THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (New York, New York) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release June 8, 1998
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY AND AMBASSADOR JAMES DOBBINS, SENIOR DIRECTOR, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL FOR INTER-AMERICAN AFFAIRS Waldorf Astoria New York, New York
6:05 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: This is your briefing. We are passing out to you right now a joint communique that the two Presidents authorized be issued on their behalf, because they continue to meet at this moment. President Zedillo, President Clinton began their bilateral meeting at about 5:00 p.m. and concluded the formal part of their dialogue at 5:40 p.m. And then they both agreed they wanted to spend some time together, and when Ambassador Dobbins and I left, they were still at it.
They met in the Presidential Suite here at the Waldorf Astoria for what I would describe as an excellent meeting, the summary of which you're being given in the joint communique. I think there are a few points in that that we would like to highlight, and I've asked Ambassador Jim Dobbins, who is our NSC head for Inter-American Affairs, who participated in the bilateral to give you a briefing.
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I think the joint statement covers most of it. They began with a brief discussion of the U.N. Special Session, noted with pleasure the number of heads of state that have attended, discussed a bit about the anticipated results of the session.
There was discussion of U.S.-Mexican narcotics trafficking. The President congratulated President Zedillo for the recent arrest of two major kingpins -- the Amezcua brothers. A third one of these brothers had been arrested several months ago. President Zedillo talked a bit about several other operations which are underway.
They discussed the Casablanca issue and I think the terms of that discussion are covered in the statement that you've got. It was a discussion focused on looking forward, on improving mechanisms for cooperation, as is indicated there. President Zedillo made clear that he thought that the focus for the two Presidents should be in dealing in issues of principle, looking forward and finding ways of improving cooperation, and endorsing the efforts of the two Attorneys General to improve mechanisms and processes for collaboration and communication on law enforcement operations and other areas of counternarcotics cooperation.
They also discussed the recent forest fires in Mexico. Again, this is covered in the communique. The President noted that these kinds of events -- he had similar discussions with President Cardoso yesterday evening at Camp David. Brazil, too, has had a very serious set of forest fires this year, both linked to climate change, to El Nino, to unanticipated long, dry, hot spells. This was a natural lead-in to the issue of climate change.
President Clinton made his usual eloquent case for cooperation and participation by developing countries in a process of reducing emissions, his absolute confidence that this would not inhibit growth, and suggests that the officials on both sides in whom the President's had confidence should sit down, try to work together on plans which would allow developing countries, including, in particular, Mexico, to participate in the process of reducing emissions and said that he would never propose something that in his judgment would reduce or inhibit Mexico's development and growth. And President Zedillo said he was more than ready to enter into those discussions.
Q This communique reports to continuing all drug trafficking and conforming to the laws of the land and respect each other's sovereignty. So the United States won't do it again?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: The communique is intended to be a forward looking document on ways to improve our cooperation.
Q Won't do it again --
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I wouldn't characterize it beyond what it says.
Q That's what it says.
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: That's what it says.
Q Did President Zedillo say he was going to seek extradition of those agents involved in Casablanca?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: There was no discussion of extradition or prosecution. President Zedillo did make clear that under Mexican law, there was a requirement that they inquire as to whether Mexican law had been violated. He made clear that they had come to no conclusions in this regard and he also indicated that he thought that this was not an issue for the two Presidents to deal with; the two Presidents needed to deal at the level of principle and means of improving our cooperation in the future.
Q Did he express any dismay about --
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I don't think I want to characterize it beyond what's in the communique and what I've said. President Zedillo has spoken on the record on several occasions; he said nothing new.
Q Well, in principle then, did the U.S. make any commitment or any guarantee? Can the U.S. government guarantee that in any further operation of this nature there will be full communications and notification to the Mexican authorities? Is there a guarantee that was --
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I think the joint statement is pretty clear, that the intention is that the two Attorneys General should work out processes to improve communication and collaboration on law enforcement operations in the future. And that's a work in progress, it's a work just begun.
Q But there was no promise that this --
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: There was no discussion beyond what's reflected in the joint statement in that regard.
Q Ambassador, who was at the meeting from each side?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: Let's see, on the U.S. side it was the President; the Secretary of State; Secretary of the Treasury; Barry McCaffrey; Mack McLarty; Bill Richardson; Sandy Berger; Jeff Davidow, Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs; Mike and myself.
On the Mexican side, Rosario Green, the Foreign Minister; Jose Gurria, the Finance Minister; Mr. Madrazo, the Attorney General; and Juan Rabieato (phonetic) the Deputy Foreign Minister. I think Mr. Burros (phonetic), who's an advisor to the President in Los Pinos -- I think that's it.
