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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #204, 96-12-18

U.S. State Department: Daily Press Briefings Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The Department of State Foreign Affairs Network (DOSFAN) at <>

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing


Wednesday, December 18, 1996
Briefer: Nicholas Burns

      1  US Condemns Hostage Taking at Japanese Diplomatic Compound/US 
         Contacts/Task Forces Established
    6,8  MRTA Responsibility/Links to Other Governments/Makeup of  MRTA
    2,6  Negotiations with MRTA/ US Policy on  Concessions/Counteroffers for Release
    2-3  MRTA Demands for Release of Hostages/Conditions of Berenson Imprisonment
      3  Conditions Inside Compound
3-4,7-8  Request for US Assistance/Security Arrangements in Lima
    4-5  Numbers of AmCits as Hostages and in Peru/Warden Network Activated
      5  Domestic Economic Situation Encourages Terrorist Acts
    6-7  List, Names of Hostages
    7,8  Congressman Richardson's Involvement/State Dept. Contacts with Other Govts

MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS 8 Ltr from Sen Helms and Rep Gilman to PM Netanyahu 10-12, 19-20 US Settlements Policy/Hebron Talks/Congressional Positions

NORTH KOREA 8-9 Suicide of Released AmCit Hunziker 12 US-DPRK Talks Continue in NY/Issues of Discussion/Minister Li's Departure

RUSSIA 9-10 Espionage Suspect Arrested in US/Strategic Interests 19 Military Ties to China/MTCR Regime

SERBIA 13-14 Charge Miles Mtg with Pres Milosevic/Amb Kampelman to Join OSCE Delegation/Objectives of Delegation

ZAIRE 14-16 US Expectations from Pres Mobutu/Possible Elections/Intervention Force/ Respect for and Security of Borders/Judgment of Pres Mobutu

FRANCE 16-17 Remarks About FM de Charette

LEBANON 17-18 Focus of Discussion with FM Hariri Included Terrorist Bases in Bekaa Valley 18 Syrian Troops

ANNOUNCEMENTS 18 Speedy Recovery to Abdulsalam al-Massurueh /Amb Pickering Retirement Ceremony/Hammer Awards Ceremony/PA Bureau Christmas Party

RUSSIA/CHINA/IRAN/INDIA 20-21 Increasing Collaboration


DPB #204

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 18, 1996, 1:29 P.M.


MR. BURNS: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department. As you can imagine, we have been following the situation in Lima quite closely since about 10:00 p.m. last evening. I can tell you this, the United States condemns in the strongest possible way the brutal hostage-taking at the Japanese Embassy residence in Lima last evening which has continued to the present moment.

We call upon the terrorists who are holding these hostages to release them quickly and safely and unharmed. There can be no justification for this shameful act of violence and terrorism. Our concerns are with the hostages, who are numerous, and our concerns are with their families.

In the last hour, I've spoke twice to the United States Ambassador in Lima, Dennis Jett. He is an experienced, career, professional diplomat. He was at the reception last evening along with his Deputy Chief of Mission. They left about a half hour before the terrorists took over the compound.

Since last evening, Ambassador Jett has been at either his Embassy or his residence in constant contact with the Peruvian Government and with State Department officials here in Washington. Ambassador Jett has established a Task Force at the Embassy. There's also a Task Force that has been established upstairs on the Department's Seventh Floor.

We remain in close touch with the Peruvian Government. Obviously, the United States will give - extend - whatever support necessary to the Peruvian Government in this crisis. Secretary Christopher, of course, has paid very close attention to this. He's been briefed on several occasions, beginning very, very early this morning. He will remain in close touch with our Embassy.

For those of you who follow our global reports on terrorism, you know that the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement - the MRTA - is a Marxist-Leninist organization that has spent much of the last 12 or 13 years involved in a different variety of terrorist actions around the world - kidnappings, extortions, hostage-takings. This group attacked the American Embassy in Lima in 1990 during the Gulf War with a rocket-propelled grenade. We know this group. Obviously, we have been doing what we can throughout the last decade to use our influence along with the Peruvian Government to try to shut this group down.

That's about all I have to say in terms of our reaction here. But, Barry, I'll be glad to go to your questions.

QUESTION: It's been described, this group has, as Cuba-linked. Is it still so as far as the State Department knows?

MR. BURNS: Barry, it's a Marxist-Leninist group. It has had ties with, I think, forces outside of Peru. I cannot link it formally to the Cuban Government. But, as you know, one of our long-standing concerns has been the Cuban Government's support for terrorist groups, in general. But I can't link this group specifically to the Cuban Government.

QUESTION: Would you endorse an effort by Lima to negotiate an end to this crisis?

MR. BURNS: Sid, you know we have a long-standing policy. The United States does not make concessions to terrorists, and we encourage others to follow that practice as well.

Obviously, in a situation like this, where a great number of people are being held hostage - hundreds of people, innocent people, all of them being held hostage - it's obviously prudent for the Peruvian Government to have some contact with the hostage-takers. I believe that they've had some sporadic contact, you know from the press reports, about a variety of communications that have been sent from the compound to the Peruvian authorities in Lima.

But our general policy is this: Terrorists should not be rewarded for their crimes. Terrorists should not succeed in their crimes. Our policy is, we don't make concessions, and that's our very strong advice to foreign governments.

