this is going on, President Milosevic has refused to move.

His own ministers are now beginning to speak the truth. They are telling the world about the ethnic cleansing. They are offering to have investigations of that ethnic cleansing. They are signaling that the Serbian people are isolated in the world. They are talking about how NATO came out of this summit unified and strengthened to intensify the air campaign. That is going on, and yet President Milosevic has not moved.

I am not going to speculate as to when President Milosevic is going to move. I can tell you that NATO is determined to continue its intensified, sustained and systemic destruction of the Serbian military machine. That is going on; General Clark has discussed it. To what extent these discussions with the Russians will yield a change in President Milosevic's position is something that one doesn't want to speculate on. It's too big a question.

What I can tell you is that the price, every day, gets higher and higher for President Milosevic, and every day more and more people in Serbia and around the world are starting to understand that. The costs are higher. Whether this discussion with the Russians will translate into a change in the Serb position is obviously the $64,000 question. It's too important to speculate on.

QUESTION: At the beginning of the briefing, you said that the Russian side had indicated its analysis of the situation in Belgrade. Yesterday an official said that Talbott would be meeting with Chernomyrdin to find out what really happened in last week's meetings with Milosevic. Can you clarify at all what the Russian side indicated its analysis was of the thinking in Belgrade?

MR. RUBIN: I don't think it would be appropriate for us to reveal the nature of a meeting between their envoy and our discussions in public. Obviously, they went into great detail about what happened in their meetings and what the Russian assessment is. But it wouldn't be appropriate to comment on it publicly.

QUESTION: There's a report in a London newspaper, which was played up rather highly, and it's about the EU foreign ministers banning oil sales. Then it goes on to say - and this is a quote - "but in a development that will be regarded as scandalous in European capitals, America confirmed that it had no plans to follow suit." It cites a State Department official confirming there are no plans to introduce this kind of legislation. Can you offer any assurances to the Europeans that the US isn't calling for this oil embargo as a way for US oil companies to sneak in behind and start selling oil to Milosevic?

MR. RUBIN: The only thing scandalous about this is that report from that newspaper. We put in a whole series of sanctions last year in which we limited the ability of President Milosevic's family and ministers to travel; in which we put a freeze on funds held abroad by Serb and FRY government officials; in which we prohibited export financing; in which we extended an investment ban that was already in place; in which we made sure that the arms embargo was applied not only to arms, but anything that could be used for internal repression; and a number of other measures. It now appears that the European Union, in a very welcome development, has put in place a number of those similar measures.

With respect to the oil issue, the European Union indicated that by Friday, April 30 - which is still three days from now - this ban on delivery of petroleum would enter into force. So before people get scandalized, let me explain what we're doing.

Any suggestion that we are allowing our companies to ship oil while insisting European companies not would be scandalous if it were true. It's simply not true. We and our NATO allies committed ourselves during the summit to put in place additional measures to tighten the constraints on Belgrade. These include intensified implementation of economic sanctions and an embargo on petroleum products.

We are now working through the amendment to the export administration regulations that is pending that would establish a comprehensive embargo on exports and re-exports to Serbia of all goods. This includes exports and re-exports of oil, gasoline and other petroleum products. Under this provision, an export license issued by the Commerce Department will be required for all exports for Serbia. There will be a presumption of denial for all exports to Serbia, including oil exports or re-exports other than those for humanitarian items. This is working its way through the system right now; I would expect an announcement shortly by the Commerce Department.

QUESTION: This is an administrative action, not -

MR. RUBIN: Correct.

QUESTION: Okay, so there is no plan for legislative action?

MR. RUBIN: Well it's not necessary.

QUESTION: Okay, I just wanted to make sure.

MR. RUBIN: I think every American company knows what a mistake it would be making to try to sell oil through any means to Serbia right now; and I think there was a little bit of false outrage demonstrated by that report.

QUESTION: You mentioned Milosevic's ministers beginning to speak out. As far as I know there's only one - his former opponent. And I seem to recall that you spoke somewhat slightingly of his ability to impose any political will on this situation. Do you know of another minister? You used plural.

MR. RUBIN: No, I think I didn't use the plural in the way you're suggesting. On the contrary, I said, "even his minister's" - that is an "apostrophe s" -- and then I mentioned Mr. Draskovic. I think we all know he is the minister I was referring to, but I will make sure that the transcript includes the apostrophe.

With respect to what I said yesterday, the point today was about whether President Milosevic would move. I was being asked whether we think he is more likely to move because of what's going on in Moscow. I pointed out that the fact that Mr. Draskovic is saying these things has still not lead President Milosevic to move, to reverse course. Yesterday I indicated that we had no way of knowing to what extent Mr. Draskovic had any influence on Mr. Milosevic.

So I think the two are entirely consistent, and there was nothing in my remarks to suggest that there was more than one minister.