Q This statement says that they're striving for improved cooperation and mutual trust with full respect for the sovereignty of both nations. Does President Clinton think that the sovereignty of Mexico was respected in Casablanca?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: The issue wasn't addressed in those terms.
Q What was the President's reaction overall to the speech that President Zedillo gave at the U.N.?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: He congratulated him for -- I can't remember whether he specified the speech or for the conference as a whole. He did listen to the speech and he thought it went well. I don't recall he got into more detail on the specifics of it. But he clearly was happy with it.
Q Ambassador Dobbins, the Attorney General said that given the fact that you have to conduct these operations and protect lives of agents, she acted like there is no guarantee in the future. And improving communications doesn't mean it won't happen again, correct?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I really don't want to be drawn in and I'm sure the Attorney General doesn't want to be drawn in and wasn't drawn beyond what's in the joint statement.
Q She made it pretty clear that weighing agents' lives versus communication, she was going to err on the side of agents' lives.
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I heard exactly what the Attorney General said, and you're free to quote her, but that's not what she said.
Q Some of the points that are being discussed in the conference is spending about a billion dollars a year on eradication of opium, cocaine, marijuana, et cetera. Did President Zedillo and President Clinton talk about whether the United States is going to contribute to these efforts in terms of financial assistance to eradicate this so-called problem?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: They didn't discuss eradication, per se. The United States of, course, is the major contributor to eradication around the world already. I think some of the debate is how much of it should be channeled in addition to what we're already doing through the U.N. My impression from what Barry McCaffrey said earlier today to another press briefing was that we haven't made a decision on that, we haven't yet seen the U.N. numbers, and when we do we'll make some decision about how much we're going to contribute. But the United States already is the largest contributor to eradication.
Q On the forest fires issue, did the President offer any further assistance? And also, aren't some Mexican Cabinet officers meeting with U.S. officials this week in Washington?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I'm not sure of the timing. I know both Bruce Babbitt who -- no, I'm sorry, the Secretary of Agriculture Glickman and Brian Atwood, the head of AID, have been meeting with their Mexican counterparts. They went to Mexico, and I just don't know what their schedule is and whether there's a meeting.
Now, there's a meeting of what's called the Binational Commission on Thursday, which brings together virtually the entire Mexican and U.S. Cabinets. It's an annual meeting and I'm sure that those Cabinet participants will participate, along with the Attorney General, with Barry McCaffrey, with Madeleine Albright.
Q There was nothing said in this meeting about further assistance either of personnel or financial --
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: No, nothing specific.
Q I wonder if the President of Mexico or President Clinton mentioned anything about the possibility to persecute American agents that were involved in Casablanca, the covert operation.
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: As I said, President Zedillo made clear that his Attorney General had an obligation to determine whether there had been any violations of Mexican law. That process wasn't completed. They weren't presuming that -- they had come to no conclusion. There was no discussion of what would happen thereafter. President Zedillo made clear that wasn't an issue for the two Presidents to discuss. The two Presidents should discuss the principles of their cooperation and encourage their Attorneys General and other officials to improve processes for coordination and collaboration and communication.
Q Did President Zedillo ask for any further information on this Casablanca to be able to determine whether any laws were violated?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: No, but I don't know that he needed to. Our officials were down in Mexico City late last week for the first exchange, where we provided information on the case, and we agreed that we would continue to meet with the Mexicans. So I assume he didn't ask because he felt that they were getting full information from us.
Q If it's a question of Mexico's sovereignty being violated, why is there any question of U.S. agents being extradited as individuals instead of --
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I don't know that there is a question of U.S. agents being extradited.
Q Well, there clearly in -- political circles.
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I mean, I can't speak for the Mexican President.
Q The Foreign Minister -- extradition publicly.
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: It didn't come up in the meeting. I mean, what the issue was -- there's no point in my repeating it. He said they needed to review whether there had been a violation of Mexican law. They haven't come to any conclusions, and there was no discussion beyond that.
Q As a generic matter then can you rule out extraditing U.S. citizens or law enforcement --
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: That's a hypothetical question, which is well in advance of where we are at the moment.
Q Was Casablanca the main -- would you say that the Casablanca operation was the major subject discussed by the President?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I would think they spent as much time on climate change as Casablanca. They probably -- those two occupied the biggest chunks of what was about a 40-minute meeting. But there were several other things and then they've gone on to talk privately for 25 minutes and I don't know what was in the 25 minutes.
