U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #42, 00-05-10
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
Wednesday, May 10, 2000
Briefer: Philip T. Reeker
1 Under Secretary Pickering to Brief on Colombia Trip, Wednesday,
May 10, 5:00 p.m.
1 Senior State Department Official to Brief on General Issues of US
Strategic Arms Control on Thursday, May 11, 9:00 a.m.
1 Statement on US Increases Humanitarian Demining Assistance to
1 Statement on the Decision of the North Atlantic treaty Association
(NATO) through the North Atlantic Council, May 10th to Invite the
Republic of Croatia to become the Newest Member of NATO's
Partnership for Peace.
2-5 Visa Applications for Elizan Gonzalez' Grandparents Under Review/
INS to Extend Length of Stay for an Additional Two Weeks for
3-4 Departure of Cuban Interests Section Personnel / Investigation of
Altercation at Cuban Interest Section
5 State Department's Position on the Senate Appropriations
Committee's Approval of Lifting Sanctions on Sales of Food and
6 Byrd-Warner Amendment / Proposed Legislation Sends the Wrong
Message to Milosevic and Those Who Oppose NATO's Actions / US
Committed to Continuing Engagement to Secure the Peace in Kosovo
6-15 Economic Community of West African States Condemn the Action of the
Revolutionary United Front in Violation of the Lome Peace
Agreement; Demands the Release of the UN Personnel who have been
Detained by those Revolutionary United Front People; Warns Foday
Sanko that He Risks Losing the Amnesty Gained Under Lome Peace
Agreement / Charles Taylor Appointed Hostage Mediator / UN
Peackeeping / Embassy Staff Operations / Departure of US Citizens
15-17 International Parental Child Abduction / Hague Convention / Status
of Cooke Case
17 Demonstrations by Opposition Groups
17-18 Assistant Secretary Harold Koh Presents US Report on Torture to the
UN Committee Against Torture in Geneva
18-19 Imposition of Censorship on Foreign Media Reporting about Ethnic
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
WEDNESDAY, MAY 10, 2000, 1:30 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. REEKER: Good afternoon. I apologize for being delayed. We're a little
short-staffed. I did not win the lottery, so I am here today as your humble
servant. I think Barry must have won the lottery, since he's not here
QUESTION: Maybe we did, because he's not here.
MR. REEKER: Please note that for the record.
I have a couple of brief announcements. I think as all of you know, we've
announced earlier that Under Secretary of State Thomas Pickering will brief
on his upcoming trip to Colombia this afternoon at 5:00 p.m. from this very
podium. He'll be previewing his May 11-12 trip to Colombia where he'll be
discussing, of course, Plan Colombia implementation with Colombian
officials there, including President Pastrana.
I would also like to announce another background briefing on arms control.
It will be a Senior State Department Official, just on general issues of US
strategic arms control, on Thursday at 9:00 a.m., for those of you who are
on time to work.
Right after the briefing we'll release a statement announcing that the
United States has increased humanitarian demining assistance to Mozambique,
providing Mozambique with an additional $1 million for humanitarian
demining assistance, bringing the total of such assistance this fiscal year
to $3.5 million.
And we'll also have a statement welcoming the decision of the North
Atlantic Treaty Association, through the North Atlantic Council, May 10th
to invite the new - the Republic of Croatia to become the newest member of
NATO's Partnership for Peace. This important step in Croatia's integration
into the Euro-Atlantic community comes in recognition of the significant
achievements of the new Croatian Government in advancing regional peace
and stability, democracy and human rights. As you know, Secretary
Albright reiterated our support for reforms in Croatia during her visit to
Zagreb in February when she attended President Mesic's inauguration.
And with that, I'll go to the questions of Mr. Gedda.
QUESTION: Can I just ask a question about Pickering?
MR. REEKER: Sure.
QUESTION: Is he only going to Colombia?
MR. REEKER: I believe that's the case, yes. Cartagena.
QUESTION: Cartagena? He's not going to Bogota?
MR. REEKER: I believe it's Cartegena, but he'll be able to clarify that
for you at 5:00.
QUESTION: Elian's grandmothers and grandfathers, I guess, claim they were
promised visas and have not received them. Do you have a comment,
MR. REEKER: Let me just say that on Friday, May 5th - that would be last
Friday - the US Interests Section received visa applications for Elian
Gonzalez' maternal and paternal grandparents, as well as his stepmother's
mother. That would be Elian's stepgrandmother. This was followed on Monday
with a visa application by his stepmother's father. So we're looking at six
visa applications there.
No such commitment as you mentioned was given to any particular issuance of
these visas. We agreed to undertake expedited consideration and, as you
know, under the law we can not prejudge any visa application. So the visas
for Elian's grandparents and stepgrandparents remain under review.
QUESTION: It was reported this morning that Senator Byrd and Senator
Warner have offered an amendment to the military construction bill that
would cut off funds for the continued deployment of US troops to Kosovo
beyond July 1st, 2000.
QUESTION: Can we stay on Cuba?
MR. REEKER: You want to finish Elian? Sorry.
