U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #9, 97-01-16
From: The Department of State Foreign Affairs Network (DOSFAN) at <http://www.state.gov>
U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing
I N D E X
January 16, 1997
Briefer: Nicholas Burns
1 Welcome to Mr. Reyes Mata
1-2 Secretary's Schedule for next two days and arrangements for next week
2-3 Farewell to A/S Winston Lord
3 Paul Nitze
3-4 1st Town Meeting of the Year in Richmond
4 Return of D/S Talbott from Europe
4 Statement on Niger
4 Update on Kurdish Talks
4 US-Russian Space Docking
3,5, Dennis Ross and Briefing for Tomorrow
4-5.19 Hebron Agreement
19-20 Role of US Gov't in Hebron Agreement
21 Meetings with Clinton
5-7 Resumption of talks with Israel
7-8 Health of Assad
9 Communication between Assad and Clinton
9 Lebannon Peace agreement with Syria and Israel
9 Syrian Gov't Statement on Hebron
9-10 Bombings in Syria
10-11 Gen. Lebed Visit to Washington
11-13 Discussions on beginning START III talks
14-19 Latin America Arms Transfer Policy
19 Strobe Talbott Meetings in Europe
21-22 Talks with Kurdish Groups
22 Proposed Arms Sales
23-24 Treatment of Members of Scientology
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
THURSDAY, JANUARY 16, 1997, 11:45 A.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. BURNS: I just want to remind that gambling is illegal here, Sid, at
the State Department. It's illegal to gamble on Federal property. We'll
give you a warning this time. I 'm not going to -- if you were a Patriots
fan, I'd overlook it, but you're not a Patriots fan.
QUESTION: (Multiple comments)
QUESTION: Do you stand by (inaudible) for gambling?
MR. BURNS: This is Liar's Poker; right? Is that what you guys are
MR. BURNS: Yeah. Okay. Just wanted to be --
MR. BURNS: I just put you On-the-Record. Good morning.
I don't think we ever had a briefing in the morning before this.
I wanted to start the briefing by welcoming my personal guest, Mr.
Fernando Reyes Matta who is the Spokesman for the Chilean Foreign Ministry.
Mr. Reyes is a guest of mine and the guest of the State Department. He's
going to be with us for a couple of days to review our Public Affairs and
press operations. We're very, very happy that he is here. He had a
meeting with Assistant Secretary Jeff Davidow this morning. He'll be
meeting with others around the Department. He's also a scholar and a
specialist in the development of international news agencies. He has been
a visiting scholar at a number of prominent universities in Latin
America and a visiting scholar at Stanford University in Palo Alto. I hope
you'll join me in welcoming him and perhaps even some of you might want to
just talk to him at some point today or tomorrow about your perspective of
the State Department press operation. I'm sure that will be an interesting
set of conversations.
The Secretary is in his last two days in his office here at the State
Department. He's been very busy this week, as you know.
He was on Jim Lehrer the other night. I really wanted Barry to hear this.
We arrived at the Jim Lehrer studio, Barry, and we were told this was the
30th time that the Secretary had been on the Jim Lehrer Show. I think that
probably means that he prefers Jim Lehrer to Hafiz al-Assad. There have
been more visits to WETA than there have been to Damascus, which I thought
was very significant. I thought you would like that, Barry.
MR. BURNS: Good.
QUESTION: I wonder if he's back the beginning of next week.
QUESTION: You have said a number of times that it's his last day "in the
office" or "in Office." Who was the Secretary of State this weekend?
MR. BURNS: The Secretary is going to be having -- he's basically in a
series of farewell telephone calls to his colleagues.
He's meeting a lot of employees. He just finished a retirement ceremony
for several hundred State Department employees. He's being taken out to
lunch this afternoon by some of his staff.
He'll leave the building tomorrow afternoon. There is a reception here
with the President and the Vice President, with the Diplomatic Corps.
After that, he'll leave the building. He'll be Secretary of State until
Monday. On Monday, he'll attend the Inauguration.
Then, on Monday afternoon, late in the afternoon, his resignation will be
official and he will fly to California.
During the time -- after his resignation, before the Senate votes on
Ambassador Albright's confirmation and before she is sworn in, if she is
confirmed by the Senate, Strobe Talbott will be Secretary of State, ad
interim. He will not be Acting Secretary of State. He will be Secretary
of State, ad interim -- there being no Secretary of State. He'll be
serving in an ad interim capacity. That has happened many times in U.S.
history when we have situations like this -- a Secretary of State has
departed; a new Secretary of State has not yet officially been sworn
So that's the schedule, the program here at the State Department.
As I said, the Secretary has been saying his farewells. Tomorrow
afternoon at 2:00, he's going to address the employees of the State
Department at C Street -- from the mezzanine at C Street.
We expect many hundreds of people to be there. I know that many of you
will be there as well.
There will be a variety of ways that we're all going to wish him well as
he prepares to leave office. I'll have something to say at the briefing
tomorrow at 1:00 about him.
The other person I wanted to recognize who is leaving office tomorrow, but
who has a farewell ceremony today is Winston Lord.
I just wanted to say a few words in tribute to him. I think Winston has
been one of our finest American diplomats of the past 25 years. If you
think about his career as a young man, as Special Assistant to Henry
Kissinger, Winston was present at the end of the Vietnam war and he was
present at the opening of our relations to China back in --in the early
1970s. In fact, I think you remember the famous story -- and Barry was
probably on the plane -- when the Secretary's aircraft crossed into Chinese
air space, Winston raced to the front of the plane so that he could
actually precede Kissinger as the first American into Chinese air
He's been our Ambassador to China. He's been President of the Council on
Foreign Relations and now Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and
Pacific Affairs. I think he's a person of the greatest distinction and
high ethics and honor. And for me personally, he has been a great
instructor on Asian matters. He's been one of the people in the Department
who has been most willing to be open to the press and to the public and who
believes that we in the Department have to open up this Department
more than we have to date -- to the public and to the press.
I wanted to thank him for all of his help to us and to congratulate him on
a most distinguished career in government.
There's another individual who has received his share of honors this week,
and that's Dennis Ross. I just spoke to him. He finally made it home.
He's with his wife and kids after five weeks away.
