U.S. State Department Press Briefing August 28
Indonesia – China – Cuba – Haiti – Peru – Colombia – Azerbaijan – Iraq – Montenegro – Bosnia – Phillipines – Burma
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING INDEX MONDAY, AUGUST 28, 2000
Briefer: Philip T. Reeker, Deputy Spokesman
DEPARTMENT 1 Departure of Press Office Director Adam Ereli regretted; new Director Chuck Hunter welcomed.
INDONESIA 1 US congratulates East Timorese on pending anniversary of their independence vote. Good work of UN in East Timor also commended. Sadly, 100,000+ refugees remain in camps. Recent militia activity along border and inside East Timor is deplored; they must be disbanded.
CHINA 2 McNeely book seizure, if true, is disturbing and contrary to international covenants. 3 2-3 Three possible Americans were detained, released and are departing country; US has no Privacy Act waiver. 3-4 Amb. Prueher visited Tibet Aug. 24-27, met with local officials, discussed human rights issues.
CUBA 4-7 US today sent diplomatic note, urging 100+ exit permits for travel to US be granted. 5,8 Annual migration talks have been postponed, not re-scheduled by Cuba. 5,8 US has strenuously objected to the talks' postponement. 5-8 Cuban regime practice, not US law, is reason for continuing exodus from Cuba.
HAITI 9 Election procedures were seriously flawed. OAS sent a mission to investigate. 9 Premature seating of legislators would call into question its legitimacy.
PERU 9-11,13-14 Government has captured weapons originally sold by Jordan years ago. 9-11,13-14 US has asked Peruvian government for information on the investigation.
COLOMBIA 11-13 US supports Plan Colombia. Congress has provided $1.3 billion for the effort.
AZERBAIJAN 14-15 Media law allowed shutting of newspapers if they have three libel convictions in a year. It can lead to de facto press censorship, and thus is inconsistent with international standards. 15 US urges safeguarding of rights of journalist detained in connection with an airplane hijacking.
IRAQ 15-16 No-Fly Zones were created by UN Security Council resolution to protect Iraqi people from their government. Coalition aircraft strikes only occur in response to Iraqi threats. Every effort is made to avoid civilian casualties.
FRY (MONTENEGRO) 16-17 US supportive of democratic forces within Montenegro.
BOSNIA 17 Sen. Dole opened Missing Persons Institute in Sarajevo today. Institute was created by Pres. Clinton in 1996. US has given $8 million to further efforts to locate missing persons.
PHILIPPINES 17-18 US believes paying ransom for hostages is inappropriate. US will not pay ransom, nor negotiate with terrorists. Release of some hostages is a blessing.
BURMA 18-19 Aung San Suu Kyi and 16 supporters still in standoff with Burmese regime at roadblock. We deplore regime's actions, flagrantly flouting international human rights obligations. Sec. Albright following situation closely. US has sent diplomatic note in protest. US has been in contact with Red Cross to provide her with food and water.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING DPB #87 MONDAY, AUGUST 28, 2000, 1:45 P.M. (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. REEKER: Good afternoon, everyone. Sorry for the slight delay. I just want to start by welcoming to our briefing this afternoon some new colleagues from the Bureau of Public Affairs. Carolyn Barranca, Jacqueline Clark, Wanda Cooper, Charles Vella, and Abigail Morales have all come down to see the fruits of their labors in terms of the most visible side of the Bureau of Public Affairs.
I also want to take this opportunity to formally acknowledge with regret the departure of my friend and colleague, Adam Ereli, who was Director of the Office of Press Relations and is moving on to an assignment abroad. But we're very happy to welcome Mr. Chuck Hunter, who will replace Adam as the Director of the Office of Press Relations beginning this week.
And I do have one statement which we'll post after the end of the briefing marking the anniversary in East Timor which will be celebrated this Wednesday marking the first anniversary of the August 30th, 1999, consultation organized and validated by the United Nations in which the overwhelming majority of the people of East Timor resisted violence and the threat of violence to vote for independence. So we wanted to congratulate the people of East Timor for their long, difficult and courageous struggle for independence, which is a year closer to realization.
We also commend highly the work of the United Nations, which is continuing to oversee East Timor security and its transition to independence. But I must note that, sadly, over 100,000 refugees remain in camps in West Timor almost a year after the traumatic events that drove them from their homes. They live in an increasingly precarious security environment and with the second rainy season fast approaching, so we urge once again the Indonesian Government to restore security throughout West Timor and to develop a workable plan for the repatriation and resettlement of those refugees. The United States and the rest of the international community stand ready to assist.
Finally, I think I must note and deplore the recent militia activity along the border and inside East Timor which has led to a series of increasingly violence incidents, including the death of two UN peacekeepers. The August 30th anniversary may well tempt these militias or others to resort to more violence, and I must reiterate that such violence must not be tolerated. The militias and those that support them must be disarmed and disbanded.
We'll put that out in written form at the end of the briefing. With that, I'm happy to turn to Barry Schweid.
