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Mar 3 - U.S. State Dept. Daily Press Briefing

Announcements – Sudan – War Crimes Tribunal – Serbia – Russia – Mozambique – Africa – Columbia


Daily Press Briefing Inde

xFriday, March 3, 2000

Briefer: James P. Rubin

ANNOUNCEMENTS 1 A Hearty Congratulations and Best of Luck to Phyllis Young on Her Retirement after 38 Years of Service 1 A Briefing is Scheduled with a Senior State Department Official on North Korea at 3 p.m., Friday, March 3. 1 US Special Envoy for Sudan, Harry Johnston, Will be Traveling to Khartoum from March 4th through March 7th. The Purpose off His Meetings is to Encourage the Government of Sudan to Participate in the Peace Process More Constructively; Press for Human Rights Improvements; and, to Urge Increased Access for Humanitarian Supplies.

SUDAN 1,3-4,8 Diplomatic Security Assessing the Viability of Security Conditions in Khartoum to Enable Resumption of Embassy Personnel Visits / US has No Plans to Reopen US Embassy

WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL 2 US Welcomes Verdict in General Blaskic Case

SERBIA (KOSOVO) 4 Attempts by Ethnic Serbs to Prevent the Return of Ethnic Albanians to Their Homes / KFOR and the UN Operation Have Regained the Initiative in Mitrovica

RUSSIA 5-6 Secretary of State's Position on Vladimir Putin / Journalist Babitskiy Case / US Strongly Supports Press Freedom in Russia / US Demands Accountability of Human Rights Abuses / Secretary Albright Meets with Foreign Minister Ivanov in Lisbon / Secretary Urges Russians to Allow an Assessment Team to Go in and Assess the Humanitarian Situation / Foreign Minister Ivanov Indicates that ICRC Team will Allowed to Visit Chechnya

MOZAMBIQUE 6-7 US Assistance to Flooding Victims

AFRICA 6-7 US Assistance to African Nations / Diplomatic Talks with South Africa

COLOMBIA 7 US Position Against FARC Remains Unchanged


MR. RUBIN: Welcome to this briefing here on Friday. I just want to let you know we have a series of briefing plans for 12:30, 1:30, 2:30 and 4:30 on all the countries in the world, and ending with a 7:30 briefing on Nigeria on this Friday evening. (Laughter). I hope that's all for your pleasure and benefit.

Let me start, and I don't do this very often so I hope you'll understand the significance of it, of wishing a hearty congratulations and a best of luck to Phyllis Young, who has worked here in the State Department -- she told me this earlier -- 38 years. I asked her if it would be okay for me to say that she's worked here almost as long as I've been alive. And she said it was fine, "Sonny."(Laughter). So, Phyllis, I want to thank you for all the work you've done here in the Department, for all the help you've given to us, and obviously I know all of you have benefited from her help. So if you'll stand up for a second, I'd like to offer a little round of applause for Phyllis. (Applause). Thank you for all you've done, and we wish you well in Oklahoma. And in my future life, who knows, I might drive through the lovely state of Oklahoma and stop and say hello.

On to other business. We do have a briefing this afternoon on North Korea with a Senior State Department Official. That's just a reminder. It's at 3:00 p.m.

In addition, let me say that US Special Envoy for Sudan, Harry Johnston, will be traveling to Khartoum from March 4th through the 7th, where he plans to meet with people both inside and outside of the Sudanese Government. Johnston's purpose in traveling is three-fold: First, to encourage the government of Sudan to participate in the peace process more constructively; second, to press for human rights improvements; and third, to urge increased access for humanitarian supplies.

Any interest on that?

QUESTION: Can we go into the re-staffing of the Embassy in Sudan?

MR. RUBIN: Let me be very clear. We're not reopening our Embassy there. We never formally closed it. In 1996, we removed full-time staff from the Embassy and relocated them to Nairobi for security reasons. From Nairobi, they traveled regularly to Khartoum to conduct normal Embassy business. In the wake of the bombings in August 1998, of our Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, we suspended rotating visits by American staff to Khartoum from Nairobi for security reasons. DS, our Diplomatic Security, is assessing the viability of conditions there and that would enable us to have the resumption of rotating nearly continuous visits by US personnel from Nairobi to Khartoum. However, we have no plans at --

QUESTION: (Inaudible).

