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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #4, 98-01-08

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

From: The Department of State Foreign Affairs Network (DOSFAN) at <http://www.state.gov>


1030

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing

I N D E X

Thursday, January 8, 1998

Briefer: James P. Rubin

DEPARTMENT/ANNOUNCEMENTS
1		Bosnia Contact Group meeting

IRAN 1 Pres. Khatami's address to the American people/kind of relationship intended 1,8 New tone welcomed/ regret for hostage-taking/ rejection of all forms of terrorism 1-2,6 US takes exception to characterizations of bilateral relations, US-Israeli relations, whether there is racism in Israeli society, US history 2,4,8-9 People-to-people contact 3,4 US procedural and substantive emphases in a US-Iran dialogue 3 Established mechanism for US-Iran contact 3,5 Congressional travel 4-5 Issues of Khobar Towers and Salmon Rushdie 6-7 Effect on US sanctions policy toward Iran 7-8 Whether there is a US "action plan" for Iran 8 Effect on US policy toward Iraq 9-10 Public nature of a US-Iran dialogue 13 US consultations with its allies

MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS 11 Number of redeployments 11-12 Expansion of existing settlements 12 Ambassador Ross' discussions in the region

IRAQ 12-13 Possible alliance with Syria 14 Assessment of US policy

FRANCE 13-14 Under Secretary Pickering's trip

RUSSIA 14 Dates for Wisner mission to Moscow

TURKEY 14 Reports of flights over Greek airspace

CYPRUS 14-15 Ambassador Holbrooke's meetings in the Department

INDONESIA 15 Whether the US has warned about results of not implementing economic reforms

ALGERIA 15-16 U.S. support for UN human rights Special Rapporteur

SANCTIONS POLICY 16 Under Secretary Eizenstat's speech on sanctions policy 16 State and local sanctions

AUSTRIA 17 Dispute over ownership of artworks on exhibit in New York


U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING

DPB #4

THURSDAY, JANUARY 8, 1998, 1:00 P.M.

(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

MR. RUBIN: Greetings. We have three announcements today for you. One is that Ambassador Gelbard will be hosting today a meeting of the Contact Group for Bosnia at the State Department. Representatives from the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Russia, France and Italy - the Contact Group nations - will be joined by a delegation from Sarajevo, including High Representative Westendorp, and a representative of the European Commission. They will review the general situation in Bosnia, and will also discuss the situation in Brcko, Kosovo and Eastern Slavonia during this day-long session. We would expect them to issue a statement at the end of that session, which will be available to the media.

We also have a couple of other statements that will be issued after the briefing. Let me start with the Associated Press, Barry Schweid.

QUESTION: Jamie, what is the US impression of the kind of relationship the Iranian President is talking about? Is he talking about a cultural relationship or a more natural government-to-government relationship? He's talking to the American people. What is your handle on it? What is he proffering?

MR. RUBIN: Let me try to make some comments. Obviously, Secretary Albright, the President, the National Security Advisor and others in the Administration examined very carefully what was said yesterday, and Mike McCurry has made some initial remarks. But our view is as follows.

We welcome the continuation of a new tone in Iranian statements. President Khatami's extensive comments with respect to US civilization and values were interesting. We appreciated the spirit in which those remarks were offered. We also noted the President's comments that the conduct or relations between nations must be based on mutual respect and dignity; we agree.

We also heard what he had to say about Islam. We respect Islam as one of the world's great mono-theistic religions, and have excellent relations with many Islamic countries. We also noted with interest his regret concerning the hostage-taking. We welcome his statement that this period in Iranian history is over, and that the rule of law should be respected both domestically and internationally.

On terrorism, President Khatami's rejection and condemnation of all forms of terrorism directed at innocents was noteworthy. However, there were a few points that we take exception to. Obviously, the United States is not solely responsible for all our bilateral differences. Characterizing our foreign policy since World War II as mistaken is also unfounded. Similarly, the characterization of the US-Israeli relationship was simplistic and wrong, and a continued reference to Israel as a racist, terrorist regime is not acceptable.

Finally, I would note that we would not characterize US history in the same manner as President Khatami. We are proud that both religion and democracy remain important elements in our civilization. At the same time, though, pluralism and tolerance are important American values.

