U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #5, 98-01-09
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
Friday, January 9, 1998
Briefer: James B. Foley
1 Condemnation of January 1 Attack
1 Call to End Violence/Call for Guarantee Safety of
Humanitarian Relief Workers
MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS
1-2 Ambassador Ross' Trip to Region Ends/Topics Discussed
1,5 Israeli Prime Minister's Remarks on Troop Deployments and
2 Diplomatic Channels for Contacts
2,3 People-to-People Contacts
3 Travel to Iran by Americans/Advisories/Restrictions
3 Mujahedin-e Khalq Group's Recent Press Conference
4 Number of Iranians Coming to US/Numbers of Americans
Traveling to Iran
4 Concerns about Iran's Program for Weapons of Mass
5 Treasury Department to lead USG trip/ State Members of
5 Need for Indonesia to Adhere to IMF Program
6 International Visit to Assess Human Rights Situation
6 Turkish Decision to Modify Plans for Air Exercises
7 Greek Claims of Turkish Violations of Greek Airspace
7 Ambassador Gelbard's Trip Next Week
7-8 Reports of Army's Involvement with Massacres in Chiapas
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
OFF-CAMERA DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
FRIDAY, JANUARY 9, 1998, 1:05 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. FOLEY: Good afternoon. I just have a few announcements. First, the
United States Government condemns the violence and killing associated with
the recent fighting on the outskirts of Bujumbura. We deplore the continued
indiscriminate killing of civilians by both the Burundian army and the
Our Ambassador to Burundi, Rusty Hughes, visited the site of the village
massacre, where he saw the hacked bodies of innocent children and other
civilians. Such grotesque violence makes the resolution of Burundi's
problems more difficult and complicates efforts to bring an enduring and
equitable peace to Burundi. The United States Government calls on all
parties to this conflict to respect the lives of non-combatants and
immediately cease hostilities.
The US Government believes that lasting peace will come to Burundi only
through a political settlement. We support the missions of both the OAU and
the UN, which are currently in the region in an effort to reintegrate the
regional peace process. Presidential Special Envoy for the Great Lakes,
Howard Wolpe, will travel to the region next week as part of our continuing
effort to support endeavors to launch peace negotiations.
Secondly, the United States fully supports the statements of the UN
Security Council President and Secretary General Kofi Annan, deploring
Taliban air strikes on Bamian, Afghanistan. We call on the Taliban and
other Afghan factions to guarantee the safety of humanitarian relief
workers, and facilitate the free flow of relief supplies to all Afghan
civilians in need.
We are concerned that specific ethnic groups are increasingly being
targeted in the conflict. We call on all Afghans to join together to end
the violence, and to begin the reconstruction of their country. We continue
to work with the UN and other international organizations and groups to
explore all avenues of relief for civilian groups in Afghanistan in need of
QUESTION: Dennis Ross apparently is finished with his mission. I was
wondering if you had anything to say concerning Prime Minister Netanyahu's
remarks on troop deployments and planned settlement activity?
MR. FOLEY: Well, I'm not going to be able to get into that. Ambassador
Ross, as you say, is completing his current mission in Israel. He's
returning tonight, or he's departing the region tonight. He's going to be
reporting to the Secretary and also to the President, regarding his
discussions with the Israelis and the Palestinians.
So I really don't want to pre-empt his report with an interim evaluation of
his trip from this podium. Obviously, his discussions dealt with the four-
part agenda and various interim committee issues.
No more questions?
QUESTION: On Iran, what about The Washington Post story that the
Administration sent a message to Iran through the Swiss ambassador there,
shortly after Khatami's appointment, suggesting a dialogue?
MR. FOLEY: Well, on Iran, generally, I'm not going to have very much to
say from the podium today. As Jamie Rubin indicated yesterday, there has
been 20 years of mistrust and differences between the two countries. We've
seen new developments and an encouraging tone coming out of the president
of Iran, and as Mr. Rubin indicated yesterday, we're going to be evaluating
very carefully President Khatami's speech and our responses.