I've convinced Dennis that he should come in here tomorrow afternoon and
speak to you about the Hebron agreement. He will do that.
I will schedule it for sometime around 3:00-3:30. I will let you know by
the end of today specifically. It will be in this briefing room. I would
encourage you to come with all your questions on the Hebron agreement at
I think you know that the Israeli Knesset is still considering
the agreements. They're in session. So while they're in session, I'm not
going to be able to answer -- I choose not to answer specific questions on
this agreement. We're going to wait until the Israeli Knesset takes its
action and then we'll be glad to answer your questions, and you'll have
Dennis here tomorrow.
MR. BURNS: We'll have to consider that. I didn't go over that with
him. As you know, that's always the question around here and I'll try to
make it On-the-Record. I think that probably would be the most effective
way to do it.
QUESTION: Finally, just in terms of significant, great American
diplomats. Paul Nitze turns 90 today. He is being honored at the School
of Advanced International Studies, which bears his name, over at Johns
Hopkins. He is one of the great American diplomats of our time. We, in
the State Department, wish him well. He was one of the most significant
people here for the last 50 years, from the end of the Second World War.
He's also a founder of SAIS and we just wanted to mention him today.
Further, in the way of announcements, we're going to have our first
Foreign Policy Town Meeting of the year, on January 30, in Richmond,
Virginia. I'm posting an announcement today. It will feature Ambassador
Tom Pickering who is currently President of the Eurasia Foundation. It
will also feature Ambassador Philip Wilcox, our Coordinator for Counterterrorism;
Mr. Aaron Miller, who has also just returned from Hebron, from Jerusalem
and Gaza, and yours truly. All of us will kick off the first Town
Meeting of the year in Richmond.
We plan to do at least as many Town Meetings in 1997 -- 23 -- as we did in
1996, and perhaps even more.
I also wanted to let you know that Strobe Talbott -- Deputy Secretary
Talbott --has returned from his trip to Europe. He visited NATO Headquarters,
London, Paris, and Bonn. He met with senior officials in all of those
places. His conversations centered on the NATO issue -- security issues.
They also involved some bilateral conversations.
He is back in the building; has reported to Secretary Christopher; has met
Of course, Strobe's visit took place before the very important visit by
Secretary General Solana to Moscow, which takes place on the 19th and 20th,
just in a couple of days from now.
I'm posting a statement today on the situation in Niger. This concerns the
very deep concern of the United States about the arrest and imprisonment
yesterday of the opposition party leaders and the announcement of a Special
Tribunal by the government.
We have some concerns about this, and we spelled them out in the one-page
statement that we're issuing today.
Further, I wanted to refer you to the statement issued by Glyn Davies,
Acting Spokesman, yesterday about the Kurdish talks in Ankara -- they have
completed. Ambassador Pelletreau is on his way back to Washington. We
think they were quite successful in helping to stabilize relations between
the two major Kurdish factions.
We look forward to future meetings with them and with the Turkish and
Finally, we want to note a very significant event, and that is the fact
that the space station Atlantis and the Russian Mir have docked.
Astronauts and cosmonauts are being exchanged.
This doesn't get much press attention but this is an exceedingly important
event. Because this presages the U.S., Russian, and European cooperation
to build an international space station, to begin that process later in
1997. I'm surprised by how little press attention this gets. It's one of
the most significant things happening in international life today. We want
to congratulate the Russian Government and NASA, the American astronauts
for their extraordinary accomplishments in building this program and
achieving a successful docking between Atlantis and Mir yesterday.
QUESTION: Nick, how many pieces of paper are there in the Hebron
agreement and side papers? Notice, I say "paper" because I don't want to
get caught up in terminology about assurances and side letters. I don't
want to, by making the question too specific, miss out on some of something
that will surface two weeks later as being a secret assurance.
How many pieces of paper are there? And why won't the U.S. release, make
public, Christopher's letter to Arafat? And does it differ in any
substantial way? Now you see this as being a matter of faith, taking on
faith, since you're not releasing it. Does it differ in any way with what
we know Christopher has told the Israelis?
MR. BURNS: Barry, I just received, in fact, the complete package. It's
on John Dinger's desk. I don't have it in front me so I can't tell you
exactly how many pieces of paper there are, but I'm sure we can get you a
Secondly, Dennis Ross was the mediator in these agreements -- not the
intermediary, not the facilitator, but the mediator. It's a very complex
agreement. I think suffice to say, I feel most comfortable letting Dennis
speak for himself tomorrow with you. Again, we've chosen tactically,
because the Knesset is still debating this issue, not to get into the
details of this agreement today.
QUESTION: I'm not going to be put off by that. Dennis has already
talked to the New York Times and everybody is writing about the
agreement. People are talking about it.
Your Ambassador in Israel is talking about it in Israel. The Israeli
Ambassador is talking here. Everybody is talking.
MR. BURNS: And we've said what we have to say.
QUESTION: I know you pick and choose what you care to say, but we pick
and choose our questions. Is it absolutely a given now that Israel gets to
decide how much territory it will give up? If that's so, do you have any
estimate of how much territory the Palestinians will take over as a result
of this three-stage pullback?
MR. BURNS: Nice try, Barry. But, again, we have a Presidential
statement; we have a Secretary of State statement. You had the Secretary
at the Kennedy School yesterday. You have Dennis' public statement with
Arafat and Netanyahu. You have some of these documents being made public
by the Israeli Government and by the Palestinian Authority. But until our
negotiator steps up here, since I did not sit in the room with him for the
last four months, I'm going to let him answer all those questions. That's
just good common sense.
QUESTION: Nick, do you think this deal in any way could help spur
negotiations with Syria now? Or does it not necessarily have that kind of -
MR. BURNS: I think this negotiation stands on its own.
It's a good thing for the Palestinians and for the Israeli Government and
Obviously, the United States has had as a long term goal the reinvigoration
of the Syrian and Israeli peace negotiations. Do we think that those are
imminent? No, we don't. As you know, those negotiations didn't proceed
very far into 1996. There's no indication right now that they're about to
But as a long-term objective, the United States is committed to a
comprehensive peace in the Middle East. We would like to see those
negotiations proceed in the future, but I can't realistically give you any
early indication that that's about to happen.
