JANUARY 22, 1996
WARREN CHRISTOPHER, Secretary of State: Thank you, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: First, let's talk about Bosnia. The big deadline, the first big deadline, came and went on Friday. What is your overall assessment of how the mission is going?
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Jim, I think the overall compliance rate is relatively good. On the most important issue, i.e., whether or not there would be a separation of forces, whether they move back from this line, there was good compliance there.
JIM LEHRER: And that was the deadline on Friday, one of the deadlines.
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: That's right. Now, there was good compliance there, good spirit, I think, on behalf of both of the forces that are moving back from that line, so the most important task was accomplished. With respect--
JIM LEHRER: Excuse me. Did, did--do you have the feeling that, that the only reason they moved back was because there were armed Americans and other NATO forces there, or was--did they do it in a spirit of hey, this is what we need to do, and we want to do?
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: I think there's a lot of spirit there. Let's comply with the Dayton agreement. Let's see if we can't get this war behind us now. Certainly, the man in the street, the common person there, wants to have this war behind him. I think a lot of the soldiers are very war weary too now. No doubt, it was helpful to have the American troops there in great strength. They knew there'd be consequences if they didn't move back, but overall, I think our, our leaders, i.e., the leaders of our forces there, find a good spirit of compliance by the troops so far. Now, the second aspect of it was whether or not there would be a removal of the foreign forces. There has been some removal of the foreign forces.
JIM LEHRER: Now we're talking about the Mujahedeen and the Muslim--for the Muslims, it's some others--
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: The Croatian forces moving out to Croatia, and so forth, all the foreign forces were supposed to be back out of the country by the same deadline. I think there's been some compliance there, but there probably is not full compliance. It's a tricky thing to deal with, Jim, because some of the foreign forces have married Bosnian woman, some of them really blended in, melted into the society. It probably would be quite hard to find out whether or not they actually have left the country. So we have some distance to go there as well. Pardon me, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: Sure. Who's making the decision on, on that, as to what constitutes a foreign troop or a foreign force?
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Well, that's one of the things that our military commanders, Adm. Smith, the other military commanders there, will have to be judging that in the final analysis, but we'll also have to judge that as the United States because we've had it very clear to the Bosnians that our obligation to equip and train their forces is completely conditional on the foreign forces being gone, and we've made that point to President Izetbegovic that if they expect us to furnish equipment to train their forces, then they must get rid of all the foreign forces. Now, I think that's a fairly high incentive. Now, another thing that was to have happened by the 19th in a place where we're somewhat disappointed, and that is in the exchange of prisoners, the release of prisoners. Both sides were supposed to release all their prisoners, those were unconditional. There was some prisoner release that took place but it's not been satisfactory yet. Amb. Holbrooke is in the region. In the last few days he's been trying to insist on that. And one of the lessons of this period, Jim, is that we're going to have to monitor it closely, we're going to have to keep reminding the parties of their commitment until we really get the kind of compliance that makes it set in, welded into the picture.
JIM LEHRER: Well, the Bosnian--be specific--the Bosnian Muslims said we are not going to release all the Serb prisoners until we get an accounting from the Serbs of 24,000 of our people who are missing. Now, is that, in your view, a legitimate demand on the part of the Bosnian government?
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: It's not a legitimate demand in the sense that they're entitled to keep back their prisoners until it happens. It was an unconditional obligation that both sides give up their prisoners.
JIM LEHRER: So that's a new thing that they have put in? That was not part of the Dayton accord?
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Exactly. Now, certainly it's legitimate, the request on their part. And we'll work with them to try to achieve that request, but there is no solid basis for their keeping back the prisoners that they hold until they get this information.
JIM LEHRER: So what happens then, Mr. Secretary? I mean, if they continue to hold out, and they continue not to release their prisoners, what happens?
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Well, Jim, there's a number of incentives we have; there are a number of things basically they'll only achieve if they comply with the agreement. As I mentioned, we will not go forward with the equipment and training unless they are in compliance with the agreement. They'll not have a right to the reconstruction fund unless they're in compliance with the agreement. So there's a fairly strong incentive for them finally to get into compliance. What I think is happening, it's the dead of winter; people are just getting accustomed to this new status; they're trying to work their way through it, so I'm not by any means discouraged, Jim. I think the overall compliance is relatively good. In an overall sense, people seem to be trying to comply. There's still some debating points. We'll have those for a long time, but I don't think we ought to be discouraged. I think we ought to redouble our efforts to help them comply.
JIM LEHRER: But this is a serious matter, that they have not complied.
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Oh, it is a serious matter, especially with respect to the prisoners.
JIM LEHRER: When you said at the beginning that the NATO forces made the consequences clear, in other words, the failure to disengage, that those consequences were clear to all sides, how was that done? What were the consequences that, that faced the failure to disengage?
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Well, the way it was done was by giving warning to the leaders of the, of the troops there that needed to move back, and frankly, NATO was prepared to forcefully move them back. We are not going to be in a situation like the UN forces were, the so-called UNPROFOR forces, who really did not exercise the authority. You can be sure that if those forces didn't move back, they would be moved back.
JIM LEHRER: Is the same kind of consequence there on the prisoner exchange matter as well?
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: No, I would not say it's the same kind of consequence, Jim. The moving the forces back was the highest priority. The other is our commitment to the Dayton agreement but the, the NATO forces are not going to enforce those in exactly the same way as they would of the separation of forces.
