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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #16, 99-02-03

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

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


U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing


Wednesday, February 3, 1999

Briefer: James P. Rubin

1		US deplores Iraq's cruel manipulation of a humanitarian
		  issue by failing to attend today's session of the
		  Tripartite Commission on Gulf War Missing Persons. 
2		Iraq is unwilling to ensure the security of US and UK
		  nationals in UN operations there.
2-3		US continues to support UNSCOM and its chairman, Ambassador

PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY 3,5 Secretary Albright met with Chairman Arafat this morning. 3,6 The topics discussed were: Middle East peace process, Wye implementation, recent Israeli concerns, and deepening the US-Palestinian relationship. 3,4-5 The US-Palestinian Commission will meet in mid-February. 4 US does not support a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood. 4 US has no evidence to support claim that recently released Hamas members were responsible for attacks which killed Americans.

WHITE HOUSE ANNUAL PRAYER BREAKFAST 4 This has always been a religious, non-political event. Attendance is for individual invitees to decide. 4 US has no problem with Chairman Arafat's participation. Sec. Albright plans to attend.

TURKEY & IRAQ 5 US recognizes and support the territorial integrity of both countries. 5 US appreciates being able to share Incirlik Air Base for Operation Northern Watch, concerning which US continuously consults with its Turkish allies.

NORTH KOREA 6-7 US has known of, and has had concerns about DPRK missile program for a long time. 7 Relations with DPRK are difficult, complicated, but there is no imminent crisis.

FORMER YUGOSLAV REPUBLIC OF MACEDONIA 7-8 Secretary Albright met with the Prime Minister this morning. 8 US takes no position on FYROM's bilateral relations with Taiwan 8 US supports extension of UN force mandate by Security Council

FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF YUGOSLAVIA - KOSOVO 8-9 US welcomes KLA announcement of participation in negotiations at Rambouillet, as a sign of a broad cross-section of Kosovar Albanian participation. 9 Question is whether agreement on a permissive environment can be reached 10 Security arrangements in Kosovo have not been finally made. 10 No decision has been made on a NATO force.

CHINA 9,13 US looks into arrests of dissidents, regularly raises human rights and religious freedom issues at highest levels.

AFGHANISTAN 11 Assistant Secretary Inderfurth was meeting Taliban's Deputy Foreign Minister in Pakistan.

DEPARTMENT 12-13 Secretary Albright hopes investigative process regarding Ambassador Holbrooke is completed in a very short time, so that his nomination can be sent forward.

VENEZUELA 13-14 Constitutional reform is a sovereign matter for Venezuelans.


DPB #16

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 3, 1999, 12:40 P.M.


MR. RUBIN: Hello. Welcome to the State Department briefing on today, this Wednesday.

QUESTION: Nice suit.

MR. RUBIN: Thank you. We have one statement, and then we'll go to your questions. I think it's important to bring to your attention yet another Iraqi violation of UN Security Council resolutions in open defiance of the will of the international community.

The 24th session of the Tripartite Commission on Gulf War Missing Persons was unable to proceed with its meeting today because of the failure of the Iraqi delegation to attend. The Iraqis said they can't participate because of the US and UK participation in Desert Fox. Let's bear in mind that the Tripartite Commission's search for Gulf War missing persons is a humanitarian process, aimed at easing the suffering of families who yearn to know the fate of their loved ones.

We deplore in very strong terms Iraq's cruel manipulation, for political purposes, of this humanitarian issue. We note that Iraq's departure from this commission puts it in complete non-compliance with Paragraph 30 of Resolution 687. We urge Iraq to resume participation as soon as possible

QUESTION: It isn't necessarily a permanent - you don't think this necessarily means you'll never hear from them again, do you?

MR. RUBIN: Well, it's hard to know. All we are saying right now is that we are deploring their cruel manipulation of this process.

QUESTION: And you hope they reappear.

MR. RUBIN: And we hope they reappear.

QUESTION: And where was this meeting?

MR. RUBIN: This is in, I believe, Geneva.