With regard to the relationship and the dialogue, we listened very carefully to his remarks. We agree that over almost 20 years, the mistrust and distance between us is great, and it will take a lot of effort to overcome this distance. We will look closely and take a serious look at what President Khatami has said regarding people-to-people exchanges and people-to-people dialogue. However, we believe the best way to address our bilateral differences would be to engage in a government-to-government dialogue. We should sit down and air differences. We would raise our concerns; the Iranians could raise their concerns.

So let me stress that changes in Iranian policies on support for terror, the development of weapons of mass destruction, and support for violent opposition to the Middle East peace process remain key to forging a better relationship. With regard to President Khatami's statements on Iran's grievances, we take Iran's concerns seriously. We would listen to what they have to say. We would hope Iran would take our concerns seriously, as well.

QUESTION: Do you understand - I hear what you would prefer, the best way you say would be government-to-government. But is he offering that, or is he at the brink of offering a government-to-government dialogue, or is he speaking in vague terms of cultural, people exchanges? Ping pong exchanges sometimes do lead to --

MR. RUBIN: As we read it and saw it, there was a significant discussion of the prospect of increased people-to-people exchanges -- journalists, historians, experts, people, tourists, et cetera. Let me point out that some of that occurs right now. There are American journalists that go there. There are American citizens that travel there as tourists. As far as an expansion of that is concerned, in any way that would have a certain formalized aspect to it, that's what we're going to take a serious, hard look at.

As far as the government-to-government dialogue, as we interpreted the remarks, that was not what the President of Iran was suggesting at this point. What we are trying to say is that we think that that would be the best way to overcome the differences.

QUESTION: So "best way" implies not the only way in that you might accept another. I'm trying to get at whether there's a significant shift in tone on your part, because as I heard you up until the speech -- that is, up until yesterday, at this podium and elsewhere -- was insisting on a government-to-government dialogue as the way to begin. And I don't hear that tone today, or those words.

MR. RUBIN: Well, I don't see the difference in saying that the government- to-government dialogue that we have offered yesterday, the day before that, that President Clinton has talked about -- one that would be authorized and publicly acknowledged -- is one that we believe would be the best way to overcome differences. To the extent that a dialogue between peoples can help minimize mutual concerns and begin to overcome differences, fine. But if the differences are to be overcome, it is our view and our experience around the world that a dialogue is the best way to do that.

QUESTION: One more quick question. Would a visit by a congressman, for example, be a good way to begin this?

MR. RUBIN: Well, again, you're trying to split the difference; I understand why. We have not offered or suggested or authorized a dialogue to begin in that way between the governments. What we're suggesting is that we understand the value of people-to-people exchange. Let's bear in mind, it's the United States, during the Cold War and at other times in our history, that has done so much through people-to-people exchanges on democracy, free press, the rule of law, to promote universal values around the world. So we're fully aware of the benefits from that.

So we welcome the suggestions that this could be useful; and it could be useful. To the extent it needed to be made more formal, it would be something we have to take a serious look at. Let's bear in mind that the United States does not have a travel restriction on citizens going to Iran. We have a travel warning, and I can provide that to you after the briefing.

So between those two what you might call self-appointed envoys that may or may not pass messages back and forth, let me say this. We have an established mechanism for contact. We have maintained official contact for many years through a diplomatic channel. Both sides continue to use that channel. We don't comment publicly about what transpires in it. So it's not as if we need people to pass messages back and forth.

QUESTION: Has there been an attempt in recent days by either side to set up a government-to-government meeting?

MR. RUBIN: I am not aware of any such attempt.

QUESTION: Does the United States intend to try to make such an attempt?

MR. RUBIN: Again, I think what I tried to answer by saying that we have a way to talk to each other; we've stated what we think an official dialogue would need to be successful and to meet our reasonable conditions - in the sense that it be authorized, that it be publicly acknowledged, that we raise our concerns and that they raise their concerns. So there's not a communication problem in creating such a dialogue. At this point, the interpretation we have of the remarks made by President Khatami is that they are not yet ready for such an official dialogue. I think he stated that fairly clearly.

