THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
(Auckland, New Zealand)
PRESS BRIEFING BY
NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR SANDY BERGER
Sky City Hotel
Auckland, New Zealand
1:37 A.M. (L)
MR. BERGER: Let me say that we welcome the statements of President
Habibie today that he would invite a U.N. peacekeeping force to
join the Indonesian military in restoring order to East Timor. We
believe that this is a positive development and hopefully represents
a stepping back from the brink on the part of Indonesia from what
could be a quite disastrous situation, not only for the people of
East Timor, but for Indonesia and for the region as a whole.
What is important now is the way and speed with which this is
implemented. I was pleased that President Habibie indicated that
he's dispatching his Foreign Minister Alatas to New York tomorrow
to work out the details. Details are often quite important here.
What is important to us is that the force be able to deploy promptly,
that it be effective, that there not be any restrictions on it that
would impede its effectiveness, and that it is able to both restore
order and effectuate the will of the Timorese people as expressed
in the August 30 referendum.
I spoke to the President about a half an hour ago. He was pleased
by these developments. As you know, he's worked very hard here in
the last several days to encourage his colleagues to weigh in with
the Indonesian government and urge them to take this course. We
have been in continuing constant contact with the Indonesian government
through Ambassador Roy, through the President, through Secretary
Albright, Secretary Cohen, to various figures in the Indonesian
government. And I think we're in, obviously, a better posture than
we were just several hours ago. But, ultimately, the test here is
what happens on the ground.
Q What leads us to believe that they're not going to reverse themselves
MR. BERGER: Well, it's the first time that they've formally and
officially made this statement. President Habibie spoke to Kofi
Annan earlier, before the press conference, and indicated that this
was their intent. But I think we have to take this step by step
and we have to press for this to be actually -- come into effect.
I mean, I think that one cannot be sanguine about the situation
until we actually have a peacekeeping force that is deployed in
East Timor, working with Indonesian military to restore order and
to enable the people of East Timor to conduct the transfer of power
that they voted for on August 30.
Q Has the U.S. been asked by Australia to supply -- or whether
it would be willing to supply a number of combat troops on an as
needed or if needed basis in case they can't do it themselves, just
to keep them at the ready?
MR. BERGER: That is not the focus of what we're talking about.
We're talking with the Australians about -- first of all, let me
say, this will be an overwhelmingly Asian force, presumably led
by the Australians. What the Australians have asked us to provide
are things that we have a particular capability to provide -- airlift,
communications, transportation. This will involve U.S. troops. Some
of those troops will be in Timor, but they will be, I think, of
limited numbers. And I don't want to rule out anything categorically,
but the focus is not on infantry forces.
Q The request wasn't made for combat troops per se?
MR. BERGER: That's not what the Australians are seeking at this
Q How many troops, Sandy? You just said this will involve U.S.
troops -- are we talking hundreds, thousands?
MR. BERGER: I don't want to speculate at this point. We will continue
our conversations with the Australians. There have been very good
conversations between our military, Admiral Blair, the Commander
of the Pacific forces for us, and his people and the Australians.
And I think we just need to let that take its course and then, obviously,
we need to be consulting with the Congress.
The President had made a number of calls on the way out here,
but I assume will be making other calls in the coming days. And
as we have more details we will discuss them with you. But I, again,
would emphasize that I think this would be a limited American participation
and a larger fundamentally Asian force.
Q Sandy, would the U.S. accept a peacekeeping force that was somehow
jointly controlled with the Indonesian military?
MR. BERGER: Well, these details are very important and that's
why -- sort of a similar answer to John's question -- that's why
the devil is in the details here. But we certainly have no inherent
objection to working alongside the Indonesian military, so long
as it's pursuing the same objective of trying to restore order.
In fact, there are many advantages to that.
So, clearly, there will have to be a clear chain of command in
the U.N. force, but if we are doing this in cooperation with the
Indonesians, that would presumably be to an advantage.
Q Sandy, do the U.S. sanctions remain in effect?
MR. BERGER: They do as of this moment. Obviously, this is something
we'll have to review as the days go by. I think clearly if -- in
my judgment, if this unfolds as we hope it does, it would eliminate
the purpose for which the sanctions were imposed.
But I think there are a lot of questions here that need to be
addressed in the coming days -- exactly how quickly the force can
be deployed, whether there are any -- what the mission is, what
the mandate is, whether there are any restrictions placed by the
Indonesians. All these things have to be clarified. And I think
tonight's statement -- or today's statement, whatever it is in Indonesia
-- by President Habibie is positive.
We have important work to do when the Foreign Minister arrives
in New York to assure that -- the test here seems to me is threefold
-- one, will it be effective; two, can it deploy quickly; and three,
will it both be able to restore order and help realize the results
of the referendum of August 30 for the people of Timor.
Q In the first case, how quickly could a force get to East Timor?
MR. BERGER: Well, I really don't want to get into too many of
those details at this point. Obviously, time is important here and
the sooner, the better.
Q Sandy, further to my question -- and you alluded to this when
you talked with This Week -- what did you see in the room that gave
you cause for optimism that everybody was on board?
MR. BERGER: In the room there?
Q No, in the room here. (Laughter.)
MR. BERGER: Well, the red carpet was quite attractive, I thought.
Well, I think, first of all, that the military was there. That's
the most important thing, I think, as far as I'm concerned, because
I think there's been an issue all along of the extent to which civilian
authority here had control over the military, and then a corresponding
question of the extent to which the leadership of the military has
had control over the military in Timor.