Q Can you characterize the tone of Zedillo's comments on the Casablanca issue?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: The meeting was a very positive meeting. These are good friends, they know each other well. There was no negative tone in the meeting. The issue is clearly one that is a serious one for the Mexicans, but there was nothing in the tone of the meeting which suggested anything other than that the United States and Mexico were going to continue to move forward in intensifying an already uniquely collaborative relationship.
Q Would you try to dispel the impression that Mexico was really very angry at the U.S. over this episode?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I'm trying to characterize a meeting between the two Presidents. I'm not trying to characterize a relationship between two countries. And when you talk about Mexico, are you talking about the press, are you talking about the Cabinet, are you talking about the Congress, Mexican Congress?
Q -- had an adverse effect on U.S.-Mexican relations.
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: All I can tell you is that this was a positive, forward-looking meeting, the results of which are in the joint statement.
MR. MCCURRY: Any last thing for Jim? Other subjects?
Q Ms. Reno said today that by way of saying that Mexican officials weren't the only ones -- saying there are officials in this country left out as well. Can you say who didn't know?
MR. MCCURRY: Other Cabinet officials have addressed that, including the Secretary of State. But the point the Attorney General made today is that in sensitive law enforcement operations that involve undercover work, for the protection of courageous and heroic law enforcement officials, information is very closely held. And she made the point of saying it's very closely held within our government. There were a number of senior ranking officials, and I can't quantify it precisely, but many high ranking officials in the U.S. government who are unaware of Operation Casablanca until it is formally announced by our government.
Thank you. Other subjects at all?
Q Abacha's death?
MR. MCCURRY: Have we put out any formal statement? I'm asking you. (Laughter.) I haven't had a chance to -- let me say the United States government acknowledges the death of General Sani Abacha. The United States government is interested in what type of opportunities exist for transition to civilian rule in Nigeria. A long-sought goal of U.S. policy has been to restore to the people of Nigeria a freely-elected democratic government that is consistent with the great aspirations of the Nigerian people and reflective of the great potential Nigeria has in the world community.
Our hope, among others, would be at this moment of transition that an accountable civilian government that is able to lead the Nigerian people will emerge from what has been a very horrific episode in which basic fundamental rights have been suspended, in which rule of law has not applied, in which the results of elections have been set aside in the name of authoritarianism.
Q Is the United States still open to the idea of any military ruler seeking election as a civilian?
MR. MCCURRY: The United States government is interested in seeing a freely and democratically elected civilian government that can help make the orderly transition away from authoritarianism and back to democracy that the people of Nigeria deserve. I'm not going to speculate on who that might involve, and I don't think anyone is in a position to speculate at this point.
Q Regardless of whether or not that candidate is out of the Nigerian military?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there have been freely and democratically elected figures throughout Africa that formerly were involved in the military. I'm not going to speculate about what might emerge at this moment in the history of Nigeria. Our interest is in a government that will reflect what we believe is the desire and will of the people of Nigeria to see themselves freely governed by a democratically elected president who wants to restore prosperity and opportunity for the people of Nigeria -- opportunity and prosperity that they once enjoyed.
Q Did the President talk to the Secretary of State today about Kosovo and what's the message that we're going to have on Friday?
MR. MCCURRY: The President did receive a briefing today from his National Security Advisor, since they happened to be here, and both Mr. Berger and Secretary Albright participated from here in New York in a meeting of the President's advisors today.
I think when you recall when the Contact Group met in early May, we agreed to impose an assets freeze and investment ban unless President Milosevic agreed to talks and to take other measures to avoid violence in Kosovo, directed to the Kosovo Albanians. President Milosevic did agree to those talks, but in the last two weeks we have seen instances of indiscriminate violence that has undermined the basic value and premise of the talks that President Milosevic engaged in with the leadership with the ethnic Kosovo Albanians.
Therefore, the United States is going to move forward to implement the assets ban and the investment ban that we suggested that we would pursue. We expect the Former Republic of Yugoslavia to live up to its pledge this past weekend to allow access by international observers and humanitarian organizations in Kosovo. We call on both sides to resume their dialogue, to urge all parties to avoid actions that would undermine peaceful negotiations.
We're also concerned about the refugee flows that have occurred as a result of this violence. There are a substantial number of Kosovo Albanians that have fled their homes a result of these attacks, and we and others in the international community are now mobilizing resources that will deal with what is clearly a very pressing need for the people who are now in refugee status.