QUESTION: If the price of that policy is the loss of American/Peruvian/Japanese lives?

MR. BURNS: This is a very difficult situation, as are all hostage- takings. We, above all, because we're a nation that believes in human rights, that believes that terrorist groups should not take innocent life, above all the United States wants to win this fight against international terrorism. We're going to have to leave it to the Peruvian authorities to handle this situation as best they can.

The United States is not inclined to try to micro-manage this process from Washington. We're not centrally involved, as you know. But we certainly have a very strong view that terrorists cannot be rewarded. If you reward terrorists, they just go on killing people in the future. That's the bitter lesson that we've learned over the past several decades.


QUESTION: One of the things that the terrorists seem to be asking for is the release of their comrades that are being held in jail. One of those who was tried and convicted was an American - a woman named Lori Berenson. Does the U.S. have any information on whether she could potentially be released -

MR. BURNS: I just have no way of knowing that. As you know, Lori Bereson is an American citizen. She's currently serving a very harsh sentence in a Peruvian jail. She was convicted by a Peruvian military tribunal about six months ago. This is a case that we've continued to raise with the Peruvian Government. The allegations against her were quite serious. The allegations had to deal with possible involvement with a terrorist organization. But I must say that Ms. Bereson has not signed a Privacy Act Waiver, so under our own law here in the United States, I'm not able to say much about her particular case beyond what I've already disclosed.

QUESTION: She denies it. She denies it, of course.

MR. BURNS: I said these are allegations that have been made; exactly, exactly Barry..

QUESTION: Right now she's been in a terrible prison for a long time. What is it exactly that you're raising with the authorities?

MR. BURNS: We are raising the conditions of her imprisonment. We have raised and will continue to raise the conditions of her imprisonment and the fact that she was tried by a military tribunal. We would have preferred a civil court.


QUESTION: What can you say about those inside the Ambassador's residence, especially the Americans?

MR. BURNS: There's not much that I can say. As you know, there was a very large international reception being held by the Japanese Ambassador to Peru last evening to honor the birthday of the Japanese Emperor. We understand that there were hundreds of people inside. A great number have been released but still hundreds inside. Among them are a great many diplomats from a great many nations.

Yes, Judd.

QUESTION: Has the Peruvian Government asked for any U.S. assistance, and is the U.S. prepared to give any?

MR. BURNS: Of course, the United States is prepared to assist the Peruvian Government in whatever way the Peruvian Government deems necessary and effective to try to end this situation peacefully so that the hostages are unharmed.

The Peruvian Government, to the best of my knowledge, has not made any specific request to the U.S. Government. Of course, we are in constant contact with them through Ambassador Jett.

QUESTION: There's no request for intelligence assistance or anything of that kind that you know?

MR. BURNS: Judd, I'm not aware of any kind of request of that nature.

QUESTION: Is it plausible to the Administration that a country that was on the mark as far as protecting foreign embassies and watching out for terrorists was doing its job by allowing this group to take over such a huge, well attended party?

MR. BURNS: Frankly, Sid, I don't think this is the time to play the Monday morning quarterbacking game and to second guess the Peruvian Government. They have got a major problem on their hands, a major crisis. I think we prefer to give them our support at this time. There will be plenty of time after this is over to try to assess what went wrong and what needs to be done in the future to protect all of the diplomats present in Peru, but now is not the time to do that.

The Peruvian Government ought to have our support to try to end this situation peacefully so that people aren't killed and the terrorists do not succeed. Those have to be the goals in the forefront of the government's mind.


QUESTION: Nick, I understand that you can't comment on what of the Americans who may be held might be official Americans or not. But can you give us a number of Americans who are non-official Americans who are living in Peru?

MR. BURNS: First of all, Betsy, as you know, as a matter of policy, the United States does not discuss the possible involvement of Americans in hostage-taking and terrorist incidents like this. Secondly, we do have a rather large American community in Peru. There are approximately 10,000 Americans in Peru, most of them, of course, private Americans. We have a large Embassy staff, but the numbers there are relatively small compared to the private Americans.

Ambassador Jett, quite energetically last evening and again this morning, activated what we call our warden network. This is our attempt through our Embassy in Lima to contact as many of the Americans as we can through the companies for which they work or the non-governmental organizations with which they are affiliated to make sure that they're all right, to make sure that they are apprised that there is a terrorist incident underway in a section of Lima, and, obviously, to advise them to keep away from that section of town and to take all necessary precautions.

We have had a long-standing travel advisory - Consular Information Sheet, I should say - in effect for Peru, and it advises American citizens that there have been a number of terrorist actions taken over the last decade or so by the two principal terrorist groups operating in Peru. I think it's fair to say that most Americans living there are mindful of the fact that they live in a country that has been a major victim of terrorism in the last decade or so.

QUESTION: A clarification. You declined to link this group to Cuba. You didn't know if that was still true. Is this group linked to any foreign country as far as you know, or to an outside extra Peru terrorist group?

MR. BURNS: I think we know enough about terrorism worldwide and this group, in particular, to understand that oftentimes groups like this do receive assistance from foreign governments and from organizations outside the country. But I'm not in a position to say that any particular government is formally tied to this group. It's a Marxist-Leninist organization. It has followed that kind of radical outdated, nihilistic agenda for the past 12 to 13 years. It's obviously an agenda that ought to be condemned by people who believe in freedom and people who believe that the human rights of innocent people should not be violated. That's exactly what's happening here.

