State Department Daily Briefing Transcript

Published: Wed 20 Oct 1999 11:18 AM
State Department Daily Briefing Transcript
Daily Press Briefing Index
Tuesday, October 19, l999
Briefer: James B. Foley
PAKISTAN 1-3 Update on Situation/General Musharraf's Speech on Sunday/Whereabouts of Former Prime Minister/Prospects of US Acceptance of New Pakistan Ambassador/Sanctions
AFGHANISTAN 3-4 Ambassador Sheehan's Meeting with Taliban Representative in New York
INDONESIA 4 Indonesia Parliament's Vote on Independence for East Timor 5 Upcoming Selection of Future President and Vice President
TURKEY 5 Reported Visit of Turkish Religious Party Delegations 5 Reported Hijacking of Egyptian Airlines Plane from Istanbul Airport 7 BP Amoco's Reported Support for the Baku-Ceyhan Pipeline
CUBA 5 Reported Visa Request for Fidel Castro to Attend WTO Talks in Seattle
ARMS CONTROL 5-6 National Missile Defense System and ABM Treaty/US-Russian Cooperation 6-7 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)/Foreign Governments' Reaction
MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS 7 Status of the Israeli-Syrian Track 8-9 Reported US Criticism of Egypt for "Foot-Dragging" on Multilateral Forum
RUSSIA 9 Update on the Situation in Chechnya
CYPRUS 10 Special Envoy Moses' Visit to Cyprus
MR. FOLEY: Good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department. I don't have any announcements, so I'll go right to your questions. Do the wires have a question?
QUESTION: Do you see any signs that the Pakistani military is preparing to genuinely create a transition towards democracy, or do you think that is just a way of disguising what they're doing?
MR. FOLEY: We have welcomed Chief of Army Staff Musharaff's pledge, in his speech to the Pakistani nation on Sunday, to work for a return to democracy, and his promise that the armed forces would not stay in charge any longer than necessary. So that is what he has pledged. We do not, of course, believe that military takeovers are the appropriate method for resolving the problems that democracies face -- in Pakistan or anywhere else around the world. And we've been very clear that that is a principled position that we take in Pakistan, and that we take around the world.
As we indicated, following his speech on Sunday, we expressed disappointment that General Musharaff did not offer a clear timetable for the early restoration of constitutional, civilian and democratic government, and we continue to call upon him to do so. We are not conducting business as usual with the military authorities. As I said, we are looking for concrete progress on return to a constitutional, democratic civilian government. We would like that to begin soon, and we're going to continue raising this issue with the Pakistani authorities.
As I indicated, we are disappointed that a timetable has not been set, but we do note that General Musharaff, himself, has pledged to work for a return to democracy, and that the armed forces would not stay in charge any longer than necessary. That remains to be fleshed out. I think it's premature to judge the answer - or to formulate the answer -- to your question at this stage, either positively or negatively.
As I indicated last week, the jury is still out, in terms of the ultimate intentions of the military authorities in Pakistan. They've indicated, again, that they don't intend to stay in charge for longer than is necessary, and that they want to see a return to democratic government. But the timetable is unclear; it has not been spelled out, and that's what we're looking for.
QUESTION: Do you have any idea of the whereabouts of the former prime minister, Sharif?
MR. FOLEY: I have no information to share with you about his current whereabouts. We remain concerned that Prime Minister Sharif and his advisors receive fair treatment, and that the upcoming efforts that have been indicated to restore accountability protect the rights of those under investigation.
QUESION: Does this mean that the US is going to accept the new ambassador that the Pakistanis have - that they are going to replace with the old one that they've just recalled?
MR. FOLEY: That's a premature question. I don't know if we've been informed yet, and whether the process of requesting agrement has been begun. That would be something I can look into, to see if they've come to us, through diplomatic channels, to request agrement for a new ambassador.
QUESTION: Can you be more elaborate about what you said: that you are not doing a kind of business as usual context with the Pakistani regime?
MR. FOLEY: Well, I think we made this clear over the weekend: that because a democratic government was overthrown by military authorities, US legislation - namely, the Foreign Assistance Act, in its Section 508 - requires that the US Government prohibit a broad range of assistance, again, to countries where a democratically elected government has been removed by the military. And so, the invocation of Section 508 of the Foreign Assistance Act has taken effect, and we are prohibited from providing a broad array of assistance.
