THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY PETER TARNOFF, UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS The Briefing Room
3:03 P.M. EDT
MR. JOHNSON: Our second briefer for today is the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Peter Tarnoff, who is going to speaking to you on the forthcoming ICAO report on Cuba's shootdown of the two U.S. civilian aircraft.
UNDER SECRETARY TARNOFF: Good afternoon. The International Civilian Aviation Organization, ICAO, has informed us that it has concluded its investigation of the shootdown of the two unarmed U.S. civilian aircraft on February 24.
The draft report has been shared with the United States, as well as with Cuba. And the ICAO investigative team is briefing U.S. and Cuban representatives today in Montreal on the report. And we expect that the report itself will be issued very soon.
The United States went to extraordinary lengths to cooperate with the ICAO investigation. We provided all information and facilitated all contacts requested by the ICAO investigative team. And representatives from all relevant U.S. government agencies met with ICAO investigators. Extensive documents were provided to the ICAO authorities.
We are, therefore, confident that the report will demonstrate that the unarmed civilian aircraft were shot down by the Cuban military in international airspace, that there was no justification for that outrageous action, and that the Cubans did not attempt to follow standard international norms in warning the aircraft.
We understand that the report provides as well a factual statement of the events leading up to the shootdown and the shootdowns itself, and provides an analysis of those developments that we expect the report -- and we expect the report to reach two key conclusions.
Q But wait a minute, are you giving us the results of the reports or what you expect? And is this the report --
UNDER SECRETARY TARNOFF: I'm saying, if I may conclude, and I'd be glad to answer your question. What I'm doing is saying that we were briefed on the report. We have not seen the full version. And this is our impression of what will be in the report as soon as it's released.
Q Well, that would help to --
UNDER SECRETARY TARNOFF: The two conclusions that we expect to be in the report are first that the shootdowns of the U.S. civilian aircraft took place in international airspace, and that the Cuban authorities and the MIG pilots did not comply with ICAO procedures to provide warnings to the aircraft. We emphasize that the shootdown of these civilian aircraft would have been unjustified and illegal under international law in any event.
The Cuban government has claimed that it used deadly force due to the threat posed by the Brothers to the Rescue flights. That claim is bogus. While aircraft piloted by Brothers to the Rescue had allegedly overflown Cuban territory on several previous occasions and had allegedly dropped leaflets on one or more occasions, they never posed any danger to Cuba. They have repeatedly declared their peaceful protest intentions.
The Cuban government knew that the United States had taken appropriate steps to discourage unauthorized flights into their territorial airspace and to take enforcement actions against any U.S. registered pilots who did so. The record indicates that on a number of occasions prior to the shootdown, we had informed the Cuban government that the Brothers to the Rescue had declared their peaceful intentions and that we were prepared to take appropriate enforcement action if the Brothers to the Rescue made unauthorized entry into Cuban airspace.
The Cuban government knew that an investigation was underway regarding allegations that Brothers to the Rescue pilots had made an unauthorized entry into Cuban territorial airspace. And we had urged the Cuban authorities to adhere strictly to international norms and procedures in responding to any unauthorized entry into Cuban airspace.
The President on February 26 announced a package of measures to respond to the shootdown of the aircraft. At that time he stated that the shooting down of the aircraft was a flagrant violation of international law which required a strong U.S. and international response. Those measures remain in force and include, one, seeking action by a ICAO and eventually the United Nations Security Council; two, providing compensation to the families of the victims using blocked Cuban assets in the United States; three, expanding broadcasts of Radio MARTI to Cuba; four, imposing additional restrictions on the movement in the U.S. of Cuban officials and visits by Cuban officials to the U.S.; five, suspending indefinitely all charter airflights from the U.S. to Cuba; and, finally, reaching agreement with the Congress to make the Helms-Burton legislation law.
Our focus today is on the shootdown, but we must not lose sight of the tragic events still unfolding on that island. The President emphasized that the shootdown occurred in the context of desperate ongoing efforts to deny freedom to the people of Cuba. The atmosphere of repression and ideological retrenchment is the most severe seen in decades in Cuba. Activists continue to be harassed and detained and forced into exile. The Cuban regime continues efforts to destroy the Concilio Cubano -- the broad coalition of independent pro-democracy groups formed last fall.
The ICAO investigation will delineate the facts and provide an objective, nonpolitical report of the events of February 24. And we will let the factual report speak for itself. It will be an important step in the international response.
Now, the United States will seek strong and clear action at the ICAO council meeting on June 26th, which will consider the report. Secretary Pena will lead the U.S. delegation to underscore the importance that we attach to the report and appropriate ICAO action. Once the report is forwarded by the ICAO to the United Nations Security Council -- following that meeting -- we will seek action by the United Nation's Security Council based on the findings of the report.
Cuba must understand that any repetition of such reprehensible conduct will have grave repercussions.
Q What kind of action will you be taking at the U.N.?
