Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Daily Press Briefing


Wednesday, June 18, 1997
Briefer: Nicholas Burns
5-8Mir Aimal Kansi in US custody; Operational details not available; Rewards program
14-15FBI credits Department of State for role in Kansi capture; Message to terrorists
12-14, 21-22Saudi Arabia (al Khobar) bombing: Potential Iranian link; Suspect al-Sayegh deportation from Canada to US
18Possible Syria-Iran joint support for PKK, concern about int'l terrorist networks

DPB # 93
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 18, 1997 -- 1:47 P.M.

QUESTION: Nick, another Middle East - Mr. Kansi, once the State Department poster boy, is now taken in.
MR. BURNS: He was. He was on posters and he was on matchbooks.
MR. BURNS: All over the Middle East and South Asia.
QUESTION: Now that he's safely behind bars, which governments or other entities does the U.S. wish to thank for their help? And what sort of help was there?
MR. BURNS: That's an appropriate question, and if I were in your shoes, I'd ask that same question. The answer is, we're very pleased that he's going to be arraigned in Fairfax, Virginia, and that he's going to be brought to justice. And by that I mean, he's going to receive a fair trial in the United States. We're very pleased that he's been apprehended, because we didn't forget the people who were killed outside of the CIA headquarters four years ago.
The secret of our success is that we are disciplined, and that we are not going to spill our guts in public and say exactly how all this came about; because perhaps we'll want to do the same thing to some other terrorist in the future. So we're not going to be saying here from the podium - and I hope we won't be saying on background. I hope people won't be returning the phone calls today and tomorrow and the next day inside the government - phone calls to journalists to say how it happened, because preserving operational details and preserving some of the relationships that we have around the world is very important for our future effectiveness.
QUESTION: Have you paid the money, though? Have you paid the ransom money? Not ransom, but reward money.
MR. BURNS: One of the great things about us is that we always meet our commitments. We do what we say we're going to do. Now, in this case, what I can tell you is this. I can tell you very little.
We've had a great success here in apprehending Amir Amal Kansi. He's going to face justice. We don't talk about how we pay the money out, and we don't talk about whether we pay it out, and we don't talk about who gets the money. All I can tell you is, we meet our commitments.
QUESTION: What is meant by --
MR. BURNS: And the reason we don't do that is to protect - in general, on this program, I'm not referring specifically, now, to Mr. Kansi, but in general on this question - we don't do it, because we want to preserve the identity of people who help us. But I don't want to say much more than that, because I think it's important to preserve the way that we brought this all about.
QUESTION: But I didn't ask you to whom you paid the money. I just asked if you had actually paid any of this reward money out. And with all due respect, the other day, you announced from that very same podium that the United States has paid out $5 million over the last x number of years that you had this program. So is it now $7 million?
MR. BURNS: I did announce that we paid out $5 million in, I think, over 20 cases over the last several years, but what we've never done is say, okay, of that $5 million, x percentage went to this person for that case. We haven't put that information out, and I won't because it's necessary to preserve the integrity of the program and that is confidentiality.
QUESTION: Okay, well let me --
MR. BURNS: So, I've answered the second question.
QUESTION: No, you still haven't answered it.
QUESTION: Have you paid --
MR. BURNS: I answered the second question.
QUESTION: She didn't ask you who you paid it to. She asked you if it was paid out.
MR. BURNS: Carol's asked a couple of questions. I answered the question I wanted to answer.
QUESTION: Oh, I see.
QUESTION: Let me try one more time. Without --
MR. BURNS: Time honored technique of spokespeople around the world.
QUESTION: Without reference to any specific amount --
QUESTION: -- has there been a reward paid in this case?
MR. BURNS: I don't want to answer that question.
QUESTION: Did the money play a role in his capture?
MR. BURNS: I don't want to answer your question. And again, I am doing this, I am taking this tack because we have made a decision - and Secretary Albright has made this in our own department. It's been agreed upon inter-agency, with the FBI and with the CIA and the other agencies here in town, the White House, that we're not going to talk about how we put this effort together, how we brought it off and whether or not other people helped us.
I can't do that. It would violate the pledge I've made not to do that.
QUESTION: Nick, where --
MR. BURNS: I think you understand why we can't do that.
QUESTION: Where was he arrested and when?
MR. BURNS: Excuse me?
QUESTION: Where was he arrested and when?
MR. BURNS: I'm sorry, I mean, some of that may come out in a court of law, I don't know. But I am not going to reveal any of these operational details.
QUESTION: On which border was he handed over to the U.S. authorities?
MR. BURNS: I'm not going to answer those questions.
QUESTION: On Afghan or Pakistan border?
MR. BURNS: I am not going to answer those questions because the man hasn't even - as far as I know, he may just be being arraigned. It's very important that we not talk about these cases before the justice system gets into them. As you know, we have taken the pledge; and the pledge is we're not going to release operational details of this mission.
QUESTION: Death penalty has been asked by the Fairfax authorities in this case.
MR. BURNS: Excuse me?
QUESTION: Death penalty has been asked?
MR. BURNS: I am not aware what happened this morning in Fairfax.
QUESTION: Yeah, that's what the Fairfax authorities -- they have asked the judge for death penalty.
MR. BURNS: Well, I would refer you to, obviously, to the local officials in Fairfax --
QUESTION: And do you support --
MR. BURNS: -- and the Department of Justice.
QUESTION: Do you support if they have asked the death penalty?
MR. BURNS: That is not question that is pertinent to the State Department. I don't want to involve myself in judicial affairs. We have a separation of powers here. It is very important I respect that.
QUESTION: Finally, has the Pakistani Government played any role?