QUESTION: While we're on the subject, just a few minutes ago the UN - I guess it was the Secretary General - ordered - it was mostly a paper order because there are only two people it would apply to - but ordered British and American UN folks out of Iraq. Do you know of any special crisis?

MR. RUBIN: For some weeks now there's been a discussion of the fact that Iraq has indicated that it was unwilling to ensure the security of the US and UK nationals participating in UN humanitarian and other operations in Iraq. I suspect that this is part of that multi-day issue and not some new problem that has generated a new decision by Iraq; but rather that the UN has concluded, after extensive discussions, that it can't get the right satisfaction out of the Iraqis that would permit these American and UK citizens, of which I think you indicated, there are a very small number that participate.

But I don't have a lot of information on that. I was just alerted to that news prior to the briefing.

QUESTION: The Iraqis are also welcoming the ouster of Richard Butler from UNSCOM. Could you balance that or comment on it?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, this is the Iraqis welcoming something that hasn't happened. They've made a lot of foolish statements and provocative actions in recent weeks. What's happened here is that there is an assessment going on, based, as it always will be, on the expertise of the experts. Where are the experts? They're in UNSCOM.

So this is an assessment of where Iraq stands and what information is available on their non-compliance. UNSCOM will be an important participant in that assessment. So the fact is that Iraq is not permitting the UN Special Commission and its inspectors to do its work. Its Chairman is Ambassador Richard Butler, who's done a fine job in holding Iraq's feet to the fire on the question of disarmament.

But right now there are no inspections. So what the UN is doing is simply doing a technical assessment based on expertise of UNSCOM experts. So nothing really new there.

QUESTION: The US position is Butler should stay?

MR. RUBIN: Absolutely.

QUESTION: Okay, and in spite of the Russians position that they want him to go?

MR. RUBIN: Right.

QUESTION: You don't take any differences with either of those statements?

MR. RUBIN: Which?

QUESTION: Russia wants Butler to go.

MR. RUBIN: And Iraq is applauding that he's left when he's still there. He's still there; he's the chairman of UNSCOM. Ambassador Butler is the head of UNSCOM. UNSCOM still exists. It hasn't been able to get into Iraq to do its work because Iraq refuses to allow it to get in and do its work.

In the absence of UNSCOM doing its work, sanctions simply can't be lifted because it's not possible to verify that they're in compliance with the agreements. So the Russians have some well-known problems with Ambassador Butler. The Iraqis have been shooting the messenger and complaining about Ambassador Butler for a long time. We believe Ambassador Butler has done a fine job. There's no real new development here.

QUESTION: Can I ask about, if I may, about the Arafat meeting? Were there any new ideas on how to get the talks going again or the process going again? Did the Secretary bring up the terrorism issue?

MR. RUBIN: They had an extensive discussion of the Middle East peace process. They had an extensive discussion of the question of implementing the Wye Agreement. They talked about some concerns that have been raised in recent days by the Israelis. They talked a lot about the importance of deepening the US relationship with the Palestinian Authority.

In that regard, there is a plan for a mid-February meeting of the US- Palestinian Commission.

QUESTION: Is that the first one?

MR. RUBIN: The first meeting? No, it's about the fourth or fifth meeting, I believe. I will get you the exact number of that. But there have been such meetings in the past. I don't know how many; maybe a couple or three meetings.


MR. RUBIN: In mid-February. At that meeting, we will be looking for ways to deepen our ties with the Palestinian Authority, including trying to improve the prospects for trade and including the prospects for exchanges in the area of science and cultural and other exchanges.

QUESTION: Will it be here?

MR. RUBIN: I don't have the venue for the meeting, but it's mid- February.

QUESTION: Can you tell us whether the Palestinians brought up the idea of an American guarantee to avoid the need for them to declare a state? There's been talk of this.

MR. RUBIN: You can ask the Palestinians to discuss with you their side of the conversation. What I can tell you is our view. Our view is that we do not support unilateral declaration of statehood by the Palestinians. We think that would be a mistake; that would undermine the ability to negotiate a permanent status issue. We have made that point very clear to the Palestinians, and we will continue to do so.

