US Department of State Daily Briefing #4: Monday, 1/7/91

Boucher Source: State Department Deputy Spokesman Richard Boucher Description: 12:38 PM; Washington, DC Date: Jan 7, 19911/7/91 Category: Briefings Region: MidEast/North Africa, Caribbean, Eurasia, Central America Country: Somalia, USSR (former), El Salvador, Haiti Subject: Democratization, Military Affairs, Development/Relief Aid, Terrorism, State Department (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED) MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. If I can, I'd like to start out with the situation in Haiti, and then I'd be glad to take your questions.

[Haiti: Haitian President Rescued]

At approximately 9:30 a.m. today, Haitian army troops took control of the Presidential Palace and freed President Trouillot from her captors. Supporters of Roger LaFontant, the former Interior Minister under Jean Claude Duvalier, had taken President Trouillot captive last night as part of an attempt by LaFontant to seize power. LaFontant is now under arrest. Our Embassy reports that there was some gunfire, but that the President was unharmed. We have no reports on casualties. We applaud General Abraham and the Haitian army for its strong action in support of the constitutional government. We also applaud President-elect Aristide for his radio appeal to the Haitian people, in which he called for support of the constitution, and we admire the courage of President Trouillot. Today's action allows Haiti's democratic process to continue with the inauguration February 7 of Jean Bertrand Aristide, who was overwhelmingly elected as Haiti's new President on December 16. With that, I'd be glad to take your questions. Q He was due here this week. Do you know if he's still coming? A No, I don't. I think any announcement on a visit like that would be from the White House anyway. Q Do you know if there are any plans being made concerning the Embassy in Baghdad in view of the imminence of January 15? A The staffing of our Embassy in Baghdad remains under review. Q Are you planning to move out of the city at all? A That came up on Friday. I don't -- we were not approached directly by either the Iraqis or the -- I think at this point, even of the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps with whom they (inaudible) -- Q Have you at all spoken to the Indian Ambassador? A I didn't check this morning. I hadn't heard that we had, but I'll check again to make sure that we haven't been approached directly. But, as I said, the question of staffing remains under review. We have a small staff, a handful of staff there now. Q Are you planning to issue any warnings with respect to the media in Baghdad? A Again, I don't have anything for you at this point. Q Richard, is consideration being given to calling off the summit between President Bush and President Gorbachev in February? A That's something I have to leave for Marlin to address, and I understand he's already addressed it. Q Do you have any information on dispatch of large numbers of troops to the Baltic republics? A Again, I don't think I have much more than what Marlin said. I can give you that if you weren't -- if you didn't hear it. First, to point out the United States has never recognized the forcible incorporation of the Baltic states into the Soviet Union, and we support the aspirations of the Baltic people to control and determine their own future. We have seen reports this morning that Soviet troops are being sent to the Baltic republics. We have not been able to independently confirm this information from official sources. Nevertheless, Ambassador Matlock, who was in the Foreign Ministry this morning on another matter, raised these reports with Soviet Foreign Minister Shevardnadze. The Ambassador pointed out that the leaders and people of the Baltic states conducted themselves with dignity and discipline, and he reiterated the U.S. policy on behalf of peaceful negotiations. Q Richard, what was the Foreign Minister's response? A At this point I don't have any more details to provide, or I'm not in a position to characterize his response. Q If Matlock discussed this issue with such a high official as Shevardnadze, how come you're not in a position to independently confirm whether these troops have been dispatched or not? A We have seen various reports, both from our Embassy in Moscow and from our Consulate in Leningrad, including some contacts they had with officials in the Baltic republics. At this point we don't know the size, the nature or the purpose of the deployments, other than what I think you've all seen publicly. Q But you can confirm that they're actually being made? A No. I can't confirm that the deployments have actually gone ahead -- whether troops have been moved, and that sort of thing. Q If troops were moved, that would be a provocation, as you said last week about the -- A Well, as I said last week, we would be very concerned about any sort of provocation, and I'll just stick with that. Ambassador Matlock reiterated again our policy in his meeting. Q Richard, would you give us an update on the status of the START talks? Are there problems in those talks? Is the treaty likely to be ready for signing in time for this "maybe" summit? And then I have a follow-up. A David, I don't have an update with me today. I know that our discussions with the Soviets have been continuing. We're still working on the issues necessary. I don't have a full