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U.S. State Dept. Daily Press Briefing - Mar 30

U.S. State Dept. Daily Press Briefing

Serbia – Department – Cuba – Middle East Peace Process – Israel/Lebanon – United Nations – Central Asia – Russia

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE Daily Press Briefing Index Thursday, March 30, 2000

Briefer: James B. Foley

SERBIA (Kosovo) 1-4,5 Extremist Elements/KFOR Actions/Status of Disarming Militias 5-6 Incursion of FRY Forces into Safety Zone

DEPARTMENT 4-5 Secretary Albright's Remarks on Departure of Spokesman Foley

CUBA 6,8-9 Reaction to Castro's Speech 6-8,15 Status of Request for Visas for Juan Gonzalez/Others 7-8,9 Meeting with Officials of Cuban Interests Section

MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS 9 Reported Administration Consideration of Special Envoy for Israel-Syria Track 9-11,12 Status of Israeli-Syrian Track

ISRAEL/LEBANON 9,11-12,17-18 US Position UNSC Resolution 425 on Withdrawal of Foreign Forces From Lebanon

UNITED NATIONS 12,14-15 Washington Visit of the UN Security Council Members 12-14 Status of US Arrears to the UN

CENTRAL ASIA 15-17 Secretary Albright's Upcoming Trip to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan 15-16 Kyrgyz Government Arrest of Opposition Leader Feliks Kulov

RUSSIA 17 President-Elect Putin's Meeting with ICRC President/Access to Chechnya

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING DPB # 26 THURSDAY, MARCH 30, 2000, 1:15 P.M. (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

MR. FOLEY: Good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department. In this, my last week of briefing here, I didn't want in any way to break from my consistent record of arriving consistently late in the briefing room.

QUESTION: Will you be here tomorrow, too?

MR. FOLEY: I will.

QUESTION: I'll be late.

MR. FOLEY: That's okay. You'll have the last word then. That will be my last briefing.

Barry. I don't have announcements, so --

QUESTION: I wonder whether you noticed that the UN human rights investigator, Mr. Dienstbier, is talking about - in Geneva is saying that maybe the West has to consider using force against extremist Albanians and Kosovars. And, of course, you all remember Rubin's little trip and some other things you've done to try to restrain them. What about the use of force?

MR. FOLEY: What about what, Barry?

QUESTION: What about the use of force? Is that something the US would contemplate recommending if extremist Albanians continue some of their attacks on Serbs?

MR. FOLEY: Well, first of all, concerning Mr. Dienstbier's remarks, we have not seen exactly what he said. I think we saw one press article but it doesn't convey I think the entirety of what he said. And so we are going to have to check on that.

I think the fundamental point is that we've been extraordinarily clear, both in word and deed, to the Kosovar Albanian leadership at all levels of our concern about extremists and of our policy of zero tolerance for violence and provocation. And, as you know, a number of weeks ago, following Mr. Rubin's trip and Ambassador Hill's trip to Kosovo, KFOR forces did act robustly to seize weapons and uniforms of this militia.

And so we've proven our ability to act. We had credible intelligence at the time that enabled KFOR to act and, if we have such credible intelligence in the future, KFOR will act similarly. The message is not only to the Kosovar Albanian leadership; it is a message that we direct equally to the leadership in Belgrade, that we call on all parties to act responsibly and to refrain from any actions that might provoke violence and instability in the region.

QUESTION: Has their behavior changed since that raid?

MR. FOLEY: Well, you weren't here earlier in the week. What happened, as you know, was that on March 23, Mr. Thaci convened a meeting in Kosovo with a number of officials and apparently members of some of these militias and, as a result of that meeting, it was announced that these militias would disarm, would shed their uniforms, would refrain from violence, would refrain from provocation, would integrate themselves into the political life of Kosovo. And we have not seen follow-through on those commitments. We are very disappointed about that.

And therefore, on Tuesday, I reiterated our message of concern, our disappointment, and underscored again our readiness to act against any provocations and any violence that might come from that quarter.

QUESTION: Has the State Department received a visa application from the father of Elian Gonzalez?

MR. FOLEY: I think that undoubtedly you may - or some of you may - wish to get to that subject. I wouldn't be totally surprised. But let's see if we've exhausted the Balkans.

Problem with the light?

QUESTION: The world of TV.

MR. FOLEY: Now you know what it feels like. Can't stand the light, leave the podium. Get out of the briefing room. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Jim, when you say that the United States or NATO reserves the right to act --

MR. FOLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: What do you mean?

