Daily Press Briefing Transcripts, 1991, 1992

January, 1991

US Department of State Daily Briefing #1: Wednesday, 1/2/91

Boucher Source: State Department Deputy Spokesman Richard Boucher Description: Washington, DC Date: Jan 2, 19911/2/91 Category: Briefings Region: MidEast/North Africa, Eurasia, South America, Subsaharan Africa Country: Iraq, Suriname, USSR (former), Israel, Somalia, Argentina, Turkey, Algeria Subject: Military Affairs, NATO, United Nations, EC, State Department, Human Rights, Democratization (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED) MR. BOUCHER: I'd like to welcome everybody back for another year of briefings and wish everybody a happy New Year.

[Deployment of NATO ACE Mobile Force to Turkey]

If I may, I'd like to start out with a statement. I think you have seen or you will see when you get back to your desk that the White House has issued a statement about NATO's decision to deploy the air component of the ACE Mobile Force to Turkey. I'd like to add a few words from here. NATO took another important step in response to the crisis in the Persian Gulf today. At the request of Turkey, the Alliance's Defense Planning Council has decided to deploy the air component of the ACE Mobile Force to that country for defensive and deterrent purposes. "ACE" stands for "Allied Command Europe" Mobile Force. This action is another firm signal of Western resolve and solidarity in response to a clear threat to the security of a member country and, thus, the Alliance as a whole. We strongly welcome this decision which follows the reaffirmation of NATO's mutual defense commitment by Alliance Foreign Ministers on December 17. The ACE Mobile Force will comprise air force elements from Germany, Belgium, and Italy. I would note that this is the first ever deployment of the ACE Mobile Force. And with that, I'll be glad to take your questions. Q Is there anything you can share with us about the travel plans for the Secretary? A No. Q That means -- A I'm afraid, Jim, that at this point we just don't have anything to announce. I wouldn't rule anything in or out, but we don't have anything to say and when we do, we'll say it. Q Today is the 14th of the 15 days that the United States proposed for the meeting in Baghdad. Is the United States prepared to go beyond January 3 as a potential meeting date? A Jim, I am not prepared to go beyond what the Secretary said before in response to that question. I think we've made abundantly clear that we proposed this exchange of visits. We proposed 15 days for meetings and the Iraqis have not given us any meaningful response to that. Basically, Iraq has still not altered its position on dates for an exchange of visits. Despite our routine contacts with the Iraqi government, they have had nothing new to say on the question of talks. Ambassador al-Mashat is back in Washington, but so far we have had no contact with him. Q Has there been any contact in Baghdad between Wilson and Hamdoun? A There has been intermittent or routine contact over the last week or so. I don't have any particular meetings or phone calls to report on. But, as I said, we have routine contacts with the Foreign Ministry and so far the Iraqis have not taken us up on our offers. Q So far as U.S. diplomacy is concerned -- leaving everybody else out of it for the time being -- would you describe it as inactive at this point? It's certainly unproductive, but is it also inactive? A I don't know how you can say "U.S. diplomacy" and then leave everybody else out of that. Q That will be my follow-up question. I mean, others doing the U.S.'s job or well-intentioned others like Europeans aside. So far as U.S. approaches or attempts; as you've described as "intermittent". Habitually, the State Department says the Iraqis have blocked any movement. How would you describe U.S.-Iraqi -- the U.S. initiative at this point -- unproductive? A I would describe it the way I just have described it, to say that the U.S. made a proposal for an exchange of visits; that we proposed 15 dates. The Secretary made clear that he was available throughout this period to go to Baghdad if the Iraqis wanted to take us up on our offer. The Iraqis have not changed their position. They have not responded in any meaningful way to the significant proposals that we made, and that is where the matter stands. As far as U.S. diplomacy goes, I would describe U.S. diplomacy as continuing to be active. We're in touch with a broad range of countries. We're discussing with other members of the international coalition -- our partners -- how to maintain the pressure on Iraq and how to try to get the message through to Saddam Hussein that he has to withdraw. Q Again, Richard, just like when we speak of the date, what you're saying about diplomacy is that we have a message and the message is, total withdrawal and get out by the 15th. There are other aspects of diplomacy, and I'm wondering if there is anything going on apart from telling others and the U.S. itself telling Saddam Hussein, no partial solutions, full withdrawal January 15 or face the risk of, etc. There have been little gestures. There have been little overtures. There have been little even speculative things. Is the U.S. involved in any way, engaged in any way with those little feelers from Iraq? A I don't know what you're talking about in terms of "little feelers from Iraq." The statements out of Iraq continue to be that they view Kuwait as its 19th province, that they have no intention of withdrawing. I think the important point is to make clear with the Iraqis