QUESTION: I know, I was waiting for him to say Cuba.
MR. REEKER: Sure. More on Elian. We'll get back to you.
QUESTION: Yes. So, to clarify, you are expediting visas in much the same
manner, you would consider, as the immediate family; is that correct?
MR. REEKER: We agreed to undertake expedited consideration. There is no
set time period for reaching a decision. As we've always said, whether it's
expedited or not, each visa application has to be considered individually
on its own merits.
QUESTION: And they also - the Cubans also say that they are hoping for
the visas of these school children to be - I'm sorry, not the visas - the
length of stay for these school children to be extended. Is the State
Department taking any position on that?
MR. REEKER: As I think I've explained to some of you, permission to
remain in the United States is granted by the Immigration and Naturalization
Service, not the State Department. A visa, which the State Department
issues, is simply permission to apply for entry. That's the technical
I do understand that, upon the recommendation of a child psychiatrist and
social worker contracted by INS to monitor Elian, that INS is willing to
extend the length of stay for an additional two weeks for those playmates,
and is in the process of determining if the parents, the parent escorts of
those playmates, wish to extend their stays in the United States as well.
But you might want to check with INS for the latest on that.
Anything further on Elian or Cuba?
QUESTION: Just to clarify that last thing, you understand from INS that
they've granted permission?
MR. REEKER: That they're willing to extend the length of stay for an
additional two weeks for the playmates and, obviously, need to determine if
the parents of those children and those parents wish to extend their stay.
And you could check with them for the latest on that.
Anything further on Cuba, Elian?
QUESTION: Yes. Do you have anything about the three Cuban diplomats who
have reportedly now left the country who - around whom a police investigation
is being conducted?
MR. REEKER: Having seen those reports, I checked into it and can say that
the Department of State has not been formally notified of the departure of
any Cuban Interests Section personnel; however, there continually is a
turnover among diplomats assigned to diplomatic missions in Washington, and
we are aware that there are Cuban diplomats who are due to be transferred
since the Cuban Government has already put forward some names of diplomats
who would replace those outgoing personnel.
We have asked the Cuban Interests Section about possible transfers, but
they have not provided details about any pending personnel changes to this
QUESTION: So you don't know who those pending - those transfers apply to?
Or are those the same people who were being investigated after the
MR. REEKER: That's exactly it. I don't know. I'm just trying to point out
that diplomats do rotate in and out. And in the case of the Cubans, we're
aware that there are pending transfers because they've applied or put
forward names of diplomats who would come to replace those outgoing. And
because of these reports, we did ask the Interests Section about possible
transfers, but they have not provided details.
QUESTION: On that, can you tell us when the notification of the transfers
were made and whether that was before April 14th?
MR. REEKER: I would have to check into that for you. That would be fairly
standard in terms of replacing personnel, but I don't have a date on
QUESTION: What about the police report? Is that finished yet?
MR. REEKER: The police report - let me get you latest on that. It is not
QUESTION: The travel ban report, is that one done yet?
MR. REEKER: I don't believe that the Libya report has been given to the
QUESTION: How would you feel if you learned that the diplomats suspected
of involvement in this incident had, in fact, been withdrawn to Havana
before the investigation was completed?
MR. REEKER: I don't think I'd want to speculate on that until we know
what the situation is and until we have the report of the investigation,
which is still ongoing. So I really can't comment on that.
QUESTION: Yes, getting back to the visas, is there any difference of
opinion between what the Cuban Government is saying and your understanding
of what's been promised or not promised? The Cubans seem to have been
making some statements about these visas for the grandparents being
MR. REEKER: Well, I have seen some of those statements. I've read some of
them. I don't watch Cuban television so I have not seen them on - I don't
speak very good Spanish. But as I said earlier in reference to some sort of
commitment to issuing the visas, no such commitment was given when those
visa applications were made. We agreed to undertake expedited consideration.
As you know, we can never prejudge an application.
And in terms of some of the Cuban Government's characterizations, let me
say that the Cuban Government and their spokesman are well known for some
of their inaccurate and intemperate remarks, so we will neither dignify
their charges nor change our position, which is to respect and follow the
rule of law in this case.
QUESTION: So that means that you can't confirm that the State Department's
visa process is inhumane?
MR. REEKER: You definitely didn't win the lottery today.
Anything more on Cuba?
QUESTION: Okay. Does the State Department have a view of the approval by
the Senate Appropriation Committee of - in the process of approving a
budget for the Agriculture Department which made moves towards exempting
food and medicine from US sanctions against Cuba?
MR. REEKER: Well, as you know, we've long advocated an approach to help
the Cuban people without supporting the Castro regime, and so we do favor
measures to help the Cuban people to promote a peaceful transition in
As far as that legislation goes, we continue to work with Congress to
achieve legislation that provides the flexibility to respond to changing
situations and gives the President the necessary authority to tailor
specific US actions to meet our foreign policy and national security
objectives. That's my reaction to that.
