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U.S. State Dept. Press Briefing on
- Subject: U.S. State Dept. Press Briefing on
- From: zawzaw@xxxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Thu, 24 Apr 1997 09:44:00
Subject: U.S. State Dept. Press Briefing on Burma Sanctions (04/22)
Date: Thu, 24 Apr 1997 12:37:11 -0400
The following is the insert of the State Dept.'s press briefing on April
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
DPB # 60
TUESDAY, APRIL 22, 1997 12:50 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. BURNS: I want to thank Tim Wirth and Eileen Claussen for taking the
time to come down today. They've both been exemplary in leading us on these
issues. Tim, thank you very much, Eileen.
Would you like to proceed with the briefing now?
MR. BURNS: Okay, good. Let me just go into a couple of things with you.
First, Secretary Albright will be testifying tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m.
before the Senate Armed Services Committee with Secretary of Defense Bill
Cohen on the Chemical Weapons Convention and other issues. That's in the
Hart Building, Room 216. I know that's open to the press, and we'll see you
Second, I thought perhaps I could give you some additional information on
the Burma issue that would help to fill that out for you. I also, of
course, have some information on the situation in Iraq today, and the
situation in Zaire, which is quite worrisome. We can go through those
Let me just provide some background information that would help to fill out
a little bit of what the Secretary just announced. Since September 30th,
when President Clinton signed into law the Cohen-Feinstein Burma Sanctions
Provisions as part of the Appropriations Act of Fiscal Year 1997, the
conduct of the military dictatorship in Burma, the SLORC, has been quite
The consistent pattern of human rights abuses have continued. Let me give
you some specific examples. The arrest of more than 100 persons for
political protest, and several hundred people - if not more - remain in
detention. These are political prisoners. The monitoring, restrictions and
harassment of the National League for Democracy led by Aung San Suu Kyi,
and personal harassment of her. The sentencing of 34 members of the
National League for Democracy to prison sentences. This is all the more
ironic in that these are the people who were elected in the last free
elections. That election, of course, was repudiated by the military
dictators. The closure by the SLORC of most universities in Burma since the
end of last year, in response to the student protests on the streets of
Rangoon. The assault by the Burmese army against the Karen National Union
Forces, which caused up to 18,000 Karen to flee into Thailand - the vast
majority of them civilians, including women, children and the elderly.
Thousands of civilians were forcibly conscripted to serve as porters for
the Burmese army in its offensive.
So we have been watching all of these events. The Burmese Government has
built for itself a notorious, a notorious record of human rights
violations. We had hoped that the threat of sanctions might induce them to
modify their behavior. We had hoped that all of the international attention
on them, the fact that we had raised this with all of our ASEAN partners
might serve to help convince them that they ought to improve their human
rights situation. But it did not. That is why the President made the
determination that he did.
Now, I expect that an executive order, implementing this decision, will be
issued shortly. We will, of course, ensure that any regulations will be
consistent with our international obligations. I believe it's the Treasury
Office of Foreign Assets Control that will take the lead within the
Administration in drafting that executive order. We hope to have that order
ready for issuance very soon.
I think you know that U.S. investment in Burma is approximately $240
million. That's according to Burmese Government statistics. The bulk of the
investment is in the oil and natural gas sectors. The executive order will
prohibit new investment in Burma by U.S. persons. The denial of U.S.
investment, we think, will send important messages. Of course, as the
Secretary said, we'll continue to consult with our ASEAN partners and other
nations that have an interest in this.
I would point out that many nations have already joined us in our arms
embargo against Burma, including most of the European countries with which
we deal, Canada, Australia and Japan. The European Union and Japan limit
their assistance to Burma to humanitarian aid. As you know, the United
States, of course, does not encourage American - had not encouraged until
this decision by the President - American investment. We don't have OPIC or
Ex-Im support, and we regularly try to limit or even block Burmese access
to support from the international financial institutions.
So I wanted to give you just a little bit more background to fill out that
story. I will be glad to talk about that issue or any other issue that you
have on your mind.
QUESTION: Nick, will you take questions on Burma?
MR. BURNS: I'll be glad to. George, do you want to start? Ron?
QUESTION: Do you know of any plans by any American to invest in Burma? In
other words, does this legislation stop anything that you know of?
MR. BURNS: Oh, I think there are many American companies that have shown an
interest in Burma. There are a few large companies that have major
investments there. As you know, this legislation, this executive order,
will speak to new investment. But it will be specific, and it will make
impossible any new U.S. corporate investment in Burma.
QUESTION: Nick, UNOCAL was in a joint venture with TOTAL. Doesn't this mean
just that the new investment will be laundered through Paris?
MR. BURNS: No, I don't expect so. I think I'd refer you to a lawyer on that
first, Norm, to be specific. But I think the intent of the law is to block
any new U.S. investment by American corporations. That is going to severely
limit the participation by American companies in economic investment
opportunities in Burma. It's also going to send, as the Secretary said, a
very strong signal.
QUESTION: So the executive order isn't signed. When is it going to be
MR. BURNS: Soon.
QUESTION: Soon, I mean, like this week or --
MR. BURNS: It has to be drafted. The drafting process has to finish.
QUESTION: So it could take a while.
MR. BURNS: But not very long.
QUESTION: So American companies are on notice today that if they want to
deal with Burma, they better do it quickly, right? (Laughter.)