QUESTION: You said that you were going to study this idea of people-to- people dialogue. I wondered what might be wrong about it. I mean, is there any chance that you would reject that kind of --

MR. RUBIN: Well, we're going to give it a serious look. We think it could be a useful step. This is a very serious subject, relationship that has gone through what the US-Iranian relationship went through. We're going to take a very deliberate path. The comments that I made were very carefully made by the United States Government as an attempt to respond deliberately. So any new program or new idea of this kind that was just proffered a matter of hours ago, it seems reasonable to take a good hard look at it.

As far as what the difficulties might be, I would just point out that without government-to-government contact on a regular basis, rather than this channel I mentioned, often programs like these are difficult to set up. If you look at other parts of the world where you have large exchange programs, there are parameters that are set by governments. So that would be an example of why it might be more difficult in a case where there wasn't diplomatic relations.

QUESTION: Jamie, how does the edict to the death of Salmon Rushdie and the Khobar Towers bombing play into your thinking on this subject?

MR. RUBIN: Well, I think our position on those are very well known with regard to both Salmon Rushdie and the investigation on Khobar. What I can say to you is that I did not suggest or mean to suggest that the dialogue was going to be limited to those three issues. These are three identified issues of concern, and issues that we would expect to raise. If we came into a dialogue, we'd have an opportunity to raise other issues. But our positions on those issues have not changed.

QUESTION: Would you raise those issues?

MR. RUBIN: What I've been prepared to say is what the issues of concern that we have are. Our position is well-known on those two other subjects, and I'm not going to get into every possible permutation of what we will and won't discuss in a dialogue that has not yet been set up.

QUESTION: Jamie, I don't think your position is well-known on the Khobar Towers investigation.

MR. RUBIN: Yes, that it's under investigation.

QUESTION: That's not a position.

MR. RUBIN: Well, I don't understand the question, then.

QUESTION: I mean, the basic question is - and I've asked it before - it would seem difficult to enter into this friendly dialogue, the beginning of a friendly dialogue, without resolving the Khobar Towers or without having them lift their death warrant on a democratic author.

MR. RUBIN: Well, let me make two points. Number one, you are jumping to a conclusion about Khobar Towers based on I don't know what. We are going to make our judgments based on the evidence. As I've told you in the past, when we are prepared to talk about what the conclusions of the Khobar investigation are, we will do so. In the meantime, it's a law enforcement matter.

Obviously, the issue of terrorism and international support for terrorism is one of the three issues. So I fail to see why you are focused on what must be in your mind regarding terrorism, and not focused on the fact that one of the three issues we would focus on would be terrorism.

As far as Salmon Rushdie is concerned, our position on that is well-known. And all I am saying to you is that the three issues that we would surely raise in a dialogue, and would want them to know in advance we would raise in a dialogue, are these fundamental national security issues. Other issues could be raised if there were a dialogue, but I'm not going to get down the road in describing all the different issues we could possibly raise in a hypothetical dialogue that has not yet begun.

QUESTION: At the time not too long ago, when a prominent California congressman was saying that he was interested in possibly traveling to Iran, one of the things that was said from the podium was that the Administration was trying to discourage such a trip. Do you still wish to discourage such trips?

MR. RUBIN: I haven't seen a transcript of my loyal deputy's words, but what I'm saying is that, when officials from Congress travel, it is normal practice for us to brief them, and we would brief any congressman who sought a briefing about our policies on any trip.

As far as dialogue between the government of the United States and the government of Iran, we are in favor of an authorized, publicly acknowledged dialogue. With respect to the case you mention and any cases like it, what I am signaling - intending to signal - is that we think the best way to make progress on the issues of concern to the American people and to the national security of the country are through an authorized and openly acknowledged dialogue.

QUESTION: Follow-up to his question, if I could, in that particular --

MR. RUBIN: I don't know how it can be followed up, but give it a whirl.

QUESTION: was talking about this issue - Mr. (Khatami) yesterday said to engage in a dialogue with the United States on these three main issues would be tantamount to a judgment, I think he said, of Iran -- Iran's being subjected to the judgment of the United States a priori. So how do you respond to that? And secondly, did he not many times demonize the United States Government in his talking about reaching out to the US people?