MR. RUBIN: Then why did you ask?

QUESTION: Because I wanted everyone else to hear it.

MR. RUBIN: I see. We're really taking our clothes off in public, aren't we? (Laughter.)

However, we have no plans at present to return full-time American staff to Khartoum.

On another subject, I would like to make a brief comment about the recent actions of the War Crimes Tribunal. Let me say on behalf of the United States, we welcome today's verdict in the Blaskic case. General Blaskic was found guilty of crimes against humanity and war crimes on 19 of 20 counts and sentenced to 45 years.

As commander of the Bosnian-Croat forces, he was found ultimately responsible for having ordered atrocities in central Bosnia from 1992 to 1994. We believe today's verdict shows the progress that the international tribunal is making in bringing justice to the victims of war crimes in Bosnia. General Blaskic is the most senior military officer convicted to date but other senior military officials are awaiting trial, including three-star General Krstic, who will go on trial March 13. As you know from our announcement yesterday, we are offering a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those indicted by the Tribunal.

Let me also say there was another judgment in the Ahmici case. We welcome today's verdict in this case, which represents justice for the 100 Bosnian civilians who were killed there in April 1993. The United States played an important role in the voluntary surrender of these defendants. This involves five Bosnian Croats guilty of massacres of 100 Bosniak civilians in Ahimici, a town in Bosnia. And we were a major founder of the courtroom that was built to enable them to be tried in a timely manner.

Today's verdict also represents continued progress in the work of the Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Those are my only statements.

On that subject? Yes, please, on that subject.

QUESTION: Could you comment on the reactions on the verdict of the Blaskic case, particularly the announcement of the Veterans Associations of Croatia to organize demonstrations on Monday in front of the US Embassy in Zagreb?

MR. RUBIN: Let me say that we believe that justice in these cases is extremely important. We support the work of the tribunal. I am under the impression that some think the sentence was too long and some think the sentence was too short and I need not even add which ethnic group thinks which. But let me say that we support the tribunal's decision, we support the case.

We think if we are ever going to have reconciliation in that part of the world and ever going to have the opportunity for people in that part of the world to enter Europe, to integrate fully with European institutions, then we have to have individual responsibility assigned so that collective guilt can fall away. So long as people challenge that principle, they're relegating their peoples and their countries to a not so terrific future.

QUESTION: May I ask on Sudan?

MR. RUBIN: Yes. Did you have a Sudan? And then we'll go to you.

QUESTION: I want to try to clarify a bit. You said that they -- basically you were considering resuming these rotating visits. You haven't decided on that --

MR. RUBIN: No. There are people there -- what DS is assessing is the actual conditions on a case-by-case basis. What we're expecting to see is a situation where there are nearly continuous rotating visits from the diplomats from Nairobi, but that will be pending Diplomatic Security's confirmation that it's safe. When I say nearly continuous rotating visits, what I mean by that is there wouldn't be a permanent presence, but people would come in and out but they would be coming in and out sufficiently often that there would only be small gaps between the times of our rotating visits.

QUESTION: At the present, they visit occasionally?

MR. RUBIN: Correct.

QUESTION: Another point. Is Harry Johnston taking anyone with him? I seem to recall that somebody -- members of Congress or some other senior --

MR. RUBIN: I'll have to check that. I don't believe so. I don't believe so. We don't know but we will check that for you

QUESTION: You said Mr. Johnston will be in Khartoum three or four days. Is he meeting only with the Sudanese Government or is he meeting with other --

MR. RUBIN: Well, he just returned from a trip about 10 days ago where he met with a number of other figures, including Mr. Garang in Nairobi, where he urged, as the Secretary urged them, to extend the deadline for the various humanitarian organizations to negotiate an MOU. So in Sudan, I don't have the full details of his schedule but, obviously, he would have an opportunity primarily to meet government officials that he couldn't have met outside of Sudan. Whether he will meet others while in Khartoum, I will have to check with his office and try to get you some details on that.