QUESTION: That's a pretty vague statement you made there. Does that mean
that you're willing to consider a complete exemption of food and medicine
sales to Cuba, including sales to the government and to para-statal
MR. REEKER: No, I think exactly what I said - and I'll repeat it - is
that we have long advocated an approach to be able to help the Cuban people
without supporting the Castro regime, and we favor some measures that could
help the Cuban people and promote transition there. We're going to continue
working with Congress on specifics of this, and we have supported
comprehensive sanctions reform generally. But on that specifically, that's
all I want to say at this point.
QUESTION: What are the type of things that promote a transition?
MR. REEKER: Why don't we have a special briefing on that, George, and I
can go into great detail on democratic transition in parts of the world
where I've served that have had transitions from communist systems and have
done that over the past decade.
QUESTION: Is it fair to say, though, that the Administration has not yet
decided whether such a move would help the Cuban people without helping the
MR. REEKER: I'm not sure if I follow.
QUESTION: Are you saying that the Administration has yet to decide
whether exempting food and medicine from the sanctions would actually
bolster the Cuban leadership, rather than just helping the Cuban people; is
that gist of what you're saying?
MR. REEKER: I have not looked at the specific legislation, and I know
that there were some steps - I believe this morning or yesterday - in the
Senate, and we haven't seen the full text of the bill. So I don't want to
get into any broader characterizations of it until we've had more of a
chance to review it.
What I do know, having consulted with our legislative affairs people and
others, is that we want to continue working with Congress to achieve
legislation that provides flexibility to respond to changing situations, to
give the President the necessary authority that he needs to tailor our
actions to meet foreign policy goals and national security objectives.
Anything more on Cuba? I don't think we're going to make it to Macy's sale,
QUESTION: Getting back to the question of the Byrd-Warner amendment,
which refers to US troops in Kosovo cutting off funding for deployment
beyond July 1st, 2000, first of all, what is the Department's reaction to
this? And, secondly, doesn't that give the Europeans plenty of time to take
care of business in their own back yard?
MR. REEKER: Let me say that on Kosovo and that amendment, we believe that
the proposed legislation sends the wrong message to Milosevic and those who
oppose NATO's actions. A year ago, we - together with our allies -
succeeded in reversing ethnic cleansing. Hundreds of thousands of refugees
were able to return home. But as you all know, covering the story, much
work remains to be done to secure the peace in Kosovo.
Progress is definitely being made. Our troops, together with those of our
allies in other countries, are working very hard to meet that challenge,
and they deserve our continued support. Our European allies are increasing
their funding and support. They're providing the lion's share of troops,
but we need to continue to do our part on that. Without clear support from
the United States, the UN and international civil programs would be
QUESTION: Well, to follow, doesn't the cutoff of July 1st, 2001, indicate
the United States' good faith efforts in this regard and again give the
Europeans plenty of time to pull up the slack?
MR. REEKER: I'm not in a position to speak for the military or the
situation. All I'm saying is that the message that is conveyed in such an
amendment sends a wrong message to Milosevic and the others. We are
committed to continuing our engagement to secure the peace in Kosovo and to
see through the action there, and so that's an amendment that we don't feel
is appropriate to that goal.
QUESTION: Can we change the subject to Sierra Leone?
MR. REEKER: Yes.
QUESTION: Your counterpart, or your boss's counterpart at the White House,
earlier said that the actions taken by the - the decisions made by the West
African heads of state in Abuja yesterday were strong and appropriate
measures, which strikes many as kind of surprising who think that deciding
to call another meeting a week from now and appointing Charles Taylor - a
nasty individual himself who Judd Gregg called for the removal of
himself yesterday - appointing Taylor as a kind of hostage mediator
has sent the wrong message.
I'm wondering if the State Department shares what the White House
MR. REEKER: Absolutely. I share Joe's sentiments, and I'm glad he beat me
out here because I was so delayed. Let me just say for those of you who
haven't seen the reports, which I think were fairly accurate, and our
reporting indicates that the ECOWAS summit, that is, the summit of the
countries - the Economic Community of West African States that convened in
an emergency basis May 9th with seven heads of state and two foreign
ministers, issued a communique which we think was extremely strong. It
went to the heart of the matter in Sierra Leone, condemning the actions
of the Revolutionary United Front in violation of the Lome Peace Agreement;
demanding the release of the UN personnel who have been detained by those
Revolutionary United Front people; and warned that Foday Sankoh risked
losing the amnesty he gained under the Lome Peace Agreement as a result of
They also announced that the ECOWAS defense ministers will meet in a week
to consider modalities of possible military intervention in Sierra Leone.
And we will, of course, be consulting with them continuously in the coming
days on specifics of their plans and where we might help.