MR. FOLEY: I think NATO - KFOR rather, demonstrated what I meant when - I believe it was on March 15, I would have to check the calendar for you - KFOR, on the basis of credible intelligence moved in, seized weapons, seized uniforms, that are not permitted under the agreements that followed the Kosovo conflict and that regulate KFOR's presence in Kosovo.

QUESTION: Do you have reason to believe that this group, these extremists, have arms, weapons that are stored somewhere, that you would like them to turn over - more weapons than you've already seized?

MR. FOLEY:Well, I think you can infer from the fact that we've already seized some that we believed that some were there. And subsequent to that action by KFOR, these militias under Mr. Thaci's direction - he convened the meeting - committed to further disbandment or turning in of weapons and uniforms. And that has not happened so we have equally reason to infer that there is more that needs to be turned in and that is at risk of confiscation otherwise.

QUESTION: Is there a deadline?

MR. FOLEY:Well, I don't know if anyone affixed a deadline at the time. This was, rather, a commitment made by the Kosovar Albanians themselves. They, on March 23rd, had an important meeting, issued an important declaration that we welcomed at that time, that indicated we will disarm, we will turn in weapons, we will turn in uniforms, we will integrate ourselves. They've not done those things and so KFOR is concerned, is seized with the matter, and will act, as I said, on the basis of credible intelligence.

Before we go to the Middle East, I think we will go to this hemisphere.

QUESTION: So you're saying, then, they promised or they committed themselves to disarm and the alliance has inferred that there are additional arms since they have committed to disarm. But it doesn't appear that you're giving them a lot of time to disarm because you've said now that you'll act whenever you get credible intelligence.

And is that right? Are you giving them a period of time to comply with their commitment to disarm, or you'll act when you can?

MR. FOLEY:I'm a little confused as to whether this is a question emanating from Nightline or from ABC News.

QUESTION: It depends on the answer.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) - the answer is -- (inaudible).

MR. FOLEY:Having bid us farewell, I hope this is not in any way a precedent for my own situation. You may find me up here again in ensuing weeks - at least not for a number of years.

The fact is that these parties made a commitment on March 23rd and there was an article in a newspaper in Washington a few days ago indicating that they were going to renege on their commitment, that they weren't going to follow through. It wasn't merely that they hadn't followed through but that they weren't going to follow through. And so you can rest assured that our antennae are up, as it were, and we are going to be very vigilant and we are prepared to act as information becomes available to us. I can't be more specific, certainly not operationally, than that.

More on this, or do we want to go to the question that's been hanging there? Who was asking the question?

QUESTION: Can I just ask on the same subject?

MR. FOLEY:Sure, absolutely.

QUESTION: With Jim Dobbins in Brussels, is there some -

(Laughter.)

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I thought I would show up today to say thank you to Jim Foley. This is his last week here, and he has done a really superb job in all kinds of ways.

Jim, I'm going to miss you very much. You've been fantastic, a great traveling companion and a great juggler of answers and questions, and a great provider of good lines, a fabulous foreign service officer, my own personal John Travolta. (Laughter.)

And poor Jim, he's had, you know, such a life here. But it hasn't been hard enough so I decided to send him to a hardship post, where they have to get up really early in the morning, work very long hours, never have any decent food and just be there all the time with those multilaterals.

So I just really, Jim, wanted to give you a big hug and a thanks for everything that you've done.

MR. FOLEY: Thanks very much, Madame Secretary

(Applause.)

MR. FOLEY: You know, I'm a Spokesman, a Deputy Spokesman. But if you take that title seriously, I'm not supposed to be speechless - and I am utterly speechless and deeply grateful. And I was going to save until tomorrow my parting shots, directed in this direction, and my parting words of thanks in your direction. I think I will do that.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think we did manage to surprise you.

MR. FOLEY: You certainly did. (Laughter.)

Elaine, I owe you, or you owe me or something.

Thank you, Madame Secretary. Thank you.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thanks.

MR. FOLEY: I don't know how to follow up on that. But the Secretary is - I'll get into this a bit tomorrow but the Secretary is right to say that I am a loyal Foreign Service Officer, and part of the philosophy of being a Foreign Service Officer means that you follow orders. You salute and you go wherever they send you and you do whatever they tell you to do.

And, yes, I have been asked to go to a hardship post, the US Mission in Geneva - (laughter) - and, again, my philosophy is that, you know, you salute and you do what you're supposed to do. Somebody has to go there, and so I'm willing to make the deep personal and professional sacrifice. But, as I said, I'll save my parting words and parting shots for tomorrow.