QUESTION: A couple of things about China. One is the impounding of books, apparently because there was a picture of the President with the Dalai Lama. And to return to that evangelical Christian problem, now those three American missionaries have been deported. I wonder if State had any observations on either action.
MR. REEKER: Let me begin regarding the reports of the book. That would be Robert McNeely's book entitled The Clinton Years. We've seen those reports that Chinese customs officials had seized copies of the book because it had a photograph of the President with the Dalai Lama, and I note that the reports cited the Chinese spokesman commenting that politically sensitive materials are not allowed to be printed or exported.
If the report is true, then it is most disturbing. Seizure of books in order to impose political or religious control violates international human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which China has signed. I'll note that Article 19 of that Covenant guarantees freedom of expression. So let me reiterate that if these reports are in fact true, we view the seizures as violations of guarantees of freedom of expression.
On your second point regarding the three individuals that we discussed a little bit last week, as you noted, Barry, we do understand that all three individuals have been released and are in the process of departing China. But I have to note that none of the three has signed a Privacy Act waiver and therefore, as you know, I am unable to release any of the individuals' names or to confirm names that have indeed been reported in the press, or to disclose their onward travel plans.
But I think, as I told some of you Friday, we discussed the US-China consular convention, that provides that the host country notify us of detained individuals as soon as possible, but within 96 hours, and in this instance the three individuals were released before the conclusion of that 96-hour period.
QUESTION: On the book seizure part, is this something other than your comment other than saying that you are deeply troubled - or it is disturbing if it is true - is that the extent of how the State Department will get involved in this? Is there any reason to think - or is there any way for State to get involved in this case, or would it, in terms of trying to get them un-impounded?
MR. REEKER: I think I have made the point our view of what it would be if that were the case. I am not aware of - obviously, it is something that we deplore. We don't believe that books should be seized in order to impose some sort of political or religious control. But again, I am just going on the reports that we have seen and what our observation would be about that in terms of promoting compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
QUESTION: Does that mean that you - do you make the same observation to the embassy here, or through the Embassy in Beijing to the Chinese?
MR. REEKER: I am not sure of any specifics. I think I have done it right here, and you all will certainly do your part to show that as our response at this point.
Still on this?
QUESTION: Yes, on this subject. It is reported further that these three missionaries were beaten while in detention, that they were - that they had their - their handcuffs were so tight that it cut off circulation to their hands, that they were mistreated, badly mistreated. Now, these people as American citizens, I take it, the State Department would have something to say about that.
MR. REEKER: I just don't have anything more for you on it, Bill. I don't have Privacy Act waivers from the individuals in question. I don't have any details to provide you on that. All I can note for you is that they were released long before the 96-hour requirement, and I understand they are in the process of departing China.
QUESTION: There was a report yesterday that Ambassador Prueher is touring Tibet right now, and this apparently coincides with a period of crackdown on religious expression. And I'm wondering, doesn't this send a message of business as usual to the Chinese regarding their conduct there?
MR. REEKER: Well, I think just to go on the facts, Ambassador Prueher visited Tibet from August 24th through August 27th. He is now back at the Embassy in Beijing. This was, in fact, Ambassador Prueher's first trip to Tibet and the first by a US Ambassador since former Ambassador Sasser visited there in 1997.
While he was in Tibet, the Ambassador met with autonomous region and Lhasa city government officials with whom he discussed human rights and other issues. Some of the specific topics that the Ambassador raised include the Tibet Heritage Fund, the Panchen Lama issue, and the issue of Ngawang Choephel, the ethnomusicologist who has been detained there.
So, obviously, this visit provided Ambassador Prueher the chance to explain our policy and the concerns we have directly to Tibet autonomous region and Lhasa city government officials, and we will continue to pursue those issues as we do in terms of raising them back in Beijing as well.
QUESTION: Still on China.
QUESTION: Can we stay, actually, on this - specific on Tibet?
MR. REEKER: Yes.
QUESTION: Did he get any response when he asked about the Panchen Lama?
MR. REEKER: I don't have any particular readouts on his discussions that were held there with autonomous region authorities or local city government people.
QUESTION: Do you know how long his meetings were or what - I mean, was it just one day?
MR. REEKER: No, I don't have any specifics. He was traveling in Tibet for three days, from the 24th through the 27th, and is now back in Beijing.
QUESTION: There is a report today in the London Telegraph about the Chinese planning to send troops into the Sudan. Do you have any intelligence on this, and can you comment on it at all?
MR. REEKER: I haven't even seen the report. I'm sorry.
QUESTION: I mean, if - could you - do you have a message you'd like to send China?
MR. REEKER: I haven't seen the report, Eli. I wouldn't even begin to comment on a report that I'm not aware of.
Anything else on China? Okay, we'll go over here, sir.
QUESTION: I'd like to ask you about Cuba.
MR. REEKER: Cuba, okay.
QUESTION: Specifically, the diplomatic note sent to the Cuban Interests Section. I'm curious about the timing. Why has it been done now? And if the answer is because it is happening now, does that mean that the State Department does not think there were problems over the past six years since this agreement was implemented?