QUESTION: But, Phil, I mean, the UN spokesman this morning said that the
peacekeepers there were preparing - they didn't want to be, but they were
preparing for a pitched battle. And I'm not sure how the - if the US is
still waiting to see how it - what kind of logistical role it's going to
play, if we're still waiting on ECOWAS to make up its mind on how it's
going to - or how it's going to go in, you know, I just don't see --
MR. REEKER: Let's not miss the point here that we're working very closely
with the UN and with others in the international community, and particularly
with the countries in the region, on ways to accelerate the deployment of
the UN mission, that is, the so-called UNAMSIL, the accelerated deployment
of the Jordanians, Bangladesh and Indian troops that were already scheduled
to participate in that. The discussions are very much ongoing as to the
specific needs and the sequencing of events to make that occur. And I
think Joe probably addressed some of those things, too.
QUESTION: But it was my understanding that the UN was kind of waiting to
see whether ECOMOG was going to go back in, and now if you have ECOWAS
saying that we're going to have a meeting in a week from now, while the UN
is preparing to do pitched battle in Freetown. I don't get where - how you
can consider what the action that was taken in Abuja to be strong and
appropriate. It's words and zero action.
MR. REEKER: I don't think that's true. In fact, I think they're
considering very carefully what their steps will be. A meeting in a week of
defense ministers is the appropriate time when they can come together. It
does not indicate that there isn't a lot of discussion and planning going
on outside of that. These things don't occur in a vacuum. There are a
tremendous number of meetings and consultations going on on a continuous
basis between the United Nations an the countries of the region who have
taken a lot of responsibility in this, who worked to developed the
Lome Accord and the peace process for Sierra Leone. And so I think
the announcements they made very strongly supported the positions that they
reached earlier when the Lome Accords were developed and signed and, in the
meantime, we're working on invigorating the UN mission under UNAMSIL, under
the Lome Accord.
The current crisis, let me add, is a result of the RUF leader's failure to
keep the commitments that he made at Lome, and I think that the strong
statements made by the West African leaders in Abuja reflect that, that the
RUF is responsible for this.
QUESTION: Phil, does the US, as one of the Permanent Five members of the
Security Council, still believe or does it believe that Mr. Sankoh, once
this situation is over, is still somebody that the UN should do business
with? And will you take his word if there is another peace accord? I mean,
can you take his word?
MR. REEKER: Right now, I think in reference to another peace accord is
very premature. We're looking at the Lome Accord and how to invigorate that,
how to make that work.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) - talking about.
MR. REEKER: That's an accord that was developed by people of Sierra Leone
to bring peace, and the UN was very much, obviously, engaged on that.
As far as Mr. Sankoh, whose whereabouts remain unclear, he is certainly
aware of the fact that he's in violation of the Lome Agreement and he needs
to understand that his actions and the actions of the RUF jeopardize this
peace process and threaten really the best chances for peace in Sierra
Leone, peace that was the choice of the people of Sierra Leone.
And so I think we're going to continue, as I said, to work through the UN
with the countries in the region on how we can invigorate the UN mission
there for the United States where we can be of particular support, bringing
our specialties, whether it's with lift support or the logistics, in that
QUESTION: Just one quick follow-up. Does the US believe that Mr. Sankoh
is in control of all the RUF forces?
MR. REEKER: I think right now Sankoh has the ability to affect his forces
and getting them to comply and participate, as they've signed and promised.
He knows what he can do and he knows what he should do, and so that is one
of the focuses, I think, of the West Africans, the countries in the region,
the statements they made in Abuja, the statements we've been making,
that Sankoh needs to explain to his forces and take the leadership role he
had in making them be a part of that.
QUESTION: Does the US believe that it was under Sankoh's direction or it
was just some renegade members of this rebel force that decided not to
disarm and to take the UN peacekeepers hostage?
MR. REEKER: I don't think I have particular information on that. I think
there is - as I said, the information is unclear on his whereabouts right
QUESTION: No, I'm not talking now. I'm talking weeks ago.
MR. REEKER: In terms of the process, he is certainly aware that he
violated the Lome Accords. I think we released a statement a month ago
saying we were concerned that he was not living up to the spirit of the
Lome Accords and needed to - the Lome Agreement - and needed to exercise
appropriate leadership and support the process that he agreed to, that he
signed up to.
QUESTION: The United States has made a big point of underscoring the
importance of Africa, involvement in Africa, African issues, yet when it's
come to this crisis, the response has been basically nothing except
expression of concerns. Is there a gap between the US rhetoric on Africa
and the reality of policy, and is there really - is the US Government and
the Clinton Administration still dealing with the hangover of Somalia - a
total unwillingness to commit any kind of forces to crises because of what
happened in 1993?
MR. REEKER: I think the Administration is very concerned about the
situation in Sierra Leone. We've been following it very closely; we've been
speaking to it from this podium and other locations continuously. We don't
view developments in Sierra Leone as some sort of test for our long - for
the Administration or for a long-term challenge to our interests in
supporting international peacekeeping and supporting Africa.
