THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (New York, New York) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release September 21, 1999
PRESS BRIEFING BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL U.S. Mission New York, New York
4:06 P.M. EDT
MR. LEAVY: All right, folks. We'll have a BACKGROUND briefing. Please identify the briefer as a senior administration official. Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you, David. I'm just going to give you a little readout of most of the meetings the President had today. There were a couple of pull-asides to be had on the margins of the lunch, which I don't have any details on, but I suspect you probably don't care that much about them in any event.
The President began the day, as you know, in a meeting with the Secretary General. It was a kind of a tour de raison, which a number of issues were touched on very briefly. The Secretary General did most of the talking. The President was interested in getting the Secretary General's perspective on a broad number of issues that are now before the United Nations.
They began with a brief discussion on the U.N. budget and the U.S. arrears. The President, again, indicated that this was a high priority for him and that he was very much going to work hard to try to see if we could resolve this problem this year.
There was a specific discussion of some of the challenges involved in Kosovo funding. As you know, the significant part of the civilian operation in Kosovo is a U.N. operation and, therefore, there are additional costs associated with that, as well as some of the costs associated with the new Kosovo Corps, which was agreed to yesterday, the Civilian Protection Corps that is going to be stood up in Kosovo to provide various forms of civilian support as part of the demilitarization of the KLA.
The Secretary General touched on the situation in East Timor. His judgment was, so far, so good, expressed appreciation to the President for his direct involvement in helping to bring about the peacekeeping mission there and the Secretary General expressed concern about the situation in West Timor, which is a concern that we share in terms of the situation of a displaced person in West Timor. And I'll just say -- didn't go up to the meeting, but they were very much hopeful that the government of Indonesia allows the International Mission, which is now in Indonesia, access to the camps and the people in West Timor. Assistant Secretary Julia Taft is part of that mission.
The Secretary General then touched on Cyprus, noted that there was some discussion about trying to reenergize the effort to try to bring about a settlement there. For those of you who follow this, the U.N. has a very active role in helping to try to bring about peace talks on Cyprus. And the Secretary General indicated that he wanted to continue to work with the United States, understood the special role of the United States in helping to try to bring that about, and said that they would be looking to the President to get some guidance on the timing of how we wanted to proceed.
The Secretary General then touched on Iraq. He said that he hoped for a consensus to move forward, and hoped that this was something that would come out of the Security Council. No discussion of the specifics or the substance, there, of any of the particular resolutions.
The Secretary General then turned to a discussion of some of the crisis spots in Africa, briefly touching on the Congo, Liberia and Sierra Leone -- particularly noting the hopes that the peace agreement in the Congo could lead to a more stable situation there, as well as progress on Sierra Leone.
He then turned to a discussion on Nigeria. The President asked the Secretary General for his assessment of how things were going with Habasanjo. The Secretary General indicated that his judgment was that he was doing very well, and it was a very hopeful sign for both Nigeria and the region.
They then briefly talked about Haiti. The Secretary General indicated that he understood the transformation of the U.S. role that was going on, but hoped that we would continue to maintain political and economic support for Haiti.
They then touched on the conflict in Ethiopia and Eritrea. The Secretary General said that he was grateful to Tony Lake for his efforts there and hoped that the government of Ethiopia would accept the framework that had been developed by the OAU.
And, finally, the Secretary General noted that he had spoken with President Pastrana and said that President Pastrana was looking forward to his meeting with the President later today.
Following the meetings at the U.N. and the speech, the President came back over to the mission. He first met with the Prime Minister of Slovakia. The Prime Minister indicated that he was grateful for the strong support that the United States had provided for the democratic movement in Slovakia, talked a little bit about how he made a visit to the United States in '97 and the kind of support he got both from meeting with people in the administration and some of the NGOs.
It was particularly helpful to him at the time that they were trying to bring about this change in Slovakia, to bring Slovakia into the mainstream of the democratic changes that are taking place in Central and Eastern Europe. He indicated that they had three policy objectives that they were focusing on. One was their eventual accession to NATO; second, membership in the EU; and finally, membership in the OECD. He noted that the OECD seemed to be the most accessible in the near term, but that they placed quite a lot of importance on both of the two.
The Prime Minister had a little map that he brought out and showed the President, showing how Slovakia was conveniently neighbored by three of the new NATO states and said that he thought it would fill in nicely if Slovakia could be part of that. And that it was a natural community of interest that Slovakia was part of to join the community of states in Central and Eastern Europe.
He touched briefly on developments on domestic policy in Slovakia, particularly the recent passage of a law on national minority languages, and talked about their strategy on economic policy with particular focus on privatization.
The President reiterated that NATO's store remains open, that the membership action plan, developed at the NATO Summit this past spring gave a concrete path for membership for countries like Slovakia, and NATO's commitment to review the question of additional enlargement by 2001. The President noted that we were going to be providing $1 million in assistance to help Slovakia's military prepare for membership.
They discussed the conflict in Bosnia and Kosovo. In particular, in Kosovo, the Prime Minister recalled the strong support that they had given to the Allied effort there, and the President expressed great appreciation for the very unequivocal stand that they took in that conflict. And they both welcomed the fact that the First Lady would be visiting Slovakia in the first week of October.
The other meeting that I have notes for you on is the meeting that just recently concluded with President Pastrana of Colombia. Senor Pastrana began by thanking the President for the recent visit to Colombia of Under Secretary Pickering, and the work that the administration had been doing with the government of Colombia to try to help it develop a strategy to move forward.
As most of you know, the Colombian government has now come out with what they call "plan Colombia," and the President sketched out for the President in some detail the elements of that, which include their counter-narcotics strategy, their strategy for dealing with the economic problems the country is now facing, their strategy for strengthening the military while protecting human rights, the need to support the victims of violence and the people who have been displaced by violence, the need for support for alternative development in lieu of narcotics, and the need to strengthen the democratic institutions of Colombia, particularly the judicial system.