QUESTION: If it's not foreign linked and if it's Marxist-Leninist, could it in some way be prompted or be routed in the terrible economic conditions in Peru which has a huge disparity between the vast majority of the population who are dirt poor and a small group of extremely wealthy people?

Does Peru's economic situation in any way contribute to the flowering of Marxist-Leninist groups, apart from the horrible thing of hostage-taking? Could a group like this exist that easily in America, for instance?

MR. BURNS: There is no justification whatsoever for terrorism. There's no justification whatsoever for taking people hostage and threatening their lives or killing them, which this group has done in the past. No justification whatsoever.

Frankly, we've learned enough about Marxist-Leninism in this century to understand that all the people who practice it never should have used that excuse - the excuse of economic impoverishment as an excuse for their violent and terroristic behavior.

QUESTION: Not all Marxist-Leninism is violent. Some are philosophically left-wing and because of horrible economic conditions -

MR. BURNS: We can an historical debate about this. But just look at the states that have practiced Marxism-Leninism and look at this particular group. They always seem to resort to violence to achieve their ends. I very much reject your point.

QUESTION: Nick, is there anything that you would recommend that be offered to these guerrillas short of what they're demanding - the release of people from jail? Is there any sort of counter-offer you're thinking of making, some sort of assistance or economic aid or any sort of carrot to buy them out?

MR. BURNS: Ben, just let me make one thing clear, if it hasn't been clear already. The United States Government is not negotiating with this group. The Peruvian Government is the responsible authority in Lima. The Peruvian Government is in a very difficult situation. It's trying to work with this hostage-taking group and trying to resolve the situation peacefully.

But, in general, terrorists should not succeed. They should not be rewarded for their nihilistic behavior. That is something that we Americans feel very strongly about.

QUESTION: Is the United States advising the Peruvian Government on its decisions at this point?

MR. BURNS: The United States is not advising the Peruvian Government on a minute-by-minute or hour-by-hour basis on how to resolve this situation. The Peruvian Government has the responsibility here to resolve this situation.

We have offered our support and our assistance, should that be necessary. As I said, after having talked twice in the past hour to Ambassador Jett, I'm not aware that the Peruvian Government has asked for that assistance.

QUESTION: Do you know anything about the makeup of this group - where they draw their membership from, approximately how many members?

MR. BURNS: As you know, if you read our Annual Terrorism Report, this group was founded in 1983. It's been responsible for bombings, political assassinations, kidnappings, and terrorist activities. As I said, it's believed to have been responsible for the attack on the United States Embassy in 1990.

I can't tell you much about the composition of the group, who they are, where they come from. But, again, I want to very clearly reject this line of argumentation that somehow because there may be income inequality in Peru, that's a justification for a group to form itself as a terrorist organization and inflict their behavior on innocent people.

QUESTION: Nick, I know you can't give us names and numbers and all that, but can you at least tell us if you received a list of who was at the party last night or if you're going to get a list of who's still inside?

MR. BURNS: I'm not aware of any such list. Perhaps the Peruvian Government has compiled it over the evening. It was obviously a very confused situation, because you had a reception of many hundreds of people. Some people left before the terrorists took over the compound. Some people were trapped inside. Some people may not have shown up who were supposed to have attended. So we don't have a list.

Our concern is the safety and security of American citizens here and also to render any possible support to the Peruvian Government. As I said, Ambassador Jett is attempting to make sure that we're in contact with all of the Americans to advise them of this problem.

QUESTION: Do you expect to get a list shortly later on today of just you know - hard numbers of how many are inside?

MR. BURNS: I don't know if we'll get a list at all. The Peruvian Government obviously has a lot on its hands, and I don't know if there's going to be an accurate list developed.


QUESTION: Excuse me, Sid, won't you be able to determine which Americans are there and which are not?

MR. BURNS: The Warden System is being used in this instance to warn the American community about this incident and to apprise them of what we believe they should be doing to keep away from it and to keep separate from it.

QUESTION: But you'll also discover who's unaccounted for, won't you?

MR. BURNS: As I said, I'm just not going to get into that question.

QUESTION: Nick, is the Ambassador nominated for the United Nations, Bill Richardson, who's been involved in several releases of hostages recently - has he been involved in this at all? Is he going to be sent down there? (Laughter)

MR. BURNS: No, I think he's got the day off or the week off. No, I don't believe he's been involved in any way. This situation is being handled by a very able career diplomat, Dennis Jett, and, of course, he's receiving instructions and advice from Secretary Christopher and Under Secretary Peter Tarnoff and Assistant Secretary Jeff Davidow of our Inter-American Affairs Bureau.


QUESTION: Different subject.

MR. BURNS: Any more on this one? Yes.

QUESTION: Nick, could you give some sense of what help the United States might be prepared to offer, what the Ambassador is doing down here at this point?

MR. BURNS: Steve, I'm just not in a position to go into that. I think you'll understand the reasons why.

QUESTION: Did you have some communication with the Japanese Government on this incident?