What is going on in Sierra Leone is that the RUF is testing the will of the
region and the international community, and mainly the UN, to support the
Lome Agreement. Now, we are very involved and the international community
is very involved in trying to robustly support the peace process and
efforts to ensure stability of the entire region, and we're going to
continue working with the region and the like-minded countries in the
international community to support that process. We want to work with the
Africans as partners and support and strengthen their regional organizations
and these processes, which are designed to help move beyond these
QUESTION: There seems to be a disconnect between what's going on in
Kosovo, where the US posture is that a withdrawal of the US commitment
would undermine the whole effort, and that that's going on Africa where,
you know, we want to help them do a better job solving their problem. This
leads to criticism from places like the Congressional Black Caucus that,
you know, when it comes to Africa the United States talks but doesn't
MR. REEKER: I think it's very important not to mix different areas of the
world. Each case is different, and in all theaters we work with states in
the region. In the case of Kosovo and the case of Europe, we're working
with the Europeans who are taking the lead on that, and we're working
within structures we have there. We have NATO and we're participating and
working in that.
In Africa, in a number of different places, including in Sierra Leone, we
want to work with the Africans and with the regional structures that they
have created to help them move beyond these problems, just as we've created
regional structures in other parts of the world which are used to help us
move beyond problems of the past and to create security and stability.
So that's what we're doing. We're very engaged in that where we can
contribute, where we can help. There's a very strong diplomatic engagement
on that. And I think the Secretary and the President have both underscored
their commitment to Africa in a number of ways. I just mentioned a
statement we're putting out announcing increased aid for humanitarian
demining in Mozambique. Other processes around the continent, looking at
AIDS as a strategic issue, a national security issue.
QUESTION: Can you address the Somalia point, the idea that there seems to
be this extreme reluctance to commit actual troops because of what
MR. REEKER: Well, I think that's an idea that I read about, certainly
from your reporting - not yours personally but from reporting generally -
that Somalia was, again, a situation. In this case, we haven't been talking
about US combat troops on the ground there. We've been talking about
working with the structures that are there that are created to work on this
- the Lome Agreement - and that's what we want to continue to support:
working with the UN, working with our other international partners, and
particularly with the countries of the region. And we're doing that very
QUESTION: In your bilateral contacts with Nigeria, which I assume have
taken place over the last few days, have you specifically tried to persuade
the Nigerians to resume their military intervention in Sierra Leone? And do
you favor Nigeria doing this outside the UN structure or would you - or
what are your views on this?
MR. REEKER: What I can say about Nigeria at this point - and, as you know,
Nigeria hosted the meeting of regional leaders yesterday in Abuja - we
understand that Nigeria is consulting with the ECOWAS states about the
meeting they've had and on a continual basis about deployment of its own,
Nigerian, and other ECOWAS troops.
And so as I said earlier in response to Matt's question, we're going to
continue engaging with the Nigerians and determining where we might help,
ways we could help transport troops. Sequencing is really a major question
there once decisions are made. But we are discussing with Nigeria and the
other regional states ways we could help transport troops and otherwise
support any possible deployments. We also have the request, as you know,
from the UN regarding the Bangladeshi force, and Jordan is also planning
to reinforce its battalion with a special forces unit to, as I said,
invigorate the UN mission under the Lome Accord.
QUESTION: What is sequencing in this context?
MR. REEKER: You know, in terms of logistics, sequencing logistics, one
has to determine what goes first, what moves from where to where. So it's a
complicated thing when you're talking about troops and equipment. You know,
would you fly from one place first; would Bangladeshis come first and then
Jordanians? All those things have to be worked out and our planners are, I
think, obviously very seized with this to work and determine where
we can help.
QUESTION: Some of these - the Nigerians and some of these other ECOWAS or
ECOMOG military forces are badly equipped and badly trained. Now, would you
agree that without substantial - whether it be Western or American kind of
training and equipping, communications - that, you know, that's going to be
needed to go in and do anything serious?
And then, also, isn't there a concern that some of these African forces are
going to go in and deal with the situation in a much more brutal way, that
some of these forces are very brutal fighters?
MR. REEKER: In response to your first question, I'm not a military expert
and so I could try to set you up with people who could speak to that. I
really can't. Let's remember that the Lome Accord, which is the basis for
what we're talking about, was an agreement between the government of Sierra
Leone, the elected government of Sierra Leone, and the RUF. Sankoh has not
kept his part of the bargain in that, and that's why we have problems
What it envisioned was a United Nations force, peacekeeping force, UNAMSIL,
moving in there with troops from regional countries participating, as well
as non-regional countries under the UN. And that's what we are encouraging
and invigorating to do the job that the Lome Accord - Lome Agreement -
QUESTION: They say there's a need to kind of re-examine and re-evaluate
what's going to be needed to rectify this crisis. And so do you think that
there's going to be - whether - if it's not going to be in the form of
troops, that there is going to need to be a substantial American commitment
in terms of resources other than just airlifting?
MR. REEKER: I think we continue to stand by to look at where we can
contribute, where we can make special contributions where we can provide
unique resources or things to support the mission. And that's what the
ongoing discussions are about in Abuja, at the UN, here in Washington.
QUESTION: What about the brutality of some of the other African forces?
There have been reports of concern that maybe the Nigerians or some of
these other forces might go in and deal with the situation in a much more
brutal way, even aggravating things.
