US Department of State Daily Briefing #5: Tuesday, 1/8/91

Boucher Source: State Department Deputy Spokesman Richard Boucher Description: 1:30 pm Washington, DC Date: Jan 8, 19911/8/91 Category: Briefings Region: MidEast/North Africa, South Asia Country: Iraq, Kuwait, Sudan, Somalia Subject: Military Affairs, Terrorism, State Department, Travel (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

[Announcement: No Press Briefing January 9]

MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, everybody. I'm very sorry I'm late. I'm glad to be here. (Laughter) It gives me great pleasure -- my first announcement is that given the focus of events tomorrow on the Secretary's meeting in Geneva, we're not going to do a briefing here tomorrow. Q What? A Make that the news. And then, of course, we'll have responses on other subjects and developments available from the Press Office. But you can go ahead and schedule lunches and go to them on time tomorrow.

[Sudan: US Deplores Release of Terrorists]

I'd like to make one statement on some developments in the Sudan before we go on to other questions. Five terrorists convicted in 1988 attacks on the Acropole Hotel and the Sudan Club in Khartoum which killed seven people, including two children, were released yesterday by the Sudanese Supreme Court. Four British nationals were among those killed, and three Americans were injured in the attack. The five terrorists are members of the Abu Nidal organization, one of the world's most notorious terrorist groups. According to news reports, one of the terrorists said, "We would do it again elsewhere." We take this statement very seriously, especially since the Abu Nidal organization has aligned itself with Iraq. The release of these convicted terrorists is reprehensible. Serving less than a three-year prison term is not suitable punishment for the terrorist murder of seven people, and their grossly premature release is an insult to those whom they murdered and to the families of those who were murdered and injured. That's the statement. Be glad to take your questions. Q How long had they been sentenced to, do you know? A The legal aspects of the case are frankly somewhat unclear to me. They were sentenced in October of 1988 and then they appealed. I think that this action now is the result of the culmination of that process. They served less than three years. Q Richard, did the United States try to intervene with the Sudanese government or make a protest at their release? A At this point we are approaching the Sudanese government. The basic effort is to try to make -- have them ensure that these people don't go on to commit other terrorist acts. Q What's your understanding of why they were released? Was it a legal issue, or was it a political issue? A I don't have a clear understanding of the Sudanese judicial system. I think I have to leave that for you all to research. I think I'd just want to make clear that we think that this kind of release is reprehensible, and that it's not justified. Q Do we know if these people have left the Sudan? A No, I don't. Q Was the U.S. aware that this was going to happen? A We were certainly aware that the case was under appeal, and we've been following it. Yes. Q Have you also been -- A Whether this actual -- Q -- making known the views you are now making known? A I believe we have. Yes. Q Richard, there was also a convicted Abu Nidal terrorist in Belgium. Do you know anything about the circumstances of his incarceration? Is he being released in exchange for these people who were being held in Lebanon or something? A I don't think I have anything on that. As for whether there was any deal, I mean, whether the releases -- should they prove true, there have been reports. We don't have independent confirmation that the Belgian hostages are going to be released. Whether there was any deal is something you'll have to ask the Belgians. You're certainly aware of our policy that we don't encourage or accept any deals for hostages. Q There is a report that it was part of a deal, isn't there? A It's something the Belgian government will have to address. Q Turning to Iraq, do you have a time now and other details about the Baker/Aziz meeting? A I don't have anything here, and that is not something we would put out here. That's something the party will have to put out. Q Can we ask you about this travel advisory to Pakistan? It's basically sort of stuck on top of the previous one that talks about dangers from ethnic tensions, and so on. And it just talks about -- just vaguely sort of tensions in the Gulf. What specifically are you worried about in Pakistan? Have you had any --

[Pakistan: US Authorizes Non-Essential Personnel to Depart]