MR. BURNS: We have been in touch with the Government of Japan. In fact, we will be in touch here at the State Department with a variety of governments over the course of the afternoon, essentially just so we can compare notes and make sure that all of us have the information we need to have and make sure that all of us are in a position to be as supportive as we can to the Peruvian Government.

Still on this issue? Okay.

QUESTION: Just one more. Back to identification of affiliates overseas, beyond Peru, you have denied or at least not been able to comment about Cuba. Can you say that there are known links to various terrorist groups but you're unable to state them publicly. Is that accurate?

MR. BURNS: That's fair to say.

` Okay, Sid.

QUESTION: On the Middle East. Ben Gilman and Jesse Helms have written a letter to the Prime Minister of Israel. Have you seen it?

MR. BURNS: I've not seen it, no. I've seen the press reports.

QUESTION: Okay, well, it's a fairly effort to separate at least those two gentlemen from the Clinton Administration's new rhetorical effort regarding the Middle East peace process.

Do you have any comment on it?

MR. BURNS: I haven't seen the letter, so I can't comment on it.


QUESTION: Any comment on the apparent suicide of Mr. Hunziker?

MR. BURNS: Just to say that we saw the press reports of the tragic death of Mr. Hunziker in Tacoma, Washington, this morning. Obviously, our condolences go out to his family and to his friends. It's a very, very sad case. He went through a lot. He went through a lot in his imprisonment in North Korea. I can't account, obviously, for the circumstances surrounding his death. That's a matter for the local law enforcement authorities and certainly it's a matter for his family, and we should not intrude in their privacy. But we do know a lot about him. We have an enormous amount of sympathy for what he went through, and we just want to extend our sincere condolences to his family, with which we worked very closely throughout the period of his confinement.

QUESTION: Are you suggesting something happened to him in North Korea?

MR. BURNS: Not at all, Judd. I can't make that link. I'm just suggesting that we all say a prayer for him, and we're very, very sorry to hear this news.

QUESTION: Are you blaming the North Koreans for somehow contributing to his death?

MR. BURNS: I am not making that link, because I'm not in a position to do so. The young man died this morning, and I'm not in a position to know - none of us are here in Washington - how he died, the conditions of his death. It's a matter for the law enforcement authorities. Therefore, it's not possible at this point to link it to any other factor, but we remember the conditions of his confinement. We remember what he went through. He went through a terrible ordeal, and this is a very, very sad day for his family.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the arrest today involving an FBI agent who supposedly was working for the Soviets/Russians?

MR. BURNS: I think there will be a press conference by another government agency, the Justice Department, about that in just about 40 minutes.

QUESTION: Meanwhile, the State Department has nothing to say about it?

MR. BURNS: Right.

QUESTION: But, Nick, the broader question: There have been a couple of instances now involving Russian spying. Is that any way - I mean, this is sort of an ostensible ally of yours. This is someone you're trying to bring into a special relationship with NATO. Is there anything you can say about that?

MR. BURNS: First of all, I am not saying anything about the incident that George asked about. It's not my domain.

QUESTION: On the issue of Russian spies.

MR. BURNS: On the issue of Russia, we have developed over the last five years - five-and-a-half years - a very positive relationship with Russia that has done a lot to diminish the fear of war in Europe and to lower the nuclear threshold. These are the most vital concerns of the United States Government, and President Bush and President Clinton have emphasized relations with Russia, because we need to have a cooperative, constructive relationship with Russia to preserve peace and to make sure that the 21st century is more peaceful than this century has been.

That is the strategic justification for the basis of U.S.-Russian relations. We don't always agree with the Russian Government. From time to time, as in the case of Mr. Ames and Mr. Nicholson, we certainly have profound disagreements with the actions of the Russian security services, and we let the Russians know about that - you can believe it - in private as well as in public. This is not a government with which we have in all respects shared values or shared ideas, but it is a government with which we have constructed the type of relationship that can best secure the future and the security of the American people, which is the most fundamental responsibility that any American President has.

QUESTION: I believe after the Nicholson arrest there was a comment from the podium to the effect that the U.S. reserves the right to take an appropriate response.

MR. BURNS: That is always our right, and we reserve that right.

QUESTION: But you haven't made any response since the Nicholson arrest.

MR. BURNS: No. Not that I can talk about. But, when we can talk about it, I'll let you know. Obviously, it's disturbing in the case of Mr. Nicholson and Mr. Ames to see this type of behavior on the part of the Russian Government, certainly.


QUESTION: Can I go back to the Middle East for a second?


QUESTION: We've been in and around on this on other days, but would you say that there has been a change in the American policy or attitude towards Israeli settlement policy?

MR. BURNS: I would say that there has been a change in the Israeli Government's actions, and that was the action taken last Friday to increase the subsidies to the existing settlements in the West Bank. That was a change. That made a qualitative difference, and that certainly led to the remarks that the President made two days ago over at the White House, and those remarks obviously don't need much elucidation from me.

That was a very clear enunciation of our belief, basically, that in a negotiation, when one party takes a measure that is essentially pre-emptive in those negotiations, it disrupts the negotiations, and it makes it much more difficult to achieve progress in those negotiations.

Settlements are a final status issue, and the designation of settlements as a final status issue is a very important fact for both the Palestinians and the Israelis. The other issue that we're concerned about is the Hebron negotiations, and there you heard Secretary Christopher say how disappointed he was that there hasn't been the type of progress that we had anticipated in late September when Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Netanyahu came to Washington.