If I can regain my composure, I will attempt to answer your questions. Where were we?

QUESTION: Well, I was asking, on a much different note, Jim Dobbins is in Brussels. And the various things you've said, which are resolute and show resolve on Kosovo, are those views shared by the allies? Is he talking to NATO? Is there a connection between his visit there? I forget who else, somone else is with him.

MR. FOLEY: I think you can be assured that the allies share American concerns in this regard. Obviously, all of us have an enormous stake in the success of the KFOR mission. To the extent that there are groups that are armed, that pose a threat to that mission, that pose a risk of destabilizing the region, that is undoubtedly a concern shared by not only the United States but our allies and partners in KFOR as well.

Equally, though, I want to be clear, as I was a few minutes ago, that our message of vigilance is directed also to Belgrade and that we are warning our parties to avoid from acts of provocation, acts of violence, that can destabilize the situation. The bottom line is that KFOR is not only there; KFOR is robust, is equipped and is capable of dealing with threats from whatever quarter they may emerge.

QUESTION: I suppose that was a comment directed in regards of the intrusion of the Yugoslav army to the buffer zone.

MR. FOLEY: Do you have a question in that regard?

QUESTION: Would you comment on that? I mean, there was a reaction from KFOR and NATO.

MR. FOLEY: Yes, I would have to refer you to Mr. Bacon at the Pentagon for specific details. We take very seriously any violation of the FRY's - Yugoslavia's - obligations under the military technical agreement that the FRY signed with KFOR last June. This agreement states that "under no circumstances shall any forces of the FRY and the Republic of Serbia enter into, re-enter or remain within the territory of Kosovo or the ground safety zone" -- which is a 5-kilometer band along the Kosovo-Serb administrative border - "without the prior express consent of the KFOR commander."

I'd have to refer you to Mr. Bacon, as I said, and also to KFOR itself for details concerning any specific incursion of FRY forces into that zone. The military-technical agreement also states that the KFOR commander is the final authority regarding interpretation of the agreement and that his determinations are binding on all parties and persons.

There is a Joint Implementation Council established under the agreement and composed of KFOR officers and FRY military personnel that meets routinely to discuss implementation of this agreement. I understand that KFOR officers and FRY officers did meet under the aegis of the Joint Implementation Council to discuss the report that you're referencing.

There was another disturbing sentence in that report, though, that I would like to refute. I can tell you that KFOR has no plans to coordinate activities related to armed ethnic Albanian groups with the FRY.

QUESTION: A Cuba question now?

MR. FOLEY:Is there a Cuba question today?

QUESTION: Do you have anything on visas or reaction to Castro's speech or on details of the meeting this morning involving the head of the Cuban Interests Section?

MR. FOLEY:I don't have a reaction to or a comment on Mr. Castro's speech, to answer that particular question. What I can tell you is that at 9 o'clock this morning the Cuban Interests Section delivered to the State Department a transcript of the remarks made by Mr. Castro on TV yesterday regarding the possibility of travel by Juan Gonzalez and various other individuals.

We have not received any visa requests from Juan Miguel Gonzalez or any other individuals in conjunction with this case.

I imagine you may have a follow-up question. I'd rather dribble this out because there's not a lot to say.

QUESTION: With this offer of expediting the visa process to the child's father be extended to the wider delegation of 31 individuals who would like to come with him?

MR. FOLEY:Well, on the father, what I can say is that we have long stated that we would give expedited consideration to a visa application and we will do so under established guidelines. We are willing to do this because we've been saying that we believe it would be helpful to the successful resolution of this case if the father were to come to the United States. So that remains.

In terms though of the other individuals, a litany of individuals mentioned in the speech that was delivered to us today, let me state first of all that the Department of State and the US Government generally does not make any concessions based on pressures, demands or threats from the government of Cuba. If any individuals wish to request visas to travel to the United States, the Department will consider such applications on a case-by-case basis.

As I indicated a minute ago, we have received no such visa requests.

QUESTION: But aren't there restrictions on Cubans who can come here? Aren't they supposed to be restricted to exchanges?

MR. FOLEY:Well, in my reference to the possibility of the father coming, I indicated we would give expedited consideration under established guidelines. And certainly those guidelines - I don't have the text of those now and could maybe get them later for tomorrow - but they would apply in each and every case. I don't know if they only apply to exchanges as such. I believe that in some instances family members may travel to the United States, but I can check that for you.