QUESTION: Going back, seriously, to the 3-5 list of suggestions, what you seem to be saying is that there is going to be a two-phase wind-down if it ever comes. The first three would create a pause, but then only after the pause would it be necessary for the Yugoslav Government to agree to a form of self-government for Kosovo. Is that right?

MR. RUBIN: Well, I think that if you look carefully at NATO's communiqué, and at the foreign ministers' document that preceded that - and I'm sure you've done so - and let me read it for you: "The objectives are to ensure a verifiable stop to all military action and the immediate ending of violence and repression in Kosovo; withdraw from Kosovo his military police and paramilitary forces; agree to the stationing in Kosovo of an international military presence; agree to the unconditional and safe return of all refugees and displaced persons and unhindered access to them by humanitarian aid organizations; provide credible assurance of his willingness to work for the establishment of a political framework agreement based on the Rambouillet accords."

If you go back and look, from the day this conflict began we used the phrase "the framework of Rambouillet." We never said - and any implication that we did would be incorrect - that one had to get the political arrangements of Rambouillet in place before the bombing would be suspended.

So there is nothing new here. What we are talking about is if he were to agree to these points, how would that be implemented? There are ways in which that can be implemented, and to the extent that we get to a place where we think that he is really going to implement them, we will be prepared to spell them out in greater detail. I gave an example; I wouldn't draw any large conclusions from that example. It was an example of -- for example -- if there's a plan for him to remove his forces and we had verifiable and demonstrable proof that he was removing his forces, we might pause to allow the complete removal of his forces.

As you may have seen today on television, General Clark made the same point; that if they had trouble getting their tanks out, they could just leave their tanks and move. So one can work on the details of how this would be implemented without in any way adjusting the substance of the requirements.

QUESTION: One final point on the self-government credible commitment by the Yugoslav Government. Given the scathing comments, particularly by the Secretary over the weekend when she called Milosevic flatly a liar, why would anybody take his word as credible?

MR. RUBIN: Look, if he stopped, verifiably, all the military action and ended the violence, and he withdrew from Kosovo in a demonstrable and verifiable way his military, police and paramilitary forces, and if he agreed to the stationing in Kosovo of an international military presence with NATO at its core - NATO is controlling the real estate - and agreed to the unconditional and safe return of all these refugees - all of those previous commitments, there would be a very different world in Kosovo, a very different situation in Kosovo. It would be quite easy to imagine how to develop negotiations towards the ends that were described, because all of those other things would have been accomplished.

QUESTION: I'd like to ask for a little more detail on petroleum products, crude oil, refined products, whatever. I understand that - and tell me if I'm correct - that the refining capacity of Serbia has been eliminated in the two refineries that have been hit. Do they have any further refining capability, or can they use only refined products? The second question is, from the Montenegro port - Rad, I think is the name - do they have --

MR. RUBIN: Bar is the port in Montenegro.

QUESTION: Oh, Bar, I got it backwards. Anyway, what I want to know is, do they have a pipeline that goes to Serbia, serving Serbia from that port?

MR. RUBIN: I think General Clark made very clear that the effort to stop the flow of oil and petroleum products to the Serb military machine is not simply a matter of deterring shipping from coming through filled with oil, but it also involves making sure that all the ways and means that the oil or petroleum products can get to the military are cut off. He talked about bridges; he talked about railroads; he talked about other types of targets, which I would prefer not to get into.

That is a way in which you can stop oil from the outside from becoming useful to the Serb military machine. All of that is fair game now, and is what the NATO leaders decided to stop.

With respect to what is getting in through Bar and what the specific shipments are, in response to Carol's question earlier, I indicated I would try to get as accurate information as I could about what is and isn't going in as soon as possible.

QUESTION: But what I'm asking is, rather than interdict by embargo or quarantine tankers that are bringing the product to Bar, it could possibly be that the trans-shipment of that product could be where the interdiction could take place, short of --

MR. RUBIN: That's what I just said that General Clark indicated.

QUESTION: Has there been any more thought given, or any decisions made, on how Montenegro is going to be protected or not covered by this embargo?

MR. RUBIN: I don't have any new information to offer you. That is one of our objectives, yes.

QUESTION: And how great a concern is there that the Serbs will just kind of requisition Montenegrin petroleum products?

MR. RUBIN: We will do our best to take into account this concern regarding Montenegro, recognizing the brutality of Belgrade's forces, recognizing the needs of the people of Montenegro and recognizing the imperative of stopping the oil from getting to the Serb military machine.

QUESTION: Jesse Jackson apparently has been trying to go to Belgrade to seek the release of the three soldiers. There are reports that the Administration wasn't very keen on this. I just wondered how you felt.

MR. RUBIN: Well, I don't know the status of Reverend Jackson's plans at this time. As you know, it's been our view that the three servicemen were detained illegally and should be released immediately without conditions.

