U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #13, 98-01-29
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
Thursday, January 29, 1998
Briefer: James B. Foley
1 Release of State Department's Annual Human Rights Report
1 Briefing Tomorrow on Human Rights Report
1-2 Israeli Finance Minister's Visit/Discussion of US Economic
Aid to Israel
2 Composition of Trilateral Security Commission
2 Cooperation Between Israeli Forces and Palestinian Authority
2 Paphos Air Base Issue
3 President Clinton's Remarks on the Occasion of Eid Al-Fitr
3 Prospects for People-To-People Exchanges with Iran
3-4 Prospects for Developing Better Relationship with Iran
4-5 CIA Director Tenet's Congressional Testimony
5 Status of US-Japan Civil Aviation Talks
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
THURSDAY, JANUARY 29, 1998, 1:00 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. FOLEY: Good afternoon. I don't have any announcements to make, except
to remind you that tomorrow we're going to be releasing the 1997 Country
Reports on Human Rights Practices, which will be available in the Press
Office tomorrow morning. Then Acting Secretary Talbott will make a
statement here at the podium at 12:30 p.m., followed by a full briefing by
Assistant Secretary Shattuck. He'll be taking all of your questions.
That's beginning tomorrow at 12:30 p.m.
QUESTION: What time will the report be available?
MR. FOLEY: At 9:00 a.m. in the Press Office.
QUESTION: The Israeli Finance Minister was in town yesterday. He may
still be here, and he is seeking what amounts to an aid cut over ten years,
as you probably are aware. I was wondering if you have any comment on
MR. FOLEY: Yes, Israeli Finance Minister Ne'eman raised the concept of a
phased aid reduction during his wide-ranging discussions with Administration
officials on our close bilateral economic relations. We understand that Mr.
Ne'eman also raised the concept with members of Congress yesterday, and you
saw reference to that in some of the press reporting this morning.
We welcome the Israeli Government's initiative on this, and we will be
working closely with Israel and the Congress as the concept develops.
QUESTION: As I understand it, they want a decrease in economic assistance,
but an increase in military assistance. You don't - are you prepared to say
anything about that breakdown?
MR. FOLEY: Well, I can't really confirm the details of the plan. This was
an Israeli initiative that was prompted, as the Finance Minister stated, by
Israel's very strong economic position. So I'd leave it to the Israeli
Government to comment further on the details. But I would like to make
clear that we reiterate our unshakable commitment to Israel's security
QUESTION: In theory does that mean that the US could find its way to go
along with that idea?
MR. FOLEY: Well, I think it would be premature to stake out a position at
this point. We welcomed the Minister's unveiling of the concept, if you
will. We're prepared to work with the Israelis and with the Congress very
cooperatively as these proposals are further developed.
QUESTION: Still on Israel, there's a report from Israel that the Israelis
want to expel the CIA from the trilateral security commission, and simply
deal bilaterally with the Palestinians. Can you confirm that, or do you
have any comment on it?
MR. FOLEY: No, I can't confirm it. I have not heard the report, therefore
I can't comment on it.
QUESTION: On that general subject, the story about the foiled bomb plot
and the arrest of two Arabs by Israeli forces, there were initial reports
citing cooperation from the Palestinian Authority. They later denied
cooperating in that alleged uncovering of the plot. Do you have any
information on that?
MR. FOLEY: Well, there has been cooperation between Palestinian and
Israeli officials, especially since last summer, since the Secretary's
visit. I can't comment on that particular incident. I'd have to refer you
to both the Palestinian and Israeli authorities.
Anything else on Israel and the Middle East?
QUESTION: Are you concerned about the continued Turkish threats for
military action against Cyprus?
MR. FOLEY: Which statements are you referring to, Mr. Lambros?
QUESTION: The statements that the Turks consistently attack the Paphos
MR. FOLEY: Thank you. We're aware of that particular statement. I believe
that what Turkey said is that they would put the issue before the UN
Security Council, concerning their concerns about this air base. We believe
that as a member of the United Nations, Turkey has a right to raise issues
of concern before the United Nations. But it would be premature for us to
comment on that possible move.
QUESTION: Are you aware of any US attempt to prevent such an action
MR. FOLEY: Well, we have been urging the parties all along to avoid
taking actions and also making statements which result in increased tension
in the region, and that detract from efforts to achieve a just and lasting
peace on the island. We do remain concerned about the increasing militarization
of Cyprus on both sides of the cease-fire line.
This is a short briefing.
QUESTION: The President is delivering - I'm not sure it's been released
yet - a taped message, distributed by VOA to the Iranian people, saying he,
too, favors people-to-people exchanges between Iran and the United States.
That's about the gist of it, although he notes the differences between the
two nations. I guess this is his - the US' formal response to Khatami. Can
we look at it that way?
MR. FOLEY: I'd have to check the record to see whether the President
personally had a statement on Iran to make following the CNN interview. But
this is not the first time that the President himself has expressed his
desire, his personal desire to see an improved relationship with Iran, and
expressed his good wishes to the Iranian people, his welcoming of the
encouraging and positive tone coming out of Iran through the declarations
of President Khatami. So I don't think that's new. I believe Jamie Rubin,
from this podium, spoke definitively on behalf of the US Government
just following that CNN interview.