They talked about -- he talked about the fact that, from his perspective, what was important was that this was Colombia's plan, developed in consultation with the United States and others, but this was something that they were committed to, that they had devised for themselves. President Pastrana discussed some of his contacts and his government's contacts with the Congress, in the hope that they would be able to get support from the President. In answer to your first question, no, they did not discuss money. There were no specific dollar figures on assistance discussed, although President Pastrana indicated that he thought that the majority of assistance should come -- that the majority of the financial commitments should come from Colombia and the international financial institutions.
The President agreed with President Pastrana that there was a lot of interest in the United States in Colombia, and a lot of desire to support the Colombian government in its efforts, and that he thought that the plan was a clear indication both that the level of commitment of Colombia to try and tackle this multi-dimensional set of problems that they have, and wanted to work with President Pastrana towards that end.
There was a discussion -- President Pastrana was asked about peace process. He indicated very strongly that while he believed this was an important part of their strategy, that they understood the need to both move forward on the peace process and to move effectively, on the military front, against the military challenges that they're facing.
I think that that pretty much covers the topics. They had a brief discussion on human rights. President Pastrana recalled the fact that he had replaced two generals in the army because of human rights concerns. He said that was quite important, he wanted to send a strong signal of the commitment of his government to human rights -- and also talked a little bit about the reform of the military penal code, and the attempt to get most of the questions of human rights and human rights violations of the military into the civil justice system, so that human rights could be better protected.
And I think that's about it.
Q Is there a reason why the President specifically didn't support an aid program for Colombia, or didn't talk about specific numbers?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that the negative of your question, I would disagree with. He didn't "not support" it. President Pastrana did not ask for a specific level of commitment. What they talked about was the plan -- what are the elements of the plan, what are the kinds of things that they need to do.
What we have said is that what we want to do is try to understand the strategy to try to reach an agreement on the elements of the strategy, rather than artificially try to place a dollar amount on it. But I think the President and -- as Congress will want to look very carefully at what we can do to be helpful to Colombia, he certainly didn't rule anything out. And again, President Pastrana did not ask or specifically request a particular level of support, but indicated more generally that as part of the overall strategy, there would be the Colombian commitment, the commitment of the international financial institutions -- he specifically mentioned hope that the EU would make a contribution -- and that the United States would be part of that.
Q President Pastrana has not made a secret of the fact that he wants a substantial amount of money. I'm sure the President is aware of this. Was there any indication from the American side that there might be an increase in the present level of funding?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As I said, the focus of today's discussion was on the strategy, and a desire to sort of reach a common understanding of the approach. I think that once we get through this phase of the discussion, that then we can look at the resource question.
But what is important is to try to understand what we're trying to achieve, what the Colombians are trying to achieve, what's the most effective way to do at it, and how do we put resources against that. So I think that there's certainly an openness to that discussion, but at least in the discussion between the two Presidents today, there was no specific level of resources mentioned.
Q Can you expand at all on what -- Pastrana said he had good meetings with Congress, good indications of Congress. Why did he say that? Can you give us any more detail about those meetings?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can't give you any detail about the meeting, because I can only tell you what he said about his discussions, which is, he felt that -- President Pastrana felt that there was a strong core of bipartisan support for Colombia, and that his goal was to develop the bipartisan support, that he understood that this is an issue that has a lot of interest in Congress, and that what he hoped to do by his meetings -- and the meetings that senior members of his government are having -- is to try to forge, essentially, a common consensus between the government of Colombia, our executive branch, and the Congress for a common strategy. And he thought that the discussions that he'd had -- the ability to come here with a concrete plan, to talk about an integrated strategy -- was something that he felt had been well-received in the discussions with Congress, and he hoped would be a basis for developing a common strategy forward.
Q In the President's speech today, was it somehow designed to try and convince the U.N. to maybe put the brakes on a little bit on too many, sort of, international engagements? The U.N. is now talking about three more peacekeeping operations in Africa. Is there a little concern that everybody expects that after Kosovo and East Timor, that we're going to take on all these new obligations?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I wouldn't say that it was asking to put the brakes on. I think what the President's speech showed is that there are a variety of different ways in which we can address these questions. In some cases, it can be a coalition of the willing that's taking on the challenge, as was the case during the military phase of Kosovo -- and is the case now in East Timor, where you have a multinational force, which is not a U.N.-funded force, but is operating under a U.N. authorization.
In some cases, it may be appropriate to have a complete U.N. peacekeeping operation. In some cases, you may want to have a mixed effort, as we have in the civilian part of Kosovo, where parts of the operation are being done under U.N. authority, but you also have the OSCE and the EU playing a role there.
And I think that what the President was saying is that we understand that we're facing a new category of challenges now. The trick is to develop the diverse institutional tools that allow us to deal with each in its most appropriate way.
Q When the President says that he strongly supports paying for the arrears, does he mean $1 billion? Does he mean $1.6 billion, or just the $350 million to keep the U.S. vote in the General Assembly?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, as you know, we're working very closely with Congress to try to come up with a solution to this problem. But there is legislation that has been developed in the Senate which we've indicated support for. We want to find a way to work with the Congress to meet our obligations there, and this is sort of an ongoing discussion, it's an ongoing issue with the U.N., as well as in the Congress. But it's certainly more than just the amount to keep us current to have our vote.
Q Have you asked Terry McAuliffe for help?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: I'll take that one. (Laughter.)
Q I missed the Kofi Annan part of the briefing. Could you just give me one or two highlights of that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We'll have a transcript in a minute. Thank you.
END 4:30 P.M. EDT