MR. REEKER: I think that the important thing is to live up to the spirit
of the Lome Agreement, which is to put in a peacekeeping force there and to
have the people of Sierra Leone, the parties of Sierra Leone, all
participate as they signed and promised they would do. And that's where
we're working, to reinvigorate and move that in faster to get it up to its
QUESTION: Why does the US believe that Sankoh backed out on the
agreement? What was his - what was he up to?
MR. REEKER: I think you'd have to ask him.
QUESTION: No, but I mean you obviously must be thinking about why would
he then want to sign the - you know, live up to Lome if, clearly, he's not
doing it now?
MR. REEKER: I think he wants to live up to Lome and should know to live
up to Lome because that's what he agreed to; it's what the people of Sierra
Leone agreed to. And to speculate as to his thinking and what is motivating
him, I can't do that. But I think he knows what he needs to do, he knows
what he committed to, and he knows that the process is the best future for
Sierra Leone for all its people so that they can pursue the peace
that they so clearly wanted. And the international community is committed
with a real sense of purpose to support him.
QUESTION: Okay. But, I mean, you're well aware of the fact there were
those when this agreement was signed back in July who felt that he really
wasn't going to abide by it in the first place, so I'm just curious as to
why you think - after he's now showing through very obvious action that he
doesn't want to abide by Lome - what makes the US believe that he will in
the very near future?
MR. REEKER: Let's go over it again. The Lome Agreement is a regionally
sanctioned agreement supported by Sankoh. He agreed to it, he signed it,
and supported by the democratically elected government of Sierra Leone. The
interest there was to support stability of Sierra Leone and the region and
prevent a military overthrow of a democratically elected government in
Sierra Leone. It's what the people wanted.
I think there's always a temptation to look back and say, you know, this
could have been different or there were hesitations on that part. What we
have to do is look forward to what is a solid accord that the international
community will support, that the UN is very much involved in, and at the
regional countries. There's a lot of writing about Africa and do we take
Africa seriously; is the international community engaged there? We are very
much. And the Africans are engaged in their future and in determining
that. And it's that force which will help Africa to overcome its problems,
and we have to support that.
QUESTION: Why would you trust him, though? Even if the accord is intact,
on what basis would you trust Foday Sankoh from this point forward?
MR. REEKER: Sankoh knows what he has to do. He's been reminded of that.
He has to come into it. It's not for the United States to trust him.
QUESTION: But even if he does say, okay, I'm going to sign onto it now,
(a) what's to say that you should trust him; and, (b) what's to say that he
shouldn't be excluded from the process altogether and be tried as a war
criminal? I mean, what are some of the options of dealing with him?
MR. REEKER: I think what we're working on now is with the UN, with the
other countries of the international community, with the countries of the
region, to try to see how we can invigorate the UN mission there and push
forward to make this effective and help make this work. So that's what
we're focusing on. And I've said it a dozen different ways, and that's what
we want to see. We have to see what happens.
QUESTION: But I think what everyone is trying to ask is, given that
everything that's going on, is Lome really a solid accord? Can you still
say that Lome is a solid accord; that this war criminal that's hacked off
the arms and legs of thousands of children, should he be placed with that
kind of responsibility that he was given? Or is everyone thinking twice
that they shouldn't have signed Lome?
MR. REEKER: We didn't sign Lome. And you'd have to ask the parties in
those countries their feeling. I think the overwhelming feeling of Sierra
Leoneans is that they want to move forward with the Lome process and have
peace in their country so that they can move beyond this era. And the
current crisis is clearly the result of Sankoh's failure to keep the
commitments he made. He needs to do that. He needs to get involved and do
that. He's been involved in detention of peacekeepers and observers,
persistent efforts to block access by humanitarian agencies.
Look, the Lome Accord was an agreement between the government and the RUF,
and the RUF and Sankoh have not kept their end of the bargain. They need to
do that, and we're going to work with the international community and the
UN to participate to help them speed up the process so that they can get
the appropriate UN mission in their faster and it can do its job.
QUESTION: In response to my first question about the ECOWAS meeting, you
omitted one thing which was what I asked, and that was the appointment of
Charles Taylor to be the hostage negotiator. And I'm just - you know, this
guy's record rivals, if not surpasses, Sankoh's record for brutality in
Liberia. And I'm just wondering if the US thinks that it's an appropriate
choice to be the guy to go in and try and get these peacekeepers freed.
MR. REEKER: I don't have the details on that. I know that the ECOWAS
people were doing that. I believe that the UN has a hostage negotiation
team in Sierra Leone and that they are working on that problem. But you
might check with the UN, or I can check. I just don't have any details on
QUESTION: Okay. But you are aware that he was chosen, that he was
appointed to be the negotiator?
MR. REEKER: I was not aware of that in what I got as a readout of the
Abuja meetings, but I can check on that for you later.
More on Sierra Leone.
QUESTION: Is there anything you can say more concrete about what exactly
the US is willing to provide physically, monetarily or in any other way to
help this situation along?