QUESTION: Jim, when the last time there was talk about the father coming and instead the grandmothers came, there was a question of whether the father didn't want to come because he might be subpoenaed. That situation still, in theory, prevails. Is there any movement on that? If he comes under any kind of visa that you would contemplate giving, is he still subject to subpoena?

MR. FOLEY:That you would have to ask the Justice Department about. It's a matter of law. The question you raise is kind of an old one. I haven't heard it raised in, I think, a couple months, and I'm not sure that it's a matter of concern today. You'd have to ask people in Cuba about that.

I can restate for you what we said at the time, though, when asked the question. We can't provide any such guarantees. We're the Department of State. We're not a judicial body and we can make no pronouncements or guarantees in that regard.

QUESTION: You wouldn't consider a special condition of granting a visa that would allow the father to remain - be with the boy in Washington at the Cuban Interests Section?

MR. FOLEY:Why do you say "special" visa or consideration? I'm not sure I understand the reference to that.

QUESTION: Was that not one of the requests made at the meeting this morning?

MR. FOLEY: Well, I can only tell you - restate what I've said, which is we are willing to give - and we've been saying this for a long time - to give expedited consideration to an application by the father. We believe his presence in the US can be helpful to successful resolution of the case. And so we stand by that.

As to the particulars of where he could go were he to come here, I think that's very premature. We don't have an application at this point.

QUESTION: Could you define expedited? Does that mean within an hour, for instance, he could have a visa once he applied? Or is it Jamie Rubin's "soon"?

MR. FOLEY: Methinks I detect a journalistic interest in the case, since we - I think I can say this publicly since this is not in the realm of information but, rather, of simple fact that we get calls all the time from some of your colleagues, Betsy. Some of them even look and sound like you, too, asking about whether - don't be offended, I'm just making a joke - asking whether such a visa - you're not the only one. I could start pointing fingers, if you'd like, if it would make you feel better. Charlie, especially.

Does that help, Betsy?

Asking whether a visa has been delivered or not or applied for or not, I think this is not a problematic question. We've indicated we give expedited consideration. That means, we would act on it rapidly. I can't tell you how long that would take, specifically.

I apologize, Betsy.

QUESTION: Jim, you say that they delivered the text of President Castro's speech. Isn't that something that you could - I mean, you could have easily have gotten it or they could have faxed it over to you. Why do you think they wanted to deliver the text of this speech to US officials in person?

MR. FOLEY: Well, you're right, it could be faxed over. I can only speculate as to why they would want to bring it in person, and perhaps you might want to ask the Cuban Interest Section for the rationale behind coming over.

I can speculate that they wanted to underscore, in their view, the importance of the speech and the importance of the proposal, which is fine and dandy. But, as I said, we're not going to just bend to any pressure or any threats or any demands of the Cuban Government. If it is a serious question of a serious visa application, we will adjudicate it, an application seriously, according to our law. But that has not happened, though.

QUESTION: When you say "threats," are you - are you --

MR. FOLEY: I was wondering who else might be coming through the door there.

QUESTION: Do you believe that there were threats made in President Castro's speech or were there, you know, the impression of threats made during the visit of these Cuban diplomats?

MR. FOLEY: Well, there were intemperate remarks made, I believe, a few days ago that we reacted strongly to. So I can cite that as an example, but I didn't care to react to his speech of last evening, as I indicated.

QUESTION: In terms of the meeting this morning, in addition to handing you a transcript, was there any other discussion? Was there a discussion about the proposals? Was there any back and forth?

MR. FOLEY: I wouldn't characterize it so much as back and forth because that implies a willingness to engage or negotiate on our side that wasn't there. They spoke about the speech and underscored their view that was reflected I think in the comments of the Cuban diplomat as he was leaving the State Department that I read about how they thought this notion could be helpful. But we, I believe, underscored what I said publicly, which is that we will adjudicate visa applications but that is really where our role would come in in such an event and that has not happened.

QUESTION: There is a report in the Israeli press that President Clinton has suggested appointing a special envoy to use shuttle diplomacy between Syria and Israel. Is it true and who is he? And I have another question, please, afterwards.

MR. FOLEY: Well, there is no need to answer the second part of the question because my understanding is that the first part is not true.

QUESTION: And the second one is that there is also talk that President Clinton has asked Israel to delay the withdrawal by three weeks. And how does the United States view the withdrawal from Southern Lebanon in absence of any deal on the Syrian side?