In the discussions that various officials have had with Reverend Jackson and his team, we have received very good impression of their intentions. Their mission is humanitarian; their intentions are obviously good. We did point out certain concerns that we have about their safety, about the possibility of them being subject to manipulation in Belgrade, but also are supportive of the goal of getting these servicemen released. We did explain the problems - security problems and the political problems of them being manipulated or sought to be manipulated by President Milosevic.

QUESTION: On the three American POWs, what can you tell us about the Red Cross team's meeting with them today? And has the ICRC issued a report to the State Department on that meeting with the three men?

MR. RUBIN: I do not know the status of that report. My understanding is that the ICRC representatives met privately for 40 minutes today with each of the three servicemen. They were seen by an ICRC - that is Red Cross - selected physician. The Red Cross will not make public details of their condition until the families have been informed. They were able to deliver mail and receive mail is my understanding, but beyond that it is the Red Cross' policy not to provide additional information pending their discussion with their families.

QUESTION: Just to follow up, can you tell us if they sent letters? Were there letters that were given to the ICRC that are going to their families?

MR. RUBIN: My understanding - it went both ways; that letters were provided from both directions, from the families to the prisoners and from the prisoners to the families.

QUESTION: Do you have an update on the refugees that should be arriving in the United States from Albania and Macedonia?

MR. RUBIN: Yes.

QUESTION: Are you all - other than the fact that there was a great delay in the Red Cross being able to see these men, which was a violation of the Geneva Convention, are you satisfied that other than that they are being treated consistently with the Geneva Convention?

MR. RUBIN: Well that's like saying that, "Other than the assassination of your husband, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?" This was several weeks in which they violated the Geneva Convention. They broke every rule in the book. In so doing they paraded them in the first few days publicly, used their images in ways that are directly contradictory to the Geneva Convention. Yesterday they did not let the ICRC meet with them alone. This was a whole month before they were in a position to meet with them alone.

I am not in a position to give you the details of the ICRC's report, which would tell us more about what happened to them over the last month; to what extent that further violations of the Geneva Convention were committed by the Serbs.

The question you had was about refugees.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. RUBIN: A delegation of representatives from the Department of State, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the International Organization of Migration and NGOs are traveling in Macedonia and Albania now to develop plans for where and how processing of these refugees will occur. They will return to Washington at the end of this week.

Our preference is to do processing in the region, not in the United States. If we can complete the process in the region there will be no need for a processing site in the US. Then refugees will travel directly to their sponsoring families in the US.

If complete processing in the region is not possible, we will consider the use of a facility like Fort Dix. No decision has been made about any site yet. Once the processing plan is finalized, we will begin the effort immediately and expect to move the first refugees about three weeks later.

QUESTION: So that would be roughly three weeks from Friday?

MR. RUBIN: The end of this week, yes.

QUESTION: I don't know how much additional information you have, but bearing in mind that unification with the relatives who emigrated here earlier is the first priority, presumably all 20,000 or whatever don't have relatives. Would they be - but there's a lot of interest in this - I'm not trying to overdo this, but --

MR. RUBIN: "Sponsoring families" is the term of art; it's not necessarily the family. But I don't want to get cross-wise with the experts in this field. Let me try to get a question to the record posed on the exact arrangements for planning for how the 20,000 will be resettled.

QUESTION: Yes, and the question - because the Dix thing was overdone over the weekend. From out there eerybody thought it was a done deal; and we were told right away it wasn't a done deal, and it isn't a done deal. But the question is if people don't have sponsors and they're still refugees, will they be sent through processing or will they be - if they would wish to be - placed in a major American city - Detroit, Chicago, New York - and be on their own?

MR. RUBIN: Right, we'll have to check that. But again, remember what's going on here - we're trying to remove bottlenecks in Macedonia where there's a problem. Sometimes that problem escalates and then it goes away. We're trying to encourage more countries in the region to take more refugees because we want to keep them in the region to the extent possible.

So to what extent we would really need to use 20,000 slots is an open question, and will be reviewed weekly and daily to ensure we're meeting all our natural concerns about the rights and the needs of these people weighed against the policy concern, which I think everyone shares involved, of not seeing them go too far from where they're going to get back to.

QUESTION: Do you have any idea how many people, sponsoring families, have signed up?

MR. RUBIN: No, I would have to get that information for you. I'm not sure it is yet available. That's -- maybe -- why the first group wouldn't come for three weeks.

QUESTION: Can you tell us anything about the Four-Party Talks in Geneva? Is it still scheduled to end today?

MR. RUBIN: The fifth plenary session of the Four-Party Talks, chaired by the United States, was held from the 24th to the 27th. They were useful and productive discussions, which were conducted in a businesslike and cordial manner. The two subcommittees that were established held meetings over two days, on the 25th and 26th. The two subcommittees were conducted in accordance with the procedures agreed to during the fourth session. There were extensive details; I have a statement on this.