MR. REEKER: Well, I think to directly answer the latter part of your question, we have had concerns about the agreement and our concerns have been voiced frequently over those six years, certainly from this podium, and we've had lengthy discussions about that.
Just to go back and review what a number of you have called about based on some press reports, we did today deliver a diplomatic note to the Cuban Interests Section here in Washington, and to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Havana from our Interests Section there, urging the Government of Cuba to assist in reuniting families by granting exit permits to Cuban nationals with valid US documents for travel to the United States. And we provided them in that diplomatic note a list of cases where individuals that have valid travel documents, US entry documents, have been unable to travel due to the Government of Cuba's refusal to issue exit permits.
And we want to draw specific attention to those cases where families are needlessly separated due to the arbitrary Cuban policy. We have provided the Cuban Government with a sort of snapshot of the cases that we're aware of, and that list, that snapshot, contained over 100 individuals who have been denied exit permits since May. Of those cases, I think at least 16 are cases of separated immediate family members; there are 17 cases that are denied exit to medical professionals who had appropriate US documents; and in one the applicant has insufficient funds to complete the exit application process. And there were a number of people denied exit visas for undisclosed reason.
In looking at your question of why today, I think it is an issue that we have raised over the past five years in a series of migration talks. We have frequently asked the Cuban Government to take the necessary steps to allow families to reunite and end the torment that they go through because of this policy.
We think that they need to issue exit permits to all those individuals who have valid US entry documents. And at various times we have offered specific instances to them, as we have gain today, where families were separated by their policies. We have never received a comprehensive response from the Cubans, just a continuation of their present policy.
We expected to have migration talks this summer in our continuing series of talks, and we were going to raise this again in that forum. But, unfortunately, the Cuban Government chose to delay those meetings since mid-June, and we have informed them that we strenuously object to the postponement of those meetings, and we are fully prepared to proceed with these semiannual talks as scheduled because we see this as a very important issue.
We think the continued discussions between our two countries on migration matters are important to prevent the needless loss of life at sea, and important for ensuring the safe and legal, orderly migration that is called for under the accords.
QUESTION: When the Cubans postponed, or said that they weren't going to be coming to the - I think it was June 27th and 28th meetings --
MR. REEKER: Sometime in June, yes.
QUESTION: They said it was because they were "preoccupied" with the Elian Gonzalez case. I am wondering, in your communications with the Cubans, do they still bring this up as a reason for - and as I understand it, these talks have not been rescheduled.
MR. REEKER: No. I mean, we have made very clear that we are prepared to begin immediately those talks and, as I said, registered our strenuous objection to the fact that they postponed those talks. We think it is very important to proceed with that.
I think you have all noted that there has been in increase in rhetoric since that time and since they postponed that about the Cuban Adjustment Act, and I think it is important to note that the Cuban Adjustment Act has been a law of the United States since 1966. So it is somewhat unacceptable that the Cuban Government has just recently decided to use the Cuban Adjustment Act as a scapegoat for their own internal problems.
Obviously US laws are decided by the American people and the American Congress and those are not subject to any sort of negotiation or debate. We note - and I think we have discussed from here, and certainly I have read a lot of media reports about it - that the Cuban migrants who are interdicted at sea do not cite the Cuban Adjustment Act as the reason that they are seeking to leave Cuba. Their stories are really an indictment of the Castro regime and its economic, social and political failures, and the impact that these failures have on the lives of the average Cuban person.
It is a failure of their system, and the oppressive policies that the Castro regime carries out, and frankly a failure to live up to their international agreement on these migration accords. Again, our policy, in terms of immigration, is one that encourages safe, legal and orderly migration. Cubans can legally migrate to the United States through various programs that we have discussed here, including refugee admission and the diversity lottery. And those are the types of issues that we want to discuss and encourage the Cubans to return to this.
QUESTION: I just want to get an answer to the Elian question. They haven't - that has kind of dropped off the radar screen? They are not bringing that up?
MR. REEKER: I am not aware of specific issues regarding Elian. As you will recall, our response to the Elian issue was very much in keeping with law and family reunification.
QUESTION: Right. In terms of the migration and the reason that they have postponed - that being the reason that they did not want to have the talks on the 27th and 28th?
MR. REEKER: I think now we're waiting for continued - and this is why we went ahead with this diplomatic note today because we haven't gotten a response from them on proceeding with those talks.
QUESTION: What is the point of having new migration talks if the Cubans aren't keeping the deal you've already got with them on that subject?
MR. REEKER: Look, our point is to reiterate once again, as I think I've done here this afternoon, what our position is on migration. And certainly, as I also indicated, this rhetoric we see from Havana in terms of blaming the Cuban Adjustment Act, a law which we've had in place for 35 years, is somewhat unacceptable - completely unacceptable, in fact - to us, and they are simply using that as a scapegoat to cover for their policies, which are the ones that are resulting in casualties at sea, suffering of people, the people's desire to leave the country. And we want to see them discuss and implement what they have agreed to in terms of these migration things.