QUESTION: Does the Clinton Administration know -- sort of resigned to
the fact that those negotiations just have to sort of stew for awhile, or
is there some plan on behalf of this Administration to try to re-engage the
parties separately or together?
MR. BURNS: We've been pretty much consumed by the Israeli-Palestinian
talks over the last four or five months. I think the Syrians and Israelis
know that we will be very glad to help facilitate their discussions should
that be necessary. But I just don't want to give you any kind of
indication that I think that's around the corner. It's a standing offer.
They know that because we are committed to a longer-term, comprehensive
peace. But they've got to make the fundamental decision of whether or not
they want to engage in formal discussions or informal discussions. I
don't believe that either government has made that decision right
QUESTION: So you're waiting for some -- the initiative has to come from
MR. BURNS: That's normally what happens even in the Middle East where
the United States does play a big role in these negotiations.
It has to be up to the Israeli Government and Syrian Government to make
that fundamental decision.
We cannot produce that for them. If they require our assistance in any
aspect of this, of course, we're ready to work with both governments.
QUESTION: As a practical matter, is President Assad in any physical
shape to begin the arduous negotiations?
MR. BURNS: Sid, that's a question for the Syrian Government.
I'm not aware in any way, any detailed way, of the state of President
Assad's health, so I'd refer you to the Syrian Government spokesman, my
counterpart in Damascus.
QUESTION: You are aware he just had surgery.
MR. BURNS: We've seen the reports.
QUESTION: -- what the government said.
MR. BURNS: We've seen the reports.
QUESTION: And you've made no effort to look into the state of his health,
to explore --
MR. BURNS: I didn't say that. I didn't say that at all.
I said that I am not competent to give you a description of President
Asad's health, because I don't represent President Asad. The Syrian
Government spokesman, I believe, is competent to do that.
Of course, if a head of state, in this case President Asad, has surgery --
of course, we are interested in that fact, and we have a fine Embassy in
Damascus which keeps abreast of these things as best as it can. But I
can't give you an assessment of his medical condition, and you'll
QUESTION: So you think that a tentative word on Asad's -- you would
advise us to take what the Syrian spokesman says as the definitive word on
MR. BURNS: I would invite --
QUESTION: You think that would be the accurate thing we should do and
circulate around the world --
MR. BURNS: Barry, I would invite you to address that question to the
Syrians. But, if you ask me about the health of any world leader, the
Chilean Government or the Russian Government or the Syrian Government, I
cannot give you an answer. I don't speak for those governments. I speak
for our government.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) don't ask for his temperature.
MR. BURNS: Sid asked me for an assessment of his medical condition.
QUESTION: Well, Sid is asking for the very good reason that you're
trying -- you say at least spiritually you'd like to see Israeli-Syrian
talks resume --
MR. BURNS: I don't believe I said "spiritually," but anyway, it's a
minor little distinction there, Barry.
QUESTION: Well, you know what I mean. In a practical sense you don't
see it right down the pike, but you sort of see it as a goal.
MR. BURNS: Right.
QUESTION: And it being a one-man state, it's kind of significant if the
guy in charge is up to it. So from a U.S. policy standpoint, you can't --
you're not curious about whether the Syrian President is physically able to
direct his country's negotiations?
MR. BURNS: Let's just set the record straight here. I never said we
weren't curious. I never said we were disinterested.
I declined the opportunity to give you guys a medical bulletin, and I'm
not going to do that. Are we interested whether the Syrian Government --
Syrian President is in good enough health to carry on his duties? Of
course we are; and there's every indication from the Syrian Government,
putting it into their own words, that he is. But I can't give you an
assessment of his medical condition.
QUESTION: Look, Yeltsin goes to the hospital, and you're asked about the
state of this -- and you're quite able to --
MR. BURNS: I said --
QUESTION: Wait a minute, let me finish.
MR. BURNS: No, Barry, I say it every time --
QUESTION: You're quite able to --
MR. BURNS: -- we're not his doctor.
QUESTION: I know that, and then you proceed to say, Mr. Chernomyrdin is
in charge, and we have a good relationship, and we're able to deal, the
government is functioning, everything's fine, and we hope Mr. Yeltsin
recovers and goes back to work, but we are conducting business as usual.
And that doesn't somehow bother you, but when you're asked about Syria, you
get all -- I mean, the U.S. gets all uptight and nervous, right?
MR. BURNS: I'm not uptight. I'm not nervous either.
QUESTION: Look, first of all, you didn't answer Carol's question, to
tell you the truth. She --
MR. BURNS: What was Carol's question? I forget.
QUESTION: Carol's question is whether -- if she'll permit me to restate
her question. She's asking if the agreement between Israel and the
Palestinians in the U.S. view will spur Israeli-Syrian negotiations. Your
answer was you don't expect them to open right away, to that effect.
MR. BURNS: I answered the question. I answer the questions to the best
of my ability.
QUESTION: Alright. So let me try it our way. Let me try it a different
way. Netanyahu, having shown in the Hebron agreement that he is indeed,
surprisingly to some of his supporters, willing to surrender land in the
pursuit of accords with Arabs, is this -- does this encourage the U.S. that
you can get back in the land-for-peace business with Syria? Do you have
reason now to believe Netanyahu may be more agreeable to your philosophy
of trading land-for-peace -- the U.S. philosophy?
MR. BURNS: You know, Barry, I'm choosing today not to link these two.
Let me comment, just to resume and summarize this, about the Hebron
agreement. We are encouraged that the Palestinians and Israelis concluded
this agreement. It is a very good thing for everybody concerned, including
the United States.
We assume it's in the self-interest of both the State of Israel and the
Palestinian authority to proceed, because they have agreed to it.
The separate matter is the Syria negotiations. I am purposely saying I
can't draw you an intellectual link at this point. You have to see what
happens here. We hope that there can be progress between Israel and Syria,
Israel and Lebanon for that matter, and we will work towards that end. But
I don't want to mislead you by saying I think negotiations are going to
start on Saturday or Sunday, because I don't believe that's the case.
MR. BURNS: But it's encouraging to see this kind of progress on Hebron
after so many months of negotiations.
QUESTION: I have three questions on Syria. In the past, after every
major achievement or breakthrough, there was a traditional phone call from
the White House or from the Secretary to President Assad to clue him in on
what's going on. Isn't it right that this time there was no communication?
