U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #36, 99-03-23
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
Tuesday, March 23, 1999
Briefer: James P. Rubin
1,9 Murder of Paraguayan Vice President Luis Maria Argana
1,2,4-5 Results of Ambassador Holbrooke's Meetings / NATO
Consultations in Brussels
1-2 Suspension of Embassy Operations in Belgrade Effective
2 Sweden to Act as Protecting Power for US
2 Status of Other US and Foreign Embassies Operations in
3-4 Consequences for Milosevic for Failing to Agree to Interim
4 Secretary Albright's Efforts/Contacts with Foreign
1,5-6,7 Prospects for Military Action/NATO Authority/Planning
7-8 NATO Interests in Situation in Kosovo
8 Violations of International Law
13 Russian Position on Siding Militarily with the Serbs on
13 US Position on Lifting of Sanctions
5 Seizure of Russian Cargo Plane Reportedly Carrying Military
Cargo to Yugoslavia
5-7,13 Foreign Minister Primakov Visit to Washington Postponed
9-10 Impact of Possible NATO Action in Kosovo on US-Russian
10 Status of IMF Consultations
12 Russia's Cooperation with Iran
13 Russian Position on Siding Militarily with the Serbs on
9 Secretary Albright's Position on People-to-People Contacts
9 Status of License for Charter for Orioles Team
MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS
10-12 Secretary Albright's Meeting with Chairman Arafat
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
TUESDAY, MARCH 23, 1999, 1:35 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. RUBIN: Hello. Welcome to Tuesday's briefing here at the State
Department. Let me start by saying that Secretary Albright and the
government of the United States express our sincere condolences to the
government and people of Paraguay, and especially to the family of
Paraguanian Vice President Luis Maria Argana. Vice President Argana was
shot and killed by unknown assailants this morning. There have been no
claims of responsibility. The United States strongly condemns the murder of
vice President Argania. There is absolutely no place for violence in the
democratic process. We urge all Paraguans to renounce the use of violence
as a means of resolving political differences and to adhere to legal
and constitutional norms. We urge the government of Paraguay to conduct
a thorough and vigorous investigation to bring to justice all those
responsible for this heinous act.
With that statement, I'd be happy to go to your questions.
QUESTION: Can we begin with trying to get a fix on Mr. Holbrooke's plans,
and also US plans for the embassy, whatever, other installations you have
in the Balkans?
MR. RUBIN: Yes, as far as Ambassador Holbrooke is concerned, Secretary
Albright has been in touch with him a number of times over the last 24
hours. The final decision was for Ambassador Holbrooke to leave Belgrade
and to travel to Brussels, and to debrief those very NATO officials who he
briefed on the way in.
He has been very clear that there were no signs that President Milosovich
was prepared to stop the offensive or to engage in a substantive and
serious way on the NATO-led international security presence envisaged by
the Rambouillet accords. So he left. I don't know exactly his whereabouts
right now; I suspect he's in the air on his way to Brussels. He's got
meetings this evening in Brussels.
As far as the embassy is concerned, Secretary Albright, as a result of
security concerns, and as a result of the briefing she received from
Ambassador Holbrooke, has ordered the suspension of US Embassy operations
in Belgrade effective today. Remaining American staff have been instructed
to leave the country. The increased violence being committed by Serbian and
FRY military and special policy forces in Kosovo, coupled with Serbia's
refusal to agree to an interim political settlement for Kosovo -- including,
as I said, a NATO-led implementation force -- has significantly increased
the probability of military action.
There is only a core group of emergency staff remaining. I'm not going to
get into the operational details of when and how they will depart, but the
embassy has been ordered under suspension.
QUESTION: On Holbrooke's travels, from Brussels is there any chance at
all that he might go back and make one more effort?
MR. RUBIN: I've heard no discussion of that.
QUESTION: And I think --
MR. RUBIN: -- in official channels.
QUESTION: The US operations in Bosnia also closing down and people being
MR. RUBIN: As far as the other operations are concerned, we've made
appropriate adjustments in public warnings and notices. I'm not aware of
any other embassy suspension plan.