QUESTION: You called the denial of the permits arbitrary. Do you mean by arbitrary - see, arbitrary has various meanings. Willy-nilly, or do you mean they have created specific categories? I mean, do you see a pattern?
MR. REEKER: As I indicated, there are some cases that we highlighted in today's diplomatic note, for instance, that are immediate family members that are separated and have the appropriate papers to come under the legal process to the United States to join their family members here in this country.
There are also a number of cases that have been denied as medical professionals, for instance, denying those people in particular. One applicant that we highlighted was denied on the basis of insufficient funds to proceed with the process. They charge exorbitant fees to process these exit visas that they require. All of that, we think, is not within keeping with the spirit of the accord, and that's what we want to discuss with them and that is what we have outlined in our diplomatic note to them today.
QUESTION: I understand what you're saying. You're saying that families are separated. No, but I'm trying to see if the State Department has any feel for why (A) is permitted to leave and (B) isn't. I mean, are they just arbitrary and they just flip a coin?
MR. REEKER: As I indicated, I think medical professionals, for instance, are not allowed to leave.
QUESTION: Well, that's not arbitrary. That means they're going at it their way.
MR. REEKER: But I think a number of them appear to be arbitrary. We can't account for the reasons of them, or those that we may not be aware of. There are people that are interdicted at sea who are forced to try to flee through dangerous means who have the appropriate documentation to come to this country, who have followed the process, and the Cubans are not keeping up with their end of the process in terms of working through these.
QUESTION: Just a couple more quickies. The losses at sea. There were brothers that lost their lives. Does the State Department have any tally or any approximation of how many people, having been denied permits, went off on their own and lost their lives?
MR. REEKER: I don't. And I think that's almost an impossible thing. We can only guess at the number of people who have lost their lives because of the refusal of the Cuban Government to proceed in the normal, appropriate manner. And obviously there have been some cases that we're aware of.
QUESTION: All right. Now they say - last one, I wonder if you have an answer to their allegation that your policy is discriminatory; that, first of all, they don't use the word "luring" but the US holds out benefits to Cubans who can make it here that the US does not extend to any other Latin American immigrants; that you encourage them to jump into the water if they can't get a legal way out, and that you're discriminating in favor of these people.
MR. REEKER: I think, Barry, I answered that quite a bit when I was talking, following one of the other questions in terms of their rhetoric about the Cuban Adjustment Act which, as I said, has been United States law, the law of this land, since 1966. And for them to recently decide to use that law as some sort of scapegoat or excuse for their internal problems, or to suggest that people are leaving because of the law, is absurd on the facts.
As I indicated, and I think a number of journalists have been involved in talking to people who have left who have been interdicted at sea, and they have not cited the Cuban Adjustment Act. What they have cited is freedom. What they have cited is the regime of Castro and his economic and social and political failures as their reasons for wanting to leave.
QUESTION: So what happens to people that have visas but not exit permits when they get picked up at sea?
MR. REEKER: I'd have to review the process there.
QUESTION: You don't know if they are allowed in? Are they sent back?
MR. REEKER: I'd have to double check with the process on that. I believe people that have the appropriate permits --
QUESTION: If they have a US visa but no Cuban exit - in other words, if they do what you're saying that people are forced to do and they are picked up at sea, they get sent back even though they have a US visa?
MR. REEKER: I'll have to check for you on that, Matt.
QUESTION: When was the instant of the two brothers who lost their lives?
MR. REEKER: I'm not sure I have exact details on that specific incident, but I know I read about it certainly in press reports. No, I don't have anything specifically on that, Betsy. I'd be happy to check our press files on that, too.
QUESTION: Members of the Haitian senate are being sworn in.
MR. REEKER: Are we done with Cuba?
QUESTION: Actually, one more quick one.
MR. REEKER: Sure.
QUESTION: Is the problem more acute now, or was this note sent because of the canceled meeting in June?
MR. REEKER: Well, I think again, as I indicated, it is something we have been raising for a number of years ever since the '94 accord. I don't know if I can categorize or indicate specific acuteness; it's just that we were expecting to discuss this in these talks; they were scheduled to take place in June; the Cuban Government canceled those and has refused to reschedule; and so we've taken the means of a diplomatic note to make our views very clear.
Anything else on Cuba? Then we'll switch to my friend's question on Haiti.
QUESTION: I remember back when these elections were run, you called them fraudulent or something to that effect. Well, now that these people are in power, as it were, how are you going to deal with them? Are you going to recognize them as being members of the Haitian Government? Are you going to deal with them?
MR. REEKER: Again, just to recap on what we had discussed about the situation, the method that was used in counting and determining winners in the senate seats in the recent legislative elections in Haiti was seriously flawed. Because of this flaw and other deficiencies, which were carefully documented in fact by the electoral observation mission of the Organization of American States, we called on Haiti's political and civil society - and the UN and other international organizations did the same thing - we called on them to address the flawed vote count and some of these deficiencies.