As a practical matter, however, there was very little assistance in the pipeline, given that Pakistan has been subject to other sanctions previously for other reasons. Most forms of assistance were already prohibited under other statutory restrictions.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the usual contacts are still there with the military government?
MR. FOLEY: We are maintaining diplomatic contact with the authorities in Pakistan. As we have stated, we have important areas on which we need to work with Pakistan, including promoting a meaningful dialogue between India and Pakistan, and continuing to pursue our all-important nonproliferation agenda.
We also need to continue to work with Pakistan on issues involving Afghanistan, and terrorism and other issues, and that diplomatic contact will continue. When I referred to business as usual, I was referring to the fact that the United States is prohibited by law from providing assistance to countries in which democratic governments have been overturned by military action.
QUESTION: Are you considering other kind of sanctions against Pakistan? Would you act within the IMF, for example, to suspend credits or loans to this country in case of necessity?
MR. FOLEY: In terms of US law and the Foreign Assistance Act that I referred to, that piece of legislation does not affect US support for lending by the international financial institutions. As a practical matter, we are unaware of any steps that the IMF Board itself has taken, in response to these recent events in Pakistan.
In terms of what the United States may choose to do in the case of future proposals for lending, we're not going to prejudge that question at this stage. We're going to make a decision when, and if, future lending comes up before the IMF Executive Board.
QUESTION: Have you dealt with Indonesia yet?
MR. FOLEY: No, we haven't.
QUESTION: Has the US offered any --
MR. FOLEY: I'm sorry - let's see if we're finished with Pakistan.
QUESTION: Stay in the region, if you want. Afghanistan?
MR. FOLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: Could you elaborate on the meeting between the US officials yesterday and the Taliban leaders in New York?
MR. FOLEY: Sure, I'd be glad to. Ambassador Michael Sheehan, who is the United States Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism, met with Taliban representative Abdul Hakeem Mujahid in New York yesterday. Ambassador Sheehan explained to Mr. Mujahid the implications of last Friday's UN Security Council vote, that will impose sanctions on the Taliban, unless international terrorist Usama bin Ladin is turned over to authorities in a country where he can be brought to justice.
We sincerely hope that the Taliban will, indeed, comply within the 30-day period that was specified in the Security Council resolution. As was demonstrated by this unanimous vote, there is widespread support for bringing terrorists like bin Ladin to justice for their crimes. I think there's been a lot of attention -- in this particular briefing room, and in this city -- on the efforts of the United States to counter bin Ladin and his terrorist activities.
Therefore, Friday's vote in the Security Council was especially significant, because it demonstrated, without any doubt, that the entire international community - at least in terms of the Security Council - is unanimous in not only condemning bin Ladin's activities, but in agreeing to pressure the Taliban authorities to ensure that he is rendered to justice. The fact of the matter is that the United Nations Security Council has now identified the Taliban as harboring one of the greatest terrorists in the world today. And the Taliban's hopes for any kind of good standing in the international community now are directly linked to their willingness to stop harboring this international terrorist. And we think that is very significant.
Now, in the past - I know you're going to ask me about how they reacted. Without getting into the details of that conversation, the fact of the matter is that the Taliban has not yet removed bin Ladin from territory they control. The Taliban has not made bin Ladin available to countries that can bring him to justice. They have spoken in different ways on this issue in the past -- sometimes indicating that they were proud of harboring such a terrorist and would not give him up, sometimes indicating that they had taken action against him, and ensured that he was no longer in territories that they control. In other words, their message has been one of double-speak over the months and years.
And so what we're focusing on is what the Taliban actually does, and now the Security Council has made it very explicit that, should the Taliban not act on bin Ladin and continue to harbor an internationally wanted terrorist, they will pay a price in sanctions that had been voted on by the Security Council.
QUESTION: Would you warn them against trying to transfer bin Ladin to a third country that's not on good terms with the United States that would be difficult to get him?
MR. FOLEY: I'm not going to get into the details of that conversation. I can certainly assure you that the United States would not propose to the Taliban anything that falls short of what the Security Council itself has stipulated, which is that bin Ladin be turned over to a country which is in a position to bring him to justice.