I would just say this: It's paramount for both of them to make progress on Hebron. It is very important for the Palestinian Authority to reciprocate some of the gestures that have been made by the Israeli Government recently. We believe a Hebron agreement is possible. We believe it must be achieved in order to continue this historic process of peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and there have been some gestures made by the Israelis recently in private that ought now to be reciprocated. Both are responsible for the success or failure of these negotiations, and we believe they can succeed, but there needs to be a renewed effort to have them succeed.

QUESTION: Can I follow up just briefly, Norm. I'm sorry. In this reaction to the new Israeli step, which is basically how you characterized it, have you coordinated this action with the nominee to be Secretary of State and current UN Ambassador, Mrs. Albright?

MR. BURNS: Steve, this, you know -

QUESTION: That's not how it's done. I mean, I'm just -

MR. BURNS: The way in which we responded, of course, was directed by the President and by Secretary Christopher, and Secretary Christopher in particular, as you know, given his interests and involvement in the Middle East over the last four years, has been very, very closely involved in the formulation of our policy and what we said about this issue just in the past week.

Of course, he and others have communicated this to Ambassador Albright. But Ambassador Albright has a lot of work to do right now. She's busy preparing for her confirmation hearings. She's been very busy up at the United Nations. As you know, she was present at the United Nations yesterday when there was a unanimous vote and very welcome vote for Kofi Annan to become Secretary General.

So we have one Secretary of State at a time, and I think you ought to look at Secretary Christopher as having been the primary motivator behind this policy.

QUESTION: Nick, on the settlements, is it helpful for Chairmen of key congressional committees to take the opposite position from the Administration?

MR. BURNS: The great thing about the United States is that we have this system of a balance of power where the Congress has an absolute right to speak out publicly and to enunciate a position, and certainly the Chairman of the House International Relations Committee has the right and probably has the obligation to speak publicly about what his views are. We recognize that right. We respect it. We respect Chairman Gilman.

We may have a difference of opinion slightly on this issue, but I don't think you ever want to see the day come in America when any Administration - and specifically this Administration - is antagonistic towards public remarks by members of Congress. They have a right to make them. We don't always see eye to eye, and particularly when you have a situation where you have a President in one party and the House and Senate controlled by another party. But they have a fundamental right and obligation to say what they want.

Also in our system of government, of course, the President is the prime executor, has the prime responsibility for carrying out American foreign policy, and we will continue to do that, serving our President in the best way we can. I think that this Administration has made its views very, very clear over the last week on this issue of settlements.


QUESTION: On a different subject. On the talks with the North Koreans in New York, is there any more that you can say? Did they continue into today? Have they made any gesture towards South Korea on the question of the sub incident?

MR. BURNS: The talks have continued. As you know, they've addressed a very wide range of issues. We got into some of those issues yesterday involving the submarine incident, the Agreed Framework, the Four-Party talks and some bilateral issues. I don't have much to add to what I said yesterday. We have not yet seen the type of gesture that we must see from the North Koreans that would effectively allow the Republic of Korea and the United States to close this chapter of the submarine incident, which is a fundamental violation of South Korea's sovereignty.

QUESTION: Do you know how long these talks will go on?

MR. BURNS: I don't. Mr. Li's departure date has not been set. He remains in New York. He has not yet returned to Pyongyang, so I suppose we'll be in contact for a while, which is not surprising, given the number of issues that we have in front of us.

QUESTION: Can you say that you are making headway on some of these issues?

MR. BURNS: I think the talks have been constructive, but I think particularly with the North Koreans, you always want to be careful about not predicting success before the talks have finished. We haven't achieved satisfaction on the submarine incident. We certainly have not achieved our goal of involving the North Koreans in Four-Party talks so that a final peace agreement might be reached to end the Korean War.

We have achieved, I think, a relative degree of satisfaction -- we have -- on the Agreed Framework, which is in place. The North Koreans are meeting their commitments. The United States and our partners are meeting our commitments.


QUESTION: Serbia. Has Dick Miles met with Milosevic more recently than we know about, and can you bring us up to date as to whether you think there's any progress on that front?

MR. BURNS: I don't believe that Dick Miles, our Charge d'Affaires in Belgrade, has seen Mr. Milosevic recently, but I can tell you this. Secretary Christopher had a meeting this morning with Ambassador Max Kampelman, who many of you will remember is a distinguished American diplomat who served in many Administrations. Ambassador Kampelman has been asked to join the OSCE delegation, which is to be headed by the former Spanish Prime Minister, Felipe Gonzalez. That delegation will be departing very shortly for Belgrade.

The original suggestion for this delegation was made by the United States way back on November 18th, the day following the elections when it was abundantly clear to us that the elections had been stolen by the Serbian Government.


MR. BURNS: Serbian Government. Thank you, Sid. This delegation will look into the present crisis. It will review the basis of the November 17th election. It will review the vote counting in the 15 of the 18 constituencies where we strongly suspect there was foul play. It's a very important delegation. We expect that Mr. Milosevic will deal with this delegation fairly and openly, and that he will be respectful about the conclusions of this delegation, and that he will be inclined to follow the recommendations that this delegation makes.

