US Department of State Daily Briefing #6: Thursday, 1/10/91

Boucher Source: State Department Deputy Spokesman Richard Boucher Description: Washington, DC Date: Jan 10, 19911/10/91 Category: Briefings Region: Eurasia, MidEast/North Africa, Caribbean, Central America, Europe, East Asia Country: Iraq, Kuwait, USSR (former), Israel, Lebanon, Philippines, Germany, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Yemen, Haiti, El Salvador Subject: Terrorism, Arms Control, State Department, Travel, United Nations, Security Assistance and Sales, Military Affairs, Democratization (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED) MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I don't have any statements to make today, and so I'd be glad to take your questions. Q Richard, there's been increasing activity in Lithuania. And apparently Gorbachev, today, is threatening direct rule if the Lithuanians don't go along with his attempts to bring that republic back under Moscow's direct control. What's your reaction?

[Current Situation in the Baltics]

A Let me give you a rundown of what we know, at least, about the situation in the Baltic republics and give our general policy. We do have reports that the Estonian Prime Minister has reached an agreement with U.S.S.R. Defense Minister Yazov yesterday to form a joint commission to examine military problems in Estonia. Yazov reportedly said that Moscow would not send additional troops to Estonia as a result. Of course, these things are for the participants themselves to actually confirm. In Latvia, 5,000 people demonstrated against the republic government this morning but there was no violence. Latvian Premier Godmanis is travelling to Moscow to meet with Yazov to discuss the situation. In Lithuania, the Parliament is meeting today to consider a successor to the Prunskiene government. We are, of course, monitoring the situation very closely. I'd like to remind you of what the Secretary said in Milan on Tuesday, that the situation with regard to Soviet troops being sent to the republics does concern us, especially in the Baltics. We're troubled by it. We hope very much that this does not mean that there will be a departure from the philosophy, an attitude that we have seen in the Soviet Union over the past 18 months to 2 years. Q But in threatening direct rule of Lithuania, Gorbachev seems to be going a step further. And given U.S. policy towards the Baltics, how would you do that? A Well, Carol, I'd have to say that at this point it's a hypothetical question, and I'm not going to speculate on what our response might be. Your first question said that he apparently had said that he might do something. That is the same kind of report that I have gotten. The Soviets have announced certain steps with regard to sending troops to the republics, and I think we've expressed our thoughts very clearly on what our view is of that. Q There was a report in the Soviet paper yesterday that the Soviets are acknowledging that they played fairly loose with the CFE Treaty requirements. I was wondering how you viewed that admission? A You know our view. I didn't see the Soviet report. You know our view. It's that there are some serious discrepancies and inconsistencies in the data that we were presented with and that we've been pursuing those with the Soviets. Those discussions are continuing. I think we have until February 17 to -- or they have -- until February 17 to answer the questions and to rectify errors in the data. Q But I was just wondering how you saw the fact that there was a public acknowledgment of this. Whether you saw that as a good move and an effort by the Soviets to try to clear the air and move forward, or was this evidence that the military has, in fact, grown bolder and may be creating more trouble? A I'm afraid I haven't seen the specific report. If it does prove true that they've acknowledged the inconsistencies, obviously, we would welcome that and we look forward to receiving corrected data. Q Do you have any indication at this point that you are going to get newer or different data? Have they responded at all to the concerns? A We've had some discussions with them. These discussions will continue as we proceed forward. I guess there's not much more to say than that, and I'd refer you back to, I think, what Shevardnadze said in Houston -- at least, the Secretary said about Shevardnadze in Houston; that they would look into it and get back to us with information. We expect them to be doing that. We don't have a new corrected set of data at this point. Q Richard, the Secretary announced the closure of the Embassy in Baghdad on the 12th. Could you tell us a bit more about how that's going to happen? Whatever plans you can possibly share with us. And, also, whether the Embassy is being closed or if it is remaining open but unstaffed?