QUESTION: Back to Belgrade and the embassy, I'm slightly confused as to
whether everybody is ordered out or whether a small number will remain or
whether there's a small number remaining -
MR. RUBIN: The embassy's been under what we call, "ordered departure."
That means it's been down to a skeletal staff, including Charge Miles. As a
result of the briefing the Secretary received from Ambassador Holbrooke and
therefore an assessment of President Milosevic's current intentions, she
ordered the suspension of all embassy operations in Belgrade effective
March 23, 1999. The remaining staff have been instructed to leave the
There is a core group of emergency staff now at the embassy. I'm not going
to comment on how they're going to leave.
QUESTION: But they are going to leave?
MR. RUBIN: Correct. Just to fill that out, what will happen is that
Sweden has agreed to act as protecting power for the United States, which
means they will maintain US assets in Belgrade and offer limited emergency
services to US citizens in country.
QUESTION: I don't know if you care to speak for the other 18 countries of
NATO, but is it your understanding they're also going to be closing their
MR. RUBIN: Each of them can make their own decision. I understand that in
some cases -- first of all, they're not as large, probably, as ours and
some were already gone and some were leaving. But each of those countries
should speak for themselves.
QUESTION: Also, if you could try to explain the comment that Sandy Berger
made yesterday -
MR. RUBIN: I agree with him.
QUESTION: -- and that the President made -- just what it meant. They say
that because of President Milosevic's action or inaction that he's probably
going to lose Kosovo. Do you know what they meant?
MR. RUBIN: Well, I saw interpretation of it. Let me just try - the point
is to try to make Milosevic understand that he has a series of bad choices
in front of him, some worse than others. The best way for him to keep
Kosovo in a status short of independence is to agree to the Rambouillet
accords, which is an interim solution; which doesn't answer the question of
independence finally and completely but merely allows for a meeting to be
held three years down the road at which issues can be discussed.
But if the war continues, he faces the prospect of losing that war and
sucking up incredible resources and killing innocents and, at the end of
the day, may have less control over Kosovo than when he started and far
less than would be embodied in this interim settlement.
So the point is simple. We are trying to explain to President Milosevic
that as bad as all these choices may seem to him, he's better off accepting
an agreement that is very fair to the Serbs because it protects the Serbs
in Kosovo; it doesn't answer the ultimate question of the permanent status
of Kosovo, and it eliminates Serbia having to go through this painful
process of trying to deal with the insurgency in Kosovo.
So when the President or Mr. Berger or the Secretary of State, for that
matter, explains the consequences of failing to sign a peace agreement, we
haven't changed our position on the question of Kosovo's independence. But
as a practical matter, President Milosevic will have less control if the
war continues and he loses it and loses control than he would under the
Rambouillet accords, where the situation would be frozen. NATO troops would
be there; Serbs would be protected and the status would remain unchanged.
That's the point that various people have been trying to make; not that the
American position on Kosovo has been adjusted - it's an analytical
QUESTION: Not that the American position has changed.
MR. RUBIN: Right.
QUESTION: As fierce as NATO's air strikes may be, though, how will
Milosevic lose Kosovo? I mean, there's a couple hundred miles between
Kosovo and the border. Practically speaking, are you suggesting the
Kosovars will take it over? Are you saying that perhaps NATO will in fact
go in and help the Kosovars erect a state? I just still don't get
MR. RUBIN: Well, I'd urge you to request an interview with Mr. Berger if
you want to continue to focus on that particular word. I think the point is
pretty straightforward: it was the assessment, our analysis, our point to
President Milosevic that he's going to have less control - and therefore
lose control - under a war situation than in a peace situation. Under the
Rambouillet accords, that's one scenario. That means the territorial
integrity of Yugoslavia is intact; the final status has not been decided;
the Serb rights are protected through a variety of means; the international
situation remains unchanged as far as Kosovo is concerned. All of that is
guaranteed by NATO forces.
