State Department Spokesman James Rubin On Timor
US DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Daily Press Briefing
Monday, September 13, 1999
Briefer: James P. Rubin
INDONESIA (EAST TIMOR) 2-5 UN Security Council will meet today. Indonesian and Australian foreign ministers are in New York today. US seeks rapid passage of a resolution authorizing a multinational force. US role is expected to be in transport, logistics, communications and intelligence. US is considering humanitarian air drops of food and supplies.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
QUESTION: A lot of ground to cover. Let's try East Timor first and maybe you can fill in some of the gaps admittedly of some of what position the US has. It isn't clear to me what form consultations will take, and you know how consultations can cover a multitude of actions. Who will consult and what does the administration mean about consulting Congress about using US peacekeepers, and will US peacekeepers have license to use weapons to maintain order? How do you - how does the administration perceive their role? I realize this story is breaking all over in New Zealand and elsewhere, but on the off-chance that State can fill in some of the gaps.
MR. RUBIN: Let me try to tell you what I can on this. During the course of today, Foreign Minister Alatas of Indonesia and the foreign minister of Australia will be in New York. There will be a closed meeting of the Security Council at 4 o'clock. Today will be an important day in the development of this important peacekeeping operation. What we have indicated is that we would like the delegations in New York to move rapidly on a fast track to pass a resolution authorizing a multinational force to move to East Timor, to provide security and restore order. We are cooperating with the UN Secretary General and other delegations, as well as the arrival of the foreign ministers of Indonesia and Australia.
The Australians have offered to lead the multinational force under a UN Security Council mandate. The United States will be one of a number of countries joining in the operation. The areas where we are expected to play a role is in the area of transport, logistics, communications and intelligence. Now those four areas involve people, and people being on the ground, but this is not the classic role of infantry troops being the units responsible for restoring order but, rather, those units responsible to assist the infantry units that do the restoration of order. We will obviously be insuring that rules of engagement are created that enable us to participate, and that means adequate rules of engagement.
As far as consultation with Congress is concerned, anytime the United States participates -- or even supports the funding of a peacekeeping operation -- we consult with Congress. That means telling them what our intentions are; telling them what going in principles are for American participation; but of course, telling them that we can't answer every precise question of how many in each category, until we know what it is that those countries like Australia, Thailand, Malaysia and others who are going to play the prominent roles on the ground, will need in terms of assistance.
Now, what's different about this operation is at this point it is envisaged as a multinational operation authorized by the Security Council, as opposed to a traditional peacekeeping operation run by the Secretariat in the United Nations. So a lot of the discussions about precise roles, numbers, details that you are asking about - legitimately - are ones that can't be answered until we've talked more to those countries who are leading the operation, such as Australia and Malaysia and Thailand and others, who will have the prominent membership in the infantry.
QUESTION: You've given us enough of a picture of what the US role would be and remembering, for instance, what I call "Bosnia I" where the Europeans weren't happy that the US was sort of keeping itself "from the ground," -- as the French would say, you want us all to do the dirty work and you want to fly up in the air.
Has this role - however you want to describe it, and I won't put an adjective in front of it - is this role acceptable to the other nations, the other major nations, and indeed with France, which stepped forward way ahead of the United States? Would European allies play a different role, as far as you know, a more hands-on role than you describe for the US, which sounds mostly like a support role?
MR. RUBIN: Right. You know, you can always define ground combat troops as one thing and everything else as something else, or you can say that those countries that have unique capabilities that are necessary to move quickly, would play the role in doing what they can that very few others can do. That is the case for what we are prepared to contribute to this operation: logistics, communications, headquarters, intelligence, lift. Those are things that the United States does better than anybody else in the world, and sometimes the United States is the only country that can move very rapidly.
So I would say that you are tending to compare apples and oranges in saying that if you are not putting boots on the ground in a combat role, you're really not doing very much; you're just supporting. I don't think the Australians see it that way. I think they see the US willingness to help them get in as extremely important and, as I understand it, they are quite satisfied with what the United States is prepared to contribute.
Again, on your analogy, let me just throw it out very quickly. Bosnia was a situation where there wasn't a peace to keep. There was a war. We are talking about a situation where the Indonesian Government, the prime authority here, which has the prime military capability, would be working hand-in-hand with this operation. So it is a very different situation.
QUESTION: Can you give us a kind of estimate of maybe numbers of US servicemen involved in this? Would it be less than a hundred or in the hundreds or more?
MR. RUBIN: I would expect it to be in the hundreds, not the thousands. But I would remind you to include the letter "s" in your reporting of this.