MR. FOLEY:Well, I don't believe that first bit of information that the US has asked Israel to delay something is true. I've not heard that. It would surprise me. I think it's untrue.

Our policy on Security Council Resolution 425 is long-standing. It goes back to the time we voted for the resolution, which is that we would like to see it implemented and we would like to see all foreign forces withdrawn from Lebanon. We've stated, as has the Prime Minister of Israel, that it is our preference that that withdrawal be effected in the context of a negotiated settlement that would address the needs of all sides, and we still continue to hope that that will be possible.

QUESTION: Where do you see the Syrian track right now? Is it a failure right now?

MR. FOLEY:I wouldn't say that. It hasn't produced success yet, but the fact is that the parties met here at Shepherdstown; the President had an important meeting with President Assad in Geneva; and the process continues - a difficult process, clearly. But we are going to continue to work to overcome the differences that exist between the parties, and this process is certainly not over.

In terms of where it stands, I think President Clinton was pretty clear about this yesterday. As you know, the United States has been trying to clarify the needs and positions on both sides, and we arrived at a certain point in terms of clarifying the Israeli positions to such that the President was able to convey Israeli ideas and perspectives to President Assad. He was not in a position to accept those points, and; therefore, as the President stated yesterday, we believe that it is now the turn of the Syrians to formulate responses, formulate ideas of their own. And so that's where the matter rests at the moment.

QUESTION: Are you going to help them formulate these responses?

MR. FOLEY:Well, we have been playing a role of communicating with the parties, trying to gain a better understanding for ourselves and for them of the needs, the perspectives, the requirements, for a successful outcome, and to help them overcome those differences. And we will continue to play that role in consultation with both sides, but this is not an American effort to generate American ideas. This is something that is going to have to be solved by both parties. Obviously, we have an important role to play that we will continue to play.

QUESTION: However true that might be, your description of the President's remarks are accurate but they left a little bit out because he made the point also that he, too, had presented some additional ideas; in other words, that he had presented Assad with a combination of Israeli proposals, which he called very significant, and American ideas as well; and that Assad's posture was to simply stick to his guns.

MR. FOLEY:I'll have to --

QUESTION: No. So --

MR. FOLEY:I'll have to check the record on that. I'm not aware that he spoke about American ideas.

QUESTION: He didn't use the word "ideas" but he - our options. He spoke of things of an American input - trust me - and I'll get you the text if you'd like. But that's just a setup. That's to lead the question.

The point is that the President has worked up the Israeli ideas and Americans have been involved in embellishing --

MR. FOLEY:Well, I'm not going to accept that formulation. We've been communicating with both sides, we've been trying to gain a better understanding. And the President conveyed certain Israeli ideas and perspectives, which he called specific and comprehensive and significant.

QUESTION: Very significant.

MR. FOLEY:Yes.

QUESTION: Well the question then - forget if you don't accept my construction and we said, let's move to the other side or something.

MR. FOLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: Maybe you'll disagree with my description of his description of Assad's posture, which is, basically, he's sticking to his demands and that's that. And he has to be more forthcoming, the President said.

Is the US going to consult with the Syrians in an effort to sort of suggest some ideas to them that might make their position a little bit more forthcoming with the aim, of course, of starting these negotiations going, which isn't going right now with Israel?

MR. FOLEY: I am not going to be able to share your premise about American ideas. You're returning to it again.

Our role has been to try to facilitate the parties coming together and reaching agreement. And we talked to the parties. What we say in particular, neither I nor Jamie Rubin nor Joe Lockhart have gotten into. We want to be helpful. We're not substituting ourselves or substituting our ideas for the ideas and positions of the parties. But we are trying to help them see their way through to common ground which, of course, is the necessary predicate for an agreement.

And that effort yielded certain results on the Israeli side that the President noted, which the Syrian president rejected. And the President made it clear that we believe now, having responded in Geneva, that the Syrian side ought now to come back with a further elaboration of points and perspectives from their side.

QUESTION: Let's get back to Lebanon, if we could.

MR. FOLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: We know your preference. The preference is that Israel's pullout should be part of an overall agreement. But Mr. Barak said, after Sunday's meetings, that the next step, it seemed to him, was for Israel to go ahead with a pullout.

Will the United States - does the United States object to a unilateral withdrawal? I know what you prefer. Does the United States object to a unilateral withdrawal? And there have been rumors - pretty well, I think, disputed by talking to people in this building, but let's just check it out anyhow - that the US is looking for ways to help Israel because Barak said this could be, you know, a dangerous situation, a difficult situation. Is the US taking steps or will the US take steps to try to assist in that withdrawal just to make sure nothing doesn't blow up?