So Mr. Rubin's comments yesterday were a definitive statement of the
initial United States Government reaction to his media interview and
comments to the American public, and I'm not going to have anything of
substance to add to that today.
However, in response to your specific question, I'd like to indicate that
we're not going to comment in any way publicly concerning allegations about
what may or may not transpire in diplomatic channels. Our position on a
dialogue has been fully stated by the President and by other Administration
officials, and Iran knows our position very well.
QUESTION: There was a rather lengthy discussion yesterday about how this
dialogue would be above board, publicly acknowledged; there wouldn't be any
cakes or keys or secret messages. And then, this morning it appears that
there has been something that's not quite - doesn't quite meet that
standard, despite Mr. Rubin's lengthy words otherwise.
MR. FOLEY: Well, first of all, let me repeat that I'm not going to
comment publicly about allegations about what may or may not transpire in
diplomatic channels. We do have a capability for contact through a
diplomatic channel. But again, as Mr. Rubin clearly indicated yesterday,
we're not in a position of commenting publicly about that channel.
And insofar as the United States Government position is concerned, we've
stated it publicly. What we favor is an authorized dialogue with authorized
representatives of the Iranian Government -- a dialogue that would be
acknowledged. And the president of Iran indicated in his recent interview
that that is not in his current plans. He has not taken up that offer. We
are in the process of evaluating his suggestion that people-to-people
exchanges be emphasized at this stage. We found that suggestion useful, and,
as Mr. Rubin said yesterday, we're going to take a very careful look at
QUESTION: Can you elaborate on that, Jim? Are there any visa restrictions
that could be eased?
MR. FOLEY: The fact is, as Jamie Rubin mentioned yesterday, that there
are no travel restrictions, as such, for Americans going to Iran. We have a
travel warning in place, dated - the last issuance was July 8, 1997 - that
recommends that US citizens not travel to Iran. But as Jamie Rubin said,
this whole issue, though, of a more concerted effort to promote exchanges
on a people-to-people basis - I believe the president of Iran talked about
scholars and experts and representatives of civil society in both
countries in a more concerted, pro-active way he seemed to be indicating.
That's precisely what we're going to be studying -- the degree to which
this is something that we can encourage on our side; the question of
whether we need to look at the flow of people between the two countries,
and any way to encourage, give momentum to that in the direction indicated
by the president of Iran. I have nothing to announce or indicate on that
subject today; only that, as we said yesterday, we're going to be looking
very closely at that.
QUESTION: The same day that Khatami gave this speech, there was a press
conference here in Washington by the Mujahedin-e Khalq talking about Iran
developing a long-range missile capability. This has already been commented
on at the podium; however, is not the Mujahedin-e Khalq the same group that
was on the October report of the State Department, regarding terrorist
groups? And if that is the case, have they appealed this, or done
something which would mean that they were not under the ban of holding
press conferences or fund raising in the United States, as was indicated
by the October statement of the State Department on terrorism?
MR. FOLEY: First, you're right, they were on the list. Secondly, I'd have
to refer you to the Justice Department, in terms of the application of the
law, the implementation. There is bound to be an implementation phase after
the Secretary of State made her decision. I would expect that they are
still in that stage of implementation.
Whether or not this press conference in any way indicated a violation of
the prohibitions under her determination, I'd have to refer you to the
QUESTION: Jim, are you aware of any cultural or academic exchanges that
exist now between universities - say, University of Tehran, universities in
this country - sort of certainly not government-sanctioned, but are
informal arrangements that exist at this time that could be built
MR. FOLEY: I'm not specifically aware of that. I think it would be
difficult, at least initially, to compile that kind of information. There
wouldn't be a central source of information on that subject.
Certainly there are hundreds of thousands of Iranian-Americans in this
country, who do travel back, which is a source of people-to-people exchange,
if you will. Iranians who travel obtain visas to visit the United States.
So that is going on.
But what the president of Iran was indicating, as I said, was a highlighting
of this phenomenon; I think an elevation of this phenomenon to a higher
plane - one that, as he said, would hopefully lead towards a breaking down
of some of the walls of mistrust and alienation that have built up over the
last 20 years. We found that proposal useful and, as I said, we're studying
QUESTION: Do you have any idea of how many Iranians travel to this
country to study - who get visas to come here?