that we have presented proposals. We have made clear our willingness to engage in talks. We have proposed talks. They have not taken us up on that but that doesn't mean that we don't have diplomacy. We have diplomacy with our other coalition partners because that has been the focus of our efforts all along. Q Last question. The European Community -- Mr. Poos, for instance, wants to carry the ball and go to Baghdad and do something. Mitterrand has sent an aide. Could you reflect on that? What is the U.S. view of these moves? A The view is the one that the Secretary stated on December 18 in Brussels. We support any diplomatic efforts that might result in the peaceful solution to the Gulf crisis and that carry the uniform message that Iraq must comply in full with U.N. Security Council resolutions. For example, Under Secretary Kimmitt met this morning with the Ambassadors from the EC troika countries in order to underscore the Secretary's message, as I've just stated it. Q Who are they this month? A The troika countries this month are Italy, Luxembourg, and The Netherlands. Q What are the troika countries? A The troika is the EC's phrase for the past, present, and future Presidents of the EC -- Council, I guess it is. So it's three countries. The Italians were just the President. The Luxembourg government took over on January 1, and The Netherlands has it July 1. Q You had something further to say on that, didn't you? A I was just going to say that consistent with the U.S.-EC declaration on expanding our contacts with the European Community, we have maintained regular contact with the EC on these and other issues. Q Richard, can you tell us, did Mr. Kimmitt ask that if -- did he say anything? Did he say that the United States thinks it's a good idea for Mr. Poos to go to Baghdad? And also, would the United States see that as an opportunity for a third party to try to set up dates for U.S.-Iraqi talks? A I don't have that detailed a readout of the meeting for you. I think our position was very clearly stated by the Secretary, and Mr. Kimmitt met in order to talk to them about that position. Q Richard, does the United States have a reaction to the proposed meeting between Libya, Syria, and Egypt at the summit to discuss the situation in the Middle East? A Any decision on a meeting at the summit is obviously a decision for them to make. President Mubarak, as you know, has met frequently with officials from those countries. Q Richard, going back to Iraq for a moment. The lobby was full of Ambassadors this morning. What was that about? A The lobby was full of Ambassadors? Q There seemed to be some social occasion rather than anything else. A One of your colleagues thinks it had to do with the inauguration of the new D.C. Mayor, but I'll be glad to check and see if I can confirm that. Q In the course of your checking, could you find out if al-Mashat was invited as well? A I'll check on that. We didn't have anything scheduled in terms of meetings with al-Mashat. Q There are reports that the sanctions may be starting to work a little more in Baghdad, especially the food sanctions. Have you any new assessment of the efficiency of the sanctions? A As far as we can tell, the impact of the sanctions is manifesting itself more in terms of acute inflation rather than any kind of deep food shortages. I would remind you that the view of success has to be that successes -- convincing Saddam Hussein that he should withdraw from Kuwait, and there is no indication that sanctions alone will be successful in doing that. Q A quick follow-up. Does your information tell you about chlorine and hepatitis? A No. Q There is a rumor that the sanctions have effectively kept Iraq from importing chlorine and as a result there are outbreaks of hepatitis. Is that something you're aware of -- that State is aware of? A No. Q Do you have anything on the U.S. and other Western embassies reducing their numbers in the next few days? There's a report quoting Western diplomats of saying that will happen. A What other countries are doing is for them to decide. Our Embassy, at present, in Baghdad has only a handful of people there and, obviously, we keep the situation under continuing review. Q But can you give us some idea of whether there's going to be a tendency to reduce the size of the American Embassy in the next few days? A As I said, they have a handful of people there now, and we keep the staffing under continuous review. But I'm really not trying to anticipate anything in the next few days. Q Do you have any reaction to the other countries reducing their embassies? A No. That's for them to decide. Q Are there any special security -- Q Also about the Embassy. Could you tell us about reports that Charge Wilson spoke to the Iraqis about protection for the Embassy following a sit-in of women on Sunday, and that the Iraqi guards did not stop these people from coming into the Embassy and concerns that others may try to come into the Embassy and the Iraqis won't stop them? A I hadn't heard about that. I'll have to check on that for you and get something. Q On the Embassy -- a follow-up on that -- is there any intention to further drawdown the personnel level at the American Embassy in Jordan? A We announced about a week ago, I guess, that we would be taking out dependents and some non-essential personnel. That's a process that's on-going. Q But since then? A Nothing new since then, but that process is on-going. So they are in the process of departing. Mark. Q Is there anything that would prevent the Secretary from being available to