HELMS-BURTON LAW -- Asked about reports that an Italian company that holds property in Cuba may compensate a U.S. firm which owned the property before Castro took over, Burns said: "If the Italian company is to divest itself of the stolen assets, or if they compensated the American firm, that would be a step in the right direction." He noted that the Helms-Burton was passed because "we wanted to focus the attention of our European colleagues on the fact that Americans have been ripped-off by Cuba for 30 years." Burns said that Castro seized property of more than 5,900 U.S.-owned concerns, and that European firms had taken over some of this property.
Q: Have you seen the report that the European Union has decided to resume its critical dialogue with Iran, and to send its diplomats back? Does that please you?
BURNS: I think that report is probably a prediction, because I know that the European Union foreign ministers meet tomorrow in Luxembourg, I believe, to discuss the issue of how they respond to the Mykonos trial verdict, which clearly implicates the government of Iran in these assassinations in Germany.
So what we have done is two-fold. First, Peter Tarnoff, of course, was the emissary of the Secretary of State last week in Europe to try to explain our policy that all of us need to confront Iran. Second, the Secretary of State sent letters to her counterparts over the weekend on this same issue. We await the judgment and the wisdom of the European Union on this issue.
We'll probably have something to say after their decision is announced.
Our view is there ought to be room for the United States and Europe to work together to fashion a realistic policy towards Iran -- one which understands that Iran is a terrorist state; it finances terrorist groups; it is opposed to the Middle East peace process; and it continues to seek a capability to produce weapons of mass destruction. Therefore, it is a regime that needs to be contained.
We obviously are not a member of the European Union. We won't be at the meeting tomorrow. We will respect the decisions of the European Union, but we hope those decisions are realistic, in light of what the Mykonos trial has revealed about the direct involvement of the Iranian Government in political assassinations.
Q: Can you just tighten that a little bit, because you spoke of the Secretary sending
BURNS: I thought it was pretty tight.
Q: No, it was a good statement, but all you did -- so far as she's concerned. You say she sent letters.
Q: Stating the U.S. policy, pretty much as you've described it?
BURNS: Pretty much reviewing the U.S. policy as you would understand it in this issue. I don't want to be specific, because we don't reveal the contents of our diplomatic correspondence.
Q: I realize that's a problem, but just to say she sends letters, you know, we can't make the jump on our own.
BURNS: Why don't you put it this way --
Q: We can't make the jump on our own.
BURNS: She's been in touch with her colleagues.
Q: Well, we can't make the jump on our own.
BURNS: Following Peter Tarnoff's --
Q: And when you speak of working something out with them.
BURNS: Excuse me?
Q: When you speak of working something out with the Europeans. You'd like to sort of coordinate with them. Usually when two parties work something out -- the Middle East is a good example -- both parties give ground. Is the U.S. prepared to give any ground in its attempt to isolate Iran, because the Europeans after, what, about a seven-day hiatus, are ready to resume their trade with Iran?
BURNS: Well, we'll see what the Europeans decide. I think there's two issues here. The first is, what should United States policy be towards Iran? Well, we think we have the right policy.
Q: That's not a change.
BURNS: That policy is not going to change. The policy of containment, economic containment of an economic boycott of Iran because of its perfidy. Second, we do hope to find some way whereby the United States and the European Union can work together on this issue. We're always more effective if we work together.
Now, we've done that on the issue of Cuba. After decades of squabbling, we now have a consensus between the EU and the United States that we ought to focus on Castro's human rights violations. If we could find some way to do that, vis-à-vis Iran, it would be helpful. But we're realistic. I don't think we anticipate that the European Union is going to adopt our policy tomorrow. But we hope that its decisions are realistic and that they're effective. Yes, sir.
Q: There are reports that two Kurdish groups fighting again near the Iranian border, part of Northern Iraq. Do you have a comment on that?
BURNS: I have not seen those reports, but we will certainly look into them. We're obviously always concerned about stability in Northern Iraq. We've just had a very successful meeting with David Welch's visit to Northern Iraq, among the major Kurdish groups, the Assyrians and others, and we'll continue that. I think there are meetings planned for Ankora to bring those groups together again. We always try to minimize their own conflict so we can turn our common attention towards Saddam Hussein.
BURNS: Yes, sir.
Q: Do you have any new information about the Turkish-Iranian natural gas pipeline issue?
BURNS: I don't believe I have any new information about that issue. That's an issue that we look at continuously here at State.
Q: Are you inspecting the situation deal?
BURNS: Excuse me?
Q: Are you still inspecting the deal?
BURNS: Well, we're still in touch with the Turkish Government about it. We have an interest in it because there is American law at play here that obviously needs to be satisfied. But we've not come to any fundamental conclusions about the particular proposals. It is a very complex situation. Turkmenistan is involved in this pipeline and we need to be assured of all the facts before we can speak on it.
Q: There are reports that the Turkish military is preparing to make another incursion into Northern Iraq to clean up some Kurdish PKK camps. Have you had any information to that effect and do you have any problems with it?
BURNS: I have no particular information about the activities of the Turkish military on their southeastern border. But, as you know, the PKK, which is a terrorist organization, has operated in Southeast Turkey for a long time. The Turkish Government, the military defends Turkey and the Turkish people against the PKK. In the past, there have been some cross-border incursions, but they have always been limited in time and limited in scope. So, that has been our reaction to past incursions, but I just can't anticipate any future incursions.