MR. FOLEY: Well, I tried to chase down those reports and rumors as well and met with the same response that you apparently have, Barry, so that is not anything I can confirm. I can restate our position in favor of the implementation of Security Council Resolution 425. Our focus is on helping the parties achieve a negotiated settlement that would address the needs of all sides, and we're going to continue working with the sides as part of that goal.

Your other question, though, about if push comes to shove where would we stand in the event of an Israeli unilateral withdrawal is a question I've gotten several times now in the last week. Mr. Rubin's got it. And I will just repeat what we said, which is that we voted for Resolution 425, we stand by it, we would like to see it implemented, we would like to see all foreign forces withdrawn from Lebanon, and we would prefer to see that happen in the context of a negotiated settlement. But at the end of the day, we support the implementation of that resolution. I think my meaning is clear.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR. FOLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: Is it fair to say, then, that the United States does not expect any new proposals to come from the Israeli side towards President Assad and that now the ball is in his court and nothing more will happen until he's come up with an alternative solution?

MR. FOLEY: Well, if I may revive the end-of-the-day formulation I just used with Barry, at the end of the day both sides have needs that must be taken into account and addressed. You can't have an agreement unless they reach common ground. But it is accurate, though, to say and for me to restate now for the fourth or fifth time what the President said yesterday, which is that we are looking to the Syrians to come forward now with more specific responses, ideas, perspectives, in light of the fact the Israeli side has done so.

QUESTION: On the UN Security Council members who are here visiting, they've been here this morning, they'll be back here tonight with Congress sandwiched in between, where I'm sure they'll have some interesting conversations.

After Senator Helms visited them and then invited them to come back here, do you notice that there is any positive movement or narrowing of the gaps on what the US Congress might be willing to do to support our dues? As I understand it, they don't even agree on how much we owe; the UN says one number and we say another because we've unilaterally made some deductions. Do you sense that this is moving in a positive direction at all?

MR. FOLEY: Well, I think there are a number of aspects to your question, some of which I would quibble with.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. FOLEY: Embedded in your question is the premise, though, that there is daylight between the Administration and Congress on our approach to --

QUESTION: No, no, no, between the UN and the United States on what is owed, for example.

MR. FOLEY: Because we reached an agreement that Secretary Albright was instrumental in negotiating with Senator Helms and Senator Biden on the package to repay our arrears.

There are so-called contested arrears. Our package aims to pay almost $1 billion in the arrears that we owe to the United Nations. Let's remember that we are talking about old money and that the United States has continued in subsequent years to pay our share and a share that vastly exceeds that of other nations. We're the largest supporter financially of the UN in terms of its general budget, its peacekeeping budget and its specialized agencies. There are moneys that the UN claims that we are owed that we dispute.

QUESTION: That we are owed?

MR. FOLEY: That we owe.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. FOLEY: That we dispute.

QUESTION: Right.

MR. FOLEY: Has a lot to do with the fact that - not only, but a lot to do with the fact that in 1995 Congress passed legislation that the President signed that reduces our assessment on peacekeeping operations from - if you'll bear with me a second - from 30 percent to 25 percent. And so the UN has continued to charge us at the higher rate that we, by law, do not accept.

If your question, rather, has to do not with those contested moneys but, rather, our ability to repay the moneys in the package that was agreed between the Administration and Congress last year to the tune of, I believe, $929 --

QUESTION: Million.

MR. FOLEY:-- million - yes, I believe you're right. I'll check with you afterwards to make sure I'm right and get back to the other journalists. We paid $100 million last December. That was the first tranche, right away. There will be a second tranche of $475 million, plus another $107 million for peacekeeping reimbursement credit, that we would pay hopefully this year if we can achieve some benchmark reforms.

And that's what your question has to do with. We're seeking - and this is part of the Congressional legislation to get the UN to adopt a lower assessment rate cap for the regular budget, which we're currently assessed at 25 percent. We believe it would be just and appropriate to reduce that to 22 percent. We would also like the cap established for the peacekeeping assessment at 25 percent, at which we're currently paying. Then there would be a third tranche of $244 million that would be tied to additional reforms in the management area.

But, clearly, these are hard issues. These are difficult issues. They involve renegotiating what other nations pay to support the UN regular budget, to support peacekeeping, and you can imagine this is not easy work. We believe that we have a very good case to make. We are the number one supporter financially of the UN. We don't think the UN should be overly dependent on one single nation. We believe there is a credible case to be made now, after many years that these assessment rates have been in effect and the world political situation and economy have changed fundamentally, for a relook and a reassessment, literally, of the rates that we and others pay.

