How long they will be lying to us?

May 5, 1999

Here are two amusing items from yesterday's (May 5, 1999) State Department press briefing by spokesman James Foley. The first is the apparently unembarassed admission that the United States did not even bother to find out who owned the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Sudan, before the United States blew it to bits last August. This is especially interesting since at the time, the administration claimed that it was part of a complex web of assets in a network operated by supervillain Osama Bin Laden. How could they know that, if they didn't even know who owned it? These are the kinds of lies, that, if we go by the media's level of concern, "the American people," are perfectly willing to tolerate, and do not spend any time fretting about what to tell their children.

[Just imagine it--Dad to little junior "Son, I know I've always taught you to look up to the President and model your life on his, but the President did a very bad thing. He got into a little bit of trouble with a girl, and so he decided to blow up a factory in a dirt-poor country far away, so that we wouldn't think about the bad thing he did with the girl. Now, lots of people including little leaguers just like you are dying in that country, because the factory was the only one that made all the medicines they need when they get sick.....]

The question was asked by a reporter in light of the decision yesterday of the US not to challenge a lawsuit by the factory's owner, and to immediately unfreeze all of his assets. In typical doublespeak, we are told we not supposed to interpret the decision to unfreeze the assets as a tacit admission that the administration's allegations don't have a leg to stand on.

The second item is an exchange about the Middle East peace process, and provides an entertaining example of State Department doublespeak. The reporter asking the question is referring to statements reportedly made by President Clinton in a recent letter to Arafat.


Q Another subject. The administration has dropped its challenge to a lawsuit by a Saudi businessman who owned a pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan. Does this mean -- and, in effect, freeing his $24 million in assets. Does this mean that the administration is now beginning to doubt the --

MR. FOLEY: No, not at all. Not at all. It's not about the decision El Shifa plant. In fact, our actions against the plant were not predicated on the gentleman's ownership of the plant. I think we indicated at the time we didn't know he was the owner until after the strike.


Q Well, the president assured Mr. Arafat that he believes that they [Palestinians] have a right to be free in their own land. He never uses the word "statehood." Does the U.S. support statehood at this point for the Palestinians?

MR. FOLEY: We believe that's a matter to be determined in permanent status negotiations. Now, as to the letter, we've seen numerous press reports regarding the text of the letter that President Clinton sent to Chairman Arafat, and I am not going to comment on what, for us, remains a private communication. I can tell you there's been no change in our policy that the only way to resolve all final status issues is through direct negotiations between the parties. We're not going to say or do anything to prejudge the outcome of those negotiations. Consistent with what the president said when he was in Gaza, we have made it clear that the United States supports the aspirations of the Palestinian people to determine their own future on their own land. But we've also said that negotiations are the only realistic and acceptable way to fulfill those aspirations.

Q Well, I don't understand how the Palestinians can be free, in the president's words, to determine their own future if, at the same time, their future has to be determined jointly with Israel? Doesn't one contradict the other?

MR. FOLEY: No, because both Israel and the Palestinians are partners in the peace process and we don't believe that either side should decide or preempt through unilateral declarations or moves what needs to be negotiated at the negotiating table.

Q Well, if that were the case, the president would say, I believe the Palestinians have a right to be free, comma, subject to Israel's approval.

MR. FOLEY: Our policy is that we support the aspirations of the Palestinian people to determine their own future on their own land.

Q And free?

MR. FOLEY: We've not defined what their aspirations are.

Q No, but it says to freely determine their own future. Anyhow, I see where this is leading, so let's ask you if it is still -- last question -- the Bush administration informed Israel that it opposes Palestinian statehood. Is that position operative in this administration?

MR. FOLEY: Well, we are not going to oppose what the parties themselves agree to, but we're not going to prejudge what the parties may agree to, and therefore we're not going to take a position ourselves on permanent status issues.

Q So when the Bush administration said it opposes statehood, that was the Bush administration's position? There were negotiations in the Bush administration too.

MR. FOLEY: Well, I'm not -- I'm not -- Q Negotiations didn't begin on your watch, it began a long time ago.

MR. FOLEY: I'm not going to sit here and either offer unilateral U.S. positions on something we think the two parties need to decide themselves or --

Q I'm asking you if one administration makes a statement, if it has any -- if it's binding on the next administration?

MR. FOLEY: I'm simply saying that we're not going to take a position on an issue that we believe the two parties need to decide themselves.