As far as whether that came up in the meeting today, it was a very small meeting and I wasn't in it; so I will have to check for you. But I would be surprised, if the issue came up, if the Secretary did not make clear our view as I just stated it.

QUESTION: Is there any further - I know this came up in the last two days - anything further on these five Hamas members? Do you have any more reason to believe now that they might have anything to do with these bombings, or is that still --

MR. RUBIN: We, as I indicated yesterday, have no evidence of this claim that these individuals were responsible for attacks that killed Americans. We simply have no evidence for that assertion.

We do have concerns, more broadly, about the issue of security that we've been discussing with the Palestinians. But that particular charge, we have no evidence for.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) - Arafat's in town to attend a prayer breakfast tomorrow. There are a number of participants who have said that they're going to boycott the prayer breakfast because they feel that Chairman Arafat should not be at the event. What is the Administration's response to this?

MR. RUBIN: Well, it's up to individual participants in such a ceremony to make their own decisions as to whether they participate. This has always been a non-political event that is designed to be a religious event. I believe Joe Lockhart has talked about the procedures by which invitations are proffered. But it's up to individuals to decide whether to participate or not, and it's not up to us to have a view as to whether they participate. We certainly don't have any problem with him participating.

QUESTION: Will the Secretary attend?

MR. RUBIN: She usually does. I believe so, yes.

QUESTION: Jamie, back on the Commission -- the US-Palestinian Commission - just a few details. Where will the meeting be? What is the name now of the Commission?

MR. RUBIN: It's the US-Palestinian Commission. Your colleague asked me where the meeting would be, and I indicated that I didn't know the exact location; but that it's in mid-February.

QUESTION: Could it be outside of the United States?

MR. RUBIN: Your colleague asked me the location of the meeting and I indicated to him that I didn't know where it was. That means I don't know where it is. That means I'll try and find out for you; but there's no way I can know something I don't know.

QUESTION: I doubt you don't know it.

MR. RUBIN: I don't know it, and I don't appreciate you suggesting that I would say I don't know something if I don't know it.

QUESTION: I don't appreciate the belittling either, so why don't we just drop it. I'm sorry, I'm not finished with my question. Will the Secretary be attending - kicking off the commission meeting?

MR. RUBIN: I have no information to provide you.

QUESTION: On the trade issue that you mentioned, is their consideration for granting them trade benefits such as investment guarantees and things such as that, that the United States can provide Ex-Im bank, that sort of stuff?

MR. RUBIN: No information to provide you there.

QUESTION: Just a minor point -- how long did they meet for?

MR. RUBIN: I believe it was about 45 minutes to an hour.

QUESTION: Can we go back to Iraq for one second? Prime Minister of Turkey, yesterday, said the United States may not want to establish a Kurdish state, but events are approaching that point. He further said it is clear this -- (inaudible) -- the United States has begun to follow will open the way for the division of Iraq. These are quite strong statements from Prime Minister of Turkey. Do you have any kind of reaction to it?

MR. RUBIN: I'm familiar with those statements. Let me simply say that with respect to our views on this issue, we firmly recognize and support Turkey's territorial integrity. We firmly recognize and support Iraq's territorial integrity. Turkey is a vital NATO ally that continues to provide critical support for international efforts to ensure that Iraq complies with UN Security Council resolutions. In particular, we are very appreciative of being able to share Incerlik air base for the purposes of Operation Northern Watch. We understand that there has been no change to Turkish resolve in this regard.

We continuously consult with our Turkish allies on the operational details of Operation Northern Watch. So the point is, on the things that count here - the cooperation on the Operation Northern Watch - we still believe that that is continuing; and that's really what matters.

QUESTION: Could I go back to the Arafat-Albright meeting? You said there was an extensive discussion of the Middle East peace process. At this point what is there to discuss about a peace process that appears stagnant?

MR. RUBIN: They discussed the importance of the Middle East peace process. They discussed the importance of implementation of the Wye Agreement. They discussed the importance of moving forward beyond that, once implementation is achieved. There's plenty to discuss. It's an extremely important issue, and there are no shortages of nuances to analyze and try to work with.