MR. BURNS: No, I don't think that's the case. I don't think it's going to
be possible for some CEO to get in a corporate jet and fly to Rangoon and
ink a deal tomorrow. I think that would be entirely inconsistent with what
the Administration is announcing today, and would certainly violate the
spirit of it. I don't believe anyone's going to try to do that, Carole. I
think the game is up on Burma. Burma is a bad place for business. It has
been for a long time, and now it's going to be a very bad place for
QUESTION: The point is that, today, to invest in Burma today, it is not
illegal under U.S. law.
MR. BURNS: Once the executive order is issued, it will be illegal. But I
cannot imagine that any credible company would seek to fly out in the dark
of night and slip in under a curtain that is rapidly descending. I just
don't believe that corporations want to have that stigma attached to their
name. I don't believe boards of directors or shareholders would want to
have the program that would come with that kind of -- I just don't believe
it will happen, Carole. We're not worried about it.
QUESTION: Why didn't you just hold the announcement until you had the
executive order signed?
MR. BURNS: Well, the President had made the decision. We felt it was
important to announce it to send a signal to the Burmese. It's often the
case where you announce something and a couple of days later the executive
order is issued. It's not going to be long at all; it'll be very quick.
QUESTION: Do you have any approximate dollar figure of the amount of
business that Burma potentially was going to have in the near term?
MR. BURNS: I do not, I do not. But now the word is out, I think, to
American companies. I think this may have some impact on others as well -
that it's a bad place to do business. I just don't have figures, though.
QUESTION: Nick, on the UNOCAL joint venture, the initial investment is
whatever it is, but there will have to be subsequent money to nurture that
investment, to build infrastructure, et cetera. Is this ruling going to
prevent UNOCAL from going forward from this point?
MR. BURNS: You mean to add to its investment?
MR. BURNS: Yeah. What I'd like to do is take that question. It's an
excellent question. We asked that question before we came down here. We
need to seek some legal advice. But it's a very good question. Yes.
QUESTION: Is this being done under (inaudible) authority? And also is this
going to affect subsidiaries and or affiliates of U.S. companies?
MR. BURNS: I'm going to refer you to the executive order once it comes out.
Let's let the executive order be drafted, finished, signed and issued. When
it is, we'll be glad to answer those specific questions.
QUESTION: Do you know if this is going to affect - lots of companies have
subsidiaries, for example, in Singapore that operate in Burma. Can you give
us an idea if this is going to affect them?
MR. BURNS: You know, I don't want to put myself in the position of
answering questions that are legal in nature because I'm not a lawyer,
thank goodness. I prefer to let a lawyer do that. We will even bring a
lawyer up here to answer those questions, if you'd like. But let's let the
order be drafted.
It's very clear the President and the Secretary of State are sending a
signal to Burma that its human rights situation is woeful and reprehensible
and ought to be cleaned up. The other signal is to American firms that
Burma is now out of bounds for American investment. That's very clear.
QUESTION: This won't affect the ability companies to repatriate profits
into the U.S., will it?
MR. BURNS: Again, those are very specific technical, legal questions, which
I am going to leave to the lawyers. Tom.
QUESTION: I think it's been apparent for some time that whatever countries
in Europe may do, ASEAN is not going to follow the United States down this
road with Burma. In fact, I think they're about to invite Burma into
membership, if they haven't already done so. How are you going to balance
the equities over there so that you don't wind up with a confrontation with
another group of allies and have to send Stu Eizenstat out there?
MR. BURNS: He's a very talented guy, and he has now diminished our problems
with the Europeans and refocused all of us on Cuba. So maybe the same thing
will happen here.
We have had a very active discussion, diplomatically, with the ASEAN
countries and the ASEAN partners, such as Japan, and we hope very much to
continue that. We will have an opportunity to continue that with Japan this
week when the Prime Minister visits.
I can't point to any leading member of ASEAN or any major country in Asia
that has taken - or that is considering investment sanctions of this kind.
There are times when the United States needs to stand up and say a
situation in a country is so reprehensible and human rights are being
violated by such a broad degree that we have do something about it, and ask
other countries to reflect on their own responsibilities.
We've taken that position with Iran. We take it now with Burma. But we will
be very aggressive, obviously, in talking to our Asian and European allies
and partners about this issue and hope that they may follow suit.
The fact is that there is a great democratic leader in Burma. There were
free elections in Burma. It was all overturned by a bunch of military
dictators, and their repression has increased over the last year or so.
Something had to be done to respond to that, and this is the option that we
have selected. We think it's in our own best interests to do this. Yes.
QUESTION: The delegation in Europe, talking about Iran, any plans for them
to also bring up Burma?
MR. BURNS: Well, Peter Tarnoff, the special adviser, is in Paris today
talking to the French Government. He was in Bonn last night and early this
morning. His agenda is really Iran, and the team with him are Middle East
experts. I'm sure that if questions are raised about this, he is perfectly
capable of answering them. Our ambassadors in all of those countries will
be asked to go in and talk to host governments about why we have undertaken
this initiative. We hope that the European governments will now reflect on
their responsibilities in this important question of Burmese human rights
### end Burma insert ###
For U.S. Govt.'s activities on Burma, Visit to:
Burma and U.S. Congress: http://www.clark.net/pub/burmaus/
Washington Burma Report: http://www.clark.net/pub/wbr/