Alternatively, one can have a military conflict continue and escalate and
get worse and all that goes with that. We are telling the Serbs they are
more likely to lose control over Kosovo in the next three years, during the
period of the Rambouillet accords, from that scenario than if they had
signed the agreement. So it's better off for the Serbs in Serbia to make
peace; that's the point.
QUESTION: Jamie, with Ambassador Holbrooke leaving Belgrade and heading
to Brussels, can we read into it that the diplomatic effort to resolve this
crisis are over?
MR. RUBIN: Let me say this -- Secretary Albright has been working very
hard on the diplomatic angle for many, many weeks now. We had the shuttle
diplomacy phase in the fall. We had the Rambouillet accords and the peace
process there, which led, ultimately, to the signing by the Kosovo
Albanians of that accord. Then we had the period in Paris, and we've had a
series of envoys go see President Milosevic.
The Secretary, at the President's direction, has been going the extra mile
for peace for diplomatic solution, a peaceful solution, for week after week,
month after month. That process has now run out.
QUESTION: Can I ask you - when Solana was here last week, I guess -- and
we all know that he has the authority to order an attack - he said, which I
think is pretty much what was said here, that before he did it, he'd have
consultations with I think he said some of the NATO nations. Is Holbrooke's
stop in Brussels that kind of consultation? Or do you expect before an
order was given, or have arrangements been made before an order is given,
that he'd talk to Albright and the British and the French, whoever?
MR. RUBIN: Yes, I think it's normal diplomatic practice when an envoy
goes into a country like Belgrade, having stopped in NATO to report back
formally. That's a procedural necessity for those allies who may not have
But let me say that Secretary Albright has had a busy morning on the phone.
She's been on the phone with Secretary General Solana twice, with Foreign
Minister Vedrine twice, with Foreign Minister Cook, with Foreign Minister
Fischer. So she has been briefing them on the fact that Ambassador
Holbrooke was unable to obtain a change in President Milosevic's position
on the two threshold questions - the question of the offensive on the
ground and serious and substantive work on the Rambouillet accords. So that
process is now ongoing.
But let me say that the formal requirements for consultations has been
completed. Secretary General Solana did that yesterday and before. What is
now happening is the message is being passed through the system that
Secretary Albright has been briefed by Ambassador Holbrooke, and X did not
happen and Y did not happen. That is now going through its normal
QUESTION: Jamie, there's a story out there that the government of
Azerbaijan has seized a cargo plane that has six Migs on it that were
destined for Yugoslavia. Do you have anything on that?
MR. RUBIN: We have seen press reports that a Russian cargo aircraft
carrying a military cargo was detained in Azerbaijan. A Russian Foreign
Ministry spokesman denied charges that the aircraft is bound for Yugoslavia
and claimed that the shipment originated in Kazakstan and is destined for
Bratislava, Slovakia. Prime Minister Primakov also denied reports that the
cargo is destined for Yugoslavia. We are looking into the reports. I have
no definitive assessment.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary spoken to Ivanov today? The Russians are very
opposed to this action which NATO may be taking shortly. Do you expect this
to impact our relationship with them? Primakov is on his way --
MR. RUBIN: No, my understanding is that Prime Minister Primakov's trip is
not on. He has just finished talking to Vice President Gore in extensive
consultation and that the White House will have comments about that
discussion between Vice President Gore and Prime Minister Primakov and in
the coming minutes.
QUESTION: Did you say not on? Did you say off?
MR. RUBIN: Not on, it is off - suspended, postponed.
QUESTION: Because of -
QUESTION: Jamie, do you know -- he was on his way from Russia. Did he
have a phone conversation on his way? Jamie, was he on his way and spoke
with the Vice President and decided to go back?
MR. RUBIN: I'd prefer to let the White House speak to this more formally,
but my understanding is he is not coming, correct.
QUESTION: Before I run out of here, Jamie, can you explain what it is
NATO has agreed to? Is it one bombing phase and then you'd have to go back
if that was expanded? Can you just explain that a little better?
MR. RUBIN: Let me say this -- the North Atlantic Council yesterday
delegated authority to Secretary General Solana after consultation with
allies to execute a broader range of air strikes if the situation warrants.