A The concern is a general one. It's the unstable conditions created in the region by Iraq's invasion and the occupation of Kuwait. I believe that those conditions have recently intensified, and they have resulted in the continuing possibility of anti-American incidents. I would point out that Pakistani authorities in the area have continued during this period to provide effective security to Americans and other foreigners, but we nonetheless believe it's prudent in the current circumstances to issue this advisory. The chief new element of this advisory is that we are now authorizing departure on a voluntary basis for our dependents and non-essential personnel. When we take that step for our own people, we feel it's only wise and appropriate for us to inform the public so that they can make similar decisions. Q But then, I mean, if you're going to do it as a general principle, then why not do India and various other countries in the region? I mean, why specifically Pakistan? A We have authorized departure in some countries. We have ordered departure of our dependents and non-essential personnel in other countries, and we inform the public when we do that. There is a series of travel advisories out. I think I have something that can review the status of different countries and different notices. But they're based on our best assessments of the general security situation and the possibility of developments that would result -- or the possibility of a deterioration in that situation. Q (Inaudible) -- by Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan. A I'd just go back and say that the statement -- the travel advisory and our decision to permit voluntary departure were done for the reasons that we've stated in the statement and what I just said here. Q The point that Ruth has been trying to make is that the reasons given in the statement aren't really strong enough. I mean, it wouldn't persuade me not to go if I was an American citizen thinking about going to Pakistan. If you said, "We are concerned about Islamic fundamentalists." This is an Islamic fundamentalist country, etc., etc. We've had this history with Pakistan before with the Embassy in Islamabad. If you really spelled it out why there was a real concern, then perhaps it would be taken as being someting very serious, but I don't think it is. A Jan, I'm not sure that whatever we told you, we could persuade you not to go. (Laughter) Nonetheless, I think the chief -- this is based on our overall assessment. Clearly, the security concerns in different countries are different, but in some places they're greater than others. We have put out our best advice to American citizens on these situations, and I think the chief indicator that people should look at is not the listing of reasons but rather what we decide we want to do with our own people. And that is in some places we have decided that we should in fact order dependents and non-essential personnel out. In other places we are authorizing their departure and encouraging our dependents and non-essential personnel to depart. Q How many people are involved? A There are a total of -- well, there are 390 official personnel in Pakistan. That includes Peace Corps and AID contractors. They have with them 382 dependents. So the number of people that we have authorized to depart is 382 dependents, plus a portion of the official personnel. Q Richard, do you have anything more today on the movement of the Soviet troops into the Baltics? You now know it happened. It's not just a report any more, right? A Yes. That's right. One of the benefits of my being this late is that you all had the opportunity, I think, to see what Marlin said on the subject. I won't repeat what he has said. He -- Q Please -- A Well, O.K. Let me give you the gist of it. He said it represents a serious step towards an escalation of tension within the U.S.S.R. It makes the peaceful evolution of relations among the peoples of the Soviet Union more difficult. He said the U.S. is especially concerned at the Soviet decision to send military units into the Baltic states which we view as provocative and counter-productive. It could damage the prospects for peaceful, constructive negotiations on the future of those states. The United States urges the U.S.S.R. to cease attempts at intimidation and turn back to negotiations that are conducted free of pressure and the use of force. He also pointed out the U.S. has never recognized the forcible incorporation of the Baltic states into the Soviet Union and supports the aspirations of the Baltic people to control and determine their own future. We are monitoring carefully the Soviet government's decision, and that's basically what he said. Q And has this been transmitted -- this sort of view been transmitted to the Soviets today? A As I think I mentioned yesterday, Ambassador Matlock asked for a clarification in his meeting yesterday of the reports that these Soviet military units had been deployed to the Baltic states to enforce the conscription law. He received a phone call today from the Foreign Ministry. The Foreign Ministry basically just confirmed what the Ministry of Defense had put in its announcement, and the Ambassador took the opportunity at that time to register our concerns once again. Q Do you have information that new Soviet troops actually have been introduced in those republics, or are these movements of troops that were already there? A It's a complicated issue. Let me start out by saying that we don't know how many Soviet troops are involved. We have seen reports from Baltic leaders, quoting Soviet military estimates of between 2,000-6,000 men that would be deployed to each republic. Once again I point out, however, we don't have confirmation of these figures. There is already a substantial Soviet troop presence in the areas involved, and as of now we have no reports that new Soviet troops have actually arrived in any of the republics that were listed in the statement yesterday. Q Does the United States have any position on the drafting of Baltic country residents into the Soviet army? A I would just reiterate what Marlin said: That we have never recognized the forcible incorporation of the Baltic states, and that we support the aspirations of the Baltic people to control their own future. Q There are four other republics involved here. Does the same