go to Baghdad next week or any time after that? The Administration previously -- as a follow-up to that -- the Administration previously has cited the time needed for Iraq to withdraw. Do you have any estimate of how long it would take Iraq to withdraw? A Mark, those are both different ways of asking, "What happens after January 3," and I'm not going to go beyond what the Secretary said before on that. Connie. Q When you brief the European and the Persian Gulf countries, are you also briefing the other members of the coalition, or not, in Europe or the Middle East? A We keep in touch with all the members of the coalition; with allies of various kinds pretty constantly on this. Q Are you sending any special emissaries to them? A I don't know of anything at this point. But we have embassies and ambassadors that stay in close touch, and we stay in close touch with ambassadors here. Q It's been a long time since we had a briefing, so could we revisit that Algerian initiative when the U.S., still in the press, is being accused of spiking an attempt by the Algerians to set up a Saudi-Iraqi dialogue. Do you have anything fresh to say about it? It was denied a long time ago that the United States uprooted or had anything to do with that Bendjedid -- A I don't have anything new to say on that, Barry. I'd leave it to the Saudis to explain what -- any Algerians to explain what they think of it. Q And one other quick one -- the troika, the troika. You said other issues, at the end of your statement. The troika has been the cutting edge in the European Community for the Palestinian-Israeli issue -- has been ahead of the United States in wanting Israel to give ground to the Palestinians. Did Kimmitt talk to the troika about that issue which you keep saying isn't linked? A I don't know if the peace process came up at today's meeting. I think that was just a way of pointing out that we have a wide range of contacts now with the European Community and discuss almost every issue under the sun with them. Q Could I just ask if someone could find out today and let us know if it came up and if Kimmitt recited the no-linkage line? A We'll see. Q If you repeatedly say that there has been no meaningful response from the Iraqis on the issue of the dates, you are not ruling out the possibility that Baker could still go to Baghdad, are you? A John, I'm not going to speculate on what happens after January 3. Q No, I'm not asking you to speculate. I'm asking you to say whether or not you are ruling out that Baker will or will not go to Baghdad. Are you ruling out that he won't go to Baghdad? A I'm not trying to indicate one way or the other. Q Richard, the Iraqi newspaper, al-Thawrah said that Baker is going to Saudi Arabia and possibly Baghdad. Do you have any reaction to that? A There have been a lot of reports on trips and travel. As far as the travel to allied and coalition partners, we don't have anything to announce for you today. As far as travel to Baghdad, I'd just remind you of what I've been saying all along and that is, the Iraqis have not responded in any meaningful way to our proposals that we've made for such visits. Q Speaking of travel -- and not to Baghdad -- any trip dates yet for Dennis (Ross) to go to Israel? A No. That pretty much remains where it is. He's looking forward to doing it, but we haven't fixed any dates. We hope it will be soon. Q Richard, also on the subject of travel. Is it anticipated that there would be another ministerial with the Soviets before a summit date in mid-February? A I guess I'd just have to say I don't know. I presume that if we had such a plan we would announce it at the appropriate time, John. I can't say at this point. Johanna. Q Richard, back on Barry's question. The Belgian Foreign Minister said yesterday that the EC was interested in a meeting with Tariq Aziz to make clear to him and Saddam that if Saddam undid his aggression, a peace conference about the whole Mideast is possible. Is that OK with the U.S.? Does that statement comport with U.S. policy? A I didn't see the Belgian statement and so I really can't comment on it other than to remind you of what our position has always been. Q We've said "no linkage," but when the word "future" is thrown in, how does the U.S. feel about it? A We have not changed our position on international conferences. Q He also used the phrase "immediate," to refer to an international conference once Iraq has withdrawn from Kuwait. Does the United States find that an acceptable idea? A I would just remind you that our position has always been that an international conference, properly structured at an appropriate time, could be useful and that position has not changed. Q Would "immediate" be a useful time? A John, we've addressed this many, many times. It's been addressed in the United Nations Security Council resolutions. It's clear that in the international community there's no agreement on when such a conference might be appropriate, and I'll just have to leave it at that. Q Richard, on the question of diplomacy in the Kimmitt meeting this morning with the troika, who asked for that meeting? And can you give us any indication whether or not there was any approach from the Europeans to pursue diplomatic angles, or what the -- give us some sense of content? A Again, I think you have to ask the Europeans for what their intentions are. We've made clear that we don't discourage meetings with the Iraqis. We think the important thing is that there be a uniform and consistent message presented to the Iraqis. We said that before. We've