The sixth plenary session of the Four-Party Talks will be held in Geneva in August 1999. A deputy head of delegation preparatory meeting will be convened to discuss arrangements for organizing the work, a day before the plenary meets. We express our strong appreciation to the Swiss Government for its support.

I think they'll be giving more information out in Geneva about what transpired in the talks.

QUESTION: Apparently the Democratic Republic of Congo is trying to set up some sort of national political debate, and they don't have the funds to follow through. I'm sorry; I know it's a little regional, but if you could give me -

MR. RUBIN: Good word. You could be a spokesperson.

QUESTION: If you could get an answer of some sort.

MR. RUBIN: I will get that for you.

QUESTION: The Secretary is going to be seeing the Israeli Defense Minister today.

MR. RUBIN: Yes.

QUESTION: Can you preview that at all?

MR. RUBIN: It's a meeting with the defense minister that's supposed to take place, I believe, in the late afternoon. They will obviously talk about the situation in southern Lebanon; about our security cooperation and the normal bilateral and regional issues that we talk about with the Israelis.

QUESTION: Do you expect to get some - it's hard for you to say - but do you think there will be some discussion of the President's letter to Arafat yesterday, and his reiterating his somewhat controversial position on Palestinian rights - what exactly that means?

MR. RUBIN: In our view, the President made clear on previous occasions, including on the trip to Gaza, our support for the Palestinian aspirations. The United States has said since Madrid that we have supported the legitimate rights of the Palestinians.

The point is that the only realistic way to fulfill Palestinian aspirations is through the peace process. That is the view that we've stated in this letter; that is the view that we've stated in numerous meetings; and that is not a view that we would think ought to create enormous controversy, because it's premised on the idea that the concerns and the aspirations will be dealt with through negotiations and not unilaterally.

QUESTION: Is that an open-ended request the US is making of Arafat's declarations of statehood? In other words - I mean - if that's not clear I could elaborate. You've asked him not to make - and the Israelis as well - not to do or say things that prejudge the outcome. In his case, the big thing is to declare a state -- and you're not going to have an outcome May 4, that's clear. But either in the President's letter or as a matter of policy, would you expect him to hold his tongue until those negotiations are concluded? Or there's been a theory - lay off for a few months or lay off until we get everybody here for a summit or lay off until after the elections. Is it an open-ended request?

MR. RUBIN: Our position on unilateralism is a position of principle. It applies to the Israelis and it applies to the Palestinians. We don't think either side should pursue unilateral actions or statements as a matter of principle. It's not something that we have a view for the weekend and it ends on Monday morning. That applies both to the Israeli side and to the Palestinian side.

QUESTION: The Palestinians apparently are making quite a bit of the President's letter, and they're indicating that there's some more forward-leaning language about self-determination and what not. A, can that letter be released; and b, is there any change in position, as far as you know, in the wording?

MR. RUBIN: I will check on the ability of such a letter to be released. That would be unusual for us -- to release such a letter. I suspect an intrepid journalist in the field might be able to get their hands on such a letter, because things are different often here in Washington than they are in the field. But with respect to our views, we have not changed our policy positions in this letter. We believe that the peace process is the only realistic way to fulfill Palestinian aspirations. All of the issues related to permanent status must be resolved through negotiations.

QUESTION: Do you believe that there should be a specific date that the extension ends -- not a target period, but a specific date that it ends?

MR. RUBIN: Yesterday I was asked this question several times and I repeatedly refused to say that, so I wouldn't agree with the premise of your question.

We've said that if there is the right kind of environment created by both sides, and if there is seriousness on both sides, that we believe a year is a reasonable time frame to resolve the permanent status issues. We believe that if that environment and that seriousness are there, that can be achieved. If there isn't that seriousness or there isn't that kind of environment, we don't think these issues could be solved in 20 or 30 years.

In the meanwhile, our objective would be after the Israeli elections, to encourage the beginning of accelerated permanent status talks with the objective of completing them within a year and with the United States being prepared to play the kind of role we've been prepared to play in the past depending, obviously, on the circumstances -- whether that environment is being created, whether that seriousness is being demonstrated.

QUESTION: Would you expect the Secretary to go to the region pretty quickly after the elections to test the waters?

MR. RUBIN: I don't have any information on her plans after the elections. After the elections, I'll try to get you such information.

QUESTION: On the issue of unilateral -- would the Israeli closure of three Palestinian offices in East Jerusalem be described by you as a unilateral act?

MR. RUBIN: That is a very sensitive issue -- the question involved - and we think that it should be resolved bearing in mind the sensitivity of it. We urge both sides to avoid steps that further complicate an already volatile situation.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing concluded at 1:45 P.M.)

[end of document]

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