U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 8, 1999
Briefer: JAMES B. FOLEY
|7-8||Update of Situation / Russian Claims of Usama bin Laden Role in Northern Caucasus / Reports of Gas Being Used Against Civilians|
|8, 9, 10||Terrorism|
|9||US Threshold with Russia|
|11||Plight of Civilians in Grozny|
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 8, 1999, 1:20 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
QUESTION: Will you comment on the deteriorating situation in Chechnya?
MR. FOLEY: Well, you don't have a more specific question, but I can give you, at least, in response a status of what's going and our view of what's going on. Certainly, we remain deeply disturbed by the implications of the leaflets that were dropped over Grozny on Monday and the threat to engage in indiscriminate bombardment of Grozny.
As President Clinton said on Monday, this, "means that there is a threat to the lives of the old, the infirm, the injured people, and other innocent civilians who simply cannot leave or are too scared to leave their homes."
We have never questioned Russia's right to fight terrorism or insurgencies on its soil. But we have strongly and consistently urged all sides to seek a political solution. A purely military solution is not possible. We have made clear our opposition to terrorism. I think there was some language coming out of Moscow in the last 24 hours indicating that the West was not fully sympathetic with the challenges Russia is facing on the terrorism front.
That really is not true. We are totally opposed to terrorism in all of its manifestations. We've always expressed our support for Russia's territorial integrity and its right to protect its citizens. Our problem, though, is with the methods Russia has chosen to deal with these threats. We believe they are undermining Russia's stated objectives.
QUESTION: Mr. Foley, can we discuss about this war in Afghanistan? Now the plight of the Afghani people is to stop the war and they need US help badly because also terrifying the women in Afghanistan --
MR. FOLEY: We have another Chechnya question. I'll come back to you.
QUESTION: Can you tell us anything about reports in recent days that Russian intelligence has produced evidence that Usama bin Laden has, in fact, played a role in promoting trouble in the Northern Caucasus?
MR. FOLEY: I think Mr. Rubin addressed this question last week. He talked about the - oh, you weren't here. He talked about the links that we do believe exist between outside terrorist groups, including bin Laden and some of the terrorist activities that have occurred in the Russian Federation and by some of the forces operating in Chechnya and Ingushetiya.
QUESTION: There have been reports - I don't know how credible they are - that gas has been used against civilians. Do you have anything?
MR. FOLEY: No, we are not in a position to confirm those reports. Certainly, Russia has engaged in the indiscriminate use of force and that concerns us greatly. We believe that Russia, as certainly a member of the CWC, knows its obligations and knows what kind of an outcry there would be internationally if it used such tactics.
We don't, as I said, have any information to confirm those reports. We are aware of reports that Russia is using heavier weapons, including fuel air bombs. We can't confirm those specific reports, but we are concerned about the impact of a further escalation of Russian military activity, what that would have on the civilian population.
Again, we don't believe that there is a military solution to the conflict, that as this conflict goes on more and more innocents are being harmed and more harm is being done to Russia's reputation internationally.
I'm sorry, is this still on Chechnya?
QUESTION: This is Chechnya. Yes, I didn't understand the thing about terrorism. Does that mean, sir, that the United States is unwilling to stand firmer against Russia if you consider Chechen rebels as terrorists or if you consider the Chechen population as terrorists? Or what would be a reason for the United States to stand against Russian military advance, especially having in mind that civilians - like in Bosnia - are mostly the ones who is suffering this wintertime?
MR. FOLEY: I'm afraid your question implies that somehow we have painted with a broad brush everyone who lives in Chechnya. That is just not true and it's never been true. We've always distinguished between Russia's legitimate struggle against terrorism and terrorists and against those who have taken up arms against lawful authority and Russia's tactics, which have tended to - by virtue of their effect - treat the people in Chechnya with a broad brush.
The fact is that innocent civilians have been killed, hundreds of thousands of refugees have been created, and it's becoming more and more of a humanitarian disaster in Chechnya. Therefore, we are very concerned about Russia's tactics and methods. We believe they are counterproductive. We believe they won't actually solve the problem. The problem is one we sympathize with but the methods they're choosing - we believe - are counterproductive.
QUESTION: Where is the threshold? When is the moment when the United States or the international community would do something to step in and do something against the military advance which is similar to Bosnia situation, actually, at the beginning?
MR. FOLEY: I think President Clinton was clear the other day when he talked about Russia going to pay a heavy price. It's paying a price already in terms of its reputation. I think the OSCE summit was clear. There was a universal consensus, and Russia acknowledged the views of others by agreeing to the visit of the OSCE, which can play a political role in helping find a solution, as was agreed by all parties in Istanbul. It's important that Russia arrest this downward cycle now before this continues to get out of hand.
QUESTION: On Chechnya, the United States supports the struggle against terrorism. Is it considered by US Administration to use its influence on Chechen field commanders to stop their terrorist activity and to free these people?
MR. FOLEY: Absolutely, we have been very clear about that. Let's remember before the Russian offensive occurred, there were terrorist bombings that took many innocent Russian victims. There was an incursion by Chechen insurgents in Ingushetiya, and we condemned all of those actions.
Since the conflict has heated up, just as we've been sounding our concern and our dismay with the Russian tactics that have damaged civilians and innocent people, we have also equally sounded the alarm about the activities of the Chechen insurgents who have also been responsible for the loss of innocent life by some of their tactics. So we've been very clear and I think you have to be - not only clear - you have to be evenhanded and condemn terrorism, condemn indiscriminate attacks on civilians no matter where they occur, no matter who perpetrates them.
QUESTION: Just one more. Assuming that the flight of the innocents, the noncombatants, from Grozny is successful and there are combatants surrounding combatants, would the United States condemn a siege that would either - will either produce the surrender of these Chechen rebels that we are supposedly - we disdain, or what? Will we condemn Russia for making a siege, for that matter?
MR. FOLEY: First, it's a hypothetical question. Second, the assumptions that you're talking about are, in our view, probably difficult to realize. We've made the point that there are, I think, anywhere from 10 to 40,000 civilians in Grozy, many of whom we believe are unable to move freely. They are old, they are infirm, they are afraid, afraid to move because it is increasingly a war zone; therefore, they are not free to move. And that is why we were so disturbed by the ultimatum.
We understand that there have been statements made in the last 24 hours in Moscow that indicate that it perhaps was not an ultimatum, perhaps there wasn't a desire to go in and level a city that contains many thousands of innocent civilians, and we hope that those latest statements are indicative of Russian policy and that we will avoid a humanitarian nightmare in Grozny which already is in dire straits from a humanitarian perspective.
QUESTION: One question on Uzbekistan. There were charges that the Chechen rebels were training extremist in Uzbekistan to create a jihad, and I believe this issue was raised last week here. I wondered whether you had any more.
MR. FOLEY: I think we have looked into the matter. I think we may have something for you in the press office after the briefing. I'll look into that.
(The briefing concluded at 2:00 P.M.)
[end of document]
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