|1-4||US Protest over Charges Against American Citizen Richard Bliss in Rostov, Russia|
MR. FOLEY: Sorry to keep you waiting. I have a number of announcements.
First, the Department of State today called in the Russian ambassador to protest the Russian Government's filing of espionage charges against Richard Bliss, an American citizen. We are urging the Russian Government to release Mr. Bliss immediately. The United States is disturbed that the Russian authorities took this step, as there is no credible reason for the accusations made against him. Mr. Bliss is an engineer who was conducting legitimate business activities in a joint venture to develop a cellular telephone network in Rostov.
This incident could have negative consequences for our efforts to promote commercial ties with Russia, and Russia's desire to integrate into the international community. Many Americans will be watching these developments closely. We have raised this matter at the highest levels and will continue to do so. I'm going to post that statement.
QUESTION: On Richard Bliss, could you say who delivered the protest and who received it? And if both capitals apply, could you mention that?
MR. FOLEY: If both capitals what?
QUESTION: Apply - were there protests posted in Moscow and in Washington?
MR. FOLEY: Well, we called in - it was Ambassador Sestanovich, called in the Russian ambassador today to deliver a formal protest. We've been in communication with the Russian authorities in Moscow since the onset of this incident.
I can't tell you whether the protest also was delivered in Moscow. I think it carries more weight and significance, the fact that the Russian ambassador was called into the Department today.
QUESTION: Who did he see?
MR. FOLEY: Ambassador Sestanovich.
QUESTION: Who saw him?
MR. FOLEY: Sestanovich.
QUESTION: Oh, I'm sorry. The Russian ambassador, okay.
QUESTION: There were some reports that this is the result of Qualcomm failing or refusing to pay bribes to certain security officials in Rostov. Do you have any suspicions that might be true?
MR. FOLEY: I've not heard that, that there may be some connection. But clearly, there must be some reason behind this incident; a reason that we cannot define. But we have been committed very strongly to the expansion of American trade and investment in Russia, and to doing all we can to help integrate Russia into the world economy as it reforms its economy.
But it's our view that this will not occur, in fact, if legitimate businessmen are treated in this manner. And as I said in my statement, Americans are going to be watching this matter closely.
QUESTION: When you talk about this having been talked about at the highest levels, you're talking about Gore and Chernomyrdin, right?
MR. FOLEY: I believe there was planned a communication between the two of them. I can't confirm whether it's taken place yet.
QUESTION: Do you know if the Secretary talked to Primakov about this?
MR. FOLEY: She raised it with the Deputy Foreign Minister when he was here this week.
QUESTION: So that's what she discussed with Mamedov yesterday.
MR. FOLEY: Yes, among other topics, yes.
QUESTION: The reports have said both that Qualcomm says they had all the documents to bring this GPS system in, and that under questioning, the gentleman has admitted he didn't have the documents to bring them in. Do you know what the truth of the matter is on that?
MR. FOLEY: I do know that Qualcomm has assured us that all the equipment that Mr. Bliss was using was properly licensed with the Russian authorities.
QUESTION: When you say that you feel there's no credible information that substantiates these charges, how can you support that? How do you know that there's no credible information?
MR. FOLEY: We've stated clearly that the charge that Mr. Bliss was involved in espionage is utterly without foundation. I think that speaks for itself.
Q Jim, on another subject?
MR. FOLEY: Are we finished with this subject?
QUESTION: What happens next? What's the next step?
MR. FOLEY: Well, we continue to provide consular services to Mr. Bliss and to ensure that he's properly represented. I believe he has a Russian lawyer. But that's strictly on the level of our commitment to him as an American citizen, providing the services that we ordinarily provide.
On the political level, I think is where your question is directed. I think we have to await now a Russian response to this formal demarche, this formal protest that we've lodged, and the very clear message that we have conveyed -- and which I am conveying from this podium -- about the seriousness of this issue and the potential implications for our economic relationship with the Russian Federation.
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