QUESTION: I realize you weren't in the meeting, but was there any consensus about whether there can be any progress during the course of the Israeli election campaign?

MR. RUBIN: As you know, I have indicated to you in the past that the Israeli election campaign is an internal matter for the Israeli Government and the Israeli people. From our perspective, what's important is that we try to achieve implementation of the Wye Agreement from both sides. That means the Israelis complying with their obligations and the Palestinians complying with their obligations. That is what they talked about.

QUESTION: Did Secretary Albright bring up those issues which the United States believes the Palestinians are in default of in terms of --

MR. RUBIN: We certainly discussed our concerns about several issues related to Wye implementation, yes.

QUESTION: Can you say which ones?


QUESTION: You probably saw the testimony of George Tenet yesterday on Korea. It looks like they're, according to Mr. Tenet, on the verge of being able to reach the American mainland with their missiles. I just wonder how this might affect the way the US approaches North Korea.

MR. RUBIN: On the missile side, we have known for some time that North Korea is developing a Taepo Dong missile. As we have discussed previously, North Korea launched a Taepo Dong I with a small third stage in a failed attempt to deploy a very small satellite on August 31. While we had expected a Taepo Dong I launch for some time, its use of a small third stage in the attempt to deploy a very small satellite was not anticipated.

As we have also said, the launch on August 31 represents further progress in the DPR's missile program, and is a matter of concern because of its destabilizing impact on our security interests. However, North Korea would need to resolve some important technical issues before being able to use the Taepo Dong I with a small third stage to deliver a very small payload to intercontinental ranges.

North Korea also has been working for some time on a larger missile, the Taepo Dong II, that could deliver a somewhat larger payload to ICBM ranges. North Korea could be able to test-launch this missile for the first time as early as 1999.

These are the reasons - these activities - why we believe we should place such a high priority on missile non-proliferation and working closely with other like-minded countries to curb the flow of missile equipment and technology worldwide. We continue to press the North Koreans to cease all development, testing and export of missiles and missile-related technology. We also have made clear that any further missile tests would have serious negative consequences for our bilateral relations. We continue to remain in close touch with our allies on this system.

More broadly, suggestions have been raised about North Korea beyond the missile side. We certainly know that North Korea is a difficult and complicated issue and the stakes are very high, but we do not believe that there is an imminent crisis. As we have indicated, North Korea's activities at the Yongbyon facilities have been frozen by the agreed framework, including its plutonium reprocessing capability there. Concerns that North Korea might be intending to construct nuclear production facilities outside of Yongbyon or what led to the present negotiations over Kumchangni , which you are familiar with.

Dr. Perry has been asked by the Secretary and the President to review our overall policy towards North Korea. He is still consulting with Congress, outside experts, our allies and interested parties to ensure a comprehensive and thorough study. Any such broad study, obviously, includes a wide range of scenarios for what could occur on the Korean Peninsula; but it's not something we would want to speculate on at this point.

As you know, George Tenet said yesterday, the situation on the Peninsula is volatile and unpredictable. That is precisely why we've undertaken the wide- ranging policy review led by Dr. Perry.

QUESTION: The Secretary met with the Prime Minister of FYROM. Do you have anything on this meeting?

MR. RUBIN: They did meet. I do have a little information on that. The Macedonian Prime Minister arrived yesterday. He met with the Secretary this morning and will also attend the National Prayer Breakfast tomorrow, with many other people. He is going to meet a wide cross-section of officials.

They discussed the progress of Macedonian political and economic reforms, the recent developments in the region and related UN and NATO deployments -- obviously, with respect to the Kosovo situation. Secretary Albright praised the Macedonian Government's commitment to economic reform and Western orientation and the model it is developing for inter-ethnic relations, and noted the desire on both sides for closer cooperation and consultation on matters of mutual interest.

She did reiterate our appreciation of the government's firm support of our efforts to bring stability to Kosovo, including the agreement to host the NATO extraction force, the so-called EXFOR.

QUESTION: Any discussion about the issue with Taiwan, because FYROM is establishing diplomatic relations with Taiwan?