OAS sent a fact-finding mission, you will recall, to Haiti from August 17th through the 20th, and I'm not sure where we stand on reviewing the report of that fact-finding mission. That was a mission, by the way, that was invited by the Haitian authorities to help resolve some of the problems that stemmed from the disputed senate results. So I'm not sure where we stand on the seating of these individuals today. I believe that was scheduled to take place today, but I haven't seen confirming reports. I would note, as we did previously however, that the premature seating of a parliament would be regrettable and would call into question certainly the legitimacy of the new legislature.
QUESTION: Does that mean you don't recognize them?
MR. REEKER: I don't have a report yet on the stand there, but our position was that seating these people prematurely would certainly question the legitimacy of that legislature. I think we have noted now for a number of weeks, the OAS has noted, the flaws that were there in the counting and some of the other deficiencies that we noted in the election there. And the Haitians have had plenty of time to try to address those issues and we call on them to continue to do so.
QUESTION: Is there US concern over the recent sale of weapons by Jordan to Peru? Apparently, some of them ended up in the hands of the FARC in Colombia.
MR. REEKER: Let me review where we stood on that. There were a number of reports about that last week, and I believe that Under Secretary Pickering took a question about that at a briefing he did last week on the President's upcoming trip to Colombia.
It was Under Secretary Pickering's understanding at that point that the Government of Peru had captured a significant number of weapons which had been identified as being from stocks that originally were sold by an East European country back in the Communist days to the Jordanians, and which the Jordanians believed they were selling legitimately to a different Latin American country, to Peru, which have one way or another ended up in Colombia. We have asked the Government of Peru to provide us further information as they continue their investigation into this matter, so we'll have to see what the actual reports are that we get on that.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) -- over the weekend, and this has caused a lot of turmoil in Peru and the foreign affairs minister of Peru has - this is an official version of his statement says that the US believes - has admitted - that selling weapons from the Jordanians to the Peruvians was illegal, and he even quotes an official here to the State Department, Mr. Phil Chicola. Was the sale legal or illegal?
MR. REEKER: I think I indicated to you everything that I know about it, and that we have asked the Government of Peru to provide us more detail and further information as they proceed with their investigation of that. I don't have any definitive comment on that until we know all the facts, or are able to discuss that. So we will be waiting in coming days as we get reports and more information from the Peruvian authorities.
QUESTION: But Ambassador Pickering did say that the sale was illegal - was - I'm sorry - legal?
MR. REEKER: I think I reiterated to you exactly what Ambassador Pickering indicated. Our information and understanding was that weapons had been identified from stocks that were sold by an East European country in Communist days to the Jordanians, and which the Jordanians believed they were selling legitimately to Peru and somehow these ended up, one way or another, in Colombia. That is our understanding of the situation, and what we are doing now is waiting for full details and information from the Peruvian Government, which is carrying out its own investigation of this incident.
QUESTION: Let me reiterate another question I posed last week regarding people who are involved in this trafficking. Does the US Government know so far of any Peruvian officials, notary officials or Peruvian individuals conducting this arms --
MR. REEKER: I don't have any information on that. What Undersecretary Pickering said last week reflects our understanding of the situation in regards to this case. And we are waiting, as I indicated, for further details from the Peruvian Government about that, and I just don't have any other information.
QUESTION: How long are you going to wait on this?
QUESTION: -- is selling the Peruvians?
MR. REEKER: I'm sorry?
QUESTION: Has the Jordanian Government been - any questions put to the Jordanian Government?
MR. REEKER: I am not aware of that. I see this as a Peruvian issue, and we have asked the Peruvians to provide us more information as they get it from their investigation, and that is what we will be waiting for.
QUESTION: But they can't keep track of their weapons. I don't know what kind of a candid answer you would expect.
MR. REEKER: We will be waiting for the information they can provide us.
Was there anything else?
QUESTION: How long are you going to wait for this answer? Because, I mean, again --
MR. REEKER: I am not going to try to predict the Peruvian investigation or their steps. Obviously we will be talking to them both in Lima and here in Washington.
QUESTION: The foreign first minister is talking specifically about Mr. Chicola having told him that the sale was --
MR. REEKER: I'm afraid I am just not aware of those conversations. I haven't seen specific reports. I haven't discussed it with Mr. Chicola. I did check on the issue. I reviewed what Undersecretary Pickering said last week, and our point was very much that we want to wait until we have all the facts. And we will obviously work with the Peruvians to --
QUESTION: Will you take the question on Mr. Chicola so that I can call you back later?
MR. REEKER: We will have to check on that. I think you should direct your question perhaps to Mr. Chicola.
Anything else on Peru? Yes.
QUESTION: Peru or Colombia? But I want to know what does the Department think about the position of Fujimori against the Plan Colombia?
MR. REEKER: Boy, that is a broad question, I guess. We have discussed that, I think, at some length. Ambassador Boucher discussed that a bit last week. I think our position on Plan Colombia is extremely well known. We want to support the Colombians in their plan. We are very concerned about the ramifications of the narcotics trafficking on our own concerns, certainly for Colombia, certainly for the region there.