go for them? A The basic situation with regard to the Baltic states I just said. We support their efforts to exercise their rights, including the right to develop their own laws as they proceed with negotiations with Moscow. The 12 other republics of the Soviet Union do have a different status. Nevertheless, this action overall represents an escalation of tensions and makes peaceful evolution more difficult. We believe, however, that some actions of the kinds reportedly planned could trigger violence or bloodshed, so our concern applies to the situation as a whole. And once again quoting from Marlin's statements, we are especially concerned about the Baltic states. Q The Deputy Secretary is meeting today with the Prime Minister of one of the affected Republics, Moldova. Can you tell us what he's prepared to say to the Prime Minister? A Well, I would point out that this is Prime Minister Mircea Druc. He's in the United States on a private visit. The meeting with the Acting Secretary is at the Prime Minister's request. We have had meetings with a series of leaders of Soviet republics who have visited the United States. This is one meeting in that series, and, of course, the Acting Secretary will be interested in the Prime Minister's assessment of the current developments in Moldova as well as the U.S.S.R. as a whole. Q When was it scheduled? A It was scheduled since Friday at least. Q Will he be expressing Marlin's views to the Prime Minister? A I'm sure he'll be making the U.S. government view known, if the Prime Minister needs to hear them from us. Q Richard, is there any chance of an open photo op in that meeting? A I'll have to check on that. Q The deadline by January the 15th -- is that Iraqi time midnight on the 14th? A I'm afraid I don't have anything more to say on that, other than what the U.N. and others have said. I'm leaving those kinds of questions to the party. Q Has the summit between President Bush and Mr. Gorbachev been put -- delayed in any way? A Marlin has addressed that. I think it's best for him to address these summit dates. He said yesterday that it was still scheduled for February 11th to the 13th. For our part, we continue to have discussions and exchanges with the Soviets on the issues involved and continue to prepare for a summit. Q Is there any problem specifically with the CFE or the START agreement? A We put up answers on the status of both those things yesterday. Q I saw the CFE answer. What about START? A I believe we put up an answer on START as well. (TO STAFF) Didn't we, Adam? MR. SHUB: Yes. Q Richard, on this Soviet cargo ship that has been held up on its way to Aqaba, has the U.S. been asking the Soviet Union for answers on what exactly this ship was up to? And, if so, what answers are you getting? A The Pentagon, I think, will have to do the details of the boarding and the cargoes, and things like that. We have raised the case with the Soviet Union. They said they would look into it, and I would also like to say that we discuss these sorts of things with various governments concerned who have ships that we may encounter in the Gulf, and we don't see the encounter with this ship as representing any change in Soviet policy or our view of it. Q Do you know whether the Soviets have any military contracts to supply military equipment to the Jordanian government? A I don't know. You'd have to ask them that. Q Richard, the report that I saw said that the ship incident occurred on Friday, and you have no answer back from the Soviet Union yet? Is that -- A I don't know exactly -- Q Did I read that right? A -- when it was we raised it. But at this point I'm not aware of any answer. Q Then how can you say you see no change -- you don't regard this as a change in Soviet policy, if you're not sure what the ship was up to? A The point is that whatever the ship was up to, the Soviet Union has been steadfast and consistent in its support for the U.N. resolutions and its support for the policy that the international community has taken in the Gulf. Q So you see this as an aberration? A We'll have to see exactly what the cargo is and what the explanation is, and things like that. Q Can I follow up on the summit again? There was a report today that said the White House had asked the State Department to explore a possible rationale for postponing a summit. In fact, was there a meeting in this building yesterday concerning that? A Was there a meeting in this building yesterday concerning what? Q Concerning a White House request that the State Department explore ways -- explore a rationale for postponing the summit? A Carol, the answer on questions of postponing the summit, I think, has to come out of the White House, and they've already been given. I've told you that we continue to work on preparations for the summit, and we continue to discuss the issues involved with the Soviets. I really don't have anything else on that. Q But you won't respond to that specific report. A We don't normally describe every single internal meeting we've had. I don't know if there was one or not, but I'm not inclined to do so now. Q What can you say about these Iraqi helicopters? A I can say that you'll have to get whatever information is available from the Defense Department or from the Saudis. Q Thank you. Q Wait a minute. There's a report in the Wall Street Journal today that -- concerning terrorism, that says that a -- going beyond what you said yesterday, that there is a plan to -- I'm not sure how to put it -- round up, I guess, terrorists -- terrorism suspects if a war should start. Would you like to touch that with a ten foot pole? (laughter) A No. I think you left out "in the United States," if I remember the report. Q Well, it said both. A Well, I'm not -- I don't have anything I can say on such a thing. Q Yesterday you said that there were no plans, that you know of, to do anything with folks holding Iraqi passports in the U.S. Is that still the case? A I said I wasn't responsible for Iraqi passport holders in the United States, and I wasn't aware of anything being done. But my ignorance should not be taken as a confirmation that there's absolutely no plan. (Laughter) Q Can we get a readout on that meeting with the Moldova -- A I'll see if we can get you one. Yes. Q What time? A 3:00 o'clock this afternoon, I think. Q Thank you. (The briefing concluded at 1:48 p.m.) (###)