MR. RUBIN: That is a matter for the Macedonian political leaders to decide. We don't take an official position on whether countries should establish diplomatic relations with Taiwan. That has been our long-standing policy. The government in Skopje is aware of our position and our own policy regarding recognition of the PRC and our unofficial relationship with Taiwan.

We don't see a reason why one ought to connect the issue of the UN force there and the mandate with the subject that you asked about. We support the extension of the mandate in the Security Council and would urge all Council members to do the same. The presence of this force has had regional benefits in limiting instability in the Balkans. Beyond saying that, I think I'll leave it to the government there to comment.

QUESTION: A follow-up on that - what effect would a Chinese veto of an extension have on your relations with Beijing?

MR. RUBIN: Well, you're asking me to speculate on something that hasn't happened yet; and therefore, I'm not prepared to do so.

QUESTION: Are you expecting - you're obviously well-prepared with an answer there. Are you expecting problems with China on this issue?

MR. RUBIN: I said that we support the extension of the mandate and urge all Council members to do the same.

QUESTION: Kosovo - the Kosovar Albanians named their delegates, some of them, today. They don't include any political leaders. What's the US reaction to the composition of the --

MR. RUBIN: That don't include the KLA or don't include political leaders? I mean, because one particular --

QUESTION: That's my understanding.

MR. RUBIN: We welcome yesterday's announcement by the Kosovar Liberation Army spokesman that it will send a delegation to participate in the settlement negotiations at Rambouillet. Reports indicate that several key members of the KLA will be at Rambouillet. Along with the KLA, all Kosovar political parties, as well as a number of independent intellectuals, have agreed to participate.

In short, we welcome the fact that a broad cross-section, including key members of the KLA, are going to participate in these talks. Ambassador Hill is now in Belgrade, where he is scheduled to meet with Serbian President Milutinovic. We do think that at the end of the day, the Serb leadership will understand the importance for them arriving and participating in these negotiations. But obviously they've made no formal decision.

QUESTION: Since the last time we've talked about China here, there have been a number of arrests - not necessarily high-level arrests. I was wondering if, in the run-up to the Tienanmen anniversary, the United States was planning any new protests about dissent?

MR. RUBIN: We have had some information in the last week available to me about specific cases that is not available to me right now. But I do know there have been some cases that we are looking into that have been reported. We do regularly raise, at the highest levels, with the Chinese, human rights issues, and will continue to do so.

QUESTION: Can I go back to Kosovo? As part of one of the drafts that's circulating right now on this proposed peace plan - and I realize that the United States is only one of six members of the Contact Group - but why did the United States not do more to prevent the presence of any - whether it would be VJ or MUPP - forces within Kosovo after an agreement is signed? Why do we feel that it's necessary to have any presence there?

MR. RUBIN: Well, I know some editorialists have made this point, and it's easy to wave one's wand and say this is the way the world should be. But the fact of the matter is that Kosovo is part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is a country; Kosovo is not. Countries quite normally and understandably want to protect their borders. So it is easy to say the words and wave one's wand and say one shouldn't have any Serb security forces of any kind anywhere in Kosovo; but we have to remember there are some important borders. Kosovo is bordering the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and it also borders Albania. I don't think anyone has suggested that any country in the world doesn't have the right to defend its borders.

The question is whether we will be able to strike an agreement that genuinely constitutes a permissive environment -- meaning that the two sides have agreed to security arrangements that ensure that any international presence will be able to do its job without hindrance, interference or the threat from any security forces there; but not magically waving one's wand and getting things to disappear that in the real world cannot.

QUESTION: But aren't the MUPP forces allowed to patrol the interior of Kosovo? We're not just talking about border police?

MR. RUBIN: You're asking me now about what would be permitted in an agreement, where the negotiations haven't started yet. I would not assume that the reports that you've heard on the specific subject of the MUPP are correct.

QUESTION: I mean I'm talking about a plan that I've looked at, and it has -

MR. RUBIN: I wouldn't assume you have the current plan.

