US Department of State Daily Briefing #3: Friday, 1/4/91

Boucher Source: State Department Deputy Spokesman Richard Boucher Description: 12:30 pm Washington, DC Date: Jan 4, 19911/4/91 Category: Briefings Region: MidEast/North Africa, Subsaharan Africa, Central America Country: Iraq, Somalia, El Salvador, Algeria Subject: Security Assistance and Sales, Democratization, EC, Military Affairs, Terrorism (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED) MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. If I can, I'd like to make one brief statement on Saudi arms sales, and then I'll take your questions on anything that might perhaps be on your minds today.

[Announcement: US Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia]

Secretary Baker told both the House and Senate members with whom he met yesterday that the Saudis and we have agreed not to proceed at this time with the earlier planned long-term -- that is, Phase 2 -- package of Saudi arms sales. We agree that resolution of the Gulf crisis is our first priority and that we need to further assess Saudi arms needs, including in the context of the post-crisis environment. Strong Saudi defense forces are an important element in regional stability, and the U.S. will continue to assist Saudi Arabia in building such capabilities. Now, I'd be glad to take questions on that or other topics. Q Is there a dollar figure on what that was? A No, there's not. Q That was a scaled-down version of the original $20-plus -- A As you remember, the original package that was under consideration was divided up and there was, I think, approximately $7 billion that was done in the first package. The remainder of the package, we did not precisely define. Q During the time that the United States was negotiating in the Security Council with Israel and with other Arab countries on various resolutions, there were stories that the United States had agreed to set this aside as a quid pro quo for Israeli acquiescence to some part of one of those U.N. resolutions. What is the history of making the decision to not go for this at this time? Was Israel a calculation in this? A John, the decision to delay the notification of a long-term Saudi arms package was reached jointly between us and the Saudis after consultations, obviously, between us and the Saudis. It was taken for the reasons that I just mentioned. Q And having nothing to do with Israel? A It was taken for the reasons that I just mentioned. Q And there were no assurances given to Israel along the lines that the United States would not pursue this weeks ago? A This was a matter discussed and decided between us and the Saudis, and it was done for the reasons that I just mentioned. Q No. My question is, were there ever assurances given to Israel that this second tranche would not be pursued weeks ago when it was before the U.N. Security Council when other issues were discussed? A I don't know if we had any discussions at all with the Israelis about this, John. I'll check on it and see if there's something I can give you. Q When was the decision made? You've told us when the Secretary told members of the House and Senate. But that doesn't always mean -- Q Richard, on another subject -- A It was made in the last few days. I'm not precisely sure when. Q The consultations with the Saudis ended within the past few days on this subject? A That's right. Q Do you have any idea when the consultations began on the question of whether to proceed with this batch of weapons for Saudi Arabia? Would they have begun some weeks ago? A I don't know exactly when the element of whether to proceed was introduced because we have been consulting all along with them on the issue of arms sales on the first package, the whole package, and all this kind of stuff. So at what point in that discussion the element of whether to proceed was introduced, I just don't know. Q Would you take that question? A I'll look into it Q Richard, on another subject. Have you now had a response from the Iraqis about a meeting? A We have received a response. The Charge, Joe Wilson, talked to the Foreign Ministry this morning. I think it was about 11:00 our time. Q I'm sorry? A About 11:00 our time. We have talked to him by telephone. We do not yet have the full text of the Iraqi response and will be expecting a message to come in -- a written message or cable to come in from him shortly. When we study that, we will have further details to provide for you on our reaction. Q It's Geneva on Wednesday? A We've seen the press reports that indicate that as well as you have. At this point, I don't have a more detailed -- I don't have a detailed reaction for you until we get the full text from our Charge. Q Well, can you just confirm the date and the time, Richard? Q Did they say "yes?" Q We're in a position here with the Iraqis saying one thing and we're not saying anything? A Well, that's right, John. Q Richard, what did the Charge tell the United States -- what did Charge Wilson tell John Kelly when he telephoned from Baghdad about his meeting with the Iraqi Foreign Ministry? A At this point, he has only given us the very briefest of reports, and I don't have anything on that that I can share with you at this point. Q Does the report say, yes, that they are willing to meet under some conditions? Is it a positive response from the Iraqis? A I'm sorry, I don't have any