QUESTION: Does the State Department or the government have evidence that bin Ladin is trying to acquire nuclear weapons?
MR. FOLEY: We've had long-standing concerns that bin Ladin has undertaken efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and we've spoken on the record last summer -- the summer of 1998 that is -- about his efforts to acquire chemical weapons. Beyond that, I can't say in a public forum, but we are concerned that this is someone who has a demonstrated track record of murdering civilians, and who has a demonstrated track record of attempting to obtain weapons of mass destruction.
QUESTION: Let's go to Indonesia.
MR. FOLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: Does the Administration offer any advice either to the government or to the legislature of Indonesia about East Timor?
MR. FOLEY: About the upcoming votes? Well, in terms of East Timor, it's our understanding that the MPR, the Indonesia parliament, is on the brink of ratifying the August 30 referendum vote in East Timor, and they may be on the brink of voting to revoke Indonesia's annexation of the territory.
We believe that this action would facilitate the territory's transition to independence, and we would certainly - I'm sure with the entire international community - welcome such a development. I think we have to wait for the vote to take place, but reports coming out of Jakarta are positive in this respect.
In terms of other matters before the Indonesian parliament, or the Peoples Consultative Assembly, we are following with great interest developments regarding the upcoming selection of the future Indonesian president and vice president, which are scheduled for October 20 and 21, respectively. We believe that the outcome of this selection process will significantly shape the future of Indonesia's ongoing political transition to become the world's third largest democracy. We believe that it's important that the political process be conducted in a fair and completely transparent manner, and that this process unambiguously reflect the will of the Indonesian people.
QUESTION: Next weekend one of the Turkish religious party delegations is coming to town. Do you have any scheduled, you know, meeting with them, any State Department employee?
MR. FOLEY: I'll have to look into that for you. I hadn't heard about that visit.
QUESTION: This is totally a long shot, but there has been a hijacking of an Egyptian airliner. Does the State Department have anything bearing on that incident? It's very fuzzy.
MR. FOLEY: That story just broke shortly before I came in, and we have begun looking into the question, as to whether there are any American citizens who are on the airplane. We don't have a definitive readout of that. We don't have information, at this point, indicating that there are American citizens on board, however.
QUESTION: Back to Turkey. Is the State Department following the case of this woman who had been elected to parliament, but was then expelled and is now under investigation for holding dual nationality? I believe she's been stripped of her Turkish nationality.
MR. FOLEY: I had something on that - or we did - last week and so, if I can't chase it down while we're conducting the briefing, I'll have it for you after the briefing.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) last week. Anything new on a request from Cuba for Fidel Castro to visit Seattle during the WTO talks next month, the status of that request?
MR. FOLEY: I have not heard anything to that effect. I'll look into it for you. I've not heard that.
QUESTION: Can you share with us any details on the New York Times story stating that the US has offered to help Russia fix one of its big radar installations in exchange for amending the ABM Treaty?
MR. FOLEY: The White House may have commented on this in the last day or so. I'm not sure. What I can tell you is that, as you're aware, the United States is committed to the development of a limited National Missile Defense System, one designed primarily to counter the threat posed by the missile systems of rogue states. This is a threat that we believe that Russia shares with us, that we have in common.
There has been no decision to proceed with the deployment. That decision will be made by the President by next summer, as you know.
We have made clear to Russia that we want to work cooperatively on this issue, and both in terms of the missile defense issue and in terms of the ABM Treaty, which we've acknowledged would need to be modified to accommodate deployment of a limited National Missile Defense System. We have also continued our discussions with the Russians on future strategic arms limitations, through the START III process.
We believe that a cooperative approach will enhance both nations' security, because each faces threats from rogue states, as I indicated. And in that respect, we believe that Russia should - or could, rather - receive tangible benefits from development of a US limited National Missile Defense.
In recent discussions regarding our National Missile Defense program and its implication for the ABM Treaty, we have put forward a number of ideas for discussion, relating to practical US-Russian cooperation in the area of missile defense and the ABM Treaty. Now, these discussions are continuing, and we'll be considering next steps as the process unfolds. This is at a very early stage in discussing cooperative aspects of national missile defense with the Russians. But, again, we believe that Russia could receive tangible benefits and we also think it's important to promote transparency with the Russians about the mission capabilities and benefits of the US National Missile Defense cooperation.