The second question is about the negative anti-agreement statements coming
from Damascus, linked to Hamas' headquarters statement that there will be
an "answer" from Damascus in the ground after and following
the Hebron agreement. Can you comment on that? And one more.
The Israeli Ambassador lately suggested an international conference to
deal with the Lebanon issue first. Do you think that the Lebanon issue
first is still a viable venue?
MR. BURNS: Okay. On the first question, I'm not aware that there's
been any kind of formal routine about who calls whom after any stage of
these negotiations. I don't agree that there's any kind of rigidity about
that. The fact is that the President did talk, as you know, to Prime
Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat, and all of our Embassies in the
Middle East have shared our views on this accord with their host governments,
and that includes the Government of Syria. Of course, we've been in
contact with the Government of Syria.
Furthermore, to skip to your third question for a minute, on Lebanon, our
view -- we haven't changed our policies or our views.
We hope that there could be a peace agreement between Lebanon and Israel,
and Lebanon and Syria, and we're going to work towards that. We've had
very good talks with Prime Minister Hariri. He was here in late December,
as you know. We hope very much that that will be the fate of the Lebanese
people in 1997 or 1998 -- peace with Israel as well as a Syria-Israeli
Now your second question?
QUESTION: The statement from Damascus --
MR. BURNS: Right. I haven't seen any Syrian Government statements. We
saw a ridiculous statement from Colonel Qadhafi, but that really doesn't
deserve any kind of comment by the U.S. Government, because it's so
ludicrous in itself. I've not seen the Syrian Government statement on the
Hebron accords. I just haven't seen them, I'm sorry.
QUESTION: On another subject --
MR. BURNS: Still on Syria -- David, yes.
QUESTION: After you said what you said about the explosions in Syria,
and questioning the Syrian Government's statement that the Israelis were
behind it, have you had any discussions with the Syrian Government about
these explosions, and have you got any closer to figuring out who caused
MR. BURNS: We have had discussions with the Syrian Government, usually
at their initiative, about this particular issue and what we've said
publicly and what may or may not have happened. We have expressed to the
Syrian Government privately what we have said publicly. In our view there
is not one shred of evidence that the Israeli Government was involved here,
and it's a very serious charge indeed for one government to accuse another
of a terrorist incident on its turf.
Prime Minister Netanyahu made a very strong statement against the bombing
in Syria. We have said that we regret very, very much the loss of life in
Syria. People died. I believe up to nine people died; many more were
injured, and our condolences go out to the family of those killed. We
don't know who committed this act of terrorism, and the Syrian Government,
I suppose, is looking into that very vigorously.
QUESTION: Didn't the Syrians attempt to convince the United States that
the Israelis were behind the bombing?
MR. BURNS: I think we made it very clear that we did not believe that
was so, and we have not received any kind of evidence whatsoever from the
Syrian Government, that the Israeli Government had any link to this. As
you know, following the press reports, some of the radical groups in the
Middle East have claimed credit for this bombing. I believe the Islamic
Movement for Change has claimed credit for this particular bombing.
QUESTION: Thank you for letting me change the subject for just one
MR. BURNS: That's fine. I'm glad to change subject.
QUESTION: Alright. With all these conflicting reports that I read about
General Lebed's arrival here, can you tell us exactly if you know who
invited General Lebed here? Is that an official invitation, and more to it,
have you been approached by his people in arranging any meetings here? If
you are approached, what would be your decision? Update us on that.
MR. BURNS: Good. Let me just say the U.S. Government policy longstanding
for the inaugural is the following. We expect that Ambassadors here and
Chiefs of Mission of diplomatic posts here -- Embassies in Washington --
will represent foreign countries at President Clinton's inauguration on
Monday. Therefore, we have not invited any foreign dignitaries. We have
not invited kings, presidents, prime minister, queens, princes --
We expect that diplomatic representatives here will be the representatives
of their country. They will be seated in a prominent section of the
seating at the inauguration, and they'll view the parade.
I think some non-profit groups, some of the lobbying organizations here in
Washington, businesses, have invited a great number of foreigners. These
are not invitations by the U.S. Government.
I have no idea who invited General Lebed. I do not believe that he's made
any request to see anybody officially, although obviously anytime that
General Lebed is willing to talk, we're willing to talk, because he's a
significant person in Russian society, and we have had a relationship with
him. We've had conversations.
He had a very good visit here a couple of months ago, and we're very much
open to discussions with him. But I don't believe anything is planned.
QUESTION: On Strobe Talbott's trip, has the United States made a
proposal, or is it considering a proposal to basically leapfrog START II,
because you can't get it through the Duma and go right into START III
MR. BURNS: Carol, I saw the same press reports that you did. I am not
aware that any firm decisions on any of these issues -- on that particular
issue -- any decisions have been made by the Administration. Our position
is formally and privately and publicly that we think START II, which was
signed four years ago this month, ought to be ratified by the Russian Duma,
as has been ratified by the U.S. Senate. We certainly have always said
for a number of years that we would like to go beyond START II and
explore the possibility of further reductions in the level of nuclear
But START II is important. I'm not aware of any decision in the United
States Government to forget about START II or leapfrog START II and go on
to START III.
QUESTION: But my question was not about a firm decision, and you keep
using the word "decision." My question is, has there been a proposal
floated? Is there consideration among senior officials in this government
about doing this -- leapfrogging START II?
MR. BURNS: I'm not aware of any such proposal being made to any foreign
government. I'm not aware of that. Okay?
MR. BURNS: Wait a minute, Barry. I'm answering Carol's question.
You've got --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) foreign government --
MR. BURNS: You've got to let me answer the question.
QUESTION: But you keep changing the question.
MR. BURNS: I'm not changing the question, Barry. I'm answering -- why
don't you ask the question.
QUESTION: I'll ask it -- no, let her go. Then I'll try it a different
QUESTION: I did not say making a proposal to a foreign government. I'm
leaving it as vague as possible, so that I don't want you to get caught up
on any one word. Have there been discussions in this government about
going beyond START II because you can't get it through the Russian Duma and
trying a new approach and going right to START III negotiations?
