11-14 Soccer Match Yesterday / Impact on Relations / MEK Designated Terrorist rganization / Appointments to Government Positions / New Political Activity / No Change in US Policy Toward Terrorist Acts / Investigations Continue
SAUDI ARABIA 14-15 Investigation Continues of Al Khobar Bombing
QUESTION: Jamie, do you have any observations about the atmosphere that prevailed in the soccer match yesterday?
MR. RUBIN: Well, it was somewhat gloomy in my house. But the atmosphere on the field was clearly warm. Let me say, we congratulate the Iranian team on their victory; we wish them the best of luck in their upcoming matches. Clearly, it was a well-played match by two teams who put their most determined effort into it. I think the fans greatly appreciated the efforts of the team members in pursuing this great event; although some of us might have wished it came out another way.
QUESTION: Do you think it's going to have any impact on the overall atmosphere of relations?
MR. RUBIN: I wouldn't want to exaggerate it, but I would say that the contact between Iranian people and American people is something we have tried to promote. It's something that President Khatemi spoke about; it's something that we support. Building bridges, tearing down the walls of mistrust and creating better understanding is the beginning of how to overcome what has happened in the past. It doesn't change either country's desire to want to deal with substantive policy issues, and it certainly doesn't change ours.
But this was a well-played game. It was not marked by incidents that could have had some other effect. The only bad part of the game is that we lost.
QUESTION: Any observation on the fact that thousands of Iranian fans at the end of the game, I guess, stripped off their football jerseys to reveal opposition tee shirts?
MR. RUBIN: Well, with respect to the specific opposition group, let me say the Secretary has designated the MEK a foreign terrorist organization because of its long record of terrorist attacks. It is, therefore, illegal for US citizens to provide material to the MEK. The international fight against terrorism is one of our highest foreign policy priorities. We are therefore determined that US law concerning the MEK's designation be strictly and fully enforced. We categorically condemn terrorism whether directed at Iran or anyone else.
That said, a careful review of the evidence concerning the National Council of the Resistance, which is associated with the MEK, has shown that it does not meet the criteria in the law for the designation of the NCR as a foreign terrorist organization. The question of designation of any organization remains under constant review. I bring those points up because of the relationship between those two groups and some of the activities in the stands.
With respect to others who were merely expressing their opinion that may have come from the whole spectrum of Iranian political life, vibrant political activity is something that America was founded upon, something that we support -- except when it is by those organizations that we believe are terrorist organizations and commit the kind of atrocities against innocent civilians that we have worked so much to deter and respond to.
QUESTION: To follow up on this issue - first a clarification if I could - the MEK is the Majahedin e-Khalq? Is that correct?
MR. RUBIN: Correct.
QUESTION: For some months now, the Majahedin e-Khalq here in Washington has pointed out that there was strong opposition to the hard line conservative clericals. And here's an article concerning a Mr. Khatemi -- his minister is impeached, Mr. Noori, and he goes back and appoints the very same day - appoints that fellow to another post in defiance of the clericals, hard liners. What is the reaction of the State Department to this particular development, and to rising dissent in Iran?
MR. RUBIN: We are not going to be in a position to comment on each personnel move in the Iranian Government; they are internal matters. They do, however, indicate the intense political debate occurring in Iran. And as the Secretary noted in her speech, the Iranian people, in voting for President Khatemi, clearly sought changes in society such as those publicly advocated by President Khatemi and his government in the context of this event.
So we believe the Iranian people have made very clear their desire for a country fulfilling the rule of law and democracy and creating greater openness to events around the world. We welcome that view of the Iranian people, and that's what Secretary Albright's speech was about. With respect to every who's up and who's down within Iran, we don't think it would be wise to comment on internal matters like that.
QUESTION: But this government welcomes the dissent within Iran and their political process?