QUESTION: Last week the State Department had a visit from a representative from the Japanese foreign ministry. I was wondering if you could give us an overview on what other countries have given formal expressions of regret or disappointment, as a result of Congress' rejection of the CTBT.
MR. FOLEY: As you know, Secretary Albright received Mr. Yamamoto, who is the Japanese Foreign Ministry State Secretary, on short notice. He was sent by Foreign Minister Kono immediately upon the news of the Senate's rejection of the CTB Treaty, both to express the deep concern of the Japanese Government, and also to seek assurances from Secretary Albright -- which she gladly gave -- that the United States Government remained totally committed to our nonproliferation policies in general and to observing the terms of the CTB Treaty in particular: (a) that the United States would continue to observe the moratorium and not test; and; (b) that we would continue to look for opportunities to promote the treaty, which remains on the Senate agenda, and; (c) that we would be resolute in urging other countries around the world to observe the CTBT, to sign the treaty, and to ratify it. And that message was clearly delivered by the Secretary, and there was a complete meeting of minds.
We have been in diplomatic contact with governments all over the world. I think Mr. Rubin indicated, the day after the Senate vote, that Secretary Albright had instructed our embassies around the world to explain precisely the three points that I just gave you, and to reassure governments who were alarmed by the Senate vote, that the United States will not deviate from the path of promoting nonproliferation.
I am aware of countless numbers of statements by foreign leaders, including, I think, all of our friends and allies around the world, expressing apprehension over the Senate's rejection of the CTBT. I think our friends and allies will be comforted to know - and our adversaries may be discomfited to know - that the United States Government stands firm in continuing to respect the CTBT provisions, and to refrain from testing, and to continue to pursue our nonproliferation agenda.
QUESTION: Today British Petroleum and Amoco, they announced their support of Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline, which the United States has supported 100 percent. And some of the Turkish officials there expect to sign this agreement in the next month's OECD meeting. As the United States, do you share -- (inaudible)? Can they sign the agreement, pipeline agreement, at the next summit meeting in OeCD?
MR. FOLEY: Well, you know our policy is to support multiple pipelines, but in particular, to support the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline. I've not heard the news you're reporting. That's a positive development if it's true, in terms of whether that accelerates the possibility of a signature in the timeframe you indicated. I couldn't comment because, as I said, I've just heard the news, but we'll look into the question.
QUESTION: There is much talk around about the efforts to reactivate the Syrian-Israeli track of negotiations, and nothing coming from this podium. Is there anything that you can provide us with?
MR. FOLEY: I don't have any news for you on the subject. We are, of course, committed to doing the maximum on our side to promote a resumption of the Israeli-Syrian track. We can't substitute for the two parties which, ultimately, are the ones that are going to have to agree to return to the table.
We think not only that it's in their interest to do so, but we believe that they recognize that it's in their interest to be back at the negotiating table. And they're trying to find their way through a thicket of issues to enable them to resume the track, and we're trying to be helpful. I don't have anything specific for you on that of any recent movement, but certainly we remain committed to helping.
QUESTION: Even if you are optimistic or pessimistic about it --
MR. FOLEY: I think Secretary Albright indicated when she was in the region in September that she was hopeful. She refrained from deciding that -
QUESTION: (Inaudible.)
MR. FOLEY: Yes, thank you. That she was optimistic or pessimistic. Obviously, they're having difficulty in getting back to the table. Fundamentally, they recognize that they want to and need to get back to the table and, therefore, she is hopeful that this will happen. But the sooner it happens, obviously, the better.
QUESTION: Speaking of long odds, can you comment on a report or have anything to say about a report in an Israeli newspaper that the US took Egypt to task at a conference in Tokyo last week or last weekend, over what was perceived to be a lack of enthusiasm about multilateral - multilateral - economic joint operations in the Middle East - regional operations, economic operations, that Egypt is sort of dragging its feet on the matter?
MR. FOLEY: I'm not aware of that report; therefore, I couldn't confirm it. What I can tell you is the general proposition that, indeed - and Secretary Albright indicated that when she was in the Middle East - we think that the time has come to resume the multilateral forum. And we think that that can actually provide a boost, at a time when the Middle East peace process has regained momentum, and that can reinforce that momentum.