MR. RUBIN: Let me make - in response to the second question, I think if you read carefully, if you were here the whole time, I was very careful to lay out things that we welcomed, things that we thought were interesting, things that we noted with interest, and things with which we took exception - one of which was the characterization of the US Government. So I think I have answered that question.

As far as the question of - what was the first question?

(Laughter.)

QUESTION: He said, the US - in response to Christine's question about terrorism and such, he said the US is trying to put Iran on trial by asking for a dialogue.

MR. RUBIN: Oh, okay, right. The answer to that is - and again, we're focusing on the answers - and the answers given were that we believe it is normal practice, it is standard diplomatic practice for governments, when they talk, to raise issues of concern. We have diplomatic relations with many countries around the world, and certain practices they have, we have deep and profound differences over. I could name half a dozen or more; you ask me about them on most days.

We discuss those differences, deep differences, fundamental differences with governments every day. So we don't regard it as a prejudgment or a trial to talk with another government about the issues of serious concern that we have.

QUESTION: This would be a non-starter, right?

MR. RUBIN: Sorry?

QUESTION: This attitude would be a non-starter.

MR. RUBIN: Again, I'm not going to allow you to put words in my mouth. I have stated very clearly what our position is and what it is not.

QUESTION: How does this overture from Khatami affect and influence your decision on sanctions?

MR. RUBIN: Again, the first priority is to make a factual based determination on whether the particular actions meet the criteria laid out in the legislation. So in the first instance, it wouldn't in the sense that we first have to make a determination as to what the fact situation is; and then make a determination as to what to do about it. So as far as I understand the first phase, it's basically a legal assessment of what the cases are and how the law applies.

QUESTION: Even if you decided -- your legal experts decided that the Total deal was a blatant violation of the ILSA law, if you were to apply sanctions, wouldn't it be at cross purposes with an attempt to try to have a dialogue with Iran?

MR. RUBIN: There are too many "ifs" in your question for me to answer. Thank you.

QUESTION: Jamie, I don't know, maybe I'm the only one, but I don't have a sure feeling - maybe you've said all you're going to say and we'll just spin our wheels now. But I don't have a sure feeling where the US wants to go with this, let alone how it wants to get where it wants to go. The only parallel - let me just try a quick parallel. In the Nixon Administration, clearly the US wanted to have a relationship, a real relationship with China. So even though it began with ping pong team exchanges, everybody in the government knew where they wanted to go - well, not everybody knew what was being done about it. The Secretary of State didn't know, for instance, Henry Kissinger was going to China.

(Laughter.)

But there was a game plan. No, I'm sorry, but this Administration is leaving the impression that they're attentively listening to overtures and they want to hear more and they'll adjust to what they hear. Do you have an aggressive plan for action, as Carol asked, for instance? There are ways to follow this up, privately, publicly. Is that what's going on, or do you want to hear more? And do you want to figure out if he's speaking for himself or for the whole Iranian Government?

MR. RUBIN: Okay, let me try to handle your legitimate question as best I can. President Clinton and his advisors - Secretary of State Albright among them - are seized with the issue of Iran. They have had numerous discussions about the issue of Iran. They understand the significance of a dialogue like this if it were to occur.

I can assure you that if such a dialogue were to occur, that the US Government would know where it wants to go and have road map for getting there through the dialogue.

To date, our policy of containment has been based on not having a dialogue.

QUESTION: Right.

MR. RUBIN: Okay. So if you change one of the conditions, of course there would be a recognition that one of the conditions had changed. But what I'm not going to do is scope out in advance for you what the results of a dialogue would be; because remember, a dialogue is a discussion, and it doesn't necessarily lead to change. That is why from this podium and elsewhere, Administration officials have emphasized that a dialogue is a necessary but not sufficient condition for change. The sufficient condition is change in actions.

So all the adjustments that might come are based on actions occurring. But I can assure you that were such a dialogue to start up, that this Administration, led by President Clinton, would know where it wanted to end up.

QUESTION: Is dual containment over?

MR. RUBIN: The basic policies of the United States, as I just indicated, are determined based on actions. But as I said yesterday, words often precede actions. And the pattern of Iranian behavior that has so troubled the United States is one that will take some time to assess whether it has changed.

QUESTION: So the answer is no?