In its January 30 meeting, the NAC had delegated authority to Solana to
commence air strikes after close consultation with allies. Secretary
General Solana has completed those consultations and will make his decision
now in light of the results of the Holbrooke mission.
With respect to the question of the air strikes more broadly, let me just
simply say this -- the objectives of air strikes are to disrupt Serbs
ability to conduct future attacks against the population of Kosovo. The
work that Secretary General Solana is doing is to make sure there are a
number of ways in which Milosevic might respond to air strikes against the
FRY. NATO needs to formulate detailed plans for reacting to those possible
scenarios. So the one question, which is how the initial campaign will
operate - and I have no information for you on that, that would not be
appropriate for me to describe. Let me say that Secretary General Solana
has all the authority and decision-making power we think he needs
at this point. That doesn't require returning to the North Atlantic Council
for further consultations.
QUESTION: But it's certainly not unlimited. I mean, this broader range
still has its limits.
MR. RUBIN: What we think is necessary he has.
QUESTION: Jamie, can we go back to -- (inaudible) --
MR. RUBIN: You can, but I'm probably going to kick most of the questions
to the White House.
QUESTION: Can you say whose decision was it; was this his decision?
MR. RUBIN: Vice President Gore spoke to Prime Minister Primakov in the
last hour. I've given you the summary thought, but I'd like you to hear
from Joe Lockhart on behalf of the Vice President to describe the decision
in more precise terms.
QUESTION: But he was already halfway across the Atlantic, I guess.
QUESTION: Well, he had just left Shannon.
QUESTION: No, he'd not just left; he'd left about three hours ago.
MR. RUBIN: I'm not sure that changes the fact - that's one of the
advantages of having your own plane.
QUESTION: He's turned around and gone back?
MR. RUBIN: My understanding is that Prime Minister Primakov is not coming
to Washington. The precise conversation he had with the Vice President
occurred as I was coming out to brief you, and I thought it would be better
to come out and brief you than wait for another hour and get all the words
just right. So with respect to why Prime Minister Primakov made this
decision, who made it and how it will be described, I'd like to leave that
to Mr. Lockhart.
QUESTION: Can you say why he made this decision and who made it?
MR. RUBIN: Well, obviously, it's his decision whether to come or
QUESTION: Not necessarily.
MR. RUBIN: It's not our decision. We've made clear that we want to work
closely with Russia, and we will continue to do that. So I'd like to leave
it to Mr. Lockhart to describe that call in very precise terms.
QUESTION: Jamie, sticking with Russia, could you comment on reports that
the Russians were using spies as observers in the Balkans, and that also
Russia was being paid by the ICFY --
MR. RUBIN: The ICTY?
QUESTION: No, the ICFY in 1994 through '96 to have also, I guess it's
something about them - Russian-Serbia union from 1994 to 1996?
MR. RUBIN: Where do you get this stuff? Let me see what I've got for you.
We'll try to get you something after the briefing.
QUESTION: Obviously, it looks like air strikes may be imminent. Suppose
the US and NATO launches air strikes and Milosevic still won't back down
and halt his aggression - do the two things: halt the aggression and agree
to a peace deal? What then? I mean, are the US and the allies prepared for
this sort of indefinite containment of Milosevic?
MR. RUBIN: What we have to bear in mind is that any military operation
inevitably contains risks and uncertainties. We believe it is greater risk
to our interests for us not to respond to Serbia's escalating offensive
against the population of Kosovo and its refusal to negotiate seriously.
Failing to act poses greater risks than the inherent risks of any military
operation. We believe that in the absence of sending a very strong message
to President Milosevic through military pressure and through the use of
military force, that we face a far greater, more dangerous and more costly
challenge to deal with later. So any uncertainty that inevitably exists has
to be weighed against a failure to act. The President made quite clear
in his speech that we need to act now to limit the risks, limit the costs
and prevent a far greater danger down the road, even though there are
always inherent uncertainties.