Ambassador Holbrooke and our mission to the UN are hard at work on that effort. Ambassador Holbrooke has been traveling around the world and working in the UN on this effort, and it has the full support of Secretary Albright. Let's remember that one of the highest agenda items the Secretary set upon taking office was to restore America's relationship with the UN, which is in our national interest. She has made that case around the country and managed to persuade the Congress to go along with this historic decision to reaffirm the importance of the UN to the US to pay our debts.

But in order to get this finally realized, though, we believe we need the support and assistance of other nations to recognize that times have changed and that a change in some of the assessment rates is justified and necessary, and that work continues.

QUESTION: Do you think the trip today will help?

MR. FOLEY:I do. I wouldn't look for any immediate results coming out of the trip but, nevertheless, it's important - we believe, first of all - to underline the significance of the United Nations. If the Security Council - this is a historic visit - comes to Washington, that obviously all of you are covering it, and I think it signals to the American public and to the world how seriously we take the UN. The UN is important to our efforts around the world because the US can not afford to be, does not wish to be, the global policeman. We look to others to help share the burden of meeting challenges, of meeting the problems of instability and disease and crime and overpopulation and a whole litany of problems facing the world. And we look to the UN to share that burden, to share that leadership. And the UN advances American national interest. Their visit here underscores that.

But equally, the visit, we believe, can be enlightening to the Security Council as well to have a better understanding of how foreign policy is made here in the United States. We have an unusual political system. In most countries of the world, the executive branch more or less legislates by fiat - I know that's an exaggeration, but at least in terms of parliamentary democracy, a government that can't get its foreign policy approved is a government that falls. We have a completely different system. It is one marked by separation of powers. The Congress has a role to play in foreign policy, they control the purse strings and they have to be a partner in foreign policy.

So Secretary Albright very strongly welcomes - indeed, invited - the visit, along with the Congress, of the Security Council to Washington and we think it will help advance better understanding, better progress and results on both sides.

How do you like that for a short answer? You know, this is my second-to-last day at this soap box and I'm reluctant to walk off the stage.

QUESTION: You're starting to sound like Nick Burns.

MR. FOLEY: Thank you.

QUESTION: I want to tie up a loose end on the Elian Gonzalez case.

MR. FOLEY: I didn't think I left any.

QUESTION: I know you didn't but there's one hanging that at least - you've gone out of your way to state several times that State Department's position is that you would expedite the visa application for the father. And, as of yesterday, Fidel Castro has thrown in this long list of people who might want to accompany. But you haven't addressed - well, you've addressed it but not in a way of you saying that you would be willing to expedite those visas, if that's part of it.

And let me just finish the question. And saying the State Department's only role is to help in the visa application of the father, it seems to me it's got a different, a larger role, if these other people are part of the mix, or any group of people is part of the mix. Is that correct or not correct?

MR. FOLEY: Well, that was the one unanswered question. I agree with you fully that that was a loose string and I was ready to answer it. And the answer is the following: That we do not prejudge or preadjudicate the visa cases of applicants from whom we have not yet received applications.

QUESTION: A quick question about Central Asia. Earlier this week, you announced that the Secretary would be traveling there.

MR. FOLEY: Right.

QUESTION: Do you have any more information why she has chosen to make this trip now, what some of the highlights will be when she is there, and also the co-chairman of the US Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, that's Chris Smith, yesterday said that the Secretary should insist Kyrgyz authorities release this opposition leader before she visits there in two weeks. That's Feliks Kulov. Is that something she would be considering?

MR. FOLEY: Yes, indeed, we have important items to discuss with all three countries. Just to repeat, I issued a statement on this a couple days ago. The Secretary will travel to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan between April 14th and 20th, and this is her first visit to Central Asia as Secretary of State. And the overall aim of the trip is to underscore the importance of these countries, New Independent States, to the United States and to the world community. In other words, their fate as not only fledgling democracies but as fledgling nations, sovereign states, is of importance to the world community. Their success is important to stability in Central Asia, in the wider Europe and for the global community.

And there are enormous challenges that these young nations face. We are troubled - you're right to indicate we are troubled - by some shortcomings in the field of democratization and elsewhere in some of these countries. Nevertheless, we support their efforts to consolidate their sovereignty and their democracies and their economic reform programs and we want to encourage them to do better in certain areas of democracy, of the rule of law and human rights and all of these important areas, also having to do with economic reform.