way of conveying to you the information that he conveyed in his phone call. We are waiting to see the full text of the Iraqi response. Joe Wilson will send in a message to us and once we have studied that, we will provide you some more details of our reaction. Q Are you leaving with us the impression that there is something beyond an acceptance -- there is something in the message that goes beyond acceptance or denial of the U.S. invitation? A We'll just have to see when we get the full response. Q Is the 9th an acceptable date for the United States? A Wednesday, the 9th, was part of our original proposal. Whether the Iraqi reaction is acceptable to the United States, we will have to decide after we get the full response from our Charge. Q Richard, is the White House going to have something to say about this this afternoon? Is that part of the reluctance to say much here today? A I don't know. You can check with the White House. I've said that we will try to get you further details as soon as we've had a chance to study the message. Q Richard, are you saying that the Iraqi answer was conditional? A I'm not trying to characterize the Iraqi answer in one way or the other right now, Jim. Q But you leave that impression, Richard, by the fact that you had a telephone conversation with Wilson there. Unless he was unclear in his conversation with the State Department about what was contained in it, I don't understand the reluctance to characterize it? A Obviously, in a telephone conversation he wasn't in a position to convey the full Iraqi text, the full Iraqi message, of what they told him. This is an issue that deserves a considered response from us. It just happens that this thing finished maybe an hour ago, maybe not quite that long. At this point -- right at this moment -- I'm not prepared to characterize it. We just don't have the full text from him. Q But he is an experienced diplomat. Surely, he was capable of conveying to you over the telephone what the essence of the offer was? A The offer deserves a considered response based on a full appreciation of what the Iraqis conveyed to him. We expect to get that in a message from Joe Wilson. And when we get that, we will provide you with our reaction in detail. Q In this computerized age, how come it takes an hour and a half to get a message in from Baghdad? A What makes you think it's an hour and a half? Q Well, you said approximately 11:00 our time. A He started the meeting. Q Oh, they started the meeting. A He came out of the meeting less than an hour ago, I think; he got back to the Embassy. Q Why does it take an hour to send a brief computerized message? A Because what we're expecting is not a brief computerized message. What we're expecting is a full readout on his meeting. Q Richard, does the length of the response indicate that there is more in it other than merely an acceptance of dates or times but it includes comments on content and an agenda? A I am not trying to characterize in any way the Iraqi response at this point and I am not trying to lead you to any conclusions. Q Why is it -- you said it was obviously -- a few moments ago you said it was obvious that in a phone conversation the full details of the Iraqi response could not be conveyed. Why is that obvious? That's not obvious to me. Often you can convey more in a phone conversation than you can convey in writing, including side comments and opinions and interpretations, and so on. A The written version, we expect, will be more complete and more precise than what he was conveying to us on the phone. Q Can you tell us anything about the Secretary's schedule for next week? A No, I'm afraid I can't, on the itinerary. It's just not set. Obviously -- well, let me not say "obviously." Again, it may not be obvious to all. But setting the itinerary will depend on fixing the date with the Iraqis and putting in the other stops around that. I'm afraid at this point I just can't. Q Richard, are there conditions under which these talks would not be acceptable to the U.S. if the Iraqis wanted to discuss areas such as Palestinian linkage or any other areas? A At this point, you're basing it on a hypothetical premise. We'll have to see if something like that -- Q Let me base it on a positive premise. What do we understand -- what does the U.S. understand to be the agenda of this meeting. A The agenda, I think, has been explained many times. It was explained yesterday by the Secretary on the television program. I'd be glad to repeat some of that to you but I think you're familiar with it. Q But we have no preconditions, so to speak, for what the Iraqis can speak about. They can talk about anything they want, can't they? A I'm not trying to hint on that one way or the other. You're presuming that there are preconditions or that there's something in the Iraqi response that I don't know is there yet. So how can I react to it? Q Richard, is it true that this week the United States told the Europeans that they did not want the European Community to send an envoy to Baghdad? A We had a meeting -- Bob Kimmitt had a meeting with the EC troika ambassadors here. I think we've already put out readouts of that meeting. They discussed the situation and the messages that had to be conveyed to Baghdad, but I don't have any further readout for you than the one we've already given. Q But, Richard, the Europeans say that the -- specifically say that Kimmitt told the troika that the United States did not want them to send an envoy to Baghdad. Is that true or not true? A I'm not familiar with any European comments to that effect On the Record. Q Richard, there are reports that the Algerian President found some signs of new flexibility in his recent effort. Any comment on that? Q Richard, while you're looking, can we have a filing break, please? A You can have a filing break for as long as you want. Q Tell us what's going on? A Just to point out, as we've said repeatedly, that there can be no walking back or negotiating over Iraq's complete and unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait. That is not only our position. It is embodied in several U.N. Security Council resolutions, and we have spoken many times of our opposition to anything less than the complete compliance by Iraq with those resolutions. Q Have you had a readout from the Algerians on their contents? A We have been in touch with the Algerians. Q Apart from your declarative statement, which I'm sure we all heartily concur with, on the actual content of my question, in that readout from the Algerians, did they report to you any signs of new Iraqi flexibility or possible willingness to come to an accommodation? A I have to let the Algerians speak for themselves, Alan. I would repeat what we've said many times and what has been true so far, and that there is no indication that the Iraqis are considering a withdrawal at this point. Q Richard, part of the Algerian story apparently was that Saddam wants further guarantees that he will not be attacked subsequent to a withdrawal from Kuwait. What is the current U.S. position on attacking Iraq after they withdraw? A The current position is the one that we've stated when the U.N. resolution was passed, and the Secretary restated it again yesterday; and that is, if Iraq complies fully with the U.N. Security Council resolutions, then force will not be used. Q Is the United States prepared to give assurances that Israel will not attack Iraq? A I do not know that we've been called upon to do so, and we don't usually offer assurances for other governments. Q Do you have a response or a comment on the French proposal which has been unveiled at the EC meeting today? Are you aware of it? A I saw some wire reports that quoted unnamed French officials as reporting on something the French had supposedly presented to their EC colleagues. I don't have a reaction at this point. Q With the Foreign Ministers of about four different countries commenting On the Record in public about the French proposal? A We'll wait to see what the EC does; any statements they might issue today before we react to such things. Q Has the United States been in contact with the French government about President Mitterrand's advisor who is in Baghdad, or has been in Baghdad? A We've been in close touch with the French government about a lot of things going on. I'm not sure to what extent we've discussed that specific trip. Q You're not sure to what extent it's been discussed. So if the question were, "Has the U.S. received a readout on Mr. Bozell's meetings there," the answer would be, you don't know? A I don't know. Q Was Secretary Baker informed of the content of the imprecise, as you described it, telephone conversation that was received this morning from the U.S. Charge in Baghdad? A The Secretary has been informed fully of everything we know at this point. Q Did he participate in that conversation? A No, not that I'm aware of. Q On that same point, Richard, just to clarify. What you're waiting for is a written report from Mr. Wilson on his meeting; you're not waiting for some piece of paper from the Iraqis? A That's right. Q There was a report that the Indian Ambassador, as the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, has been told that the ambassadors in Baghdad may have to move to another town. Do you have anything on that? (A note was handed to the Spokesman) Q Speaking of precision. (Laughter) Q I say, this is just in. What do you say, Richard? A I'll say, do you want to hear the Indian thing first or is this more interesting? I can't find my piece of paper. Let me just tell you, we do understand that the Iraqis met with the Indian Ambassador in Baghdad, who is the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, yesterday and that they floated an idea that diplomats might be asked to move to a site some 65 miles outside of Baghdad. But at this point neither the Iraqis nor the Dean of the Corps has met with us directly to propose the idea. Q Do you believe that is a strategic site? A I don't know enough about the location. It very well could be. If I can -- Q Just to follow that up. The same reports said that Baghdad happens to be the safest place because you've got the bunkers and also underground shelters and that the new place may not be as safe as Baghdad is in the event of war. A I don't know enough about the new place. I don't have a considered reaction to the idea because it really hasn't been presented to us directly at this point. As somebody said, this just in. We are pleased that Iraq has responded affirmatively to the President's initiative, and we contemplate that Secretary Baker will meet with Foreign Minister Aziz on Wednesday, January 9, in Geneva. Q Was there another part of the Iraqi message? Q There's a