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State Department Daily Press Briefing – August 15


Briefer: Philip T. Reeker, Deputy Spokesman

STATEMENTS 4-5 Ambassador William Montgomery to Head Office of Yugoslav Affairs In Budapest

RUSSIA 2,5-6 Update on the Situation with the Russian Submarine 4-5 Update on Edmond Pope Case / Consular Access

SIERRA LEONE / LIBERIA 3-4 Liberian President Taylor and the Conflict in Sierra Leone 4-5 UN Security Council Resolution on Creation of Special Court for Prosecution of Violations of International Law

NORTH KOREA 5 Kim Jong-Il and Comments on Missile Program

TURKEY 6 Turkish Court Decision on Religious Leader Living in US

MIDDLE EAST 7 Seeds of Peace Program


MR. REEKER: Good afternoon. Welcome back to the State Department Briefing Room. I'm sorry for the delay. Secretary Albright just finished her joint press availability in Brasilia, so we were holding for that event to finish up. As you know, the Secretary is visiting South America this week. She's in Brazil today. Later this afternoon, she departs for Buenos Aires, Argentina.

I have one announcement -- and we'll post a small statement on that -- that, at the request of Secretary Albright, US Ambassador to Croatia William Montgomery, has been named to lead a new Office of Yugoslav Affairs within the American Embassy in Budapest, Hungary. This office will consist of State Department and USAID officials who will work to support the full range of democratic forces in Serbia, and coordinate there in Budapest.

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And with that, I'm happy to turn to your questions.

QUESTION: May I follow up on that?


QUESTION: Maybe George has a follow-up, too. Does that mean he's giving up his assignment in Croatia, or is this in addition to that?

MR. REEKER: Currently, this is in addition to that. He is still the Ambassador to Croatia, but he'll be in Budapest heading up this office and the Charge d'Affaires, Mr. English, will run things in Zagreb until appointment of a new Ambassador there.

QUESTION: This is called, again, the Office of Yugoslav Affairs?

MR. REEKER: Yes, the new Office of Yugoslav Affairs, which is within the American Embassy in Budapest.

QUESTION: Have they started already?

MR. REEKER: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Montgomery's already in Budapest?

MR. REEKER: I believe he is in Budapest, certainly as of today, and they've been using Budapest as a good location to coordinate some of this work.

QUESTION: Can you give us more details on what exactly his job will be there?

MR. REEKER: Ambassador Montgomery will be dealing with issues solely relating to Yugoslavia in terms of, as we've discussed here, we think it's very important to let those committed to true democracy in Serbia know that we support their efforts, and that we're closely monitoring the situation in Serbia, both from Washington and also from Budapest, which is obviously the best location where we have facilities to do that.

We've been planning on this for a long time, and clearly Ambassador Montgomery will be working with the Serbian democratic opposition between now and the elections which are scheduled there. But that's not the limit of his mandate. He will be addressing a full range of issues related to our long-term goal of advancing democracy in Serbia. So he will remain, as I indicated to Charlie, Ambassador to Croatia but he'll be working in Budapest with this new office, and that will be the focus of his work. Our Charge d'Affaires in Zagreb will continue to act as chief of mission when Ambassador Montgomery is out of Croatia.

More on this, or shall we move on?

QUESTION: Is there any US angle to the saga about the stranded Russian submarine?

MR. REEKER: As I was coming out here, Admiral Quigley was briefing at the Pentagon, and I believe he is probably in the best position to address those issues. I can say generally -- if I can find the right spot -- we are very concerned, obviously, about the fate of the crew of that submarine, and we hope for a successful rescue effort, rescue operation, to bring those men safely to the surface. I don't have other details.

We have asked the Russians if there is anything we could do to help. At this point, we haven't received any request for assistance. We're going to continue to monitor the situation very closely. Yesterday, I think Mr. Lockhart from the White House traveling party in California indicated that National Security Advisor Berger had spoken with Russian National Security Advisor Ivanov in a previously scheduled phone call, and offered our assistance should there be anything we could do.

We don't have a lot of details on the cause of the crash, but we understand there are over 100 men on board. I think, as you have all been watching as this unfolds, the Russians have told us that rescue operations are underway. But the situation certainly remains very serious and we'll continue to watch that.

QUESTION: On Russia as well, do you have anything new on Mr. Pope's situation?

MR. REEKER: Yes. Today our Embassy doctor met with prison doctors and reviewed Russian information on Mr. Pope's health. The Russians have now agreed to conduct some additional tests that were suggested by our Embassy doctor, but we remain, of course, very concerned about Mr. Pope's health, which appears to have deteriorated sharply during his incarceration in prison in Moscow since April.