[Iraq: Assisting Departing Americans]

A OK. To tell you how we're going to get our people out, I first have to tell you what we're doing about private citizens, because I want to make clear that we are equally concerned about private citizens, and our Embassy in Baghdad is contacting the approximately 180 American citizens who we believe may still be in Iraq to determine if any of these people want to depart the country. The canvas is being conducted by telephone and it will continue through tomorrow. So far, with the exception of one family, all the Americans we've contacted have indicated that they do not choose to depart, although in many cases they have gotten exit permits to do so. The one family which consists of an American child and three foreign-born relatives has decided to leave. We are chartering a flight to depart Baghdad this Saturday with our Embassy staff. And, of course, seats, as available, will be allocated to the private American citizens with exit permits who wish to depart the country. Q How many seats? A I don't know the final numbers. But since we only have a hand-full of staff, there should be quite an abundance of seats, and we also, as I said, only have a very -- so far an indication there are only 4 other people who might want to depart at this time. Q And how many Americans are still in Iraq? A We put the number now at approximately 180. Q Can you tell us about how many of those are journalists? A No, I don't know. Q Does this number include the journalists? A I'm assuming it does, but let me try to see if I can confirm that. Q Where is this plane going -- to Amman? A I don't have the details of the flight yet. I think we have to make all the arrangements first. Q What's the issue about whether the Embassy remains open without staff? A Oh, that's right. The Embassy will be open but unstaffed. We're not breaking diplomatic relations with Iraq. We will continue the employment of our Foreign Service Nationals and arrangements will be made for the maintenance of the building, but we haven't finalized those arrangements yet. Q Can you explain how this will affect the drawdown of the Iraqi diplomats in the United States? A At this point, on the drawdown of Iraqi diplomats, we have not formally notified the Iraqi government yet. I can't tell you when that will happen, but I can tell you that I won't have anything specific to say on that until we do. Q But you're not asking for reciprocity, right, that they also have all of their people out? A The Secretary made that clear yesterday in Geneva. Q Richard, the U.N. deadline -- I'm sure you've addressed this question before -- is that midnight the 14th or midnight the 15th? What do you have? A The Secretary said last night in Geneva that it was midnight the 15th. Q Baghdad time? A He didn't specify, and I'm not in a position to either. Really, the point is that Iraq has to withdraw from Kuwait immediately and the deadline for us to consider using all necessary means is after the 15th. Q Richard, do you have anything on a report out of Rome quoting the Italian Foreign Minister as saying that Perez de Cuellar will propose a U.N. force involving troops not from the coalition countries? A No. I just saw that report before I came in here. I believe Marlin has already briefed on the President's phone calls with Perez de Cuellar. I think he said it didn't come up there but you'll have to check with him. I'm not aware of any specific plans like that at this point. Clearly, we're in touch with the United Nations and our Ambassador in New York is in touch with Perez de Cuellar and his people as well as the President has been talking to him. I'd just point out that the mandate that Perez de Cuellar is operating under is the 12 U.N. Security Council resolutions and the question before us at present, based on those resolutions, is Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait before the deadline. Q Would the United States have any problem with this kind of arrangement that's being suggested? A At this point, it's not a question that I'm in a position to address in any detail. Q Israeli radio is reporting that Acting Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger is going to go to Israel within the next few days. Do you have anything on that? A No, I don't have anything for you. Q Do you know -- are preparations being made for such a trip? A I just don't have anything for you. Q Richard, are you aware of any new travel restrictions or procedures being placed on Iraqis that are in the United States? A Let me try to check on that and see if there is anything. I hadn't heard about anything, but I'll check. Q As a result -- related to that question -- there's a report of a plan that all Iraqis having arrived in the United States since August are to be mug-shot and fingerprinted by the INS? A I'd suggest you ask INS what their plans might be. We don't take care of people once they enter the United States. Q Another area? A Sure. Q El Salvador: What can you tell us about the President and the flow of money to El Salvador -- the $42.5 million? A I can tell you that it's a decision for the President to make and that we don't have any announcements for you. Q Do you have any time when the decision might be made? A I'd suggest you ask the President or Marlin Fitzwater on that. Q Did you have anything on the resignation of the the two prosecuting attorneys? A Yes. We have known for some time that two junior prosecutors in the Jesuit case had planned to resign in order to enter private practice. We've talked to them about this in the past. We do plan to meet with them again to ask them about their reported disagreement with the conduct of the prosecution. Q That's to say that these prosecutors had never informed the Embassy about their dissatisfaction with the case? A These are people we knew, and we talked to them in the past. And, as I said, in the past they talked about plans to resign in order to enter private practice. That was the way they put it. Q So you were surprised. A Now we see reports that say that they're dissatisfied, and, of course, we're very interested in that, and we'll be looking forward to talking to them again. Q Are you surprised by that? Could you characterize your reaction as surprise? A No. Because, as I said, we've known for some time that they had plans to resign. It's just a matter of talking to them once again about their reasons and their views on the case. Q And what about the situation with the