readout. I'll have to try to get you one. Q On the Conventional Arms Agreement, how serious are the alleged violations by the Soviets of the agreement, and what is being done about that? A Again, that's something that we've addressed before. I don't have any particular update today. The agreement itself provided for a certain period of time under which discrepancies and questions could be asked and answered. The Secretary raised these when he was in Houston. He raised them with Minister Shevardnadze. There are what we call serious discrepancies of data and questions of interpretation that we have been raising and pursuing with the Soviets. But I'm not sure whether that's come to conclusion yet. Q Do you have any theory on why there are such wide discrepancies? A No. I don't. Q Can I go back just briefly to Haiti? Was there any communication between U.S. officials either in Haiti or here and any of the parties in the events of the past 24 hours during the course of those events, or are we purely watching? A I'm told that we were not involved in any way in ending the coup. The Haitian army acted on its own to support the constitutional government. Q Did they touch base with us before they acted? A I don't know precisely whether we talked to anybody or not, but we were not involved. Q Richard, Secretary Baker mentioned yesterday that we would be asking Congress to release the $42.5 million in military aid to El Salvador. Can you expand on that? When will the request actually be made, etc.? A The decision on release is up to the President. I don't think that has been made. The Secretary said that the first thing we would do would be to talk to the Congress, and certainly we'll be doing that. Q And do you know by what deadline should this be asked? Is there a deadline for that? A It's some time this week that we have to report to the Congress. Q By the 10th? A I'm not aware of the precise date. Q Richard, he also said that these men ought to be found, indicted and brought to justice. What are you going to do about that? A Let me run down the situation with El Salvador, and I think you can see it in here. The FMLN has issued four separate and contradictory statements on the shooting down of our helicopter and the murders of the crew members. Now that they can no longer deny the evidence, they are calling for an international investigation. As usual, the FMLN's actions give the lie to their words. Just last Friday, FMLN guerrillas opened fire on the forensic team that was up at the crash site doing the investigation. The Salvadoran government has told us it plans to investigate and to prosecute these killings. We believe the guerrillas should turn over those responsible to the Salvadoran judicial authorities. They should publicly pledge not to take retribution against witnesses, and they should stop the actions such as last Friday's attack. Q What happened to the forensic team? I mean, was anybody hurt? A No. No one was injured. They took off under fire. Q Who? The guerrillas? A Yes. The guerrillas came and started shooting at them, and they got back in the helicopters and took off. Q New subject. The transcript says, "Well, the first thing we're going to do is talk to the Congress about releasing the restrictions that they have on the monies." It seems that a decision has already been made. A I don't think the President and the Secretary indicated that. If he's made up his mind, I don't know that for sure. Q Is the United States prepared to provide any protection for the one peasant farmer who says he's afraid for his life after witnessing this? A I hadn't seen that. I just don't know. I'm sorry. Q Richard, are we planning any retaliation that you're aware of? A I don't know how to answer hypothetical questions like that other than to say that at this point that would be hypothetical. We have said very clearly what we think should happen. We don't have deployed forces down there. We have trainers down there, and so without getting involved in a discussion of every possibility, I think we've said very clearly what we think should happen. The investigation should proceed, and the Salvadoran authorities should be allowed to bring these people to justice. Q Are we providing any investigative help at all in this -- A Well, we've provided the forensic team, and the results of that forensic team investigation, and I'm sure we'll provide any other assistance that we could. Q Have they requested other assistance? A I don't know. I'll have to check that. Q How about any changes in the rules of engagement for our soldiers there, given -- in the wake of this? A You'll have to check with the Defense Department on that. Q The legislation on Salvador aid sets out certain criteria under which the President can release the $42.5 million, and none of that criteria is related in any way to the events of last week. It has to do with importing of weapons from outside and engaging in military offensives, and it doesn't say anything about shooting at Americans. Are the two issues linked? A Well, that's right, George. Under the criteria of the legislation, the killings do not directly affect the release of military aid. They do call into question the FMLN pledges not to assassinate non-combatants, and the FMLN's seriousness in seeking a peaceful settlement. We'll be consulting with the Congress on the issue, and the legislation gives the President the authority to release the military aid if he determines