I think the fact that General Wiranto is there and the other military
leaders and the head of the police reflects -- suggests that this
decision on the part of President Habibie has the support of the
Q Sandy, how long do you envision a peacekeeping force being in
East Timor? And do you think that the mission of this force is to
help implement the referendum and guarantee its success, as well
as to restore order?
MR. BERGER: Well, there always was, as you know -- it was always
contemplated that in phase three, that is, after the government
of Indonesia accepted the results of the so-called consultation
-- what we would call the referendum -- that a peacekeeping force
would be deployed at that point because the Indonesian authorities
would withdraw and there would be a vacuum of authority or security.
So it was always contemplated that they would deploy after October.
Our hope now is that they will deploy in the next several days.
In terms of the purpose of the mission, obviously the initial
objective is to restore order and provide security and safety to
the people of East Timor. And that is something that -- particularly
if the Indonesian military is cooperating with this mission -- ought
to be something that can be accomplished relatively quickly. We
saw today, for example, in the last two days, when the U.N. mission
went to Timor, things calmed down, which suggests a level of control,
or at least some capacity to control the situation. But that presumably
then might blend into perhaps a different kind of U.N. mission that
would be there after the transfer of power.
Q And how long are we talking about?
MR. BERGER: I don't know the answer to that and that's not necessarily
-- I mean, whether we would be involved in that phase I think is
not something we've discussed.
Q Sandy, did this announcement come after something that would
resemble negotiations between the Indonesians and outsiders, in
terms of the parameters of the course and the rules of engagement
and that sort of thing?
MR. BERGER: Well, there has been, I think as you've seen, a rising
chorus of voices in the last 48 hours -- in New York, here, elsewhere
from around the world calling on President Habibie to do this. And
I think that that has been reflected privately in the conversations
that have taken place with Habibie, with Wiranto and others.
I think that it is clear that the international community and
I believe the Secretary General would expect there not to be conditions
placed on a force. But, as I say, the details here in terms of how
the force would deploy and how it would relate to the Indonesian
military all have to be worked out.
But I don't know that there's been -- more specially to answer
your question -- I don't know that there's been specific discussions
about rules of engagement or terms of reference. That is what Alatas
is going to New York for. And I think that is Act II here, and Act
II is actually getting the force into the country. And the shows
not over until the end of Act II.
Q Sandy, what do we do between now and the deployment of this
force in East Timor? Ramos-Horta told me last night that -- and
I guess he'll tell the President tonight -- that there are thousands
of people up in the hills being protected by guerrillas who have
access to no essential goods or food.
MR. BERGER: Well, I would expect the Indonesian military -- I
don't believe the Indonesian military's responsibility to restore
order is somehow suspended pending the discussions of a peacekeeping
force. In the first instance it is their responsibility. And I hope
that this decision today by President Habibie will be reflected
in the short-term in an assertion of control over the situation
by the Indonesian military because, as you say, over whatever period
of days it takes to actually get a peacekeeping force in, a lot
of suffering can take place. There are humanitarian flights that
are going in, distributing food and supplies, but there also are
a large number of people who are, as you say, in the hills and elsewhere.
But I think as far as the international community is concerned,
as far as the United States is concerned, the responsibility still
rests squarely on the Indonesian military to restore order to the
Let me say one other thing. I think that, on the positive side,
should this unfold as we hope it will, I think it is a wise and
statesmanlike decision by President Habibie. I think Indonesia was
-- and I want to maintain that caveat, that is assuming that this
actually takes place -- I think Indonesia, and one of our concerns
here is Indonesia is going through an extraordinarily important
transition. It is on the verge, perhaps, of the kind of democracy
that has not been known Indonesia. This could be enormously important
to not only Indonesia -- the fourth largest country in the world,
the largest Muslim country in the world -- but the entire region.
And conversely, if Indonesia continued to head for the brink,
it not only could -- it's not just the people of East Timor who
would go over the brink, I believe that it would be the people of
Indonesia that would go over the brink, and the in the course of
doing that, all of Asia and the rest of the world would suffer.
So I think it is a wise decision that President Habibie has made
and hopefully will now carry out with vigor.
Q Sandy, you talked about Habibie reasserting control. So, do
you assume that the military went out of control and that Habibie
possibly had to reassert control, possibly at some personal risk,
maybe even physical risk?
MR. BERGER: Well, I don't want to speculate in terms of how this
all came about. I think it has been clear over the past few weeks
that statements by President Habibie that expressed an intent to
get control of the militia -- the militias and the few people who
are doing the terrorizing in East Timor have not come to pass, which
suggests that he has not been able to carry out those intentions.
But I think, as I say, I was pleased that the military leaders
were there and present -- presumably would not have been there and
present if they disagreed. But again, ultimately the test of this
is what happens in the next days in terms of working out the terms
of reference and then ultimately getting a force deployed as quickly
Q Did you have to wake up the President? Did you have to wake
the President up when you told him?
MR. BERGER: That's a very highly classified matter.
Q Will he issue a statement tomorrow morning, Sandy?
Q CNN said you woke him up.
MR. BERGER: He was coherent.
Q Will he have a statement tomorrow morning, Sandy?
MR. BERGER: I'm sure he'll say something tomorrow, yes.
Q Does he have any plans to call President Habibie?
MR. BERGER: I don't know. That we didn't discuss.
Q Could you give us your reaction about the agreement in Berlin?
MR. BERGER: Well, I'm not aware of an agreement in Berlin. The
statement I saw out of Berlin suggested that progress is being made,
that there would be continued discussions and the sides agreed that
nothing would happen -- nothing would be done in the meantime that
would interfere with the positive atmosphere that existed in the
talks. So I think we'll have to wait and see, but obviously we're
pleased that progress is being made.
END 1:57 A.M. (L)