MR. BURNS: Excuse me?
QUESTION: Has the Pakistani Government played any role?
MR. BURNS: I am not in a position to answer that question. I'm sorry.
QUESTION: The question is, we're not hearing the verve or the determination that we used to hear if Iran is found out to be a direct sponsor or directly implicated in terrorism. I'm referring, of course, to the bombing of the - the Dhahran bombing, in which 19 Americans were killed. I guess you could say it's hypothetical, but the Administration in the past has jumped on such hypothetical situations and made strong statements. What if Iran, indeed, is linked with evidence to the bombing; what then?
MR. BURNS: Well, Barry, we don't engage in hypotheticals, as you know, hypothetical thinking. We can't do that in relating to other states around the world. We have to deal with facts.
Right now, we cannot prove conclusively who bombed the Khobar barracks and killed 19 Americans and wounded 250 others. But we're going to find out. One of the reasons that we sought the arrival here of Mr. Al-Sayegh is that we might question him about this crime. Now, we have to come to the bottom of the case. When we do locate the people who planned the operation, set the bomb and detonated it, we are going to bring them to justice. We'll work very cooperatively with Saudi Arabia in that process. But this is not the time for us to engage in hypothetical thinking on a serious issue like this.
QUESTION: Has it been said -- I haven't been working the last couple of days - why he was brought here?
MR. BURNS: Excuse me?
QUESTION: Has the U.S. Government explained --
MR. BURNS: No, we're not going to do that --
QUESTION: -- whether it was for his own protection?
MR. BURNS: No, we won't be doing that. You're going to get very little out of me or nothing on this, because --
QUESTION: I'll get you to read a description of the Saudi justice system and whether it's in the best interest of the case.
MR. BURNS: Well, before we get to that question, let me just say that obviously the governments wishes and case are going to be brought in a court of law here. He is also going to be arraigned and I don't want to get mixed up in judicial matters. That's not my purview.
QUESTION: Does the United States still leave open the possibility that he could still be sent to Saudi Arabia?
MR. BURNS: I have no comment to make on that. We'll have to see what happens.
QUESTION: Nick, I just want to go page back to the Kansi. I had a follow-up and we went on to a new subject. The deputy director of the FBI, Mr. Esposito said that without the State Department, this capture would not have been possible. Would you - I know you don't want to elaborate a great deal on this; you made that clear. But is the State Department's role - was it a significant one? Was it a large role in this?
MR. BURNS: I know that Secretary Albright believes that this was really the best example of agencies working together - the FBI, the CIA the State Department, the White House, the Pentagon. The State Department played a very large role in this. But we're going to restrain ourselves about congratulating ourselves on the specific details. We're going to preserve that confidentiality.
QUESTION: And we had two individuals in the news today. You had Mr. Kansi and Sayegh. What does this kind of - what kind of signal does this send to future terrorists?
MR. BURNS: Well, I think that Secretary Albright, as we said last night in our public statement - I'd just like to paraphrase what Secretary Albright believes here. That is that the United States is a country that remembers our killed and our wounded in terrorist attacks. We are not a country that forgives. We seek retribution. We will track these terrorists down, wherever they are. Mr. Kansi may have thought for several years, four years, he was safe in his hideout. He wasn't safe.
The people who kill Americans in Greece, the people who kill Americans in other parts of the world are not safe, and they will pay the price of our justice system or other countries' justice systems. That is the fundamental message. It is very interesting, it's compelling that two individuals are being arraigned in this country in this metropolitan area today. That's very important - a very important message. We don't forget.
QUESTION: Nick, I would like to come back to the Al Sayegh case. When he was in Canada, he said that two of the countries - he gave the name of the two countries which the both of them they are placed on your terrorism supporting country list -- Syria and Iran. And after the attack, if I correctly remember, some reports from Israel carried the same kind of information. And my question is, it shows these terrorism supporting countries are not working individually. They look like they are working as some kind of network, which it shows - for example in the Turkish case, the PKK, Syria gave it the safe haven and Iran is also giving safe haven to the PKK. What is the State Department's view on this subject?
MR. BURNS: There are international terrorist networks. We are concerned about them. If you look at our terrorism report, you will see that we think there are patterns of international cooperation on terrorism; and look at Iran, which is a fulcrum of terrorist activity in direction and financing. We agree with that general supposition. Ron.
QUESTION: On the Saudi case, after feeling somewhat constrained in talking about Kansi, you're no doubt looking for a story on which you can help us with great detail.
MR. BURNS: It would be nice.
QUESTION: I wonder what the Saudi suspect - what he has been able to tell the government so far that contributes to the government's knowledge of Iran as a, as you put it, "a fulcrum of terrorist activity"?
MR. BURNS: Well, whatever we hear from this individual, we're going to maintain confidentiality, obviously, in order to preserve any options we may want to undertake about the search for the killers of the 19 American servicemen in Khobar. I just can't give you any information on that.
QUESTION: Nick, I'm going to try one more time.
MR. BURNS: Okay.
QUESTION: Maybe this is general enough. Was this fellow brought here --
MR. BURNS: Which fellow?
QUESTION: The Saudi.
MR. BURNS: The Saudi.
QUESTION: Was he brought here because of what he knows, or was he brought here primarily for his own protection?
MR. BURNS: I can't answer that question, Barry. Yes. Okay, thank you very much.
QUESTION: Were you briefed already in Canada? Does the government, essentially, already know what it is that --
MR. BURNS: I'm not in a position to answer that question. We have one more question? Yes, sir.