that the conditions specified in the legislation are being met. Q Do you have any evaluation there of the FMLN's behavior since the legislation was approved? A We've said, I think, repeatedly that they have been engaged in offensive actions; that they have conducted attacks. There was an offensive or a mini-offensive that took place, resulting in a lot of deaths, including deaths on the part of civilians. I think we've characterized their behavior repeatedly. Q The key word for over there seems to be "continuous offensive." Since this began in the month of November, do we view the continuous shooting, including the bringing down of this helicopter, as evidence of a continuous offensive? A Well, that's exactly what I was saying. My understanding is that the President had to make that decision and that had not been decided; that the precise criteria of the aid -- the release of the aid -- had to be addressed, and we will be talking to the Congress about that and making the decision. Q What is the Department's assessment today of the situation in the Persian Gulf? Do you see any change of any sort, any hopeful signs, any evidence of troop movements, etc.? A The Department's assessment is exactly the same as the Secretary's assessment on the airplane, and the Secretary's assessment in the press conference today with Douglas Hurd. We'll get you transcripts of those. Q Richard, is the State Department aware of how many people holding Iraqi passports are currently in the U.S. under varying statuses? A We don't really collect that kind of information. That's the Immigration Service that keeps track of people actually in the United States. Q Is there any sort of thought being given to -- are these people just free to do anything they would care to do should there be hostilities in the Gulf? Is that a concern or not a concern? A Well, obviously, we're concerned about the potential for terrorism both here and overseas. But as far as whether we're planning anything against people who happen to be in the United States, not that I'm aware of. Q Britain expelled some Iraqis just to guard against the possibility of terrorism. Do you rule out the possibility that the U.S. might expell some Iraqis as a precautionary matter? A I would just note that we've already reduced the staff of the Iraqi Embassy here in Washington. Q Excuse me. Could you comment on a report in today's Washington Times that the Iraqis could strike first, and what is the position of the State Department toward that story? A That -- Q What is the position of the State Department over that story? A I'm sorry, which story? Q In the Washington Times today about the possibility of a strike by the Iraqis first against the United States. A I don't really have a position for you. I think we have to leave military matters to be addressed by the Pentagon. They've done quite a number of briefings on Iraqi capabilities. Q Does that include concerns of the Hawk missiles that you have to leave to the Pentagon? And the Times also carries a story about Jordanian technicians working on the U.S.-made Hawks that were captured? A Yes. Q The Secretary will be meeting both with NATO Secretary General Woerner and the Turkish Premier, Ozal. Would it be fair to expect that additional NATO deployments to Turkey would be part of those discussions? A I have to leave questions like that to the Secretary and his party on the road. Q Do you have anything to say of assertions on an NBC television program last night of quoting -- with Americans interviewed saying they've been tortured and beaten in what they call Saudi Arabian dungeons? Are you aware of this, and any comment about it? A I wasn't aware of that particular report; no. Q What about that situation, in general? There have been allegations or claims over the years to that effect. A There have been such allegations in the past. I'd have to check our human rights reports to see how we addressed them. And, of course, new human rights reports are due out soon. Q Richard, has the Department decided to delay sending the Conventional Arms Treaty to the Senate? A I don't know. I have to check. Q Richard, do you have anything on the situation in Somalia today, including the whereabouts of President Barre? A Let me give you the rundown on Somalia, what went on over the weekend. We don't have anything on the -- we don't have any information on the question of the whereabouts of President Barre. The situation, as we understand it now, is that fighting and looting in Mogadishu continue. It subsided long enough today, however, for an Italian aircraft to bring out 260 more evacuees. We evacuated about 300 people on Saturday. We're still working to get a final count of the non-Americans who were aboard. There were 66 Americans evacuated. Forty of these people were U.S. Government personnel, 26 were private citizens. I can run down for you, if you want it, the long list of other nationalities of people who were evacuated. No rising chorus of demand for that. So we'll just say that there are -- I should have counted before I came in. It looks like 29 other nationalities of people that we took out. It included Ambassadors or Charge d'Affaires for a number of nations, including Germany, Kenya, Kuwait, Nigeria, Oman, Qatar, Sudan, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union. We evacuated all the American citizens who were able to reach the U.S. Embassy Compound. Some persons who also hold dual