MR. RUBIN: Well, again, you can put words in my mouth, but I'm not going to put them there for you.

QUESTION: Didn't you hear - I thought maybe I heard some movement on the - in the position of the Iranian Government on the subject of support of terrorism, specifically on their attitude towards terrorism. I thought I heard him agreeing with the interviewer that slaughter of innocent women and children - no matter what the reason is - is terrorism, and Iran condemns it. Isn't that a new position for that?

MR. RUBIN: President Khatami's rejection and condemnation of all forms of terrorism directed at innocents is noteworthy, and I noted it at the outset of my remarks.

QUESTION: Jamie, do you have anything on patterns of Iranian terrorism, say over the past six months? Last April, the State Department said that Iran was the premier terrorist state in the world. Has anything happened since then to change that?

MR. RUBIN: Again, I'm not going to - I don't have any judgment that has been made on a snapshot basis from that six-month period to this six month hence to offer you today; other than to say that the concerns we have are based on patterns of behavior, and therefore it takes some time to assess them.

QUESTION: Jamie, does this situation help US policy toward Iraq? Is it a salutary thing to be happening while you're trying to come to terms with - not come to terms, trying to get Iraq to comply with UN resolutions?

MR. RUBIN: We think the critical factor in convincing Iraq to comply with UN resolutions is the unity and determination of the Security Council and not necessarily every development up or down in the region. That is why the focus of our efforts to pursue our policy toward Iraq is to ensure the maximum support from Security Council members.

QUESTION: In terms of starting up a dialogue with Iran, just to clarify, why would the use of an intermediary not be desirable, or is it?

MR. RUBIN: I'm not going to rule it out for all time, any day, because we don't rule things out for all time, for every day; other than to say that we have a means of communication. I've talked about that. What we have said very clearly - and frankly, a lot of you noted the fact that this discussion has occurred publicly through public interviews, and some of the previous needs for intermediaries were in an era when there wasn't this television diplomacy occurring, which clearly is occurring. So it's not a communications problem; it's a problem of trying to get both sides to a point where the minimum conditions can be met.

QUESTION: When you say we have a means of communication, do you mean the Swiss and the Pakistanis?

MR. RUBIN: Again, I'm not going to comment specifically on the means of our communication. I can say that we have them and we've used it, but I'm not going to get into the modalities.

QUESTION: Was this an authoritative offer you heard yesterday?

MR. RUBIN: Certainly, we take the words of the President of Iran very seriously.

QUESTION: No, I'm using your word. The government's word - this government's word was they wanted to hear --

MR. RUBIN: Right.

QUESTION: -- the overture put in authoritative terms.

MR. RUBIN: You asked me this question on Tuesday.

QUESTION: Yes, but now that he's spoken.

MR. RUBIN: Certainly we consider the words the authoritative statement of the Iranian Government. The question is less about that than whether that government would be prepared to have a dialogue, which we just discussed, and whether that dialogue would include the issues of concern to us.

QUESTION: And not only because we're news people, but I'm listening to heard the word "public" come out --

MR. RUBIN: "Publicly acknowledged"?

QUESTION: No, from your - from so far as how the US plays this.

MR. RUBIN: Sorry, I don't understand the point. I must be slow today, on Thursday.

QUESTION: No, you're not slow today. It's complicated. You keep - you have referred several times to having already some - some way, some modus for dealing with Iran. That sort of drifts our thinking into the private or secret diplomatic channels. Whereas, before yesterday, you laid great emphasis on the need for this arrangement, this approach, this possible discourse to move in a public way. What I'm saying is are we going to wake up one day and find somewhere the birthday cake or a --

MR. RUBIN: I can assure you there will be no birthday cakes.

QUESTION: No keys.

MR. RUBIN: Let me try to answer.

QUESTION: Because you've certainly eased off Iran today, I tell you.

MR. RUBIN: Barry, let me try to answer.

QUESTION: From Saudi, the bombings, to everything else.

MR. RUBIN: Can I try to answer the question, please?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. RUBIN: The answer to your question is, when we say "publicly acknowledged," we mean that the idea and the fact of a dialogue is acknowledged by both sides, as opposed to even the fact of secret discussions occurring is not known. So what I'm saying is, because we want the dialogue to be publicly acknowledged, does not mean we want to say how it happens and what happens in it; but rather that both governments acknowledge that there is a dialogue.