lot more writing on that paper that you just read. Why don't you give us the rest of it? A No, it doesn't say that. The other side is a press story -- it's a Reuters transcript of something. Q Is the statement you just read a result of the United States receiving a lengthy, detailed written readout of the conversation from Baghdad? A I have no way of knowing if something has come in since I've been up at the podium. Q Would you please take that question so we can -- Q Or is it more likely that someone is listening to this briefing and hearing you get beat up and decided that it was ridiculous not to provide a response? A Some one with great mercy and pity in their soul? (Laughter) Q Do you have anything on the Pakistani-Iran meeting? A No, I don't. Q Richard, can we move to another area? Q One question. Have the Iraqis also suggested that Secretary Baker, after that meeting, go to Baghdad? A Again, we don't have a full report of -- at least I don't, when I came out here. I don't have a full report of the meetings, so that's something we'd have to look at if it was in there. Q Can we request that you take under advisement our desire to have a more detailed description, let's say, of the exchange over the conditions for this meeting and what the United States understands it -- now that you've said the U.S. will meet -- after you've had a chance to do this considered review of the statement from Baghdad, perhaps in writing? If not, in person. A Certainly, Ralph. Q Somalia? A Somalia. Q Do you have an update, and do you also have any information on the kidnap of Red Cross workers? A I don't have any information on the kidnap of Red Cross workers. The update is that fighting in Mogadishu continues but looting has superseded fighting in many areas. There's no indication that a ceasefire might be coming into effect and it's still impossible to say which forces may have the upper hand. Q Could you find out about -- whatever you can -- about this Red Cross business? Because apparently gunmen have taken over the Red Cross office; they're holding the Red Cross officials at gunpoint. One of them managed to make a phone call out but said, "There's a gun at my head. I can't tell you very much about what's going on." Obviously, law and order seems to be falling apart. But this begs the question of how safe your embassy is. A It's a very dangerous and difficult security situation. I'm sure we can confirm that. Q You're evacuation, is it still under consideration? A We're still working on plans. Several plans are under consideration. A final decision on the means to evacuate will focus on the obvious safety issues that are involved. Q There's a report in the FBIS of December 26, which quotes Ambassador Oakley as saying that "If India has accurate nuclear capability, then Pakistan also has the right to do so for its own defense." Is that correct? A That's quoting Ambassador Oakley from December 6? Q December 26. A Twenty-six. Q It quotes Ambassador Oakley as saying this. A I'll see if Ambassador Oakley said anything like that. Ralph. Q A House committee today held a hearing on the cost of the Gulf military operations to which several State Department officials were invited, including Kimmitt and an official from the Economic Bureau and at least one other official. The committee made a big point of noting that the State Department chairs were empty. Could you offer an explanation as to why the State Department chose not to appear at a Congressional committee to which it was invited? A I'll have to look into that, Ralph. Q You have nothing to say about that at this point? A Not at this point. The discussions that we have with Congressional committees on hearings are based on schedules, timing, availability of people. Sometimes we offer people that they don't think are worthy of testifying -- things like that. So I don't know what went on in this particular case. Q Do you know if a conscious decision was made in this case not to testify, or is this possibly a case in which some miscommunication occurred or something? A I'll have to look into that. Q Do you have anything more on El Salvador today?

[El Salvador: US Forensic Team Investigates]

A The forensic team from the U.S. Armed Forces Institute of Pathology arrived in El Salvador yesterday to begin to investigate the circumstances of the deaths of the three U.S. servicemen who died when their helicopter was shot down in eastern El Salvador. The initial evidence continues to cast serious doubt on the FMLN guerrillas' claim that the servicemen were found dead inside the aircraft. The helicopter appears to have landed in a controlled fashion but the three crew members were later found with gunshot wounds to the head. Residents of the area where the helicopter was shot down have said that at least two of the crew members were alive when they landed and that the FMLN arrived on the scene and then gunshots were heard. The forensic team's findings will be made public as soon as the forensic report is completed. Q (Inaudible) details of the meeting among the three countries -- Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey, because that has to do with hostilities breaking out between Iraq and the U.S.? A I'm sorry. We weren't a participant to the meeting. It's for them to describe their meeting, really. Q Thanks. A Thank you. (Press briefing concluded at 12:53 p.m.) (###)