QUESTION: Did the Sudanese Government accept to see Mr. Johnston, before they did not? Is this a step forward now in the relations between the two countries?

MR. RUBIN: Well, I wouldn't exaggerate the significance of Mr. Johnston's visit other to say that we, in terms of US-Sudan relations, they have often met him, oftentimes not met him. I've described on various occasions if they're willingness to meet him signals a new willingness to participate constructively in the peace process, then that will be a hopeful sign. But the fact of the visit itself I don't think should be blown out of proportion.

With respect to his schedule there, I am advised that he will be meeting both government officials and outside officials while in Khartoum and Sudan.

QUESTION: On Kosovo?

MR. RUBIN: Kosovo, yes.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the clashes today between the French troops and Serb protesters?

MR. RUBIN: I do not have any latest information on that other than to say that we've seen press reports of attempts by ethnic Serbs to prevent the return of ethnic Albanians to their homes. We believe that KFOR, the NATO forces, and the UN operation there have regained the initiative in Mitrovica, and this has occurred as a result of a major increase in security patrols.

KFOR forces continue to carry out their demanding mission in difficult circumstances and they have the training, equipment and leadership to maintain a secure environment. KFOR will resist robustly any challenge to its authority. But for specific details, I would have to refer you to KFOR, other than saying that we believe that all parties should cease violent acts and confrontations and seek political solutions to their grievances.

QUESTION: In her testimony yesterday, the Secretary made a distinction between a multi-ethnic society and respect for minority rights, as though the second were slightly lesser -- a slightly easier objective. And she also put emphasis on the second element.

Could you comment on that?

MR. RUBIN: Parse that for you?

QUESTION: Could you say what she meant by this?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, I think it's pretty straightforward and I wouldn't look for too many DHMs, as we used to say in graduate school -- "deep, hidden meanings." Bosnia is a multi-ethnic society. There are roughly a third, a third and a third of ethnic groups, Croats, Moslems and Serbs. Albania -- Kosovo, not Albania, but Kosovo has something like 95 percent Albanians. That is different than Bosnia. People often miss the distinction there.

So what we are talking about in Kosovo, we are talking about ensuring that the vast majority of the people there, the Albanians, treat with respect and assign proper rights to the 5 percent of the people there who are from a variety of ethnic groups, primarily Serbs but including others. So that is the difference the Secretary was making. I would consider it a numerical difference rather than a philosophical difference, and hopefully she will agree with that.

I did speak to her about that actual issue, and I'm confident that is what she was referring to.

QUESTION: On Chechnya, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is coming out with some pretty critical statements saying that the Clinton Administration is more interested in doing well with President Putin than in protesting these atrocities. Any comments?

MR. RUBIN: Well, let me say I've been made aware of some comments from some members of that committee. I don't think that's a view of the entire committee, but I take your point.

QUESTION: Ranking members?

MR. RUBIN: Ranking members I would be harder to dispute. Let me say that I think there's a lot of misinformation out there, and I would urge all of you to try to help dispel it. The Secretary of State has not said that Vladimir Putin is a "liberal democrat" as was reported in today's Washington Post Op Ed section by a particular individual. She has not called him a liberal democrat, nor has she said he "is a leading reformer."

What she said was -- and I would hope that some of you could appreciate the context and report the context. What she said was there are two strains -- a reformist strain connected with his time in St. Petersburg, and KGB strain connected with his long service for the KGB. And we will have to see how Mr. Putin's evolution leads us to one or the other conclusion. But she did not say he is a leading reformer and, yet, it's repeated over and over again in news services, newspapers and from some of those who are even in this room. The Secretary's position is very clear on this. There were two strains that she saw in his background, a reformist strain and a KGB strain. She was going to meet with him. And then when she meet with him she said the United States will judge him by his actions. So when people take the little quotes, rip them out of their context, and then use that to hit us over the head, that is called unfair.