We felt it important to have a senior-level figure head the delegation. Mr. Gonzalez is that. We also felt it important to have an experienced American diplomat be the American representative, and Secretary Christopher has a lot of confidence in Ambassador Kampelman. That's why they met this morning.

We believe this delegation will be independent and objective and fair. But, as you know, the United States starts with the presumption that the people in the streets have a grievance that has directed them to the streets, and that something has got to be done to make sure that these votes are counted fairly.

QUESTION: Nick, a follow-up. Let me see if I understand you correctly. You expect that Milosevic will be inclined to follow the recommendations, or you hope he will be inclined to follow?

MR. BURNS: We hope he will be inclined to follow these suggestions, and we hope he's inclined in that direction. But we've had enough experience with Mr. Milosevic to understand that what he says publicly is not always consistent with his private actions. You saw him meet some student demonstrators from Nis yesterday. He made a number of very, I guess on appearance, constructive statements there about how people who had interfered with the elections were going to be punished. It will be very interesting to see if that happens. It would be interesting to see if these fine words are backed up by good actions.


QUESTION: A couple of questions on Zaire. Now that President Mobutu is safely installed back in one of his many homes, what does the United States expect from him in the coming weeks?

MR. BURNS: It's hard to know what to expect from President Mobutu. He's been away so long. He's had a very serious illness. I can say this: The United States, as you know, has spoken very clearly over a long period of time about the problems in Zaire, the lack of accountability in the government; the wasted resources by the government; the incredibly lavish lifestyles in a country where so many people are suffering.

We continue to believe that some kind of transition to a more democratic, more just system, ought to be the future for the Zairian people. We believe that free and fair elections remain the best hope for addressing the legitimate political aspirations that many Zairians have. We have had an effective relationship with Prime Minister Kengo, and I know that our Ambassador has been in touch with him quite often.

We're currently funding Zairian non-governmental organizations to promote a respect for human rights, to promote those who believe that democracy ought to be the future of Zaire, and to promote civic programs that we think will make Zaire a more just society. That's where we're putting our money.

We believe that the leadership of Zaire ought to be determined by the people of Zaire. So we'd like to see upon President Mobutu's return some kind of effort to make a transition to democracy in a very troubled country.

QUESTION: Do you think that free and fair elections can be held under the current conditions of security in Zaire, and could those conditions of security be improved without some form of external intervention?

MR. BURNS: They're two separate questions. First, I think it would be very difficult to hold free and fair elections today in Zaire, given the nature of that society and the nature of the government. The second, the United States does not currently support, as you know, any kind of intervention force in Zaire. I think the Canadian Government concluded quite properly that with this dramatic exodus of the Rwandan refugees back to Rwanda from Zaire and also now from Tanzania, where we believe 250,000 people have returned just in the last three or four days - that situation was effectively resolved by the refugees themselves.

There has been some talk internationally, as you know, about an intervention force to try to stabilize the situation in Eastern Zaire, which now is characterized by a dramatic extension of the authority of the rebel alliance in Eastern Zaire, and the United States does not support such a mission. Frankly, we don't know what the framework of such an intervention force would be, what the goal would be, or how any objectives could be successfully carried out.

The sovereignty of the Government of Zaire is important. The borders of the country are important. We do not agree, as a major American paper said today in an editorial, that somehow the borders don't make a difference. They do make a difference in a continent with over 50 states and a continent whose borders were drawn not by the people themselves but by the former colonial powers. It does make a difference to respect those borders. We think the borders ought to be respected. It's an important international principle that we believe adds to stability.

So we hope that the Government of Zaire is able to hold things together, extend its influence, and we hope that the Government of Zaire and the rebel alliance can enter into some kind of political dialogue that will allow them to resolve their differences.

QUESTION: Mobutu's got to be the man to impose security then.

MR. BURNS: Excuse me?

QUESTION: President Mobutu is the only person, as far as you're concerned, who can impose security -

MR. BURNS: The Zairian Government is responsible for security within Zaire and for the protection of the borders of Zaire, and it's currently headed by President Mobutu and Prime Minister Kengo. We cannot appoint a new leadership for Zaire. We do hope that there might be some kind of democratic transition that would give people greater rights.

QUESTION: But, Nick, aren't there elections already scheduled for May, and are you saying that they should be postponed, given the circumstances?

MR. BURNS: I didn't say anything of the sort. In fact, everything that I've been saying would lead you to believe that the United States hopes that elections will be held and should be held.

QUESTION: But it's very difficult to hold free and fair elections at the present time in Zaire.

MR. BURNS: Today in Zaire. We would hope very much that the government would want to hold elections, and that they could be free and fair. A lot of work would have to be done to make them free and fair, given the conditions in that society.

QUESTION: Your hopes for transition away from Mobutu, is that hope shared, would you say, by the European allies, particularly France?

MR. BURNS: I want to be clear about something, Barry. I have not said anything about a transition away from Mr. Mobutu. That's not our choice. That is not our business to say that h should go or he should remain. That's not our business. We hope for a democratic transition, and we would hope that the current government would lead that transition. But we are putting our money into programs that encourage civic groups that are democratic, that believe in human rights, and that believe in elections.

QUESTION: Then you haven't lost hope that Mobutu can lead Zaire into a democratic transition?