We have requested approval for another consular visit this week. We don't have a finalized date. We are still insisting on permission for the Embassy doctor to accompany the consular officials to see Mr. Pope in the Lefortovo Prison in Moscow. So we are continuing to make clear to the Russian Government at very high levels that they bear responsibility for the welfare and well-being of Mr. Pope, as well as any American citizens that are detained in Russia.

We've made clear, as I indicated yesterday, that is it our right to act to ensure that that protection is met. So any refusal, continuing refusal, may continue to call into question our ability to protect the welfare of American citizens traveling or living in Russia, and we continue to examine implications of that. But as I said, our doctor did meet with the Russian doctors today, and we are expecting another consular visit this week and are insisting again that our Embassy physician would accompany the consular officials on that visit.

QUESTION: New subject. Do you still consider Charles Taylor of Liberia to be an impediment to the peace process in Sierra Leone? And, if so, what are you doing about it?

MR. REEKER: I think we talked quite a bit, perhaps last week -- I tend to lose track of time around here -- about some of the persistent and reliable reports we've had of Liberian Government support for the Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone and the complicity of some Liberian senior leaders in the illicit diamond trade that fuels the war in Sierra Leone, which has long been of concern to the United States. We have raised those concerns repeatedly with President Taylor, and of course you'll recall that Under Secretary of State Pickering was there in Monrovia in July and met with Taylor and noted that Liberia plays a significant role in Sierra Leone but that, to date, that role has been largely negative and that there is continuing strong evidence that Liberia has been the primary patron of the Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone.

We have urged the Liberian Government to take steps to end support for the RUF and to stop the illicit diamond trade immediately. We haven't seen anything to suggest that the illegal trade in diamonds and arms in support of the RUF has ceased. We've had some language coming from Liberia and Burkina Faso where they have promised to cooperate with investigations and asked for assistance to end the illegal trade in diamonds and arms, and we certainly have welcomed those statements, but we are looking for action and results. We're looking for a concrete change in policy from both of those governments, in fact, and feel strongly, as Under Secretary Pickering stated, that they need to make a genuine commitment to regional peace and then act accordingly. And we're going to obviously know when they have done so.

QUESTION: You say they haven't, so what sticks -- if that's the word -- are you going to use or are prepared to use? And, also, the Liberian press is saying that there's been a plot by the US to assassinate him. MR. REEKER: On the second point, I've seen some now US press reports on those Liberian press reports, and all I can do is echo what our Ambassador in Monrovia said that that's ridiculous.

In terms of looking at this, and if our expectations are not met, Under Secretary Pickering very publicly warned President Taylor that the US would impose sanctions on the Government of Liberia if Liberia failed to cease the activities that are fueling conflict in Sierra Leone. So we're watching very carefully to see what kind of a response we have from there. As I said, there were some indications of statements from both the Liberian Government and the Government of Burkina Faso that they intended to try to be more responsible in this regard, but we haven't seen the actions and we're going to continue to watch for that and continue to study what the next steps might be in terms of possible sanctions.

QUESTION: Sierra Leone. Yesterday, the UN Security Council passed a US-led resolution on setting up a war crimes tribunal and, today, Sierra Leone says that Foday Sankoh is definitely going to be one of the first guys in front of that. Any comments on that?

MR. REEKER: Yes. I think we discussed this -- or representatives of the UN discussed it. We had talked about the resolution that we had submitted to the Security Council, and the UN Security Council adopted that resolution by unanimous consensus yesterday, the 14th. It's Resolution Number 1315, which requests the Secretary General of the United Nations to negotiate an agreement with the Government of Sierra Leone to create this independent special court.

As I said, that was a resolution that we had introduced in order to prosecute those persons most responsible for the serious violations of international humanitarian law and relevant Sierra Leonean criminal law committed within the territory of Sierra Leone. So it's a special court that's designed to be independent and very sustainable and free from any political or regional political pressures -- kind of a unique court that will function outside of the UN system but financed by voluntary contributions from UN members and working with relevant aspects of Sierra Leonean criminal law as well as international humanitarian law.

QUESTION: Any comments on Sankoh, though?

MR. REEKER: I think obviously Foday Sankoh would be one of the prime persons to be brought before that court. But right now, the resolution has been passed and the Secretary General has, I believe, 30 days to review this and come up with the appropriate details to move this forward.

QUESTION: Why did the US decide that it wanted to encourage this special court rather than a war crimes tribunal?

MR. REEKER: Well, I think as we've talked about when we introduced the resolution, first and foremost, we introduced that in order to be able to prosecute those persons responsible for the violations of international law, as well as Sierra Leonean criminal law, and to create something that would be a court independent and sustainable, free from any political pressure either in Sierra Leone or in the region.