MR. BURNS: I am not aware of any such discussions and, if I knew about
them, I wouldn't tell the press about them -- if they were just deliberations
or musings inside the U.S. Government before any approach had been made to
a foreign government. I'm not aware of any, and I wouldn't say so even if
Secondly, I don't believe that there's been any approach to foreign
Third, START II is the centerpiece of our efforts right now.
QUESTION: Nick, you have --
QUESTION: I just want to make sure -- do the bidding here. As near as
you know, as the spokesman of this State Department and in contact with all
important senior officials, there's been no discussions of this idea.
There has been no proposal, and there has certainly been no decision.
MR. BURNS: Carol, you understand what I'm saying. I'm not aware of
any. I'm the spokesman here. I'm not in charge of our arms negotiations.
I don't attend all meetings, so I cannot possibly know. I can't prove a
negative, and I can't prove a positive. If I haven't been over at ACDA
every day for the last five months or at the White House or at the Pentagon,
or if I hadn't sat with Lynn Davis every day for the last five months,
I can't possibly know everything that has been said and everything that has
not been said.
I'm just telling you I'm not aware of any, but we're not in the practice
here of sharing preliminary proposals under discussion inside the
government with the public and the press. It's not the way the government
QUESTION: Well, will you take the question?
MR. BURNS: I'll consider looking into it, but I cannot promise an
QUESTION: Nick, this is a kind of expertise and going back to the
previous administration. Spurgeon Keeney, the head of the Arms Control
Association, months ago -- and you know the arguments he made. He's not
talking about leapfrogging. He's talking about unlocking this stalemate
which one of the reasons the Russians haven't ratified, it's expensive for
them to do this.
You're helping them a little. They have to make choices between weapons,
building the new weapons allowable with the expenses under START II. He
proposed months ago a very detailed, serious proposal that you start on
START III. The President proposed starting on START III to make it easier
to get START II ratified, because the more weapons that are banned, the
Russians won't have that big expense. That was one of his reasons.
I'll settle for considering. You have a March -- assuming Yeltsin's
health is up to it -- you have a March summit coming up. Is the Administration
considering that proposal or some variation of it to simultaneously -- well,
not simultaneously -- to start on START II -- START III as a way of
facilitating Russian approval of START II.
MR. BURNS: I can't settle for that word, because, as I said, when we're
ready to make announcements, we make them.
Our position is that START II ought to be ratified, and I gave an answer
to Carol which I thought was as direct as I could be.
QUESTION: If you could leapfrog out of it, maybe you'd be freer -- not
leapfrog, because, obviously, you want START II ratified, but to get
started on START III before START II is ratified as a way of getting START
MR. BURNS: I understand probably some of the confusion here. There
have been a lot of people speaking on background to various reporters.
We've even seen some On-the-Record statements in months past about this
particular issue. The great thing about a hierarchical government is that
the President gets to decide these, and I'm not aware the President has
made any such decision.
I'm not aware of any proposals on his desk, and therefore the President's
position and the Secretary of State's position is START II ought to be
I do know that in all recent conversations with senior Russian Government
officials, we have been saying privately START II is our priority. Let's
work on ratifying START II.
QUESTION: While we're on arms control, is there an Administration
position now on how to go about doing -- a total ban I don't think may be
in the offing -- how to go about restrictions, global restrictions on
MR. BURNS: That's a big issue. The President spoke to it last May, I
believe. He made a significant statement.
MR. BURNS: That's right. It's of great concern to us.
We do want to do everything we can to help eliminate landmines because you
know the scourge they've been and the number of amputees.
Millions have been created because of them. There is a Canadian proposal
now, which is a quite significant proposal, that is being considered
internationally, and that proposal is under review in our Administration.
But I don't believe the President has made a decision on that.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) proposal.
MR. BURNS: I'm talking about the Canadian proposal.
QUESTION: I said there's a second, go through the U.N., because Russia
and China are not keen on the Canadian proposal.
The other way is slower but possibly will attract China and Russia.
He hasn't come down -- the Administration hasn't come down on one side or
MR. BURNS: I believe that those latest proposals -- but I'm speaking
particularly about the Canadian one -- are under review here, and no
decision has been made on those proposals.
But I do want to bring you back to President Clinton's own personal
statements on this issue in 1996, which were quite forthcoming, and which
indicated that the United States does want to move forward on this
QUESTION: While we're on arms control, Nick, what is the advantage that
-- specifically Secretary Christopher and Secretary Perry -- see in opening
up Latin America to a cascade of arms sales?
MR. BURNS: Again, I'm not going to agree with the premise of the
question that somehow Secretary Christopher is recommending that. Let me
just tell you that we are reviewing our conventional arms transfer policy
towards Latin America in the context of the significant political and
economic military transformation that has occurred in South America and
Latin America in general over the past ten years.
We want to encourage all the Latin countries to concentrate their
resources on economic and social development, because we think that's the
best way to foster the kind of stability across the hemisphere that is
needed in the next century. I can tell you that this general policy --
there have been a lot of rumors that somehow our policy has changed. I'm
not aware of that. I'm not aware there's been any decision by the White
House, by the President, to fundamentally change the policy that has been
in place for many, many years.
But we have told you before that this policy is under review, and I
believe it's still under review. I don't believe any fundamental decisions
have been made here.
QUESTION: Without a decision being made, there have been recommendations
made. How would increased arms sales contribute to the economic resources
of any Latin American country?
MR. BURNS: Let me just say -- perhaps something -- and you're a veteran
here, you know this --but that's obvious if I start to talk about proposals
being made at the White House, then I deserve to lose my job. That's just
not something that a State Department spokesman -- any spokesman -- should
be doing. I can't talk about that. I can just tell you that there's a
There's a considerable amount of discussion about this. There have been
public statements by both Secretary Christopher and Secretary Perry during
their respective trips to Latin America at the beginning of 1996. But
since the President has not made any decision to change our policy that I'm
aware of, I can't talk about the private deliberations that might influence
QUESTION: When did (inaudible) transformation, because I infer something
else from that -- that there's more democracy there and you feel freer in
providing weapons. What is your point about the political transformation,
MR. BURNS: We want to encourage the positive transformation evident in
the hemisphere, with the exception of Cuba, over the past five to ten years,
and there's no better example than Chile.