MR. BURNS: I choose not to make a comment about the political future of Mr. Mobutu. I'm not making a comment about that. It's not our business to make a public comment about that. I don't know where he's going to lead the country, frankly. He's just returned. He's obviously got a lot of problems on his hands - a major rebel offensive underway in Eastern Zaire. He's got a lot of business on his plate. It's not the position of the United States to give that kind of advice - a government should stay, a government should go. But we do believe in general there should be a transition to democracy.

QUESTION: You have no position on Mobutu himself.

MR. BURNS: We have a lot of positions on Mobutu, but sometimes we don't advertise them in public.

QUESTION: No, in the old days you carried out our policy through other forms and parts of this government, and Mobutu was well rewarded by the United States for many years, and then you didn't like him any more for various reasons - most of them good - and the question now is this is the biggest man in Zaire. He's come home. And the question is, does he have America's support or not?

MR. BURNS: Our hopes are centered in a future that we hope will be democratic in Zaire. We will judge Mr. Mobutu by his success or failure in meeting that objective. That's the objective that the United States thinks is a fair one and a just one for the people of Zaire, and speaking more broadly, the people of Central Africa. But I'm not going to - I can't put myself in the position of giving a lot of advice to him publicly. We'll reserve our advice for our private discussions with him.

QUESTION: Related issue. The French Foreign Minister, Mr. De Charette -

MR. BURNS: Who said some very nice things about Secretary Christopher, by the way, here in Washington two days ago - some very nice things. He said the Secretary was a great Secretary of State. He said the Secretary had been very active and creative in the Middle East, and I just wanted to repeat for everybody what Foreign Minister de Charette said so kindly about Secretary Christopher.

QUESTION: He also said he was -

QUESTION: Would you say "better late than never"?

QUESTION: He also said he was deeply pained by some comments that actually came from you, and one of them was -

MR. BURNS: I can't imagine I would say anything that would pain anyone. I try to be, you know, objective up here, Ben.

QUESTION: For example, I man, I'd just like to check what you say about this. He said that he left this meeting at NATO unaware that a toast was about to be begun or had begun in honor of Mr. Christopher. He also said that Mr. Rifken and Mr. Dini of Italy and England also left the meeting to talk to the press, but nobody blamed them; that somehow he was singled out for having left this meeting as a grave insult to Mr. Christopher. Is that how you see it?

MR. BURNS: This story is now - let's see - Wednesday. This story is eight days old, and I think your paper did a story or several stories on this - I know that other papers did last week - it's last week's story. I said a lot of things last week, and I stand by everything I said. There was a snub, and I stand by that.

But the good news is - the good news is - that the French Government came to Washington this week and they said some nice things about the Secretary of State which were well received. I understand that Secretary Perry and Minister Millon had a similarly positive discussion in Brussels. We stand by what we said. But this story has a more positive element to it this week than last week.

QUESTION: The Lebanese Prime Minister, Mr. Hariri, yesterday at the National Press Club, he stated Syrian troops at the northern part of Lebanon - especially in the Bekaa Valley - they give them some kind of security - in the Bekaa Valley, especially. Other than Syria, there arises a lot of problems in all the neighboring countries. It's a terrorist base and counterfeiting and poppy-growing.

When you met with Prime Minister Hariri on this Bekaa issue, did you raise this issue?

MR. BURNS: Just over the last couple of days?


MR. BURNS: The focus of our discussions with him were on economic reconstruction in Lebanon. The Lebanese Government is very well aware of our views about the terrorist bases in the Bekaa Valley.

By the way, the Syrian Government is also aware and is mentioned in our Annual Terrorist Report on Syria.

There are a couple of things I want to tell you before we all separate today. First of all, I had a phone call from Abdulsalam al-Massarueh yesterday. He asked me just to pass on to everybody his greetings. As you know, he's been very ill but he's hopeful he'll be released from the hospital very shortly. He has received a lot of calls from a lot of people on both sides of this lectern. He appreciates them very much, and he just wanted me to say this at the briefing. I think we all just hope that he makes a full recovery. He's a wonderful man. He usually sits in that chair, and we can't wait for the day when he comes back to join us. I know that day will be soon.

Second, we had a very significant retirement party here at the Department this morning. Some of you may have been there at 11:45. Ambassador Tom Pickering, as you know, retired the last day of November. Secretary Christopher wished him well today in a very elegant retirement ceremony.

Ambassador Pickering had seven Ambassadorships, culminating in his role as U.S. Ambassador to Russia. In my view, he is the most outstanding career diplomat that this country has produced, certainly, in the last several decades. All of us here at the State Department want to wish him the very best in his new role as head of the Eurasia Foundation, which is a very good organization that funds development projects in the former Soviet Union.

Second, Secretary Christopher, later on today at 4:00 p.m. - Secretary Christopher, I think around 4:00 p.m. will be presenting the Hammer Awards. This is open to all of you. These are awards to people in the Department who have been involved in the Vice President's initiative to reinvent government, to try to take this vast bureaucracy and make it more efficient and make it more responsive to the American people. We'll have a lot of people at the State Department receiving awards today, and I encourage all of you to come and see that event.