MR. RUBIN: I think I was very careful to say we welcome vibrant political activity in general, and we certainly welcome the effort that was demonstrated by the 20 million Iranians who voted for change in Iran, voted to have a country fulfilling the rule of law, fulfilling democratic principles and opening itself to the outside world - that we certainly welcome. That's what the Secretary's speech was about - the people of Iran.
QUESTION: Jamie, your policy toward Iran now is very forward-looking. What I'm wondering about is what happens to incidents in the past? How do you handle that - such as the allegations they were involved in the bombing in Buenos Aires, several other terrorist incidents, Khobar, et cetera?
MR. RUBIN: We'll consider that coming from both wires.
QUESTION: Joint question.
MR. RUBIN: Joint question.
QUESTION: How do you - would you like them to make payments, admit to it - how do you deal with all those questions?
MR. RUBIN: The short answer is we do not believe the steps that the Secretary called for and the analysis that she laid out in the speech and the goal that we have set out for our relationship need have any impact on the pursuit of terrorism and the sponsors of terrorism.
With respect to Khobar, we are going to continue to pursue the investigation. The fact that the Secretary and the President would like to see a time when Iran and the United States can have a better relationship is not going to change at all the position of the United States with respect to Khobar Towers. That bombing remains under investigation. The FBI is continuing its work. As you know, in criminal investigations, it is not possible to comment on it. I think the fact that we were working on a plea arrangement and the testimony of a certain individual shows that we were working; we're trying to get it done. Obviously, that didn't happen. The difficulties in that investigation go back some time.
But the short answer to your question is that these investigations are going to go on, regardless of our desire for improved relationship with Iran. Frankly, one of the ways in which our relationship could improve is if Iran would stop its sponsorship, and that we've made clear. So it is in a black and white situation. We are going forward with the Khobar Towers investigation. We support efforts to investigate other terrorist incidents around the world. That doesn't mean that we don't want to talk to Iran - and I'm not suggesting there's a link between any of these investigations; I'm just answering your question. And let me be very clear about that - these are investigations, and allegations about linkages are allegations. We have made no judgments.
But we are going to go forward with those investigations. The Secretary mentioned yesterday that it can often take years -- many, many years, ten years - to get a terrorist suspect back to the United States for trial. We will not sleep, in the metaphorical sense, until we've done all we can to investigate these problems. The fact that we see a possibility of developing a road map to normal relations doesn't mean we're going to reduce in any way, shape or form our determination to get to the bottom of terrorist incidents, wherever they happen.
QUESTION: Okay, then, after Khobar, the President, I believe, or senior officials, said that they would attack Iran if it proved --
MR. RUBIN: They did not.
QUESTION: Perry did.
MR. RUBIN: I don't believe they said flatly what you just said.
QUESTION: Okay, injecting whatever ambiguity - we would have an appropriate response, or whatever it was that they said.
MR. RUBIN: Well, that's what we say -
-- and you interpret it in other ways.
QUESTION: And then hordes of unnamed officials say they're talking about bombing. We don't need to talk about the way that works. But anyway, it was a very clear threat to Iran if it proved that they were behind the Khobar bombing. My question is, does that threat still stand? And secondarily, there was a rather detailed article over the weekend about the Khobar investigation - maybe that's what you were addressing - which said it is basically over and the Saudis aren't helping us and that's that. Can you address that?
MR. RUBIN: With respect to the investigation, we have talked to the Saudis at diplomatic levels about this issue. We'll continue to talk to them about that. There have been stories for some time on the difficulties in investigating these kind of issues. These criminal investigations are based on where the facts might lead them, not speculation about international relations, speculation about who might or might not be responsible; they're based on the facts. We will continue to pursue those facts and seek assistance from the Saudis in pursuing those facts, and the State Department will continue to raise this matter with the Saudi Government because we expect full cooperation with the investigation.
With respect to what we will do if some third country is found responsible, I don't have anything to add to what words were chosen by other senior officials; other than to say that as we have shown on a variety of terrorist cases, we pursue the facts regardless of how long it takes and we act and respond appropriately based on the judgments that we find.