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U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #36, 99-03-23

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


Tuesday, March 23, 1999

Briefer: James P. Rubin

1,9		Murder of Paraguayan Vice President Luis Maria Argana

SERBIA (Kosovo) 1,2,4-5 Results of Ambassador Holbrooke's Meetings / NATO Consultations in Brussels 1-2 Suspension of Embassy Operations in Belgrade Effective Today 2 Sweden to Act as Protecting Power for US 2 Status of Other US and Foreign Embassies Operations in Region 3-4 Consequences for Milosevic for Failing to Agree to Interim Settlement 4 Secretary Albright's Efforts/Contacts with Foreign Ministers 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 Kosovo 13 US Position on Lifting of Sanctions

AZERBAIJAN 5 Seizure of Russian Cargo Plane Reportedly Carrying Military Cargo to Yugoslavia

RUSSIA 5-7,13 Foreign Minister Primakov Visit to Washington Postponed 9-10 Impact of Possible NATO Action in Kosovo on US-Russian Relations 10 Status of IMF Consultations 12 Russia's Cooperation with Iran 13 Russian Position on Siding Militarily with the Serbs on Kosovo

CUBA 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


DPB #36

TUESDAY, MARCH 23, 1999, 1:35 P.M.


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 pulled out?

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 country.

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 embassies?

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 point.

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 it.

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 heard directly.

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 diplomatic box-checking.

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: (Inaudible.)

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 not.

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 --


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 yet.

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 internationally.

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 that.

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 with.

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 it.

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 consultation.

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 Oslo?

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 talks?

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 time.


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 this acceleration?

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 specific.

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 and Iran.

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 Serbs.

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 that.

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.)

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