Press Briefing by National Security Advisor Sandy Berger (9/13/99)

Office of the Press Secretary
(Auckland, New Zealand)


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 this time?

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 point.

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. (Laughter.)

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 military.

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 situation.

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 as possible.

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.

Thank you.

END 1:57 A.M. (L)

Fact Sheets and Briefings

Press Briefing by National Security Advisor Sandy Berger and National Economic Advisor Gene Sperling (9/8/99)

Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation

Press Briefing by NSC Advisor Sandy Berger, NEC Advisor Gene Sperling, &Press Secretary Joe Lockhart

The World Trade Organization Ministerial in Seattle

President Clinton: Protecting Antarctica and the Global Environment

Press Briefing by Joe Lockhart (9/12/99)

Readout to the Press Pool by National Security Advisor Sandy Berger (9/12/99)

Press Briefing by National Security Advisor Sandy Berger (9/13/99)

Briefing by NSC Advisor Sandy Berger, NEC Advisor Gene Sperling, & Press Secretary Joe Lockhart 9/13/99

President and First Lady | Vice President and Mrs. Gore
Record of Progress | The Briefing Room
Gateway to Government | Contacting the White House | White House for Kids
White House History | White House Tours | Help
Privacy Statement


Site Map

Graphic Version

T H E   W H I T E   H O U S E