UNDER SECRETARY TARNOFF: Well as I indicated, our first job will be to make sure that U.N. Security Council reviews the report, and our efforts will be to have a resolution or a President's statement in New York so that the conclusions of the report will be endorsed. We -- now that the report has come out, which was a very important part of our strategy of disclosure and having an international organization reach its own conclusions, we can be considering additional action. But the first priority is to make sure that the U.N. Security Council acts.
Q -- just acts on a resolution endorsing this report?
UNDER SECRETARY TARNOFF: Endorsing the report. And we will have some -- now that we have just seen the report, I don't want to anticipate exactly what that resolution will be. But we will have some clear ideas about what actions the U.N. Security Council should take.
Q When will the actual report be made public?
UNDER SECRETARY TARNOFF: It should be made public either tomorrow or Monday, and the full council of ICAO, which Secretary Pena will attend for the United States, is going to be on the 26th, too. We have every reason to expect to adopt the report.
Q Where are they going to meet?
Q Where are they going to meet?
UNDER SECRETARY TARNOFF: In Montreal, which is the headquarters of ICAO.
Q Mr. Tarnoff, as a result, in the aftermath of the shoot down, the founder of Brothers to the Rescue, Jose Basudo, had his license revoked by the FAA. Do you expect to take any action to try to reinstate that license at this time?
UNDER SECRETARY TARNOFF: That is a procedure that is being conducted by another department of the government. That inquiry is ongoing, and I don't think it would be appropriate for me to comment on that ongoing inquiry.
Q But it is under consideration?
UNDER SECRETARY TARNOFF: It's not -- I'm not saying what's under consideration or not. But it has been announced, of course, that a proceeding has been initiated with regard to that, and I think we have to let it run its course without commentary.
Q Mr. Tarnoff, you mentioned Helms-Burton as being one of the outcomes of the shootdown. Can you shed any light on the President's thinking or the administration's thinking as to how the waiver provision of Helms-Burton is going to be used?
UNDER SECRETARY TARNOFF: Actually, I like Mr. Tarullo's answer to that question. But if I could --
Q I thought you might have a better --
UNDER SECRETARY TARNOFF: No, because the President has until the first of August, as you know, to make a decision with respect to the waiver. The legislation is very clear with regard to the kinds of things that he will have to determine about international behavior towards Cuba. In light of that, we have been in touch with many governments not only about Helms-Burton, but also about policy towards Cuba. And it's just premature to even speculate on what the President's recommendation will be.
Q Mr. Tarnoff, most of the countries you have been in contact with are still opposed to the extraterritoriality of the Helms-Burton. Have you changed any minds?
UNDER SECRETARY TARNOFF: I think that we have got them to understand that -- as part of our discussions with them -- it's in their interest not only to understand our law and make an attempt to conform to it, but to work increasingly with the United States on the problem of Cuba. We have no reason to be defensive about Helms-Burton and its intention. I think that the behavior of this government over almost 40 years has been unalterable. And the shootdown is only the last example of Cuban behavior.
And I find that in the discussions that I have with foreign government representatives, although many of them do express concerns about Helms-Burton, they are also increasingly mindful of the fact that events in Cuba are preoccupying and not likely to change unless there is greater international pressure.
Q Mr. Tarnoff, can you give us an example of what you've just said -- one other foreign government, other than Israel or Uzbekistan that supported a resolution before the U.N. that in any way supports your efforts on Helms-Burton? Can you give us some example of cooperation from some other foreign government?
UNDER SECRETARY TARNOFF: I think what we're seeing, and much of this is done discreetly and much of it is done in communications between these governments and Cuba, that many governments in the hemisphere and several in Europe have undertaken to point out to the Cubans, even before the shootdown, but especially afterwards, and also after the suppression of the Concilio Cubano, which took place, as you know, on the day of the shootdown, that they are at the end of their patience with the Cuban government in many respects, and the --
Q But I don't -- (inaudible) -- the question, sir. That's always been the case on the part of most of the governments in this particular hemisphere, but I'm taking you back to your point about since you've implemented the Helms-Burton bill, where have you seen some understanding on the part of any government in the hemisphere?
UNDER SECRETARY TARNOFF: What we're looking for in the passage of the Helms-Burton Act, and the President made very clear when he signed it, is greater cooperation, greater consensus, greater pressure on Cuba for its behavior over a whole range of issues. And we have seen that. We've seen that in recent months as governments, including, to use one example, the European Union, which had started a dialogue with Cuba looking to some form of constructive engagement, but which has pulled back -- pulled back not only because of the shootdown, although it was a factor, or the suppression of Concilio Cubano, but simply because during the course of their very high level dialogue with the Cuban officials, they came away absolutely frustrated and believing that there was they came away absolutely frustrated and believing that there was no prospect of change and, therefore, more receptive to cooperate with us on a whole series of measures.
Q Mr. Tarnoff, why don't you think that if the United States opens everything to Cuba at once -- investment, let massive investment flow into Cuba, trade, air exchange, information, telephone calls, tourism, wouldn't that provide such a massive shock to the -- (inaudible) -- Cuban system that the current regime wouldn't be able to survive very long?