QUESTION: How does it relate to arms sales?
MR. BURNS: How does that relate to arms sales?
MR. BURNS: Because we have a policy towards our own hemisphere that is
not based just on political considerations alone or economic considerations
alone or military. We try to make sure that we have a united policy that
integrates all those factors. That's why. So they are related here.
QUESTION: Can I try this a little differently? You may not be speaking
publicly about this issue, but the Pentagon is.
MR. BURNS: What have you seen the Pentagon say in the last couple of
days that changes my --
QUESTION: Has the Secretary of State changed his position on the U.S.
policy towards high-tech arms sales to Latin America?
MR. BURNS: What was that show, "Truth or Consequences"?
QUESTION: "Twenty-one Questions."
MR. BURNS: "Twenty-one Questions." That's what I feel like today.
This is kind of, "Tell us everything you're thinking privately, and let's
just all write articles on it." I can't do that.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the answers.
MR. BURNS: I don't have the answers. I may have some of the answers,
but I -- well, they're legitimate questions, and I understand why you're
asking them. I mean, just to be serious for a moment. But you understand
that in any government like ours if I begin to say, Secretary Christopher
made a recommendation to the President today and here it is, well, that is
not going to help the Secretary or the President make a decision in an
environment that is rational. It exposes them, before the President has
a chance to see a piece of paper, to all sorts of questions from
the press, and I don't believe there's been any spokesman who's ever done
that from this podium. So I'm not going to start today.
The Secretary has views on this. He has studied the issue. The Department
has studied it. The Pentagon has studied it. We've worked it with the
Pentagon and the NSC staff. But I'm not in a position to tell you what our
preliminary conclusions may be, and the great thing about our government is
that those views ultimately don't matter. What matters is what the
President thinks, and I'm not aware he's made a decision.
QUESTION: This issue has been under review for quite a while --
MR. BURNS: Right.
QUESTION: And the Secretary had no compunction about expressing his
particular point of view publicly when he did several months ago before
Congress. And so I think to ask the question publicly now, you know, does
the Secretary still share that point of view, or has he changed it in any
way is a legitimate question that deserves a straightforward answer.
MR. BURNS: Certainly, it's a legitimate question. I agree with you.
But I have a responsibility to protect the integrity of our decision-making
process here. I'm not going to violate that. The Secretary of State has
talked a lot about this, as has Secretary Perry, but their private views
and any possible evolution in those views --and I'm not saying there even
has been -- are for them to communicate to the President privately.
Once the President makes a decision, then the Administration will announce
a maintenance of the policy or a revision of the policy --hatever the
President decides -- but I can't anticipate that decision.
QUESTION: Nick, the reality of the situation is that Pentagon officials
are saying that Mr. Christopher has signed a letter along with Mr. Perry,
and that therefore his views have changed. Unless you say that isn't true,
MR. BURNS: No, it shouldn't stand, because I would challenge you to ask
my colleague, Ken Bacon, about that -- On the Record -- and see what answer
you get. I would bet that Ken would say on the record exactly what I have
said, because he and I have discussed this.
MR. BURNS: If other people are talking at the Pentagon, they shouldn't
characterize the views of the Secretary of State.
We don't characterize the views of the Secretary of Defense from our
QUESTION: Well, conversely then, should we take it that what's on the
record concerning the Secretary's position remains the position?
MR. BURNS: Absolutely, positively. Whatever the Secretary has said on
this issue stands as the Secretary's views.
QUESTION: So he opposes high tech -- opening up the high tech market to
MR. BURNS: I don't believe the Secretary -- I mean, I've been with the
Secretary, I think, every time he's said anything on this over the last
year. I don't remember anything that stark, Carol. I remember the
Secretary basically saying on his trip and in congressional testimony after
his trip that in essence we have a policy. We've been following this
policy for decades.
There is now a review of that policy. We've discussed this review with
the Chilean Government, the Argentinian Government, the Brazilian
Government, and we're going to work through this.
But the Secretary has not enunciated any change of the policy, and the
President has not, and neither has Secretary Perry.
QUESTION: Nick, without specifically to Latin America, I seem to
remember -- I probably could find it -- that the Secretary a few months ago
enunciated what appeared to be a more lenient or a more --lenient is the
word, I guess -- policy on high-tech sales and sort of veering to the
Commerce Department's position, if I can put it maybe in a unfair nutshell,
that he's become
-- how should I say -- more inclined -- and, you know, he said many times
this Administration is the friendliest to business of any Administration --
and weapons is --
MR. BURNS: That's true.
QUESTION: -- is part of capitalism that makes this country great. So
isn't the Secretary --
MR. BURNS: That's true as well.
QUESTION: Absolutely. Andrew Undershaft felt the same way.
MR. BURNS: Excuse me, who did?
QUESTION: George Bernard Shaw's "Andrew -" forget it. It's just an
unfortunate literary reference. Is the Secretary inclined, generally
speaking, if you want to take Latin America out of the question, to support
arms sales to countries that are not threatening anybody's security?
MR. BURNS: I can't speak generally about that, because our arms sale
policy is regional and sometimes country specific.
We have very different policies, depending on what the political and --
MR. BURNS: Sure. And the Iranians and others.
QUESTION: But Latin America is almost consistently democratic now.
MR. BURNS: Listen, I can't improve upon what the Secretary said this
year, but the major line of questioning here is, have we changed our policy,
and I can't --
QUESTION: Well, maybe it's a vowel (inaudible)
MR. BURNS: That's the major line of questioning.
QUESTION: My question was, in this specific instance, since the
Secretary of State has felt free to speak publicly about his position
himself, do we accept that as continuing to reflect his position, or has
there been a change in his thinking?
MR. BURNS: Carol, the Secretary has not explained his personal
position. He has enunciated publicly the Administration's position, and
what I am trying to say is you're trying to get me to say what's Christopher's
position, what's Perry's position, do they agree. Have they suggested a
change to the President.
I'm saying we have a -- if you look at what Ken Bacon has said, Mike
McCurry and myself, including all of our superiors over the last year, it's
fully consistent. We have a policy, but we've told you that it's under
What we haven't done yet is said the review's finished; here are our
conclusions. But I can't do that today, because the review isn't finished,
as far as I know.