After all, the leaders have -- all of them -- expressed support for an accelerated timetable, to try to close the circle of peace in the Middle East on all tracks by sometime late in the year 2000. In order to do that, we think we need to maximize all fronts of the peace process, and that certainly includes the multilateral front, and we've been in discussions with our partners in the Middle East on that subject. I've not heard that particular report, though.
QUESTION: If one subscribes to the theory that the spigot is turned on or off, in relation - in proportion to how giving the Israeli Government is - how inclined it is to do what the US considers to be the right thing --
MR. FOLEY: What spigot?
QUESTION: Well, I'm trying to use shorthand. I mean, Israel's standing with other countries - the opportunities for more recognition - (inaudible) --
MR. FOLEY: You mean as -- (inaudible) --
QUESTION: -- et cetera, depends, by the US's view, on how the process is going - how well it's going. If it's cold, the countries keep their distance; if things are going well, they welcome trade delegations, and do things jointly.
You're saying that you think this process should move ahead. Does that mean that the State Department is pleased with the Israeli Government's approach to peacemaking at this point?
MR. FOLEY: Well, we've never subscribed to the thesis you describe.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.)
MR. FOLEY: Namely we've continued throughout - even in periods where the peace process was on weaker legs, we've continued to subscribe to the idea that it was important to continue to work to create an environment of reconciliation and cooperation, which itself can help facilitate progress on the hard peace negotiations. And so we pushed the multilateral track in the more difficult days.
It's simply a reality, though, that our ability to achieve progress is facilitated when there is movement on the peace process, and the fact that we had the signing at Sharm el Sheikh, we've closed the interim agreement successfully and they're being implemented. And Prime Minister Barak has himself committed to an accelerated timetable, and wants to achieve progress means, in our view, that that commitment, which is shared by other leaders in the region, needs to be supported by all countries in the region if we're going to keep that momentum going through what are going to be arduous negotiations.
QUESTION: What is the State Department's take on reports out of Moscow that - especially from Andre Miranov with the human rights group, Memorial, just recently back from Chechnya - saying that Russian bombs and artillery are indiscriminately wiping out peaceful Chechen villages, killing hundreds of civilians and stoking fury against Moscow?
Is this in fact, one, happening, and what is the State Department's reaction to it?
MR. FOLEY: You guys are throwing at me a lot of quotes that I haven't necessarily seen, but I can restate what our overall position is on the conflict in Chechnya. Russian ground forces are continuing to advance into Chechnya, south of the Terek River. Russian forces have entered the town of Pervomaiskoye, just to the northwest of Groznyy, and Russian forces now control more than one-third of Chechnya.
We believe Russian aircraft and artillery have continued to strike targets in various parts of Chechnya. We don't have - for obvious reasons, we don't have reliable information on the scale of casualties on the ground, but we are aware that more than 150,000 people have fled the fighting in Chechnya to neighboring Ingushetiya.
UNHCR reports that a third convoy of humanitarian assistance, primarily food supplies and medicines, reached Ingushetiya on October 15. Human rights groups report that persons displaced by fighting in Chechnya are being prevented from entering north Ossetia, and are being turned back toward the region of conflict. If these reports are true, they would appear contrary to freedom of movement protected by the Russian constitution, and we call on the government of Russia to protect the rights of all its citizens, particularly those at greatest risk.
QUESTION: But you wouldn't care to comment - this was an AP story- about responding to this charge that Russia is being excessive in the use of military force?
MR. FOLEY: I think we've been clear, ever since the conflict there began to heat up, again, that we've very much made clear our view that all parties should refrain from indiscriminate or disproportionate use of force that would harm innocent civilians. So we would be definitely concerned by any such reports. We believe fundamentally that this conflict can only be resolved through dialogue, and that's the only way that the Russians themselves are going to achieve lasting stability and security in the region.
QUESTION: Special Envoy Moses is in Cyprus right now; he was before in Ankara and Athens. Did he report any progress in his meeting about the Turkish and the Greek - (inaudible) -- ?
MR. FOLEY: I've not seen his day-by-day reports, if he sent them in, on his trip. I think we'll have to await his return, and then he'll be reporting to Assistant Secretary Grossman and the Secretary on the results of his round of talks in the region.
(The briefing concluded at 1:35 P.M.)

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