UNDER SECRETARY TARNOFF: No, I don't believe that at all.
Q Why not?
UNDER SECRETARY TARNOFF: Because I think that over the past 36 years Fidel Castro has demonstrated two or three things. First of all, because of the way he is able to exercise control through his security apparatus and other ways, he has very firm control of that society. He, as I indicated before, will not be tempted to engage with the West or the democratic countries around the world in meaningful reform. I think that's a hopeless, hopeless prospect. And, therefore, if money and goods and legitimacy, recognition were afforded to him, I'm absolutely convinced that he would use it for his own purposes. He would declare victory and not change one iota of his own system.
Q With that being the case, if positive benefit flowing to him won't change his actions, there's certainly been no indication that negative benefit flowing to him will change his actions. So, what do you do, simply wait until Castro is dead and simply isolate the island until we have word that Castro has passed away?
UNDER SECRETARY TARNOFF: Well, as you know, the United States, since the passage of the Cuban Democracy Act four years ago, has had in addition to our policy of containment and isolation of the government, a very active program of reaching out to Cuban individuals and organizations. It's been modeled after much of the activities that took place in the late '70s and '80s in Eastern Europe. And tens of millions of dollars, principally from private to nongovernmental sources, in the United States have gone to Cuba to support the activity of civic organizations, religious groups, the very few human rights organizations which were beginning to develop some following and some autonomy in recent years.
So, we're not indifferent to what's happening in Cuba, and we think that it's possible to have at least some effect on Cuban society but none whatsoever on the Cuban government.
Q I'm just trying to understand what U.S. policy is then. If you're saying that the carrot won't work and the stick hasn't worked, what do you figure will? Or do you simply assume that nothing will work?
UNDER SECRETARY TARNOFF: What the United States is trying to do in Cuba is to lead by example in two respects. One, to authorize substantial initiatives of support to the nongovernmental sector along the lines that I've been talking about. And I think this has had some effect. It's obviously inappropriate for us to identify it too clearly given the nature of Cuban society, but it has had an effect.
Secondly, through the kinds of political actions and legislation we have taken, to demonstrate to the rest of the world that the United States is absolutely convinced that isolation, pressure on the Castro government is indispensable. We are not responsible for the actions of other governments which fail to subscribe to identical measures, but we have seen in Cuba and in other parts of the world that sometimes the United States must stand alone to express its views and follow its own policies.
Q Can I bring us back to the plane issue for one moment? You've repeatedly referred to the Brothers to the Rescue flights over Cuba as alleged. Are you now saying that those flights did not occur?
UNDER SECRETARY TARNOFF: No, I'm not saying they did not occur but because the fact and the circumstances of those flights are part of the ongoing inquiry that is being conducted, I didn't want to be any more precise than I was in my statement.
Q -- Mr. Basudo, the Director of Brothers to the Rescue has said repeatedly to the Miami press that the United States has not turned in all the tapes that you were able to tape while the whole incident was occurring. Is it true that the United States did not turn in all the tapes to this commission --
UNDER SECRETARY TARNOFF: I'm not aware of any materials that we have, for one reason or another, not made available.
Q -- other investigations -- what other investigations now undergoing?
UNDER SECRETARY TARNOFF: Well, this is the inquiry that's being conducted with respect to the alleged violation of Cuban airspace by the Brothers to the Rescue earlier, before the shootdown.
Q Sir, relating to February 24th, does the report mention -- third plane, the plane that was spotted by the survivor, did actually enter the space, Cuban space or not? Are you aware if they touched on that? And what was the result?
UNDER SECRETARY TARNOFF: I don't have that level of detail, but my impression is the report is absolutely categorical with regard to the fact that all three planes were in international airspace.
Q Were you the one who was briefed for the United States? Did you represent the -- with the organization? I mean, you're preempting the report, and you want us to know what's in it basically. Were you the one --
UNDER SECRETARY TARNOFF: No, I was not briefed, but our officials were briefed by ICAO as, as I mentioned in my statement, the Cuban officials were also briefed on the report.
Q Could you repeat once again what's going to happen now? The United States is going to take this report to the United Nations and they're going to review it, and then after that what --
UNDER SECRETARY TARNOFF: To the Security Council, and we will have ideas at that time with regard to the resolution that we think it would important for the Security Council to pass in some form.
Q Is there any evidence that Cuba was less than forthcoming in providing information to the ICAO?
UNDER SECRETARY TARNOFF: My impression is that they were much less than forthcoming. But I'll let the report speak for itself.
Q Mr. Tarnoff, a question on another country. How close is the State Department to signing off on the sale of F-16s to Indonesia? And why is it doing it considering the -- (inaudible) --illegal occupation of East Timor?
UNDER SECRETARY TARNOFF: I'd rather not comment on issues other than the one that I'm addressing here today.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 3:22 P.M. EDT