The Secretary will consult with officials of the three governments on a broad range of bilateral and multilateral issues, discussing progress in their efforts to establish strong democratic and market-oriented institutions, as well as regional security concerns. She is going to meet with American business representatives, meet with civil society, with local NGO and other leaders who are active in defending human rights and building, as I said, a civil society in these countries.

Your question had to do with Kyrgyzstan, I believe?

QUESTION: Yeah, but specifically this opposition leader.

MR. FOLEY: We, I believe, issued a statement about him -- I don't know if you have that, we can get that afterwards - expressing our concern over his arrest and calling for the rule of law and due process and transparency in his treatment. I would have to get that statement to address it specifically. But what I can say is Kyrgyzstan has been in the past a leader in democratic reform in Central Asia. We find recent events there very troubling.

And the Secretary is traveling to Central Asia precisely because of the recent difficulties there. She intends to deliver a tough message to the government of Kyrgyzstan on democracy and human rights. And she, as I said, will also be meeting with NGOs and representatives of the opposition during her visit.

QUESTION: You mentioned that regional security concerns were also high up there. Can you expand on that a little? Is this a human rights trip, a democracy trip or is it --

MR. FOLEY: I don't think it's possible. I think it's incorrect to try to parse a particular aspect of the visit. She will be discussing regional security issues, she will be discussing their efforts to transition to market economies successfully, their efforts to integrate into the world economies, their efforts to attract foreign investment, to create greater economic interaction between the United States and these three countries. She will be discussing their efforts to build democratic institutions. She will be frank about shortcomings we see in those areas. She will be discussing human rights and problems we see in the human rights area in those countries.

She is not going to pull any punches but she goes there as a friend. The United States is a friend of these new countries and these new fledgling democracies of Central Asia. And we will be encouraging. And, as I said, she will be frank where she needs to speak frankly about shortcomings in the field of democratization.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on Russian President Putin apparently allowing the International Red Cross to go into detention centers, including the one notorious one at Chernokozovo? He has apparently - well, quoting Tass, of course, but he has apparently allowed them now to go in.

MR. FOLEY: I have not heard that that decision was made. If it's true, we are encouraged by it, we welcome it. We understand that President-Elect Putin met with the ICRC president, Mr. Kellenberger, today. We are encouraged by that. We do hope that this meeting will facilitate the ICRC receiving unhindered access to all detainees related to the conflict in Chechnya.

We also note that officials of the OSCE Assistance Group have now been able to make several trips to Chechnya, to prepare for establishing the OSCE there. So if that is true, that that access will be allowed, that is a positive step.

What we are encouraging are thoroughgoing steps in different areas, having to do with access by the international media, with the reopening or the opening of the OSCE office, unhindered Red Cross access and thoroughgoing investigations of credible reports of human rights violations in Chechnya.

Other questions? Barry, did you come back for a question?

QUESTION: Yeah, we want to go back to Lebanon, while I try to figure out US policy on Israel withdrawing from --

MR. FOLEY: Just a second. Are we finished on Central Asia and Russia?

QUESTION: -- while I figure out whether the US approves or disapproves of the unilateral Israeli withdrawal, should it come to that, and I don't know what the US position is yet. I know your preference.

Israel TV is reporting - which is why I came back - that at the behest of the United States, Israel has agreed to delay for at least three weeks seeking international support for that withdrawal. Remember the notion that they might need us --

MR. FOLEY: To delay what for three weeks?

QUESTION: For three weeks.

MR. FOLEY: To delay what?

QUESTION: As we all know, there have been reports for days now that Israel is soliciting - trying to solicit international support for a withdrawal because it might be explosive - whatever the word Barak used. Now the report is the US asked Israel to cut it out for at least three weeks and Israel has agreed.

MR. FOLEY: So you mean not cut out the withdrawal itself?

QUESTION: The withdrawal isn't until July. To cut out --

MR. FOLEY: That's why I asked you to clarify.

QUESTION: To stop trying to gather support for an eventual withdrawal, to stop seeking support for three weeks, take a break on this.

MR. FOLEY: I had not heard that, and so I would have to look into the question for you.

QUESTION: Would you, please?

MR. FOLEY: Yes. I would be glad to.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. FOLEY: There is going to be an event involving the Secretary any minute now. I would prefer to - much as I am trying to hog what's left of the limelight for me, I would prefer to defer to my boss, Secretary Albright.

Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:07 P.M.)


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