With respect to Babitskiy and the Chechnya issue in general, let me say to those of you who follow this issue, it's not an accident that we, the United States, have time and time again raised the Babitskiy case. The Secretary of State raised the Babitskiy case with Foreign Minister Ivanov in virtually every conversation we had from the moment that this began. There was one time when she didn't raise it with Acting President Putin when we were in Russia because Mr. Trimble of the Radio Liberty organization indicated that they had hopes that he would be brought to Moscow and the case would evaporate. When it became clear that he was traded, the Secretary told the Foreign Minister of Russia that we would hold them responsible for his safety. In every subsequent conversation no matter what the subject matter was, she raised the issue of Mr. Babitskiy.

I have raised the issue of Mr. Babitskiy dozens of times from this podium. So those who say we haven't done enough on behalf of press freedom in Russia are simply incorrect and wrong and inaccurate, and I would welcome any of you taking the opportunity to correct the record.

When Secretary Albright met with Acting President Putin and the Babitskiy case seemed to have been on the good track, she didn't neglect press freedom. She took that opportunity to make a broader point, that the Russians ought to provide greater access to the media in general in Chechnya. Obviously that didn't happen. Obviously, we're deeply disappointed with what happened with Mr. Babitskiy. And as far as the human rights issue is concerned, we have been, I think, as clear as any government in Europe or anywhere else, in demanding an accountability for these human rights abuses. So much so that some of you may have noticed the Russian Foreign Ministry actually put out a statement accusing this Department and me in particular of information terrorism on the subject of human rights abuse in Chechnya.

So when people just cavalierly suggest that we have not pushed this issue hard enough, they are not operating from a base of facts, which I would welcome the opportunity for you to provide to them. We have provided it to them but perhaps it would be more meaningful if it were in the news media.

Lastly, let me say that we have a policy about having a lot of questions about what the future will hold in Russia in the democracy area. Secretary Albright has talked about "Order" with a big "O" versus "order" with a small "o" and what will become of Russia on the political side and she has expressed serious concerns about that. So those people who casually assign views to this Administration or this Secretary of State or this Department ought to look at the comprehensive record, not pull little quotes out of context and assert that we have taken a particular position when we have not.

You pushed the right button there, apparently.

QUESTION: The Secretary did meet with Ivanov, I believe it was today in Lisbon, and I know that she did have a press briefing. But I was wondering if there was anything you can tell us about that meeting and what she talked about?

MR. RUBIN: One thing I can certainly say but the bulk of it you're going to have to get from your colleagues in Lisbon. And that is that in Moscow, she had urged for the Russians to allow an assessment team to go in and assess the humanitarian situation in Chechnya and, as I understand it, Foreign Minister Ivanov has indicated that they will allow an ICRC team to go in. We are still not satisfied that the Russians are going to move as far as we think is appropriate on the humanitarian side and on the human rights side. But, clearly, we would like to see the ICRC get in there for an assessment of what the needs are. Beyond that, I will try to get you the transcript of the press conference they all had in Lisbon.

QUESTION: Was that announced for the first time at their --

MR. RUBIN: I believe that happened in their bilateral meeting.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about Mozambique. First of all, have there been any kind of diplomatic talks with the South African Government on their refusal to allow military troops into their bases, the American and British troops? And also just the larger question of criticism about the slowness of the aid effort. If you could talk about the timetable, like when you received the official request from Mozambique for aid and why it's taken so long, if it's taken so long?

MR. RUBIN: I am not in a position to give you the exact dates, times of any communications between our governments. I will say that we have responded. We are continuing to respond. We are working very hard on this. We have provided $11.7 million in response to the flooding.

AID will provide $7 million in food aid and will spend $4 million for search-and-rescue operations. A 25-member Disaster Assistance Team has been sent to Mozambique. This team arrived today and includes 14 paramedics who are trained in rescue techniques. USAID has also activated a public donations hotline.