That is very different than telling one reporter how we communicate, telling another reporter what we say to each other; but rather the fact that we are doing that is what needs to be publicly acknowledged.

QUESTION: -- level of what might have been said to them on Tuesday. Your reason, I understand, for calling for a public statement on their behalf is to make sure it's a genuine offer. You want them on the record. What I'm asking is if the US will be on the record, so to speak, as it proceeds in groping with this possible new relationship.

MR. RUBIN: We've said that the dialogue we want - government-to- government dialogue - needs to be publicly acknowledged. We stand by our words.

QUESTION: New subject?

MR. RUBIN: New subject, thank you.

QUESTION: Middle East?

MR. RUBIN: Please.

QUESTION: There are reports out of Israel that Prime Minister Netanyahu is going to be coming and offering, or suggesting that there should be only one redeployment, which would, from his perspective, as I understand it, have the virtue of being smaller than the total three would be in terms of size and would be politically less painful for him. He'd only have to face the fire once. Does the US insist that there be three redeployments?

MR. RUBIN: The US position on Israeli redeployments is contained in Secretary Christopher's letter accompanying the Hebron accord. The letter states that the US believes that all three phases of the further redeployment should be completed no later than mid-1998. If the two sides were to agree to a different arrangement, then that would be a different situation.

QUESTION: But it would have to be mutually agreed to - the Palestinians would have to assent.

MR. RUBIN: That's what I just said, yes.

QUESTION: Jamie, have you seen the reports that there has been an expansion of an existing settlement in Israel? And do you have anything to say about the fact of it or the timing of it?

MR. RUBIN: Secretary Albright has made clear our view on these kind of activities, and that they undermine confidence, and that these kind of actions do not create the environment required for successful negotiation. That obviously includes settlement activity.

We believe there should be a time-out on activities that undercut the confidence on either side needed to move forward. As I said, that does include settlement activity. As far as what kind of building is acceptable, what is natural growth and what is not, I'm not going to get drawn into a specific discussion because time-out and what would be a time-out is one of the issues that Ambassador Ross is discussing. Our position on settlements, however, is quite clear.

QUESTION: You're saying that the issue of expansion as opposed to development from scratch might be something that is left out of the time- out.

MR. RUBIN: I'm specifically trying to avoid answering questions like that. Ambassador Ross is engaged in the process of discussion of security steps by the Palestinians; the question of a further redeployment; and the question of a time-out. Exactly what that would mean in the context of getting to a negotiation, what steps would be avoided, what steps would both sides take a time-out on while they're negotiating the permanent status.

The definition, therefore, of that time-out is under discussion, and I do not want to be drawn into what that definition would be. But as far as settlements are concerned, our position is clear that they are the kind of actions that undermine confidence in the environment needed to move forward.

QUESTION: You're fishing kind of generally.

MR. RUBIN: I'm trying very hard to speak generally, yes.

QUESTION: The specific case before us today, the one that was announced in some fashion yesterday --

MR. RUBIN: Right.

QUESTION: -- can you address that specific case?

MR. RUBIN: Again, I'm trying to do my best to speak generally, because if you take a specific case and then you say what type of settlement activity was this, then you begin to define the time-out publicly, rather than making clear that settlement activity undermines confidence and makes it harder to reach a peace agreement, which is what we care to do publicly.

QUESTION: Is the Secretary any more optimistic or more pessimistic, especially since hearing the news of the planned settlement activity?

MR. RUBIN: She has received reports from Ambassador Ross over the last couple of days, and she has told me that she's neither more optimistic nor more pessimistic than she was before his visit.

QUESTION: She told that you yesterday.

MR. RUBIN: Yes.

QUESTION: Is she no more optimistic or pessimistic than she was yesterday, you're saying --

MR. RUBIN: Right.

QUESTION: -- when she was no more optimistic or pessimistic than she was the day before. Is that right?

MR. RUBIN: Yes.

QUESTION: According to The Washington Times, Syria is looking for a new ally with Iraq, and Asad sent a letter to Saddam Hussein, asking his support for the PKK and Mr. Talibani and act against the US and the Turkish forces in Northern Iraq and Eastern Mediterranean. Do you have any reaction on this subject?