QUESTION: What about the story?
MR. BURNS: Which story?
QUESTION: The stories that were out yesterday about this memo.
MR. BURNS: I didn't even read through all of the story yesterday, so I
can't possibly even -- to be fair to you and to me, I can't say I deny it,
I concur with it. I haven't read through the whole thing. I usually read
through these stories, but I didn't get through that one.
QUESTION: It's a bogus defense.
MR. BURNS: It's not a bogus defense. Let's be fair here.
You're asking me to do something that no other rational spokesman would
do. I'm not going to do it. I'm not going to tell you what we're thinking
QUESTION: Nick, in your sort of introductory remarks on this topic, you
seem to be suggesting that there is some hesitation based on those
countries inability to afford the initial purchase as well as the
maintenance of some of these high-tech systems.
Did I read you correctly on that?
MR. BURNS: I don't remember saying anything at all about that issue;
QUESTION: You said "We want to encourage these nations to --
MR. BURNS: About affording -
QUESTION: -- "affording resources on economic development."
When you were asked about whether we would like --
MR. BURNS: Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't say anything about countries not
being able to afford it. I was on the record. We'll be glad to print those
words if you want it.
QUESTION: Why would you choose that statement when we're talking about
MR. BURNS: Barry asked that question, and I answered that question.
It's rational to have such an approach. We look at any question like this
as having several dimensions -- political, military, and economic. Not
just one dimension. That's why I said what I did.
QUESTION: Another subject.
MR. BURNS: I want us to keep talking about this. It's so much
QUESTION: You probably can't talk about this one either.
Can you enlighten us a little bit on what Strobe Talbott was discussing
regarding NATO and what kinds of concessions/offers/fig leaves -- whatever -
-NATO is ready to offer?
MR. BURNS: I have the "Top Secret" negotiating papers, I think. John,
can we give those to the press? We can publish them afterwards, maybe.
I'm being a little bit facetious because this is a little bit -- strange
line of questioning. I can't tell you what Strobe's private conversations
were and the private ideas that he put forward.
I can tell you that he was in Europe discussing NATO issues, European
Security issues, bilateral issues. What he said privately to senior
government officials in Bonn and Paris, it's not in our tradition to say
what he said.
QUESTION: Nick, two questions, if I can go back to the Middle East.
When that package of papers is untied and all the pieces of paper are put
on the table, could you let us know, in any way you choose, how many side
letters or assurances there are, by whom to whom, accompanying the
agreement itself? And, secondly, Dennis is back and we all know issues
were deferred -- not only final status but Gaza airport; all sorts of
issues had to be put aside for the sake of concluding the implementation
Is Dennis available to jump back in at any point to try to narrow these --
you know, the White House has expressed confidence and said he's staying on
and all that, but I'm just trying to get an idea if he changes his clothes
and jump back or do you figure there will be some -- what Mr. Rabin, I
guess used to say -- a period of digestion is required before you get back
into these other issues? I'm not talking about "final status."
I know that's down the road.
MR. BURNS: If the Palestinians and Israelis want us to become involved
in any aspect of this in the future, I'm sure we'll be glad to do so
because we were so much involved in the creation of these documents. I
think it probably goes without saying, but it's worth repeating.
QUESTION: How do you describe the U.S. role in this agreement?
What word would you choose: "guarantor, mediator?"
MR. BURNS: I think the Palestinians and Israelis publicly have said
over the last two days that the President and Secretary Christopher and
Dennis Ross played the role of mediator in the discussions. We were very
much involved in helping them achieve the agreement, so therefore we'll be
available -- in answer to Barry's question -- in the future should they
need us to help sort out any problems, if there are any problems.
QUESTION: What about the risk factor?
QUESTION: You wouldn't call yourself the guarantors of this agreement?
MR. BURNS: I don't believe that Dennis has described our role or the
President -- I don't believe so; I can't remember all the phrases used. We
are a friend of the Palestinians and we're a friend to Israel. We've
helped them reach this agreement, and we sure want to help them keep the
agreement. So, Sid, I hope that gets to what you're asking.
QUESTION: "Guarantors" is a strong word. The running refrain here, the
boilerplate is: As they take risk for peace, the United States will stand
by them. So has anybody, either side or both, taken a risk by this
agreement? And if they have, what will the United States do exactly to
"stand by them?"
MR. BURNS: The agreements are in the self-interest of both sides.
They're in the self-interest of the United States.
So we enter into them with our eyes open, and we want them to succeed.
QUESTION: But is there a risk factor involved? Did somebody, or two
sides maybe, take any risks -- political or security or whatever -- that
you're aware of?
MR. BURNS: I'm not aware of any risks. If the agreement is in the self-
interest of the Palestinians and Israelis, they go into this willingly.
QUESTION: You know, (inaudible) both. You can do something on a
calculated - take a calculated risk.
MR. BURNS: I'm not aware of any risks.
MR. BURNS: I'm not aware of any specific risks. These agreements are
in their self-interest.
QUESTION: On another subject. Do you take -
MR. BURNS: I'm sorry, Jim, we have one more question over here.
QUESTION: Was Secretary-designate Albright involved in the latest stages
of the Hebron agreement?
MR. BURNS: No, she was not.
QUESTION: Do you have -- she was not?
MR. BURNS: No. And the reason she was not is because she cannot
presume confirmation by the United States Senate. The Senate has an
important constitutional responsibility to vote on her confirmation.
Ambassador Albright has been rigorous in not carrying out any official
functions related to the Secretary of State's job. She will not do so
until the Senate votes to confirm her and she is sworn in here in
We have a Secretary of State. His name is Warren Christopher.
When he leaves, Strobe Talbott will be Secretary of State ad interim until
such time as Madeleine Albright is sworn in, if she is confirmed. She was
not involved in these negotiaions in any way.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the agreement was achieved. Is there a better
idea when the succession of leaders -- Netanyahu, Arafat, Mubarak, and King
Hussein -- will arrive to Washington to --
MR. BURNS: I'm not aware that the White House has announced the dates
of the visits by the Prime Minister and Chairman Arafat, so I'd refer you
to Mike McCurry on that. We'll try to keep you informed as well when that
news is ready.