had very close contact with our allies in the European Community, and those contacts are continuing. As for today's meeting, I don't know who asked for it. I'll try to check. Q Richard, can you tell us, did today's meeting reassure the United States that the message will be consistent? Is there any reason to be concerned that the message will not be consistent? A I don't have any reason to doubt it, and I think you remember exactly what the Secretary said at NATO after the NATO meeting: That there was unanimity of view among the NATO countries and that he had no doubts that those countries would present the position very clearly and strongly if (inaudible) needs help. Q That was restated today? A I don't know if that was restated today, but I don't have any reason to doubt that that's not the case today. Q Richard, are any of the Secretary's aides, close assistants, travelling on this diplomatic sounding? Does he have any of his people in Europe or elsewhere or in the Gulf to stay in touch with some of these interlocutors like the Europeans? A People travel from time to time. Most everybody is around right now. As I said, we have embassies and we have ambassadors, and we meet with ambassadors here. We have very close contacts with our coalition partners. Q Most everybody is around. Q Well, who is he asking? Any of the Secretary's aides? Is anybody in the State Department travelling? Q He is reputed to have a very closely-knit staff of half a dozen top assistants that pretty much have different regions of the world of expertise. A I'm not aware that there's anybody, for example, from the Seventh Floor that's travelling right now. Q Richard, on another subject. This may have come up over the weekend but I didn't see it. The Argentine government released, or pardoned a lot of former leaders and participants in the Dirty War, including Carlos Suarez Mason who had been extradited from the United States in 1988. Does the State Department believe that his pardoning is consistent with the agreements which were made in '88? A I don't think we had anything to say on that, have we, Mark (Dillen)? I'll look into it and see if there is anything for us to say, Jim. Q Could you give us an update on Somalia?

[Somalia: Update]

A Somalia? The situation on Somalia is confused. Heavy fighting has continued for a fourth day in Mogadishu. It is not possible to say at this point which forces have the upper hand in the fighting or which forces are in control of what locations. There is a heavy concentration of government troops near the military side of the airport which would suggest that Siad Barre might be there, as has been reported in the press, but we don't know this for a fact. As for Americans, on December 12, we ordered the departure of non-essential personnel and dependents from our Embassy in Mogadishu. We issued a travel advisory on the same date urging Americans to leave the country. On January 1 -- that's yesterday -- we authorized the evacuation of all the official and non-official American community in Somalia in response to the current armed conflict. A Task Force to implement the evacuation and to monitor the situation was convened this morning. Several plans to facilitate an evacuation are under consideration. Since no cease-fire has been declared, a final decision on the means to evacuate will focus on the obvious safety issues involved. Telephone lines have been cut but our Embassy in Mogadishu is in touch with the private community to the maximum extent possible. Obviously, we're closely monitoring the situation, and we will advise the American community as evacuation plans develop. Q Are you saying all Americans, official Americans are being withdrawn? A That's right. Q How many? A There are 37 official Americans and fewer than 50 private Americans. Q Richard, comment from here has been scarce. You haven't called on them to cease the fighting; you haven't asked for a cease-fire; you haven't done a lot of things that you might normally do in other conflicts. Are you sort of sitting back and hoping that Siad Barre will be removed so that you can then come in on the side of the opponents? A Jan, our primary concern at this point remains the safety of Americans and other foreigners. It remains the effort that we have underway now to get Americans, both official and private Americans, out of the country. Clearly, we would support a cease-fire and an end to violence, particularly in the context of facilitating the departure of Americans and other foreigners. We do support an Italian effort to achieve a cease-fire. But at this point, contacts with both officials and with the rebel forces have been very difficult due to the security situation. Q Richard, was there an Ambassador resident in the country? Is he one of the 37 official Americans, and is he being evacuated? Does this mean that the Embassy there is simply being abandoned or closed at this point? A I assume the word is going to be "opened but unstaffed." I didn't check exactly on that. But, yes, we do have an Ambassador there; and, yes, he would leave with all the other official and private Americans that we can get out of there. Q Assuming you find a way to get them out, which is apparently your problem now? A Which is a difficulty because of the security situation. We have to look at various options. Q Do you have anything there on these private Americans seeking refuge at the Embassy? A Not at this point. I tried to check just before I came in and couldn't get any information. Q Richard, has the Embassy itself been left alone? Have