MR. FOLEY: I think we could get that information for you. I'd be glad to
look into it.
QUESTION: And would the US Government have a count of the Americans who
may do the same - travel to Iran to study?
MR. FOLEY: I think we'd have a better handle on the first question than
on the second one, but I'll take the question.
QUESTION: Another one on Iran - on Wednesday, the spokesman for the
National Council of Resistance of Iran issued a report regarding missile
proliferation. It cited that there were 350 Iranian agents being trained in
North Korea. There were dozens and dozens of Chinese and North Korean
missile experts stationed at a production complex - missile production
complex in Iran. Also stating that guidance systems for these longer-ranged
missiles that the Iranians are putting on the shelf now were coming
from out of the country. So my question would be, is there concern
from these reports and from other knowledge that the Chinese and North
Koreans may, in fact, be directing this proliferation that puts American
vital interests at risk, both in the Gulf and in the Western Pacific?
MR. FOLEY: Well, we've received assurances and commitments from the
Chinese Government, dating back to around the time - most recently, to the
time of President Jiang's visit here, which assure us that the Chinese are
phasing out cooperation in the nuclear area with Iran.
But you're absolutely right, though, that the whole issue of Iranian
attempts, by whatever means, indigenous or in conjunction with other
nations, to acquire weapons of mass destruction, missile systems for
delivering those weapons, is of utmost concern to the United States, and we
are working very hard on this issue with nations around the world. It
remains one of the three pillars of concern in our assessment of Iranian
actions around the world.
QUESTION: Does this report of exchange of personnel seem to be accurate,
then, to you?
MR. FOLEY: I couldn't possibly say, but certainly this is an issue of
utmost concern to the United States Government.
QUESTION: I have a Middle East question if we are finished with
MR. FOLEY: Are we finished with Iran?
MR. FOLEY: Go ahead.
QUESTION: There was a story in Ha'aretz, the Israeli newspaper, today
about plans to build 30,000 new units in the West Bank and Gaza by the year
2020. Do you consider that at such level, which might double Israeli
settlers in --
MR. FOLEY: Do I consider what?
QUESTION: Do you consider that such level of construction in the
territories that might double the settlers by 2020 to be still just
unhelpful, only unhelpful to the peace process?
MR. FOLEY: We've made clear for a long, long time our view that
settlement activity - any activities which tend to undermine confidence,
which tend to prejudge final status issues prior to final status negotiations
are very unhelpful to the peace process. They do not help to create the
environment required for successful negotiations. Again, this includes
MR. FOLEY: Yes.
QUESTION: I notice the State Department is involved in this hastily-
arranged mission to Indonesia. Could you tell us what message they are
taking with them?
MR. FOLEY: Well, I'd like to refer you to the Treasury Department for a
definitive account of the purpose of the trip. I understand Deputy
Secretary of the Treasury Summers, who will be accompanied by Ambassador
Larson and Ambassador Wolf from the State Department, will be going to
Indonesia to take stock of the situation there and other countries in the
region, to hear authorities' thoughts and to share the Administration's
views on the best way to resolve their problems.
All I can say is that in discussions with the Indonesians, the US
representatives will underscore President Clinton's commitment that
Indonesia do whatever is appropriate to find its way through its current
difficulties. In particular, they will emphasize -- as the President did in
his telephone conversation last night -- his encouragement of the
Indonesians to adhere fully to the IMF program. We believe Indonesian
stability is important to the region and important to the United States,
and the phone call and the visit are reflective of that.
QUESTION: Can I ask a question of clarification on Algeria?
MR. FOLEY: Sure.
QUESTION: Does the United States still want to see an international
inquiry into the human rights situation in Algeria?