MR. REEKER: I think, again, we've talked about - you know, and we're
still discussing it very much so - but it could include obviously
transportation - I think we've covered that - and logistics. That may mean
food, fuel, equipment. I think it depends on what the countries of the
region and what the UN ask us for and what their needs are, where we can
make some kind of special contribution, a unique contribution. And that's
what the discussions are going on, not just us but with other allies, other
UN members, international community members. I just don't have anything
more specific on what type of things they'd be looking at.
QUESTION: You said earlier you didn't know the whereabouts of Foday
Sankoh. Has anyone in this government been in touch with his party or
people who might - can you even confirm he's alive? There was a report that
another rebel group may have abducted him.
MR. REEKER: As I said, all I know is that we don't know where he is. I
checked on that as recently as just before I came out here. So his
whereabouts are unclear and I really don't have any information. Our
Ambassador met with him about a week ago - we talked about that at the time
- to discuss what was then a growing problem there, but I don't have any
further information on his whereabouts.
QUESTION: And there's been no attempt by diplomats there to try to get in
touch with his party and find out?
MR. REEKER: I don't know that for sure. We have drawn down our Embassy to
an Ambassador and a very small core staff. And like I said, I don't believe
we're aware of where Mr. Sankoh is.
QUESTION: Can I follow up - can you address the numbers, as long as
you're there, about the staff and other Americans, private Americans, how
many are left?
MR. REEKER: I believe the numbers are very small. The US Ambassador,
Ambassador Melrose, is still there in Freetown. The Embassy is open. And
his core staff remain there. We continued to advise American citizens to
leave Sierra Leone over the weekend. I think on Sunday the 7th we assisted
those that wanted to leave with some helicopter lift. A number of people,
as I understand, left on their own accord with their own means of
transportation, and I don't have any exact numbers of any American citizens
that may remain. I think it's quite minimal.
QUESTION: Less than two dozen, under 50?
MR. REEKER: I really couldn't - I can try to check back into that. A lot
of our ability depends on people checking in with us and letting us know
their whereabouts and what they've done.
QUESTION: A different subject?
MR. REEKER: Does anybody want to do more Sierra Leone?
QUESTION: Are you aware of a report that rebels opposed to Sankoh are
forming a loose coalition and ready to fight, led by Johnny Paul Koroma?
And do you have a view?
MR. REEKER: I think I read that same report, but I don't have anything in
particular on it for you.
Anything more on Sierra Leone? Anything more on Africa?
QUESTION: I have a couple of questions about Americans trying to get
their children back from other countries. Do you know the status of the
case of Mr. Cooke's attempts to get his children back from Germany?
MR. REEKER: The Cooke case, which was raised in a newspaper article over
the weekend - and I think as you all know we raised this case with Foreign
Minister Joschka Fischer of Germany when he was here on Sunday and Monday.
We're looking forward to a renewed commitment by Germany to respect its
treaty obligations in connection with that case. And I think you'll recall
that Minister Fischer said that, within his capacity as foreign minister,
he would take that back to Germany and look into it.
QUESTION: Can you tell me what the role of the State Department is in a
case like this? I mean, what specifically can you do?
MR. REEKER: Let me start out by saying that the Department of State
places the highest priority on the welfare of children who have been
victimized by international abductions. We have continually increased
services to parents whose children have been abducted overseas. Our Office
of Children's Issues and our consular personnel at US embassies and
consulates abroad spend long hours meeting with foreign government
counterparts, negotiating visitation with the children by consular
officials, and helping parents get assistance from appropriate US and
foreign agencies involved.
So our approach is very much one of helping parents in these situations on
an individual basis and, of course, that approach varies according to
whether the country where the child has been taken is a party to the Hague
Convention on International Parental Child Abduction.
We were instrumental, in fact, in negotiation of the Hague Convention, and
we became a party to that convention in 1988. Under the Hague Convention,
as many of you know, the determination is not one of custody but of
habitual residence. And the tenet of the convention is that the courts in
the child's country of habitual residence are better able to determine
those custody issues.
QUESTION: One more. But in a case like this where these children now
lived an extended period of time in another country - I mean, granted the
country that their mother is from - how can he stand a chance of getting
his children back when she has abdicated any interest in them?
MR. REEKER: I think we have to wait and see what else we can learn about
that case. I don't have a lot of details on the case in front of me. We can
continue to look into that. As soon as we learned of the case from Mr.
Cooke, we attempted to help get his children returned to him, which was
itself a statement that the US believed that the children belong with their
father. The Embassy sent a diplomatic note to the German foreign ministry
outlining our concerns with the judicial decision which had been taken by
German courts not to return the children. Unfortunately, in this case,
which is tragic, the German judicial proceedings had come to a conclusion
and we have no authority to overrule judicial decisions in another
QUESTION: Do you have any numbers of people who have been affected by
this - how many cases the State Department is --
MR. REEKER: I believe I do. I did. Our Office of Children's Issues within
the Bureau of Consular Affairs is currently working on 1,013 cases of
international parental child abduction. These include cases of children
abducted from the US to other countries, as well as children wrongfully
retained abroad at the end of an authorized visit.