FMLN's announcement that they had arrested the unit involved? A Well, first of all, we have no information that would confirm that the suspects were in fact detained, and we note that they haven't been named by the FMLN. I'd point out that the FMLN's first reaction was to cover up the killings and to lie about the facts. Only after the investigation revealed clear evidence that the two U.S. servicemen were murdered did the FMLN finally admit its responsibility. The Salvadoran government has appointed a judge to investigate these killings. If the FMLN is truly interested in bringing those responsible to justice, it should turn them over to the Salvadoran judicial system and cooperate fully with the judge in a thorough investigation of everyone responsible for these brutal murders. Q Do you have confidence that the Salvadoran judicial system is capable of investigating and prosecuting this in light of recent evidence? And, if you have that confidence, on what specifically is it based? A The answer is yes, and it's based on our appraisal of the Salvadoran judicial system. Clearly, we have made clear our views in the past about the prosecution of some cases, including the Jesuits' case. There are certainly areas where we can work with them to improve the judicial system, and President Cristiani has said that he would. But the way for these people to be investigated and prosecuted is through that judicial system. Q Just one more on this: Under the Geneva Convention and international law, the primary responsibility for trying a situation like this would rest with the command of the guerrilla force. Are you saying that in this case international law and the Geneva Convention should not be observed? A I'm not ever sure that we said that it applied. Q The Geneva Convention doesn't apply in this case? A I can't say absolutely that. Q O.K. A I haven't checked with the lawyers. Q Richard, the Belgian government has confirmed that it made a deal to get its hostages out. Do you have a reaction to that? A I hadn't seen a Belgian government confirmation. All I had seen was a statement by Abu Nidal that a swap involving Nasser Said and the "Silco" hostages could take place. When I came in here, my people told me we didn't have independent confirmation that there is in fact such a swap. But in any case, I'd just state once again that we have a very firm policy against deals for hostages, and we have a very firm policy that terrorists should be punished to the full extent of the law. Q Richard, now that the Secretary has skipped over going to Turkey, are there any plans for him to go there on his way back? A I'm not sure what they've announced about his travel plans from the party. But I understand that they were looking into the possibility of scheduling it. Q Do you have anything on Aristides comments in Haiti and if he still plans to come here? A I believe it was a White House visit, and I saw something out of Haiti saying he wasn't going to come, but you'd have to check with the White House and check on that. We believe that all Haitians have a responsibility to denounce violence and to refrain from taking law into their own hands. We hope that the President-elect will speak out clearly against vigilante action and speak in defense of the rule of law. We put up a statement yesterday afternoon or evening about the situation down there. Q Would the United States encourage the Haitian army to be more active in combatting this violence? A That sounds like a pretty open-ended suggestion. I guess what I would say is that we have praised the Haitian army for the action that they took in respect to the constitution, and we would hope that they would continue to ensure constitutional order in Haiti. Q Richard, I saw this morning that there were yet more travel advisories posted for Tunisia and Algeria, and such and such. Any plan to post such an advisory or any warnings or advice to Americans who may be in Israel, considering the Iraqis have said it's the number one target. It is the only -- seems to be at least the only place in the region that you haven't as yet told people they can leave voluntarily from or advised them to go. A Well, I can assure you it's not the only place in the region. We have also done a new advisory on Yemen where we had ordered departure, but we're further reducing our staff, and we put out a somewhat stronger advisory, advising people to defer all travel to Yemen. As for the question of Israel at this point, I don't have anything for you. I'd just point out in general that we are keeping the security situation for Americans in the region under constant review, and, when we feel it's appropriate to put something out, we will. Q Well, the Israelis have issued gas masks to many of their population. Has the Embassy and/or the Consulate done the same for American staff? A I'd have to look into that. I don't know. Q Have you any reaction to the French Defense Minister's comment that the U.S. could do more to avert war, and he wants to see "a little gesture" from the U.S.? He said that today. A I'm not really familiar with those comments or what he was talking about, so I don't have anything specific to say. I think I'd just have to leave it with the views that the Secretary expressed in Geneva yesterday about our many efforts to find a peaceful and political solution. Q Do you have any response to the Human Rights Watch charge that the Administration has cozied up to one tyrant after another in its single-minded pursuit of an anti-Iraq coalition? A You're trying to get me excited, huh? Q It has called this a ruinous blow for U.S. human rights policy. A I just think that the facts, you know, don't support that view. The facts support the view that we have certainly made strong efforts to build an important international coalition with the -- in opposition to the Iraqi aggression in the Gulf and in opposition to the devastation of human rights violations occurring day by day in Kuwait. At the same time, we've made clear our views on other human rights developments around the world. We'll be shortly releasing a human rights report -- I guess it's due out next month -- and our interests in human rights continues. Q Richard, the government in Argentina or some officials there seem to be upset that the U.S. Ambassador has suggested they're soliciting bribes from U.S. companies, and I was wondering if the Department has any clarification on what's going on there? A No, I don't. I'll have to look for it.