QUESTION: The Kurdish issues. Secretary Pelletreau is meeting in
MR. BURNS: Yes.
QUESTION: When he has a meeting -- at the same time one of the leader's
of the Kurdish groups, he was at the Iran -- Tehran -- otherwise, in
MR. BURNS: Excuse me, was where?
QUESTION: Mr. Talabani -- when Pelletreau has a meeting with the Kurdish
groups, at the same time Mr. Talabani is in Tehran and Mr. Barzani is in
Baghdad. Doesn't that show these two groups, they are looking for
something else other than the United States to help their problem?
MR. BURNS: I don't see the Iranians organizing any northern Iraq talks
that encompass the Assyrians and the Kurdish groups and the other minority
groups. I don't see the Iraqis doing it either. It seems like the United
States and Turkey and Britain are the only countries that can pull it
together. If the Iranians can do it, well, let's see. I bet they can't,
and we know that Saddam can't. So I wouldn't pay much attention to the
Iraqis and Iranians in this respect.
QUESTION: Can you say that meeting was a success?
MR. BURNS: Yes. The meeting was a success. It achieved some progress
in stabilizing the relationship among these groups in northern Iraq.
Ambassador Pelletreau will be remaining in telephone contact with Barzani
and Talabani and the others. While we have not scheduled any further
meetings, I'm sure there will be further meetings.
We appreciate the support of the Turkish Government and the British
Government on this issue.
QUESTION: On a related issue. I understand this government has decided
to go forward with the sale of army tactical long-range -- army tactical
missiles to Turkey. What's the reasoning behind that?
MR. BURNS: I'll have to check with the Pentagon. I'm not aware that a
formal decision has been made. Perhaps you can refer that -- you can ask
that question of the Pentagon and I'll ask as well and see what we can
QUESTION: I'd like to know the political reasoning behind it; if it's
more of a State Department question?
MR. BURNS: Fine. I need to get the details about the proposed sale, if
there is a proposed sale. But you know Turkey is a NATO ally. It's not
surprising that we would sell weapons to Turkey because it's a NATO ally of
the United States.
QUESTION: But at the same time (inaudible) Greece getting long-range
missiles -- the Greek Cypriots getting long-range missiles.
MR. BURNS: The Cypriot Government?
MR. BURNS: But that's a different matter entirely.
QUESTION: Change the subject?
MR. BURNS: Yes.
QUESTION: The German Government's controversy with the Church of
Scientology over the last days has become more aggressive. Probably this is
a very German issue. The Germans seem to be concerned about the image that
might change in the U.S. because even on the political side there are at
least indications several Congress people wrote to the State Department
raising concerns about the treatment of members of the Church of Scientology.
Do you have a position on this? Is the treatment of members of the Church
of Scientology in Germany a violation of human rights, as some of members
of Congress claim?
MR. BURNS: We have an oft-expressed position on this.
We've expressed our position a number of times, and it's the following:
We believe that the members of the Church of Scientology have a right to
practice their religion in Germany and in all other countries -- the United
States, all of the countries around the world.
If you look at our human rights reports from 1993 to 1996, we have
commented, I think on a yearly basis, with the possible exception of one
year in the middle, about the German Government's treatment of scientologists.
We have been somewhat critical of the German Government's treatment of the
scientologists. They have interfered, we believe, with the religious
rights of many scientologists, among them American citizens and that's
where we come in.
You know that Chic Correa and John Travolta and other noted American
artists are scientologists. They have spoken out about this issue.
Some Americans have had their religious rights infringed upon by the
actions of the German Government.
There is another side to the story. Some of the scientologists have taken
out full-page ads -- advertisements -- in the New York Times comparing
the current German Government to the Nazi government. Those advertisements
are outrageous and they are wrong. We have advised the scientology
community not to run those ads because the German Government is a
democratic government and it governs a free people. It is simply
outrageous to compare the current German leadership to the Nazi area
We've told the scientologists this. And in this sense, we share the
outrage of many Germans to see their government compared to the Nazis.
QUESTION: Nick, can you explain how you --
MR. BURNS: There's a follow-up, Barry, and then you ask your question.
QUESTION: Would you say that -- if you say there are some different
judgments, would you go as far as to say that the treatment is actually a
violation of human rights? Maybe just a different question. The German
Government refers to testimonies by former members of the Church of
Scientology in the U.S. saying that the church itself violates human rights
and brainwashes members and there are a lot of accusations. That's
something you don't take seriously?
MR. BURNS: We have listen to the German Government. We've had many,
many discussions and an on-going conversation with the German Government on
this. We have a clear position.
We believe that the German Government ought to respect the religious
rights of the scientologists and all other religious communities in
Germany. Since America citizens are involved, we believe we have a right
to say this publicly. I believe if you'll look at our human rights report
that will be coming out in just a couple of weeks, you'll see some
reference to this.
But we've also taken the position, Barry, with the scientologist that
they've made a great mistake in launching this public relations campaign
which incorrectly, obviously, and outrageously links the current German
Government to Nazi-type behavior.
QUESTION: I was just going to ask you, how did you make this wish known
that they don't persist on these ads? I mean the State Department.
MR. BURNS: I had a meeting in my office -- we've met with the
scientologist community -- the Bureau of European Affairs has, and I have
done it personally -- having encouraged the scientologists not to engage
in this type of behavior. It's wrong.
QUESTION: One key difference appears to be that the German Government
has taken the official position that scientology is not a religion but it's
a cult, a specially closed word. We have had cults in the United States.
Some have ended tragically. You disagree, then, with that definition?
MR. BURNS: Yes, we do.
QUESTION: You do not believe that it is a cult?
MR. BURNS: We believe that the scientologists have religious rights and
that those rights ought to be respected.
QUESTION: Do you know what the criteria is for deciding what group is a
MR. BURNS: Yes, obviously. This is a very important issue because
there is a distinction between what one would normally recognize as a
religion and cult. But we have chosen to think that they have religious
rights - the scientologists - and therefore those rights ought to be
respected. I can't cite those specific criteria, Judd, but I'm sure there
are people in John Shattuck's bureau who can do that for you.
QUESTION: Nick, thanks a lot.
MR. BURNS: Thank you.
(Press briefing concluded at 12:41 p.m.)