MR. FOLEY: Well, we've said that we have been encouraging the Algerian
Government to allow outside observers to view and study the human rights
situation. We had a semantic discussion - Jamie Rubin did yesterday - on
Algerian authorities have told us that they would accept a visit by a UN
human rights rapporteur. We encouraged this step. We note the press reports
that the EU is planning to send a delegation to Algeria, I believe, before
the end of the month. We share the concerns of the EU and other nations in
the international community with regard to the massacres in Algeria, and
the need to gain a clearer picture of what is happening in Algeria. So we
support the EU efforts in this direction.
QUESTION: The reason I'm asking the question, Jim, is because the
Algerian Government specifically does not want to have an inquiry, an
investigation. And you're not using those terms. So I assume - although
it's willing to discuss and hold talks on --
MR. FOLEY: Well, again, there was a spirited, semantic exchange
yesterday; and it's probably not fruitful to go over it. But what we have
said is that we encourage the visit by the UN rapporteur, but we're not
seeking an international commission of inquiry. So I can make that
distinction for you.
QUESTION: -- said it's going to send a delegation to Algeria and the
(inaudible) foreign minister's comment on that reaction was not very
encouraging. Do you have any comment on the European decision?
MR. FOLEY: I just commented on the European decision. I welcomed
QUESTION: You said you support the UN, but you don't support a European?
MR. FOLEY: I said we support EU efforts in this direction. Check the
QUESTION: On the Aegean, Greece and Turkey, a question about the recent
Turkish activity in the Aegean. Turkish fighter planes continue to
challenge Greek sovereignty with flights over Greek islands these last
couple of days, and they keep infringing on the Athens FIR and Greek
national airspace. There is a lot of talk from Athens - a lot of disappointment,
to say the least. Any reaction to that?
MR. FOLEY: I have a brief comment. First, we were pleased to note that
Turkey modified some if its original exercise plans for the month of
January in response to Greek concerns, most notably by canceling a plan to
exercise around the Kaloyeroi islets in the mid-Aegean, which we have
longed considered to be Greek.
We consider this a gratifying example of Greece and Turkey avoiding a
potential problem through communication. Now, we are aware of reports - and
I would emphasize reports, because they're not items that we can independently
confirm - of Turkish violations elsewhere in the Aegean this week. We treat
seriously all reports of airspace violations in the Aegean.
The occurrence of such violations this week, would, if they indeed happened,
be needlessly provocative and contrary to the spirit of closer cooperation
and reduction of tension to which the Turkish and Greek Governments have
QUESTION: But you don't know if it happened or not?
MR. FOLEY: No, we're not in a position to confirm them. We've seen
reports - press reports, essentially.
QUESTION: The NATO monitors sit pretty closely. You all can't - it's been
a week and you haven't picked up the phone to NATO to ask if it's
MR. FOLEY: We're not currently in a position to confirm the reports. I
would note, however, that the United States and other nations do not
recognize Greece's claim to a 10-mile nautical airspace in the Aegean. Thus,
we do not consider Turkish, US or any other aircraft flying in the zone
between six and ten nautical miles from Greek territory to be in violation.
Apparently some, but not all, of the reports we've seen regarding
yesterday's Turkish air operations fall into this category. But again,
that's based on the reports that described those alleged violations as
QUESTION: The Balkans - do you have anything on Robert Gelbard's trip to
MR. FOLEY: I'd have to take the question. He's leaving for the region, I
think, over the weekend. He'll be there for the bulk of next week. He will
be going to Belgrade; he'll be going to Sarajevo; I believe also to Zagreb;
I think to Montenegro, as well. I don't know whether he's going to Kosovo,
but I can check, sure, no problem.
QUESTION: A follow-up on the previous question - as a matter of policy,
does the United States Government recognize Athens FIR - flight information
region - as Greek national airspace?
MR. FOLEY: I'll have to take the question.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Do you have any answer to the reports that the Mexican army was
involved in the creation of paramilitary forces in Chiapas that were
involved in the recent massacre of Indians?
MR. FOLEY: Well, we've seen the reports, but we have no information on
the allegations. The Mexican Government, as we've indicated and applauded,
has undertaken a full investigation of the massacre. We support President
Zedillo's determination to bring to justice all those responsible, but we
can't confirm those reports.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. FOLEY: Thank you.
(The briefing concluded at 1:25 P.M.)