Last, I want to invite all of you publicly to the Bureau of Public Affairs Christmas party which takes place in Room 6800 tomorrow between 3:00-5:00 p.m. You're all invited. We'll be taking attendance. Those who come will get major scoops about all the issues of the day. Those who don't, we won't talk to for a while. You have to come to our Christmas party. We'll have a lot of fun. If you don't want to talk to us, just don't show up. It's going to be a good party. It's being organized by Jamuna Broadway who has quite a flair for these productions. So I think you're going to enjoy yourself.

I'm done with my announcements.

QUESTION: I'd like to go back to Syria. Are the Syrian troops in Lebanon an occupying force as the Lebanese Prime Minister described the Israeli troops in the South? He said they're different. Are they different?

MR. BURNS: I saw what Prime Minister Hariri said. The United States, of course, hopes for the day when all foreign forces leave Lebanon. That will be a positive day because that will mean that the Lebanese Government is able to extend its sovereignty throughout the country as it should. We hope it will set up an environment in which the Lebanese Government can make a peace treaty with Israel.

We have said a lot of things in the past about the Syrian military presence. We're concerned about the support of the Government of Syria for terrorist groups. Both the groups that are based in Damascus and groups that may operate out of regions in Lebanon where the Syrian army has control. We've made that concern public many, many times.

QUESTION: Nick, over the weekend the First Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, Mr. Aleksey Bol'shakov, met in Beijing with his counterparts. This was about expanding economic ties to a more significantly military cooperation, Nick. Is there a concern on the part of this government of the growing ties and the sale of high-tech, sophisticated multi-hardware from Russia to the Chinese?

MR. BURNS: It is not surprising to see that the Chinese and Russian Governments are talking. They do have diplomatic relations. They have embassies in each other's capitals. I'm sure there are meetings that go on everyday between Chinese and Russian officials. Surely, the United States Government cannot object to that.

We are trying to build a good relationship with both countries. In the interest of peace in Eurasia, we ought to hope that Russia and China can keep their border quiet and diminish the kind of tension that was evident throughout much of the Cold War on the Sino-Russian border.

As to sales of military equipment, obviously, there are international regimes in place - specifically, the Missile Technology Control Regime - which do place limits on the type of weaponry that can be transferred from one country to the next. We expect that all countries will obey those limits.

QUESTION: Are we confident that the Russians are doing so?

MR. BURNS: It's a very, very big and general question. I would have to have a specific question. We don't have time because the journalists are all leaving and they've got to go file their stories.

QUESTION: Hebron: Yesterday, you gave a bleak assessment of where things stood on Hebron. Of course, it was a departure from the optimism that we've been hearing. When I got home and saw some of the foreign accounts on ITN Television, for instance. They were very optimistic that a deal might be imminent in a few days. I'm a little baffled. Where do you stand today? And could that have been sort of a little bit of a nudge to the parties to get it done; that things really aren't as bad as maybe you made them out to be yesterday? This has been done before, you know.

MR. BURNS: Has it, really?


MR. BURNS: I'm shocked. Actually, Barry, the United States has been optimistic from the beginning of the talks that they would one day succeed. But I think what you heard from Secretary Christopher yesterday was a little bit of frustration that the talks have not succeeded as of today. They should have succeeded. The outlines of the deal are there.

We just want to call on Israel and the Palestinians to make every effort to close this because there is a lot going on. The environment has not been conducive for forward movement on a lot of issues. It has been a negative environment in may ways, and we would like to see them get this agreement because it would help to add some momentum to the peace negotiations.

We believe this deal will be reached in the end. We'd like them to move faster. Today, I've said that in return for some of the gestures that have been made by the Israeli Government in these negotiations just recently, we think the Palestinian Authority should now put itself in a position to reciprocate some of those gestures on the specific issues that are in play in these Hebron talks.

QUESTION: Nick, a follow-up to what Bill said about the Russia-China relationship. There's been something of a drumbeat in certain newspapers in this city warning about the increasing collaboration between Russia, China, India, and Iran. Obviously, there are a lot of things going on in that area, including plans for the development of a land bridge - that is, rail connections going from Europe all the way to the coast of China.

In many respects, it seems to me that since the United States is in a good relationship with most of these countries - with India, with Russia, growing engagement with China - that the only problem there would be with Iran. I ask, if in light of this growing collaboration, if we're not better, or is not discussion here as to how one would engage a country like Iran, which obviously is becoming a player in this region?

MR. BURNS: Just to be fair to your question, if this were 1966 or 1976, I might understand the concern about rail links between China and Russia. But it's 1996. The basis of our policy towards both China and Russia is, we want them to be engaged in the world connected to the rest of the world. We do not wish to see China or Russia isolated.

We have no objections to Russia and China having a positive, constructive relationship. We ought to have a lot of fears about the reverse. It's not good for the United States to see Russia and China at odds with each other. It is good for us to see them making peace with each other as they have over the last couple of years.

Now, Iran is a completely different case. We believe that Iran should be isolated by Russia, by China, by Western Europe, and we are isolating Iran ourselves.

QUESTION: They obviously are not. And then the question arises -

MR. BURNS: We disagree with them on that issue. We have been very open for many years about our disagreement with the Russian Government and the Chinese Government on Iran. But in terms of Russia-China ties, we ought to hope that they build those roads and railroads and communication link so that Russia and China can take part in what's happening in Europe and Asia that is so positive economically and socially.

Thank you.

(Press briefing concluded at 2:20 p.m.)


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