[Berlin Embassy Official Charged with Espionage]

Q Richard, what about this U.S. gentleman spying in Germany? A I'll give you the basic rundown on that, but, obviously, because it's a court case in Germany, there's not a lot that I can say. The German authorities have notified the U.S. Embassy office in Berlin that a German national employed by the Embassy, Mr. Stephen Laufer, is being detained. According to the German Federal Prosecutor's office, he is suspected of carrying out espionage activities. The Laufer investigation was carried out independently by the German government. Laufer worked for the United States Information Service since January 1988. It was then at the U.S. Mission located in West Berlin. He worked as a press assistant. In that capacity, he assisted an American officer in working with the local press. He had no access to classified information. He did not function as a spokesman for the U.S. Government, as has, I think, been stated in some media reports. Really, for further information on that, though, I have to leave it to the German government who are in charge of the case. Q Are U.S.-Filipino relations in as dire -- in as much under threat as Mr. Armitage indicated? A Let me just tell you that the fourth round of Philippine-American cooperation talks began January 9 in Manila. Discussions at this time are focused on technical issues pertaining to the bases. Negotiating sessions are expected to continue through the end of the week. The talks have been frank, as they have been in the past. Some progress has been made and differences on some issues appear to have been worked out. Both sides now have a much clearer understanding of each other's positions. Q Affirmative response. Right? O.K. (Laughter) A That's a response that says that the talks are going on, and we'll let our negotiators conduct the talks. I wouldn't draw any broader conclusions for U.S.-Philippine relations at this point. Q Thanks. (The briefing concluded at 1:09 p.m.)