QUESTION: According to reports, ASEAN country doesn't want to have leadership of Australia. So can you comment on that?
MR. RUBIN: Which country?
QUESTION: ASEAN countries.
MR. RUBIN: I don't know that all of them have taken a position one way or another. Look, we recognize that there is an important value here, and that is the value of having the Asian countries that live nearby be a prominent participant, play leading roles in this operation.
There is another value, however, and that is the value of being able to move quickly. We have a dire humanitarian situation here, and rather than sitting back and trying to construct a perfect situation - which is no longer perfect because Indonesia has failed to provide security and Indonesian forces have been partially responsible for what's gone on there - we need to weigh two values: one, the value of ensuring that there is proper regional participation, including key Asian countries; and the other value, which is getting in quickly and restoring order and bringing food and medicine to the thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people who need it. Those are the two values and what they'll be doing in New York is trying to achieve the most of each one of them as they move forward.
QUESTION: Is there anything you could say at this stage about possible air drops by the United States?
MR. RUBIN: Yes, we are considering that. President Habibie did indicate that he would support humanitarian airdrops, and so the United States and other countries are looking at the possibility of air-dropping food and other supplies to refugees in East Timor. We are doing that on an emergency basis given the dramatic situation unfolding there.
QUESTION: Is the United States going to move ahead with an international force if there are any hang-ups in the Security Council, if there is some sort of prolonged debate over details of the force?
MR. RUBIN: We believe that, with the support of Indonesia and the messages we have been receiving from most other countries, that that there is no reason that this resolution authorizing the force can't be moved extremely quickly - in a matter of days, a short number of days - and we don't see any reason to hold that up.
Obviously, there has been reluctance on the part of Indonesia until yesterday to support a force. They have now supported a force. We do not want to have endless haggling over the details, and I think all members of the Security Council understand the urgency. We feel a very serious and very strong sense of urgency to move forward now to deal with the situation.
QUESTION: Jamie, have the results of the voting for independence, the independence referendum in East Timor, been made public yet and are they being withheld from the public to keep from aggravating the situation?
MR. RUBIN: My understanding is that the initial results were put forward, and that 80 percent, 78, 79 percent of the voters voted for independence. I didn't know there was anything being hidden about that.
QUESTION: The -- (inaudible) -- has said --
MR. RUBIN: Maybe not all the details of which district and all that, but the overall numbers I'm confident have been put out.
QUESTION: That was put out by the UN?
MR. RUBIN: That's my understanding, yes.
QUESTION: Jamie, there is elements in Indonesia who say they don't want Australians involved in this and they don't want - some are saying they don't want Americans. Can this be a hitch or what happens if they continue to hold back?
MR. RUBIN: Again, this is similar to the previous question. We recognize that there are some concerns in that area. The United States has had a good working relationship with the Indonesian military; so has the Australian military. So we don't see this as a - need be a problem. We recognize the sensitivities and, as I said in response to the previous question, we're going to move forward with -- conscious of two goals: one, the fact that Australia has offered to lead this force; that Australia is ready, willing and able to move extremely quickly, given their preparations and; on the other hand, that it should have a very strong Asian character, including Malaysians, Thais, and other countries that have indicated a willingness to participate.
So we recognize the point you're making, but we have to take that point up against the extreme urgency of acting now. The Indonesian military and the Indonesian leaders failed to act for weeks, and that is why we're in this situation, and we're not going to allow endless haggling to prevent the restoration of order.
QUESTION: Are there any differences between the US and the Australians as to who will have the command?
MR. RUBIN: Not that I know of.
QUESTION: Has this been discussed?
MR. RUBIN: I'm sure that -- Admiral Blair briefed Secretary Albright in Hawaii yesterday when she stopped there on her way back to the United States and, as I understand it, the consultations between the United States and Australia have been going extremely well.
QUESTION: Another subject?
MR. RUBIN: Any more on East Timor?
QUESTION: The US had said that it might suspend special food programs for Indonesia and also the military assistance. When will that be suspended?
MR. RUBIN: I think what - suspending the suspension, you mean? Our view is that if the Indonesians follow through with their stated willingness to allow the necessary peacekeeping force to deploy, and deploy quickly, and get the job done without endless haggling or interference, that the kind of steps that we were pursuing in the last week -- to make clear the consequences of a failure to restore order, or a failure to ask for international support to restore order, would no longer be necessary. But we're not going to assume that that is going to happen; we're going to wait to see that the necessary cooperation from Indonesia is forthcoming.