An Air Force C-17 has delivered humanitarian supplies to Mozambique including 6,000 5-gallon water containers, 6,000 wool blankets, and 200 rolls of plastic sheeting. I can give you some material after the briefing that goes into greater detail on how you get to the $11.6 million.

We are also providing $25,000 to Zimbabwe to support the efforts of the Zimbabwe Red Cross, $25,000 to South Africa and Botswana. This is what the Ambassador can put out immediately. The Department of Defense delivered 4,400 blankets and 134 tents to South Africa. So we're stepping up our efforts. We're working very hard on this. Obviously in a tragic situation like this, nobody is satisfied with the results, but I think we're working on it.

With respect to the diplomatic issue you raised, let me say that the countries of Southern Africa are united in wanting international assistance to deal with the catastrophe that's occurred. They are in the process, that is the South Africans, the Mozambicans, and the Zimbabweans, to work out acceptable arrangements. There are obviously logistical issues of where international relief flights can land, where they will be located in order to minimize confusion and have the best logistical base possible for the delivery of such assistance. We're working with both the governments of Mozambique and South Africa to ascertain their views on how they would like to see our assistance going in. And our efforts will continue in that regard.

QUESTION: On Colombia, after their European tour which ended last month, the leaders of the FARC have said that they would like to visit the US. Would the United States welcome them to this country to learn about capitalism and other subjects?

MR. RUBIN: I don't think our position on that has changed at all. If President Pastrana decides that he wants to speak to those groups, that's his decision, but our position hasn't changed.

QUESTION: What's your position on this, specifically on this?

MR. RUBIN: I will get you a specific answer, but we have made it clear that until they provide the justice for those they have killed, that we are not interested in having another meeting. That hasn't changed, and I think you know that's been our position. You probably could say better than I could.

QUESTION: At the Moscow meeting, the Multilateral Steering Committee meeting, the ministers called for a revival of the activities of the committee on arms control and regional security. When do you think these activities will be revived?

MR. RUBIN: Well, we obviously are working on that. We would like to see that happen. We are consulting with the relevant governments and, when we have a time frame for you, I will be happy to provide it.

QUESTION: Will it be early in the --

MR. RUBIN: When I have a time frame to provide for you, I will be happy to do that.

QUESTION: How goes the quest to get the ILMG together again?

MR. RUBIN: We're still working on that. There have been a number of meetings in capitals. We don't have any announcement for a meeting in Lebanon at this time.

QUESTION: Did the Sudanese indicate that they would upgrade or return to their diplomatic missions here in the US?

MR. RUBIN: There is no connection between those. I am not aware of anything new that they've said, but there's no linkage between whatever position they might have and ours. But with respect to them upgrading their efforts consistent with our improving the security that would allow near continuous visits, there is no diplomatic linkage whatsoever.

I will get you the facts on exactly what the Sudanese have here and in New York after the briefing.

QUESTION: Jamie, is it fair to say that bringing these guys on these nearly continuous visits is a way to better figure out what is going on inside Sudan, especially with this kind of rivalry between the president and - what's his name? And to kind of keep up with our northern neighbor in terms of diplomatic presence? The Canadians are saying that they're sending --

MR. RUBIN: I don't think we normally make our decisions based on that factor, keeping up with our northern neighbor, who we respect very much.

QUESTION: That takes care of the second part of the question. What about the first part of the question? I mean, there is kind of an information starvation here about what is really going on inside of Sudan, inside the leadership elite.

MR. RUBIN: We are sending people there on a near continuous basis for the same reasons they went on an occasional basis.

QUESTION: I think something nice should be said about Phyllis and I would like to thank her for her devotion to duty and her pleasant demeanor all these years. And we took a vote before the briefing as to whether something nice should be said and it was 9 to 7 in favor. (Laughter.)

MR. RUBIN: And those of you who voted against shall remain nameless, I suspect.

A good note to end the briefing on this Friday. Thank you.

(The briefing concluded at 1:03 p.m.)

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