QUESTION: Jamie, as the leading member-state in NATO, certainly the
United States took into careful consideration the precedent-setting move
launching air attack on a sovereign state would have. Why was this decision
deemed one that we would be willing to go forward with for the first time
in NATO's 50-year history?
MR. RUBIN: Well, I think the President spoke to this before, but let me
summarize. NATO is an alliance designed to protect the interests and the
security of the democracies in Europe and the United States and Canada. The
security of Europe is, therefore, a vital interest of the United States.
Failing to act early to prevent this kind of danger from spreading is a
risk to our vital interests. The longer we wait, the greater the risks to
our vital interests.
As far as the precedent-setting nature of this, let me say that we believe
that failure to act would carry with it very significant and substantial
dangers for humanitarian dangers - that is, hundreds of thousands of people
- for the risk of the war spreading. The NATO allies considered this. They
considered the repeated violations of international law, the repeated
crackdowns and the repeated use of military power. You put all that
together and NATO decided it needed to act to protect its interests; and
its interests include making sure that the conflict in Kosovo doesn't
spread to Europe more broadly.
QUESTION: A follow-up on that. You just mentioned violations of
international law, and I'm reminded that last week or the week before the
question was raised. I believe you said you'd have the lawyers work on that
and get us something more formally. I don't think we've gotten it
MR. RUBIN: There has been extensive consideration of this issue with our
NATO allies. We and our allies have looked to numerous factors in making
our judgment, including - there have been serious and widespread violations
of international law; there has been the use of excessive and indiscriminate
force; Yugoslavia has failed to comply with OSCE and NATO agreements, with
UN Security Council resolutions, with its obligation to cooperate with
the War Crimes Tribunal, as well as with numerous other commitments.
With Belgrade giving every indication of conducting a new offensive against
Kosovar Albanians, we face the prospect of a new explosion if the
international community doesn't take preventive action. It could be an
explosion that exceeds the suffering of last fall. In short, Serbia's
actions constitute a threat to the region, particularly Albania and
Macedonia and potentially NATO allies Greece and Turkey.
On the basis of such considerations, we and our NATO allies believe there
are legitimate grounds to threaten and, if necessary, use force. These
issues have been repeatedly discussed. I think if you look, the NATO
alliance, the European Union, the members of the Organization of Security
and Cooperation in Europe are all united that we cannot stand by and let
the Serbs crack down again on the Kosovar Albanians, when they have shown
such reasonableness in agreeing to this peace agreement. That is the
consensus of the European Union, the NATO alliance, the United States;
and we believe that is a substantial and legitimate grounds for action
QUESTION: You said Secretary Albright had a busy morning on the phone. I
would like to know if this included any calls to the Paraguay President
because of the assassination of the Vice President or other --
MR. RUBIN: I will get you some information on that after the briefing.
QUESTION: Also you said the United States condemns the assassination. I
would also like to know if this raises concern about the consolidation of
democracy in Paraguay?
MR. RUBIN: There have been no claims of responsibility at this time. I
can't make a judgment as to what the effect would be, because part of it
depends on the responsibility. But we can try to get you some more on
QUESTION: A couple of Republican lawmakers this morning said that the
Secretary of State opposes to the game of Orioles and the national team of
Cuba. Is this truth?
MR. RUBIN: Is she what?
QUESTION: She opposed to the game?
MR. RUBIN: She is opposed to this people-to-people sporting event? The
answer to that is no, she's not opposed.
QUESTION: Another question on that. Evidently, the license has not been
given yet for the charter to take the Orioles down.
MR. RUBIN: I'll have to check that for you.
QUESTION: You're not aware of any --
MR. RUBIN: It's a Treasury issue, but I'll try to check it for you with
our friends at Treasury.
QUESTION: Will she go?
MR. RUBIN: I haven't heard that.
QUESTION: Going back to Primakov, I know the White House will talk about
the conversation. But is there some concern, since the Russians are so
opposed to air strikes, is there some concern that if in fact NATO does
launch air strikes, what impact that would have on US-Russian relations?