QUESTION: Okay, I'm talking about a plan that was circulated as of last week. To the best of my knowledge, that part of the plan has not changed -

MR. RUBIN: That what? That there would be -

QUESTION: -- 2,500 MUPP forces that would be allowed to be within Kosovo and not talking about the VJ that would be on the border.

MR. RUBIN: So your question is not about Serb security forces; your question is whether there should be any police in Kosovo?

QUESTION: Both, yes.

MR. RUBIN: Let's remember that there are Serbs in Kosovo. Again, people might want to wish away the existence of Serbs, but there are Serbs there. There have been provocations on both sides in Kosovo, including gross killings of Serb citizens. What we are trying to do here is to negotiate an agreement that eliminates the capability of Serb forces to respond in dramatic and overwhelming and horrible ways to the events in Kosovo. We are not trying to eliminate the ability of the Serbs in Kosovo to have adequate protection. So we will have to weigh the various costs and benefits of different security arrangements.

But let me tell you that whatever draft you might have seen, whatever date it might have had on it, the decision as to what the security arrangements are in Kosovo has not been finally made. The Contact Group will be putting together a draft in the coming days, if the Serbs show up, and presenting that draft, not any draft that might have been circulated to the parties. Upon that circulation to the parties on this weekend, I wouldn't assume that we're all going to be in a position to comment on every sentence that might come out, for fear of limiting the ability of the negotiators to succeed.

QUESTION: Just one more follow up. Understanding that the Serbs need to have protection, why, then, would this draft, then, say, that the KLA are supposed to give up all of their arms?

MR. RUBIN: Well, there would be a Kosovar Albanian police force in any draft.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on Andrea's question and mine yesterday -- there has to be some law enforcement capability indigenous in Kosovo, and it would either have to be that, which is the MUPP -- which is Yugoslav - or it would have to be something that NATO would install there. I take it - has the choice been made? Is NATO going to play policemen and buffer these various sides and play policeman and authority throughout the country?

MR. RUBIN: No decision has been made on NATO force.

QUESTION: Can we go to Afghanistan? I understand that Mr. Inderfurth is there, and I'd like to know if his main objection, while meeting with the Taliban, is to talk about Osama Bin Laden, or can you give us a readout on the meeting?

MR. RUBIN: Well, Assistant Secretary Inderfurth would be thrilled to learn that he was in Afghanistan, but he's not. He's in Pakistan. He was scheduled to meet today in Islamabad with the Taliban Deputy Foreign Minister. He would be having this meeting in the context of the discussion that he and Deputy Secretary Talbot had with the Pakistanis on the question of nuclear proliferation and other matters that you all have asked me about.

With respect to the discussions with the Taliban, we have some very well- known and important issues to address. First of all, we want to see Osama bin Laden expelled from Afghanistan and brought to justice for his crimes. We support the efforts of the UN to try to help the Afghan factions reach a political resolution of their conflict. We want to see internationally accepted human rights norms, including and in particular the rights of women and girls, respected by the Taliban. Finally, we want to see the Taliban end poppy production and narcotics trafficking in the areas they control.

That is the agenda that Assistant Secretary Inderfurth would be raising in any conversation with the Taliban.

QUESTION: The meeting is over, correct?

MR. RUBIN: I don't know the time of the meeting. I can try to check that after the briefing.

QUESTION: Do you know who exactly it was that he was meeting?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, I was fearful of mispronouncing the name, but it's Taliban Deputy Foreign Minister Mullah Abdul Jalil.

QUESTION: Has Pakistan refused to help the US with the Taliban case outright?

MR. RUBIN: This is a discussion we were having with the Taliban. Now you're asking me - what's your question?

QUESTION: Deputy Secretary Talbott was in Pakistan. Was the issue of the Taliban raised with the Pakistani Government? Have they refused to help the US in the Taliban and Osama bin Laden case?

MR. RUBIN: We have a regular dialogue with the Pakistani Government not only through the channels of the Deputy Secretary of State, who is in the region discussing non-proliferation. Assistant Secretary Inderfurth has been talking both with the Pakistani Government and the Taliban in Pakistan. I don't intend to characterize his discussions with Pakistan, since they're ongoing.