Because of that, our Congress and our President have signed legislation to provide $1.3 billion for that. We have a number of other concerns within that package, in terms of human rights and democracy in Colombia, and we stand very much behind that. And the President and the Secretary of State will be visiting Colombia, as you know, on Wednesday.
QUESTION: Yes, but do you have anything particularly in the opposition of Fujimori? Why is he taking this position?
MR. REEKER: I think you need to ask him that. I can't speak for him.
QUESTION: And just one last question about Colombia. What are the things that President Clinton is going to talk about human rights with President Pastrana?
MR. REEKER: We had a fairly lengthy briefing on Friday at the Foreign Press Center. I would be happy to get you that transcript, and also the White House will be discussing anything further on the President's trip.
QUESTION: Phil, I mean, I don't know if you just don't have an answer to this but, I mean, surely you can't be pleased by the fact that he has come out against - or at least expressed very serious concerns about --
MR. REEKER: Matt, I think our position on Plan Colombia is evidently clear, and I think --
QUESTION: We know your position on Plan Colombia is evidently clear, but we are talking about the Peruvians now.
MR. REEKER: Right.
QUESTION: The Secretary was in the region, went around looking -
MR. REEKER: That's right.
QUESTION: And not Peru, but looking for support for the region.
MR. REEKER: Which she got.
QUESTION: Yes, she did. But she didn't go to Peru. And Fujimori has now come out and said --
MR. REEKER: There are a number of other countries she didn't go to, either.
QUESTION: I know. I am not going to get into that. But Fujimori has come out basically against Plan Colombia.
MR. REEKER: I heard that from your colleague.
QUESTION: Exactly. So I don't think - it is not an illegitimate question to ask what your reaction to that is.
MR. REEKER: My reaction is to explain why we are for Plan Colombia and what our feeling is, and why we think it is good for the region, for the United States, for Colombia, and why we have supported that very much. And that is the message that the President and the Secretary will be taking to Colombia.
I am not going to get into a habit of trying to review and parse every statement that comes out from every leader in the region on this. Our position on Plan Colombia is very well known and very evident, is something we believe strongly in, and we are going to follow through on it.
QUESTION: One last thing on a Plan Colombia issue and the fact that - are you aware that the Peruvians are saying that the arms given to the FARC were traded for cocaine? Is the US Government aware so far about that? Was it a swap of armament against --
MR. REEKER: Again, on this issue of the arms that the Peruvian Government captured - if we want to call it that - I just don't have any more details on that for you. I think Under Secretary Pickering indicated what our understanding of that situation was, the origin of those arms, and that is as much as we have now.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) -- understand incorrectly. The Peruvian Government hasn't said that they have captured anything. Everything was dropped in parachutes to the Colombians from what - a reading of Mr. Pickering's statement is that the Colombians have captured scores of armaments.
MR. REEKER: Yes.
QUESTION: Who captured?
MR. REEKER: Look, we are not down there. We were not involved in this. Okay? That is point number one. So what I am trying to do is reflect on a number of your questions and others who were asking about Under Secretary Pickering's comment on Friday in a briefing he gave where he was asked about the situation. And he reiterated, it was our understanding that the government had captured a significant number of weapons that have been identified.
My understanding - that was the Government of Peru. If those were - in fact, if it is another situation you are discussing, then I will be happy to go back and look into that. But we were asked about Under Secretary Pickering's comments, and he indicated our understanding that those were weapons that had been identified as being from stocks sold by an East European country, back in the time of Communism, to the Jordanians; the Jordanians believed they were selling legitimately to Peru, and somehow ended up in Colombia.
QUESTION: So, basically, the bottom line is the US takes no position on the legality or otherwise of the sale until they have had --
MR. REEKER: I don't have information on it.
QUESTION: Well, either you take a position or you don't --
MR. REEKER: Our understanding was that the Jordanians were involved in a legitimate sale.
QUESTION: Tell us what the Jordanians believe. I mean, and --
MR. REEKER: That is our understanding, and until we have more information from the Peruvians - which we have asked them to provide us as they proceed with their investigation - I don't have anything further to say. I can't go beyond that.
QUESTION: Are you asking the Jordanians also, or are you just going to rely on the Peruvians?
MR. REEKER: I will be happy to check into that and find out.
QUESTION: Well, Ned Walker was in Jordan. Did he discuss this at all?
MR. REEKER: I am not aware of that. I think Ambassador Walker was on a particular mission, and I am not aware of this issue at all. I just don't have anything further on that. I will continue to look into it for you and get more details, but until we get the information that we have asked for from the Peruvian Government, I am just not going to have anything else.
QUESTION: Three months before the parliamentary actions in Azerbaijan, the government started to crack down on independent media. Do you have any reaction on the arrest of a prominent Azeri journalist, editor of the leading opposition newspaper?