MR. RUBIN: The US-Russian relationship has gone through a number of
issues in recent years. There are many issues which we agree on, and some
which we disagree on. The challenge for Secretary Albright has set for
herself with her relationship with Foreign Minister Ivanov and Foreign
Minister Primakov before him, is to manage the differences and expand the
areas of agreement.
She's been on the phone almost every day with Foreign Minister Ivanov. The
Russians have played a very, very constructive role in trying to convince
President Milosevic to reverse course. Unfortunately, they haven't had any
more success than anyone else. We've worked as closely as we can, and we
believe that we have now run out of diplomatic options. If military action
is decided upon in the formal channels, the Secretary and other members of
the Administration will work to continue as broad and as an effective
relationship as possible for Russia on the many issues that we agree
We know that Russia does not support the use of military force in Kosovo;
but that doesn't mean that it's not the right thing to do. We think that
it's right for the reasons the President outlined, and we will make those
explanations to the Russians if the decision is taken. We think we will
weather this difference, as we've weathered other differences similar to
QUESTION: Given the critical need for IMF funds in Russia, do you think
this is a wise decision on the part of Prime Minister Primakov to not only -
obviously to cancel his consultations with you guys, but also to cancel the
consultations with the IMF? And also, just do you have an opinion in
general of this decision? Do you think it's wise for him to be in his
country during - if it were to come to air strikes?
MR. RUBIN: I'd like to leave that for the Vice President's comments, or
the comments of Joe Lockhart about the specific conversation he had with
Prime Minister Primakov, the reasons for the trip not taking place. Until
that's happened, I'm not going to speculate.
QUESTION: It did happen - I just happened to see it. He didn't address
either of those two questions - a couple of sentences - and maybe you want
to see it yourself, but he didn't address either of those two questions.
MR. RUBIN: Well, it's not going to change my desire to want to not answer
that question quite yet.
QUESTION: On the Middle East, it seems the European Union, and possibly
the United States, are working on some kind of package which would persuade
Chairman Arafat not to make a declaration on May 4 - something to placate
Palestinian fears of what might happen after May 4? Can you tell us
anything about that, and can you tell what ideas were under discussion
yesterday and today?
MR. RUBIN: The Secretary and Chairman Arafat had a good meeting last
night. They discussed a range of issues relating to the Wye Memorandum,
including, obviously, the question of May 4.
We have made our views clear: we are opposed to all unilateral actions,
including a unilateral declaration of statehood. The issues of permanent
status can only be resolved in negotiations between the parties and not by
unilateral acts or declarations by either side.
In our view, the only way to settle all the permanent status issues is
through negotiations between the parties. Given our special role in the
peace process, we're not prepared to stake out a position on these issues.
It is our position that the permanent status talks need to be resumed and
move ahead on an accelerated basis. We obviously have been talking to
others who have sought our views, including European officials. I don't
think there's any coordinated strategy of any kind, other than regular
QUESTION: What is the US Government's position of the legal status of the
Oslo agreements after May 4? Are they automatically extended or do they
expire or --
MR. RUBIN: I think we would like the permanent status negotiations to be
resumed as soon as possible move ahead on an accelerated basis. We don't
think they should be open-ended, but we would like the discussions to
intensify and accelerate.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) - supports your view of the legal status of --
MR. RUBIN: If both parties are continuing to talk, there's no problem.
Both parties can extend. The lawyers will check it; but there's nobody
who's going to stand in the way if both the Israelis and the Palestinians
want to continue to discuss permanent status issues after May 4.
QUESTION: But obviously, the Palestinians are concerned about. Are you
seeking or have you sought any assurances from the Israelis that they will
not try to undo any of the agreements which have so far been reached under
MR. RUBIN: Yes, we want to build on what's already been agreed and extend
it and advance the peace process; that's our goal.
QUESTION: Just to sum up, you favor an extension of the final status
MR. RUBIN: I don't know if we've ever said that so I'm not going to be
talked into it. I can tell you that May 4 is very soon, and I don't think
anybody thinks we're going to solve all the permanent status issues by May
4. Hence, what we'd like to see is that the talks begin as soon as possible
on an accelerated basis - not for a long time, but for less than a long
Not for an open-ended time but enough so that they can complete the work.