JIM LEHRER: All right now on the war crimes investigation, there have been all kinds of, of statements coming from State Department officials and also from Defense Department officials and a lot of other people. What exactly is the U.S. policy toward helping the investigations of these war crimes?
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Well, we have a very strong policy to help the investigation. The United States has done more for the war crimes tribunal than any other country in the world. They've given them more money, more staff, and we're helping in any way we can. We're turning over all the information we have, including intelligence information. Right now, of course. Asst. Sec. John Shattuck is in the region. He's been permitted to visit a number of the sites of the terrible atrocities--and there were terrible atrocities there. We're going to be turning that information over to the war crimes tribunal. I'm very glad to tell you, I think perhaps you already know, that there was today an agreement between Adm. Smith and Judge--Justice Goldstone, who's the chief prosecutor of the war crimes tribunal, which calls on the IFOR to cooperate with the war crimes tribunal and Justice Goldstone said he was satisfied with the agreement of cooperation between the IFOR forces, i.e., between the NATO forces and the war crimes tribunal.
JIM LEHRER: Now, does that mean that U.S. forces or IFOR forces, NATO forces, will, in fact, escort people into the sites, they will provide security of the sites, keep other people out of there who might want to come in and destroy evidence and all that sort of thing?
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Well, the agreement between Justice Goldstone and Adm. Smith indicates that in the right circumstances when the NATO forces have the capacity to do so, that they will provide security for those who are coming to, to view, to investigate the war crimes, and I think we'll see that evolve. It's clear that the NATO forces will, to the extent that they have capacity, will to the extent that their priority tasks, which is moving the parties apart, are done, they will assist the war crimes tribunal. I think it was a very important meeting today between Adm. Smith and Justice Goldstone because they, they worked out a modus vivendi between them. They worked out a way that they can work together, so that was an important step.
JIM LEHRER: All right, sir, on Russia, President Yeltsin said today he'll probably run for reelection. Does he remain America's candidate?
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Jim, America doesn't have a candidate in that election. We've worked with President Yeltsin. He is the President of the country. He's been a reformer. We've been able to accomplish a number of things together, particularly in the de-nuclearization field, but America is for an election being held, we are very strongly supportive of the reformers who will want to continue the reform, but we don't have a candidate in that election. It would be entirely improper for us to do so.
JIM LEHRER: Sure. I meant that in a general sense. I mean, we've always supported President Yeltsin. What do you make of his, the recent resignations and firings of some of the reformers from his cabinet and replacing them with people who are considered hard-liners, is that going in the wrong direction?
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Jim, let me step back from this just a moment--
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: --and say this is a very important relationship we have with Russia, the relationship over the nuclear arsenal that they have obviously is important. They're a very powerful country. We've worked together in a number of areas, such as Bosnia, such as in getting the nukes out of the various countries in the former Soviet Union, so there are a number of areas where we need to work together. On the other hand, we see in recent days and weeks reform under considerable strain in Russia, and that's obviously a matter of concern to us. It's in the very strong self-interest of Russia to continue on the reform path. Our partnership with them is dependent upon their continuing on this reform path. Russia's access to funds, for example, from the International Monetary Fund, and they're looking toward a $9 billion supply of funds, that really is contingent on their continuing the path to reform, so I think it'd be quite short-sighted of them in the broadest sense not to continue on, on the path of reform. I would not try to make it in terms of individuals. In the past, sometimes we've seen individuals replaced, and we were quite apprehensive. Perhaps when Fedorov and Gaidar replaced, but the reform in the economy has continued to this point, so I hope the people who have been fired will be replaced by people who have a strong reform bent. We're not going to pre-judge that, but as I say, it would be quite short-sighted, I think, of the Russians not to maintain that path of reform. I think it's right for them, but it also, it's going to affect very importantly their access to western institutions.
JIM LEHRER: And finally, on the Middle East, Mr. Secretary, what is your reaction to Yasser Arafat's big victory in, in being elected president of the Palestinian Authority by 88 percent?
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Jim, first, I think I ought to apologize to your viewers for this very scratchy voice today.
JIM LEHRER: No apologies are necessary.
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Well, it was real a milestone. The Palestinian election is something that was really a turning point in that area. It's a mandate for peace. You know, it's very interesting to me, Hamas, the opponents of Arafat, the opponents of peace, urged a boycott of the election, and yet there was an 85 percent turnout in the Gaza area where Hamas is supposed to be strong. Isn't that really quite incredible? So this is a very important factor for the future. The monitors indicated that it was a credible election, I think, in an overall sense, although they're still counting the votes, it apparently is a free and fair election, so it's a real milestone and one of the things we can take some little confidence in, we had another important development today in which here in Washington the Tunisian government and the Israeli government agreed that they would establish, in effect, an official facility in each other's country which is called an interest section. There's a transition going on, a transformation going on in the Middle East. The election was one indication but this development here in Washington today was also important.
JIM LEHRER: And then of course the Syrian/Israeli talks as well and they're proceeding, are they not?
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Yes, they will open again at the Center in Eastern Maryland, in the shore of Eastern Maryland on Wednesday of this week. Delegations will be coming from both countries, and this time they'll be bringing their security experts, their military experts, and that really gets down to the core, core problem, perhaps the most important problem, a long ways to go on that track, but we've got a new process that's very promising, I think.
JIM LEHRER: All right, Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Thank you, Jim.