MR. RUBIN: Generally speaking on Syria and Iraq, I'm not going to comment on any specific report. As you know, all UN members are obliged to enforce the UN sanctions against Iraq. As you know, Syria reopened its border with Iraq last year, after 17 years of closure. The Syrian Government has given us assurances that it will continue to abide by the sanctions against Iraq, and pledged that any renewed trade between Iraq and Syria would be in accordance with those sanctions.

We have no reason to believe that that situation has changed in any significant way. We will be monitoring very closely. But I would say this - anyone who knows the Middle East at all knows that the idea of a serious reapproachmount between Saddam Hussein and Hafiz al-Asad is not going to be an easy one.

QUESTION: Jamie, just to go back to a - (inaudible) - briefly, are you coordinating with the allies your thinking and your tactics on Iran? I ask particularly because some skeptics have suggested that one thing the Iranian President is after is splitting the US from its allies. And you've had a different policy, a tougher policy.

MR. RUBIN: On the question of dialogue, yes, primarily.

QUESTION: Right. Are you talking to them about all this?

MR. RUBIN: Under Secretary Pickering was just in Paris, and had a full- fledged discussion with the French Government about Iran. He just arrived back late last night. So yes is the short answer.

QUESTION: Could you tell us a little more? Did the French pat him on the back and say, go to it; have a critical dialogue with them, it's very good for you?

(Laughter.)

Or for business - mostly business.

MR. RUBIN: Again, somehow I doubt they said that, Barry. But other than saying that he had good, in-depth exchanges on this issue, I think we'll keep it confidential for now.

QUESTION: Who did he see? Can you tell us that?

MR. RUBIN: We'll get the exact names for you.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.

QUESTION: A little bit more on Pickering's discussions - other subjects raised?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, Iraq was raised; the Middle East peace process was raised; Secretary Albright specifically talked to him in my presence about reviewing what she found in her trip in Africa; and I suspect Algeria was discussed as well, given the situation that has been going on over the last several days.

QUESTION: I've lost track of the Wisner mission, which sounded important last week

because --

MR. RUBIN: Soon is a word I feel comfortable with; date, I will get you for the record.

QUESTION: But you will have the same objective, as you had before the President of Iran spoke on CNN.

MR. RUBIN: Absolutely, absolutely. We still have the same concerns about weapons of mass destruction, and that's why it's one of the issues that we want to talk about.

QUESTION: There's a report of more flights by Turkey over Greek airspace. Are you aware of that?

MR. RUBIN: I haven't seen the latest reports. But I'd rather get you an answer for the record on that.

QUESTION: The report in The Washington Times also stated that Saddam had gained the upper hand, and in fact was the winner in the weapons stand-off; and that the US policy has been a failure. This contradicts President Clinton's statement earlier, that Iraq's defiance has been a setback for Saddam. Could you comment on this? And what's the US going to do to put more pressure on Saddam?

MR. RUBIN: I hope it won't surprise you, stun you or upset you to say that we regard that report as fundamentally incorrect. Let me put it this way - we regard any suggestion that Saddam Hussein is better off as fundamentally incorrect for the following simple reason. You can always parse these things diplomatically, look at a particular snapshot on a different day, say who's up, who's down. But if you keep your eye on the main ball, the fact is, Saddam Hussein has postponed the day when sanctions can be released on his country. The judgment of any leader should be on what good he does for his country; and over the last two months, he's done a lot of bad for his country.

QUESTION: -- on the CIA report, then?

MR. RUBIN: I'm not commenting on any CIA report. You know I don't do that.

QUESTION: While we're in that area, Ambassador Holbrooke was around yesterday. Is there something you want to tell us about Cyprus, or --

MR. RUBIN: Yes, he met with David Hannay, who's the British Cyprus coordinator, and he met with officials in the Department about next steps on Cyprus.

QUESTION: Cyprus?

MR. RUBIN: Yes.

QUESTION: It wasn't Greece-Turkey?

MR. RUBIN: Underpinning any discussion of Cyprus, obviously, is Greece and Turkey.

QUESTION: Well, sure.