there been any attacks on the Embassy? A There haven't been any attacks on the Embassy itself. There have been fighting and gunfire in the area near the Embassy, in that part of the city. Q And have Americans been targets at all in any way by either side? A No, not that I'm aware of. Q Isn't Somalia one of the countries with which we have a military access agreement and we have access to Berbera? A I don't know precisely what the status of that is, George. I'd have to check on that. I do know that new economic support and military assistance funding for Somalia was terminated in 1989 because of our human rights concerns. Q Is there aid being funneled through the private voluntary organizations? A I said any new assistance was terminated in '89. There are apparently some services under previously funded programs that continued in order to bring those to a conclusion, but I don't have the details on those programs. Q How soon are you trying to get these people out? Is this effective now, immediately, at the Embassy? A We decided yesterday to do it. Our Embassy has been working on it. We have a Task Force that's working on it, and we'll do it as soon as we can. Q Is the problem that the airport is closed? A The problem is the fighting. It's a dangerous security situation there. Q You opened the briefing by talking about a first-time ever use of the mobilization ACE Force. Are you aware that NATO has moved any forces of any kind -- not just this one narrow type of force -- in response to the situation in the Persian Gulf? This is the first time they've moved any forces of any kind, not just this one ACE mobilization force, is it not? A Let me check on that because you want a definitive answer, "yes." Let me check. Q The President, in the David Frost interview, mentioned the possibility of demanding reparations from Iraq. Do you have anything at all to say on that? A Just to remind you of the U.N. Security Council resolutions on the subject. Q Is there any work being done in this building or elsewhere in the government to determine the amount of reparations? A I would have to look back first at the U.N. Security Council resolutions. I think they asked people to gather together any information on the damages caused by the invasion. I'm sure that we're doing that. Q Richard, anything on the worsening situation in Israel and the increased violence over the last few days? A Well, we continue to be disturbed by the recent violence in Israel and the Occupied Territories. We believe that both sides must work to stop the killings and the violence. Q Just to come back to Somalia. You said you're not aware of Americans being targets. Are all Americans safe and accounted for, or are there any concerns about the safety of Americans not accounted for? A The communications in the city are obviously difficult, so I don't think we can say that everybody is accounted for. I'm not aware of any reports of injuries or harm having come to Americans, but, clearly, it's a dangerous situation. Q A clarification on the ACE Force. There are elements, you said, from Germany, Belgium, and Italy. Are these Germans, Belgians, and Italians or are these American troops based there? A They are Air Force elements from Germany, Belgium, and Italy. And, yes, they are Germans, Belgians, and Italians. Q Can you tell us how many people and air planes are involved in this, Richard? A No. I think NATO made that clear in its statement. Q Forty aircraft. A Yes, something like 40 fighter aircraft from Belgium, Germany, and Italy is about as much as I have but I've seen some details in the press reporting from Brussels that I assume came out of NATO. Q Richard, do you have anything to say about the Japanese saying that if Iraq withdraws they would be willing to restart their economic aid to Iraq? And would the United States be interested in making any similar commitment to the Iraqis? A No, I don't have anything on that at this point. Q Richard, the commitments that the United States got from countries such as Germany and Japan for financial support of the Desert Shield operation ran up to the end of the year. Now that the new year is upon us, is it tin-cup time again? A Jim, our allies have expressed a willingness to help this effort. They have joined in the coalition. They have joined at the U.N., and they have joined financially and, in many cases, with men and equipment on the ground and in the seas near Saudi Arabia. They've consistently stated a willingness to continue supporting the effort, and I'm sure that process will continue as the effort goes forward. Q Are you saying, then, that a new fund-raising trip is not necessary? A I have nothing to announce on trips, Jim. Q Richard, are you conducting business as usual with the new government in Suriname? A We haven't had any contacts with the new government in Suriname at this point. Q Have you taken any steps against the coup? A We have called, as other governments have called, for the military to restore power immediately to the democratically-elected civilian authorities in Suriname. The Netherlands has condemned the coup; Venezuela has said it won't recognize the new military government; the OAS took a step along these same lines on December 28. So we've made very clear our view of this and the view of other nations that a democratic constitutional government should be restored. Q Just one other thing. Do we have any aid to Suriname that is affected by this? A I don't think so. I'd have to double-check that. Q Thank you. A Thank you. (Press briefing concluded at 12:57 p.m.)(###)