And that's why we designed a unique court that is functioning outside of the UN and is focused obviously on Sierra Leone but operating under some sort of international umbrella which will allow it to prosecute crimes, as I indicated, both international in nature and those which violated Sierra Leonean criminal law. And so we anticipate that there will be international participation as well as Sierra Leonean participation in it. I think we've discussed perhaps before some of the other models that are different from this, like the Cambodian court. This court, contrary to that, will not be a domestic court. It invites international participation, but it's going to be an autonomous court that's co-established with the UN and the Government of Sierra Leone, and that's now what the Secretary General is charged in negotiating.

QUESTION: In terms of the way that the court is run, how is it different from a war crimes tribunal?

MR. REEKER: Well, as I understand it, the resolution doesn't limit jurisdiction of the court, but those are the things that will have to be worked out as we proceed towards implementation. It's very much our view that the court's jurisdiction should not be limited to just post-Lome violations; it should focus on ensuring that individuals who violated the Lome agreements may be made to answer for the totality of their conduct, of their crimes in violating international laws and, as I indicated, the relevant Sierra Leonean laws.

Obviously a number of procedural things need to be worked out. That's what the Secretary General will be discussing with the Sierra Leoneans as we move ahead in this. And as I said, I believe the Secretary General has 30 days before we move on to the next step.

QUESTION: Why couldn't a war crimes tribunal have taken up this case?

MR. REEKER: I think this was determined to be an appropriate way to move forward. As we've certainly discussed before, we wanted to see justice brought. That's one of our overriding goals for Sierra Leone, and this was seen as a way to create a unique court that would be able to function with aspects of international participation, as well as key aspects of Sierra Leonean participation.

And so we worked very hard, along with others in the UN Security Council, to draft this resolution. There were discussions on it at the UN. And as we noted, the Security Council passed this unanimously and will now move forward for the next steps in creating this and getting down to work.

QUESTION: I just wanted to clarify, on the Russian sub, has there been any contact at all between the United States and Russia today?

MR. REEKER: I can't tell you anything further about today, specifically. As I indicated, I think the Pentagon is the place to turn for any of the latest details on that. There were discussions through various channels. As I indicated yesterday, Sandy Berger spoke with his Russian counterpart, offering US assistance. I believe the Russians indicated their gratitude, but had not requested any assistance, up until -- certainly to this point.

So we'll continue to be there to be available if we can, provide assistance, and monitor it as closely as we can.

QUESTION: And if I can ask a question on North Korea, there are reports that the President of North Korea now says he was just kidding when he had talked to Putin about stopping their missile program. So how do you assess that statement, and does that have any impact on what the US is trying to do?

MR. REEKER: We discussed this at some length yesterday. We continue to see various and contradictory reports in the press of what Kim Jong-il told the South Korean media officials when he met with them last Saturday. I think, if nothing else, the reports of that interview demonstrate the uncertainty surrounding the proposal regarding missiles that Kim was said to have made during the visit of President Putin, Russian President Putin, in Pyongyang.

I'll reiterate, as we've done before, that when Secretary Albright met with North Korean Foreign Minister Paek in Bangkok last month, she was not able to glean any particular information about what proposal may or may not have been made. The foreign minister didn't provide any clarification then.

I do think that we don't think overall it is particularly productive to try to conduct our dialogue with North Korea through an analysis of press commentary, and the best way to deal with this issue is in direct discussions. As you know, we've had missile talks with the North Koreans previously. We expect to have others, and in upcoming meetings with US and North Korean officials it will give us an opportunity to explore more fully any proposals that the North Koreans may have made or may wish to make in a more serious manner than trying to go back and forth between contradictory press reports.

QUESTION: New subject.

MR. REEKER: Anything else on Korea? Yes?

QUESTION: Do you have anything about the latest developments in Turkey, such as (inaudible) between the President and the Prime Minister, and about the religious leader -- (inaudible)?

MR. REEKER: Those sound like entirely domestic -- Turkish domestic issues, which we would obviously leave for the Turkish.

QUESTION: But do you have any concern about the democratic process in Turkey? It's related to that.

MR. REEKER: I don't have anything current on that. I'm not aware of the situations you're describing. They sound like Turkish domestic issues, and we leave that for the Turkish Government to sort out.

QUESTION: But there is a Turkish court decision about the religious leader who lives in the United States, when he (inaudible) Turkey is going to --

MR. REEKER: I'm not aware of the decision, and we can certainly check into it. If you're interested in our views on religion in Turkey, or human rights issues, I can just refer you to our annual human rights report, but I don't have anything for you on those issues. I'm just not aware of them.

QUESTION: Can you tell us a little more about this Seeds of Peace program that's going to take place after the briefing?

MR. REEKER: It's not a Department of State program. I think the Special Middle East Coordinator Dennis Ross will be speaking at that program, and so I'll let you get there in plenty of time. We had some general information on that, which we can provide you afterwards, but I think the organizers of the event will be able to give you all the details on that.

Other issues?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. REEKER: That was easy. Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:10 P.M.)

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