MR. RUBIN: But his role is focused primarily on Cyprus.

QUESTION: Just to go back to Indonesia and the financial situation there, has the United States warned Indonesia that it runs the risk of losing its supplementary American financing, for lack of a better word, if it does not implement the reforms that both the United States and the IMF have called for?

MR. RUBIN: Let me get you a specific answer for the record on that. But obviously, what I said yesterday has not changed, in terms of the US Government position. But let me get a specific answer to the warning question.

QUESTION: A little more meat to it.

MR. RUBIN: I'll try to do the best I can.

QUESTION: Can we go to Nigeria? There are reports that on January 4 in Ogoni land, that there was a crackdown on the celebration there and that the villages were raided and so forth -- assaults on people, people being shot and killed. Can you comment on that?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, we have some material on that we can get you for the record.

QUESTION: Algeria -- I don't want to belabor it, if there's nothing to say, but I mean your - the US's account of what the Algerians were willing to do differed, of course, from what their state agency news service or whatever was saying. You had them open to a UN human rights specialist --

MR. RUBIN: Special rapporteur.

QUESTION: I don't speak in foreign tongues.

MR. RUBIN: Algerian authorities have told us they would accept a visit by a UN human rights rapporteur.

QUESTION: A special rapporteur.

MR. RUBIN: Special rapporteur. We encourage this step, and we have no reason to believe the Algerian Government's position has changed overnight.

QUESTION: Jamie, what exactly does a "rapporteur" do?

QUESTION: He reports.

MR. RUBIN: He reports. That's what you do.

QUESTION: He doesn't investigate?

MR. RUBIN: Well, again, I don't want to get too deeply into the - I've been in New York, and I know what sweat and blood goes into the distinctions between different UN organizations and their mandates and what titles people get and all that goes with that. A UN special rapporteur, I can say with confidence, is a UN special rapporteur.

(Laughter.)

QUESTION: I think I can say thank you.

QUESTION: Can I get one in on the Eizenstat speech? I was just a bit confused that this was put in a context of this is a new sanctions review. Because a few weeks ago, David Moran, from the Office of Economic Sanctions here at the State Department, also talked about this sanctions review that was ongoing.

MR. RUBIN: Sometimes the news media finds some statements more newsworthy than others. But let me say this -- the review is not about a review of specific existing sanctions, but rather a review of the fact that the State Department and other agencies need to know that sanctions is an increasingly, commonly used tool of foreign policy, and that all the ramifications and means and mechanisms need to be reviewed so that they work better.

So it's designed to provide technical assistance, expertise, institutional memory for the development of sanctions proposals in the future, develop a set of principles and policy options to guide a more methodical approach to the selection and use of sanctions in the future. So again, it's taking a look at this very important tool, trying to learn everything we can about it, so that when we use it in the future, it's honed as the best possible instrument it can be.

QUESTION: Will there be more liaison with state and local governments about sanctions?

MR. RUBIN: Sorry.

QUESTION: Will there be more liaison with state and local governments about sanctions?

MR. RUBIN: I'll have to take that question for the record.

QUESTION: One quick one, Jamie. There's a brouhaha going on in New York over two pieces of art that belong to the - that used to belong to the Austrian Government and were now seized by the US Government. Do you have any comments on that situation?

MR. RUBIN: The Department was contacted this week by one of the two claimants and by the Holocaust Art Restitution Project of the National Jewish Museum, in reference to the two paintings by Austrian artist Egon S- c-h-i-e-l-e, at the risk of pronouncing it incorrectly, which were about to depart New York. We were in touch with the government of Austria through our embassy and also here in Washington. We are encouraged that the Austrians and the Foundation have indicated their willingness to work with the claimants to resolve the issue of ownership amicably. And I can give you some more information for the record.

QUESTION: What is your - I mean, the people involved are saying the State Department is acting in some fashion in this case. They are also saying that this action is going to hurt efforts to convince governments such as Austria or the former Soviet Union to let priceless works of art go on tour. And there was a another vaguely similar incident here in Washington a few months back.

MR. RUBIN: Well, the only solution to such incidents is for the two parties to work them out amicably. That's what we're for; that's what we're encouraging, and hopefully, that's what will happen. But I can give you some specific information for the record.

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


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