We're also simultaneously working with our allies, working closely with our allies, other partners in the international community as well -- both through NATO, through the United Nations, and through the Contact Group that has been established to work together on problems in the Balkans. We're looking for measures that will help end the violence and promote a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the Kosovo Albanians and the Serbian populations in Kosovo. We're conducting accelerated contingency planning at NATO, and there have been a variety of steps there authorized, as some of you may know, as a result of the recent meeting at the ministerial level of the North Atlantic Council. The Pentagon and others have briefed on some of the things that are underway in the region and in and around Kosovo that involved deployment of NATO resources.
I'll spare you some of that. I will say that we and our partners have a variety of options available to us, and no decisions have been made on that score, but again, nothing should be ruled out either.
Q Are you going to be backing a U.N. resolution that will allow for the use of force?
MR. MCCURRY: We are going to be in very close contact with our allies, particularly with those that we have cooperated with closely on in matters related to the Balkans. And I expect that as this week unfolds there will be further discussions underway about how best to press the arguments that we want to make. I would hesitate to say at this point that we concluded that a single resolution or a single course of action suggests itself, but we are consulting with other governments even as we speak.
Q Is there any concern -- did the President hear about the reports that the U.S. used seran gas in Laos against American --
MR. MCCURRY: He did hear about those reports. The President expressed interest in them, although they clearly involve allegations about behavior for administrations that are long gone. The President's understanding is that the Pentagon is reviewing the historical record, and my understanding is that the Pentagon was briefed extensively on that today. Other than to say the President was interested in and aware of the reports and assured that other parts of our government were looking into it. We're not in a position to take further action on it here today.
Q On Korea -- what are you planning to highlight tomorrow? Will the President -- has there been any consideration of the South Korean request that the U.S. consider lifting sanctions?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there has not been a request by the Republic of Korea to lift sanctions on North Korea. There have been some suggestions that President Kim Dae Jung has an interest in raising that issue and exploring it with President Clinton during their state visit tomorrow. We look forward to that opportunity because the future of the Korean Peninsula is of keen interest to the people of the United States of America, in having fought for peace there and having followed very closely the efforts to bring about reconciliation between North and South.
We have other interests that we certainly will be exploring with the Republic of Korea as well -- our work together to contain the nuclear program of the North, the DPRK; our common efforts with respect to economic issues; what we do together on a range of regional security issues. There's an extensive bilateral agenda that we'll explore as well. But clearly, because we cooperate so closely with our close friend and ally, the Republic of Korea, we will be very interested in what this new government and this new President suggest with respect to the future of diplomatic efforts to bring about reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula.
Q Mike, on that point, in the view of the U.S. government, has North Korea's conduct been such that it would warrant the lifting of sanctions at this time?
MR. MCCURRY: North Korea's conduct has been consistent with the October 1994 agreed framework, which is right now the most important document with respect to the containment of a program that once posed such great danger to the peoples on both sides the divide.
At the same time, we still consider this a regime that has not fully committed itself to a peaceful resolution of the disagreements that exist on the Korean Peninsula. That is why we have encouraged the government in the North to pursue in the four-party talks framework a discussion of the issues that we hope could bring about exactly that kind of peaceful reconciliation. We need to see a lot more before we think of setting aside those implements and tools available to help bring about the type of peaceful reconciliation we seek, but clearly among those at those point, dialogue is chief and foremost.
Q Sorry to be thick about this, but I don't see the statement, the joint communique really speaking for itself. I just would like to ask, if you had the same situation, weighing the risks that you had this time for the agents involved, in the future, with this improved communications, would you communicate the information about this raid -- the exact same situation?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that that discussion of a hypothetical was not the way the two Presidents spent their energies in their discussion today. They reviewed how they're going to go about creating a dialogue, starting with the work their two chief law enforcement officers, their Attorneys General do together to devise a procedure that will allow the mutual interests that both countries have in avoided undesirable effects to take place -- exactly as the communique suggests.
There's no way to predict the future and neither is there any particular reason to dwell unnecessarily on the past. I think the tone and content of this meeting was one that suggested the two Presidents would best spend their time reviewing the principles that ought to underpin the close cooperation Mexico and the United States have when it comes to fighting drugs. And that's -- reaffirmation of those important principles is what the two Presidents concentrated their time on.
That's a wrap for today. There's nothing more, I think, on the evening event tonight. I don't anticipate any particular fireworks and we're out of here at 8:30 p.m.
Q Got any guidance on whether there's any line item veto in store on --
MR. MCCURRY: I do not, Mark. I haven't heard any discussion of that. Barry, anything? Okay.
That's it. I didn't even have anything here you didn't ask about -- on the foreign policy side.
END 6:32 P.M. EDT