U.S. and Somali citizenship probably remain in Somalia, but we are not aware of any Americans -- there were no Americans with whom we had contact who were not evacuated. According to the latest reports from other evacuees, the U.S. Embassy is being sacked. Looters had used rocket-propelled grenades to blast down the doors and to remove office furniture and other moveables from our Embassy. Just on the policy side, we continue our humanitarian interest in alleviating the Somali people's hunger and suffering and helping them to reconstruct their shattered economy and society. Given the anarchic situation in the country, of course, there's little that we can do at present to address those needs. For the past two years, the U.S. has advocated peaceful reconciliation of Somalia's domestic conflict. Recently, the United States supported efforts by Egypt and Italy to mediate a solution. The chances of a negotiated settlement now appear to be very slim. However, we still support solutions that can prevent further bloodshed. Q Richard, has the status quo regarding American hostages in Lebanon changed at all over the past couple of weeks, particularly in light of today's news that Abu Nidal has released four Belgians, I think? A I hadn't seen the news on the release of the Belgians. There is nothing new as to the status of our hostages in Lebanon. Q No more, no less hopeful; just the same? A That's right. We're not in a position to characterize. We don't have any information that might lead us to think that they could be released. Q Do you have anything on the Evans ∧ Novak column this morning suggesting that Saddam might unleash terrorists against U.S. interests if the U.S. attacks him? A Well, since Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, we have noted repeated examples of planning for possible terrorists activity, including surveillance of potential American targets. Iraqi officials, and terrorists sponsored by Iraq, have publicly threatened a terrorist campaign in the event of hostilities, and we take these threats seriously. We have made clear that the United States will hold Saddam Hussein directly responsible for any terrorist attacks sponsored by Iraq. I recall for you the words of the President on September 2l. He said, "Terrorism concerns me. It will continue to concern me, and I will hold him -- Saddam Hussein -- as will our allies, directly responsible for terrorist acts." We have issued three public statements warning Americans of the possibility of terrorist attacks in the event of hostilities in the Gulf, and these warnings remain in effect. I would point out, however, that we don't, at this time, have any specific and credible information that would affect the public on imminent attacks. Q Richard, over the weekend, the comments of the Secretary overseas indicated, or seem to indicate that the French initiative is dead as far as the U.S. is concerned -- the diplomatic initiation. Can you confirm that that is absolutely something that we would not accept? A We'll get you a transcript of exactly what the Secretary said. Q Richard, to follow up on, I think, it was George's question. You said that you've noted recent examples of planning, including surveillance of potential American targets, and yet you say you have no specific or credible information. That sounds somewhat inconsistent. Either you have evidence of something or you don't? A There's a limit to the amount of information I can provide to you. But there is a difference between activity of terrorists, or potential terrorists, incidents of surveilliance that we might note against our personnel or other places and specific information that we sometimes get on attacks. We have noted in our advisories so far that there were terrorists that were active and that we were seriously concerned about the threat of attacks, but we had no specific information and still do not have specific information that an attack might occur at a given moment or at a given place. Q Well, these recent examples, to whom do you attribute them? Are they Iraqi types or Iraqi-related individuals? A I think there's a limit to the amount that I can go into this on. I think I'd just have to stick with what I said. Q Richard, on the question of the three statements, the three advisories, are you including in that (Inaudible) Sudan, and nearby countries -- Jordan or -- well, tell me, which advisories? A We have issued three separate advisories on the issue of terrorism. We have also issued advisories relating to unsettled conditions or, as in the case of Somalia, advisories relating to the events that advise Americans to depart certain countries. We had ordered the evacuation of some countries; we authorized voluntary departure in other countries for our personnel. So those are separate. Q Separate from the three -- A Separate from the three terrorism ones. Q Are there any examples that you've noticed of planning for possible terrorist actions against American targets in the United States? A David, I'm not at liberty at this point to go into it in any detail. Q On the travel advisories, any indication as to whether Americans are getting out of Jordan and Sudan in significant numbers? A I don't have an update for you. I'd have to look for that. Q When was the most recent of those advisories? A I don't know off the top of my head. We'll get you copies of all of them. Q Thank you. A Thank you. (Press briefing concluded at 1:00 p.m.) (###)