MR. REEKER: Yes, in fact, I did see some reports on that and checked with our embassy. As I understand it, the Azerbaijan media law authorized the court decision to close an independent newspaper called Uch Nogta, and there is a provision in the media law that enables the government to close media outlets that have lost three libel cases in one calendar year.
In this respect, we feel that the media law falls short of international standards because it can result in de facto government censorship of the press. And we find it disturbing, the development which you outlined, in light of the upcoming parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan. So we are urging the Government of Azerbaijan to reconsider its decision to seek a court order to close that newspaper, Uch Nogta.
QUESTION: This is also a question about the closure of the newspaper. I ask about the arrest of editor of the opposition newspaper which happened last week.
MR. REEKER: I will have to check into that for you and see. I wasn't aware of the specifics on that.
QUESTION: On this, on the law, you imply by saying that the law which allows for newspapers to be shut if they have three libel convictions in a year against them, that implies that you don't think that the Azerbaijani judiciary is independent. Is that a correct conclusion?
MR. REEKER: No. What I indicated was --
QUESTION: Well, you said that could lead to government control, which tends to imply that you are saying that the government --
MR. REEKER: It can result in de facto censorship of the press. I am not trying to do anything beyond that, except to note that we find that that part of the media law is inconsistent with international standards.
QUESTION: It would be inconsistent anywhere, even in a country that has got a more advanced judicial system.
MR. REEKER: I am not trying to make any broad observations on anybody's judicial system. What I am saying is there is a provision in their media law in Azerbaijan which enables the government to close a media outlet which has lost three libel cases in a calendar year. And in that respect, the law is not within keeping with international standards because, in effect, the government can exercise de facto censorship.
In response to your question, which I wasn't fully grasping, we did look into that. This involves the attempted hijacking of a flight by Azal Airlines on August 18th. And I understand the government of Azerbaijan is currently investigating the hijacking, but that a newspaper editor, Mr. Rauf Arifoglu, was detained by authorities on August 22nd last week as part of this investigation because he had allegedly been contacted by the hijacker before and during the hijacking attempt.
So we do want to urge the Government of Azerbaijan to ensure that the editor's rights are protected during the investigation and that the investigation take place in full conformity with Azerbaijan's law and international standards, and we are urging all parties to avoid politicizing this case.
QUESTION: Another subject?
MR. REEKER: Yes. Does anybody else have Azerbaijan? No?
QUESTION: No. All right. My question concerns the Iraqi Government's letter that had been circulated to the UN, around the UN, about US and British war planes in 18,000-plus sorties killing 311 Iraqis and 927 wounded by these air actions. What is the US response to that accusation?
MR. REEKER: I am not aware of the specifics of a letter, but let's take this opportunity to review the issue of the no-fly zones. As I think many of you know, and we have discussed at great length, the no-fly zones in Northern and Southern Iraq were established to carry out the vital UN Security Council resolutions, in particular 678, 687, 688, following Iraq's use of military aircraft in support of large-scale repression of its own civilian population. Following the liberation of Kuwait in 1991, which was following Iraq's own invasion of Kuwait, those no-fly zones remain in place to monitor Iraq's compliance with international community requirements, as reflected, again, in UN Security Council resolutions, and to deter repetition of the Iraqi repression against their own people.
The coalition strikes in the no-fly zones are only taken in self-defense in response to Iraqi threats to our forces which are enforcing and patrolling those no-fly zones. If Iraq would cease its threats, coalition strikes would cease as well. We make every effort to avoid civilian casualties and damage to civilian facilities. Iraq often positions their air defense equipment near civilian areas in their own effort to make civilian casualties more likely. And again, if Iraq would cease threatening our aircraft, which are there to enforce UN Security Council resolutions, then our aircraft would not need to threaten their sites.
QUESTION: Phil, a quote from the letter once again says, "We would hold all Saudi Arabian and Kuwaiti regimes fully responsible for the prolonging of the most comprehensive blockade in the history - in the world," it says, "and for repeated barbaric attacks against Iraq," which sounds like a direct threat against Saudi and Kuwait again, once again, going back to the reasons that there was a war in the Gulf: the threat of Iraq to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Is that correct?
MR. REEKER: I am not familiar with this letter. I am not going to try to start commenting, and I just don't think we want to take up everybody's time to look at what the Iraqis have to say in another one of their sort of lengthy commentaries on the situation. They know very well the situation. They understand what they need to do. If they want to have sanctions removed, they need to comply with UN Security Council resolutions. It is as simple as that.
QUESTION: Are you saying that this letter - this particular tactic - should be discounted generally?
MR. REEKER: Again, I am not aware of the letter. I think we have said all there is to say in terms of the position of the UN and the isolation of Saddam and his destructive regime.
Moving on - or is there more on Iraq? My friend from Reuters, welcome back.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask, the fears of Belgrade possibly intervening in Montenegro, have they reached a sort of higher level that something might happen in the coming days or weeks? And are you aware of a report in the London Times this morning that an aircraft carrier had to cancel an exercise in the region? I don't have more details than that about this.