QUESTION: What Mr. Tenet said yesterday in the Senate --

MR. RUBIN: On which subject?

QUESTION: Narco-traffic. He mentioned that the activities in narco- trafficking have been increasing from Central America to Mexico and then in the southern border of the United States. My question is, he seems to see a different situation with the Clinton Administration sees in the Mexican activities to control the narco-traffic. What is the real assessment of the State Department in terms of the activities of the narco-traffickers in the southern border of the United States?

MR. RUBIN: Well, we're going to have a certification process in which we will make those assessments in the coming weeks.

QUESTION: Ocalan's small plane landed again in Russia.


Do you have any new information on the subject, or do you have contact with Russian officials?

MR. RUBIN: We have no information on his current whereabouts, as far as I know.

QUESTION: A question on Ambassador Holbrooke -- do you have any announcement today on his status?

MR. RUBIN: My understanding is the reporting about where we're heading on this is accurate. Let me say on behalf of Secretary Albright, that we certainly hope that this process is completed in a very short period of time and that the important services of Ambassador Holbrooke can be presented to the Senate for their confirmation; and then, hopefully, as soon as possible thereafter, that Ambassador Holbrooke can be helping us in many different issues at the United Nations.

So we're hopeful on the basis of work that's been done that we will be able to move on this soon and the White House will be in a position to be more formal about a question like an announcement. And I'm not in a position, Charlie, to discuss the details that may or may not have been worked out between Ambassador Holbrooke and investigative entities.

QUESTION: I wasn't going to ask that. I was merely going to ask the same question I've been asking for months, which is, has the investigation formally been concluded? Is it back in the political realm?

MR. RUBIN: As I indicated, I'm not in a position to comment on the status of an investigation or the details of an investigation. I am able to say that it is my understanding that the news reports on this are basically accurate - that it's drawing to a close, that we're nearing a point at which Ambassador Holbrooke's name can be forwarded to the Senate, and that Secretary Albright is hopeful that he will be in a position to serve this Department and this government very, very soon.

QUESTION: So the Administration intends to stand by Mr. Holbrooke? There's no rethinking?

MR. RUBIN: I don't think there was ever any doubt about that.

QUESTION: Can I go back to the subject of China for a moment? I understand that Mr. Robert Siple took up the issue of human rights abuses in China with the Chinese back in January; and especially the case of Father Li Qing Hua -- a matter that I brought up in this forum before - a priest who was tortured sexually by prostitutes and Chinese agents. I would ask, does the United States point out to the Chinese that these types of actions are highly offensive to certain religious blocs, such as Roman Catholics -- about 70 million in this country -- and really alienate a large segment of our population when they do these kinds of acts? Is this brought to their attention?

MR. RUBIN: I can assure you and anyone who might be listening that the United States takes very, very seriously the question of religious freedom in China, that is why we have a coordinator on the subject. With respect to the specific cases, as I indicated in response to your colleague's question, we do have some information we'd be able to provide you after the briefing on specific cases.

QUESTION: But do you think this is a good point in diplomacy -- saying to the Chinese, if you want to make friends in America, and if you want to sell products in America, you shouldn't allow this to happen?

MR. RUBIN: Well, I know a lot of people have made that point.

QUESTION: There's a Syrian defense delegation in Russia - in Moscow - today.

MR. RUBIN: I don't have any information on that.

QUESTION: Two questions. First of all, do you have the date when Secretary Albright will be giving her recommendation on certification to President Clinton?


QUESTION: The second one, yesterday, the new President of Venezuela, after his inaugural speech, he expressed his admiration for Fidel Castro in support for him. Do you have any comments on that?

MR. RUBIN: You're hoping that I will give you something you can make some hay out of. I'm aware of an inauguration. President Chavez is, as he promised, beginning the steps to reform or replace the Venezuelan Constitution. We note the recent unanimous decision of the Venezuelan Supreme Court, opening the way for a popular referendum on the subject. Constitutional reform is a matter for the sovereign nation of Venezuela to decide. With respect to any views expressed on other subjects, I haven't seen the specific quote and I'd have to check it before making a comment.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing concluded at 1:25 P.M.)

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