He stated at the time -- and really the President's message - his Eid
message reiterated our willingness to take a look at the issue of people-to-
people exchanges. So the President's comments in his message to the Iranian
people today is certainly in keeping with the US Government's response to
President Khatami's - both his press conference and the January interview
The President recognizes and appreciates the new tone of President
Khatami's public comments. He has repeatedly noted that the United States
Government, the American people do not have differences with the Iranian
people. We, of course, need to see changes in the government of Iran's
deeds and not only words. But the President's message is meant, during the
important time of the Eid, to convey our views to the people of Iran.
QUESTION: Jamie Rubin in his remarks the day after did acknowledge the
possibility of people-to-people exchanges, but he stressed the need for
government-to-government dialogue, and he repeated the oft-said US position
on it, which is that it has to be open and acknowledged by both sides, no
back channels, and on the agenda would be the three issues of concern to
the United States. He did not mention any of that, however, in his
message to the Iranian people - the President did not.
MR. FOLEY: As you know, we continue to have serious concerns with the
Iranian Government, concerning actions on the international stage. Those
concerns remain undiminished. We've always felt that the lack of a dialogue
- and this is not a new Administration position - is unhelpful; and that a
dialogue - an authoritative, open, authorized dialogue would be an
essential step which we are calling for to help us begin to sit down with
the Iranians to discuss our differences, to raise our areas of concern,
to give them the opportunity to raise areas of concern to them and
to begin to develop a new and better relationship on the basis of respect
for international norms.
President Khatami, in his latest interview, indicated that the issue of a
dialogue, an official dialogue, was not something that he was currently
considering. He did propose, though, as a way of beginning to break down
the walls of mistrust that have existed over the last two decades,
increased people-to-people contacts. The United States has indicated that
it finds that proposal worth considering, and we are currently looking at
the idea of how we can help facilitate such people-to-people exchanges.
I would note that there are such exchanges, that Americans do travel to
Iran and Iranians do travel to the United States. But we are looking at
ways to see if we can better facilitate such contacts.
QUESTION: What's the current view of whatever the temperature is - warmer
or less warm - since President Khatami's statement. I thought I had seen
reporting to the effect that he seemed to have been pulling back on some of
the things that he indicated in the interview, and that perhaps it was not
quite as warm or as open as it might have been thought at first. What is
the current view of --
MR. FOLEY: I'd hesitate to give a scorecard on the daily fluctuations out
of Tehran on this subject. I believe I saw press reporting - I could be
wrong - but I believe I saw press reporting in the last week or so,
indicating that he had reiterated his interest in promoting better
relations, at least between the two peoples. So I'm not sure that that
judgment is categorical.
Certainly the President's message today was a very warm message to the
people of Iran.
QUESTION: It's a North Korea question. CIA Director Tenet had testimony
yesterday - Congressional testimony. He said North Korean people are more
willing to blame Kim Jung Il on the plight of the country. Also he
mentioned -- he said he didn't expect Kim Jung Il would take any reform on
economic (inaudible). It sounds more tough than the people in this building
use. The language sounds more tough. Do you share the same view?
MR. FOLEY: I caught the second part of your comment about some pessimism
about economic measures. What was the first point?
QUESTION: The first point is, CIA Director Tenet said North Korean people
are more willing to blame Kim Jung Il on the plight of the country. So do
you share the same view?
MR. FOLEY: Well, I've not read the transcript of his testimony. Certainly
it is always difficult to analyze with a high degree of confidence the
internal situation in North Korea, given the opacity of the country and of
the society. Clearly they are going through some difficult economic times,
and they are dealing with that situation. The country has been in some kind
of political transition over the last two years, which may be coming to
an end. And beyond that, I can only repeat that it is very difficult
to know with certitude the exact situation, both on the economic and on the
political front inside North Korea.
QUESTION: People like Chuck Kartman - since last October when Kim Jung Il
became their head of the party --
MR. FOLEY: Yes.
QUESTION: General Secretary of the party. They have expressed some
optimism in the country, that North Korea would take some reform - they may
take some reform. So I was just wondering, do you recognize the feel of
MR. FOLEY: Well, certainly it's our view that economic reforms are
essential, are critical to any hope of reversing the current economic
situation in North Korea. Whether Kim Jung Il is in a position and is
willing to move in that direction, I think very much remains to be
QUESTION: Do you have any update on the civil aviation negotiations
between Japan and the United States?
MR. FOLEY: Well, you know they're ongoing. I believe that the negotiations
are not far from conclusion. I can't tell you for sure that they will be
completed this week. We're watching that, and I'm talking to our officials
involved in the negotiations, and I think they're reasonably optimistic
that an agreement is imminent.
QUESTION: It is said that some Japanese officials say that already you
reached the agreement in substance , but right now there is some problem
regarding (inaudible) in draft agreement or document or something.
MR. FOLEY: Well, I think you've got better information about the exact
and current state of the negotiations than I do. I haven't posed that
question. I am aware that they're very close to agreement.
QUESTION: Also, is there any possibility for them for another talk in the
next week if you cannot reach the agreement this week? Do you have another
MR. FOLEY: That's hypothetical. Let's wait and see at the end of the week
whether they've reached agreement or not. We're reasonably optimistic.
(The briefing concluded at 1:15 P.M.)