MR. REEKER: I am afraid I am not even aware of that report. I'm sorry, I don't have anything further. I think our position on Montenegro is well known. Our support for democratic forces there, and the fact that NATO, and certainly the United States, watches very carefully developments there, and any threat to the security of the region would be viewed with extreme concern.
QUESTION: Ex-country. Can you tell us more about the Commission for Missing Persons and the Missing Persons Institute, which Bob Dole is opening today in Sarajevo? What is the US contribution, and what kind of staffing are we going to provide?
MR. REEKER: Sure. I think, as a number of you have read, and as you indicated, Terri, Senator Robert Dole left yesterday for Bosnia, Kosovo, Croatia, and Slovenia. And while he is in Bosnia, he will visit Sarajevo, where he is opening the Missing Persons Institute. I believe that may have already taken place there today.
He is expected to meet with Jacques Klein, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General, there in Bosnia, and with other officials. Senator Dole, as you may know, is the Chairman of the International Commission on Missing Persons, which was created by President Clinton in 1996 at the G-7 Summit in Lyon to help resolve the humanitarian concerns of family members of those missing from, or as a result of, the Bosnian war.
The concerns of the families of the missing naturally continue to be something that we take very seriously and are an important element of Bosnian affairs. The United States has given the International Commission on Missing Persons $8 million since its creation back in 1996; and specifically to the Institute, which Senator Dole has opened today, the United States has contributed $500,000.
So the Senator's trip is designed to help publicize and assist the creation of Bosnia's own domestic capability of dealing with the concerns of the family of the missing, and we are very pleased and proud of our contributions to that.
QUESTION: So we don't have a major day-to-day role in running the Institute, or --
MR. REEKER: No, my understanding is that the Institute is a locally-run institute, but obviously today, and with the opening of this, we expected a lot of international and local attendance, which underlies the significance we place with it. Ambassador Miller, our ambassador to Bosnia, was also present, and a number of the other board members were there.
QUESTION: Can you comment on US-Israeli talks regarding the PHALCON sale to India?
MR. REEKER: No, I am afraid I can't. I will have to check into that for you. I don't have anything on that.
QUESTION: I'm wondering if you - last week, the comments that Richard made last week about paying ransom for hostages. In light of that, if you have any comment on the release of some of the hostages from the Philippines. And if that - obviously it is a good thing that they have been released, but is that good thing kind of tainted by the fact that there are these reports that the Libyans paid millions of dollars for their release?
MR. REEKER: Well, I can just echo what Ambassador Boucher did say last week - I believe it was last Tuesday - that we don't think payment of ransom for hostages is appropriate. We are against it. We always have been, and we will continue to be. Our policy is very clear. The United States does not make deals with terrorists. We will not pay ransom, we will not change policies, we will not release prisoners or make any other concessions that reward hostage-taking. Doing so only encourages additional terrorism, and therefore endangers innocent people.
QUESTION: And on the release of the hostages?
MR. REEKER: Certainly it is a blessing to see those people released after the ordeal they have been through. I think it illustrates what I said, that innocent people are endangered, lives are lost, because of terrorism. We certainly talked about that at great length, and our view is that dealing in terms of ransom or other concessions is not the way to go.
QUESTION: One more thing, on Burma. Do you have anything new to say to the Burmese officials who are still keeping Aung San Suu Kyi and her car outside of Rangoon?
MR. REEKER: Well, further to my statement from Friday afternoon, where we deplored the Government of Burma's refusal to allow Aung San Suu Kyi and other National League for Democracy leaders to travel freely in their own country, I would say that we are monitoring this extremely closely. We understand that Aung San Suu Kyi and approximately 16 of her supporters from the National League for Democracy are still locked in a standoff with Burmese authorities.
The group is attempting to travel to a township in the Rangoon division, just south of the metropolitan area of Rangoon, and police have set up a roadblock and will not allow the group to continue. So again, we deplore the attempts to restrict the movements of Aung San Suu Kyi, and the refusal of Burmese authorities to allow her to travel flagrantly violates international human rights instruments which guarantee freedom of movement. And we urge the Burmese authorities to engage in a dialogue, uphold their international obligations and have a dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi and the democratic opposition.
We are watching this very closely. Secretary Albright has been monitoring this very closely as we get developments from our Embassy in Rangoon. We have joined other members of the international community in condemning this attempt by the Burmese authorities to restrict Aung San Suu Kyi's freedom of movement. And as I indicated, our Embassy in Rangoon has been following this very closely and delivered a diplomatic note to the Burmese Government protesting its actions.
We have been in touch with the Red Cross, and others to help facilitate the delivering of food and water and medicines to the group, and we are going to continue to press for access to her. We are very concerned about the welfare of Aung San Suu Kyi, and we understand that although Burmese authorities have prevented her from receiving supplies at first, she has received food and water, but her personal physician was prevented from seeing her. She has been stopped just about a 10-minute drive from metropolitan Rangoon, and obviously we want to see her released immediately.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:40 P.M.)