That is our position.
QUESTION: But not necessarily by May 4? Because that's impossible.
MR. RUBIN: It's very hard for us to see, given the current situation, how
could you finish the permanent status talks in six weeks.
QUESTION: Do you think it would be a good idea to set a time frame for
MR. RUBIN: Less than a long time; not open-ended. That's as far as I
would like to go.
QUESTION: I'm not asking you to give it, but you think there should be -
MR. RUBIN: As far as I would like to go is simply to say that we don't
want it to be open-ended. We're working with both sides to move this
forward. We want it to be accelerated. But I'm not going to be more
By the way, Ambassador Ross has been participating in meetings with
Secretary Albright and the President's meeting with Chairman Arafat, and
some briefing will be arranged for you later this afternoon.
QUESTION: Going back to Primakov, I'm sorry, this is sort of a dated
question, but a bipartisan group of senators were urging the Vice President,
if Primakov was coming, to force Primakov to stop his country's cooperation
with Iran over --
MR. RUBIN: He won't be able to do that now.
QUESTION: He won't be able to do that now, I know. But is the US
comfortable with what its doing? Is it pressing - does it feel like it is
pressing Russia enough? Some analysts feel like we shouldn't forgive
Russia's debt if they're continuing to cooperate with countries like China
MR. RUBIN: Let me say that halting the cooperation of Russian entities
with Iran's missile and nuclear program is a very high priority for this
Administration, and has been the subject of intensive discussions for more
than a year. Those discussions will continue in many different forms. We
will continue to work the problem. We're not satisfied; that's why we're
continuing to work the problem.
QUESTION: Do you think this effort will be jeopardized by -
MR. RUBIN: We will continue to work the problem at the highest levels
possible. When there are meetings, it will be worked through meetings; when
there are not meetings scheduled, it will be worked through the telephone
and other diplomatic means.
QUESTION: Jamie, there were reports from the lower house of the Duma that
they're considering making it legal for Russians to go and fight together
with the Serbs. Have you heard anything about that?
MR. RUBIN: I regularly hear rumors of that nature, but I have nothing to
say about it because it hasn't reached a real threshold.
QUESTION: Have you received assurances from Russia that they will not
side with the Serbs in a military way?
MR. RUBIN: Vice President Gore just got off the phone will Prime Minister
Primakov. If that issue came up, which I doubt, I will try to get that
information to you. But we have no reason to think they would side with the
The entire international community is blaming the Serbs for failing to make
peace. The Serbs have thumbed their nose at the Russians and everyone else
trying to make peace. We have no reason to think the Russians aren't as
frustrated by this obstinacy and intransigence as anyone else.
QUESTION: Jamie, do you think that it was all embarrassing that Primakov,
in this statement that Joe Lockhart read on behalf of Vice President Gore -
MR. RUBIN: Which I agree with.
QUESTION: He said that Primakov's plane was over the Atlantic and he
literally turned the plane around and returned back to Russia. From a
diplomatic standpoint, is that embarrassing as far as our two countries'
relations are concerned -- that you would have the Prime Minister of Russia
deciding while he's airborne that he's not going to come?
MR. RUBIN: While you were out of the room, I said that's one of the
advantages of having your own plane so you can turn it around. And because
you're an important diplomat and a prime minister, you can make decisions
on the spot like that if the situation merits it. It was his decision to
make that turn around, and we respect that.
QUESTION: There were reports from the Russian news agency - I think it
was Ivanov -- was saying that he wanted to have a special council meeting
to lift sanctions off of Belgrade. I wanted to know if you had a comment on
MR. RUBIN: We would not support a lifting of sanctions in any way, shape
or form. On the contrary, we think the Serbs have now, with their refusal
to deal in a substantive and serious way with Ambassador Holbrooke, have
further isolated themselves and deserve more rather than less pressure.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing concluded at 2:20 P.M.)