And just to point out, referring to the Hague Convention I mentioned
earlier, of those total 1,013 cases, 416 are Hague Convention cases - that
would be in countries that are parties to the Hague Convention, and 597 are
so-called non-Hague cases.
QUESTION: You've twice used the word "abducted." Would you characterize
the Cooke children as having been adducted?
MR. REEKER: I think, again, I don't have the specifics on that case. I
think this was the country of their habitual residence.
QUESTION: You mean --
MR. REEKER: The United States. And as I understand it, they were taken
from this country. The father also had a court order granting him custody,
and we would consider this a case of international child abduction, one of
the 1,013 cases that we are following.
QUESTION: New subject.
MR. REEKER: New subject - wait, more on this.
QUESTION: Do you have a list of countries which are in violation of the
MR. REEKER: A list of countries in violation of the Hague Convention? Let
me check into that for you, George. I believe there was a report that
reported on the Hague Convention, and I can get that for you afterwards.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say, or can you give any details, of
what Count Lamsdorff and Stu Eizenstat are talking about today?
MR. REEKER: I'm afraid I don't have anything on that. Somebody did
mention that there was a meeting today, but I couldn't get any details
before I came out. But we can certainly check with Stu Eizenstat's office
or the European Bureau and get you something on that afterwards.
QUESTION: On Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani opposition groups parties tried
to do a demonstration in Baku two days ago, but government security forces
didn't let to do that. Do you have any comment or information about this
matter or the democratic process in Azerbaijan?
MR. REEKER: I do recall seeing reports on that. I believe they were wire
reports. And I'll have to check back with our bureau, and I'd be happy to
do that and get you a reaction to that.
QUESTION: Phil, thanks. Just for the record, today Putin appointed
Kasyanov as the prime minister. Any US reaction?
MR. REEKER: I think we reacted to that fairly strongly at the time of his
inauguration when it was said that his - I can check into that and get you
something on that.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on Assistant Secretary Harold Koh
testifying at the UN in Geneva about the US torture record?
MR. REEKER: Torture, yes. What does that come under? Harold Koh should
stand up here.
QUESTION: We've had his, Phil.
MR. REEKER: Oh, he's done. Harold Koh is in Geneva, and I spoke to him
just before he left a day or two ago. That's not the right thing; it's
You're right. Today, Assistant Secretary Harold Koh and the Chief of Staff
for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, William Yeomans, are
presenting the US Report on Torture to the UN Committee Against Torture in
Geneva. This committee was formed by the Convention Against Torture which
we, the United States, signed in 1992 and ratified in October of '94. This
is the first report that the US has issued as part of our obligations under
the convention. It was prepared by the Department of State with collaboration
from Justice and other Executive Branch departments and agencies, NGOs and
a number of concerned individuals.
Let me just say that our position on torture is unequivocal: we condemn
torture in all its forms. And I think that's what I can say about Harold
QUESTION: But Secretary Koh admitted that torture does exist - or,
actually, what he said is, "Continuing areas of concern within the US and
allegations of torture do arise." Here.
MR. REEKER: I mean, although, as I said, our commitment is unambiguous,
our record in the United States is not perfect. Allegations of torture do
arise from time to time, particularly with respect to law enforcement.
However, I think I can say that torture does not occur in the United States
except in aberrational situations. When it does occur, it constitutes a
serious criminal offense. Any act falling within the Convention's
definition of torture is clearly illegal and prosecutable everywhere in
the United States.
And if you want details on specific cases or prosecution, you need to turn
to domestic law enforcement officials or the Department of Justice.
QUESTION: You don't have a number on how many prosecutions there have
been, do you?
MR. REEKER: I don't. We could certainly check that, or you may want to
just check our report which is already on the State Department's web
QUESTION: Very briefly, last week there was a question asked about what
the US thought about the restrictions that the Sri Lankan authorities have
put in place on the press over coverage of the latest assault on Jaffna.
And I was noticing today that some news organizations - mine - are being
forced to do a lot of their reporting about this fighting out of New Delhi,
out of London, and not being able to do it because of government censorship.
I'm wondering what the US --
MR. REEKER: After that question last week, we did look into that. The Sri
Lankan Government is clearly facing the most serious crisis ever in its
long conflict with Tamil separatists. It really remains vital that press
freedoms be preserved to the greatest extent possible, consistent obviously
with the need to protect the security of military operations.
We are raising our concerns about that with the Sri Lankan Government.
Obviously, through our contacts with the Sri Lankan Embassy here and
Ambassador Donnelly in Sri Lanka. The government, as you may know, re-
implemented on May 4th an ordinance which originated back in the colonial
era giving the president power to control the press, and similar measures
have been invoked during the insurrections of '71 and '88 to '89 and, as I
understand it, during communal uprisings of 1983.
As with the issue of censorship, while we understand the seriousness of the
crisis that Sri Lanka faces, we call on the government to avoid restrictions
of civil liberties that could undermine the country's democratic institutions.
And we will continue to make those points known.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:30 P.M.)