US Department of State Daily Briefing #37: Thursday, 3/7/91

Boucher Source: State Department Deputy Spokesman Richard Boucher Description: 12:50 PM, Washington, DC Date: Mar 7, 19913/7/91 Category: Briefings Region: MidEast/North Africa, Central America, Eurasia, Caribbean Country: Israel, Iraq, Kuwait, El Salvador, Albania, Cuba Subject: Arms Control, Military Affairs, Human Rights, Democratization, United Nations, Terrorism, Regional/Civil Unrest, POW/MIA Issues (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED) MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's a pleasure to be here. I'm sorry I'm late. I'm slipping back into my old habits.

[Announcement: Background Briefing on Chemical Weapons Export Controls]

Yesterday we talked about the Enhanced Proliferation Initiative. The White House put out the detail this morning, and I think we've already put up a notice that we'll have a BACKGROUND briefing for you here this afternoon. That will be 3:30 in the briefing room. Q Would you take one question on that? Q He can try. MR. BOUCHER: If I can answer. I don't know. Q The regulations -- the fact sheets put out by the White House mention only regions, not countries. Can you tell us if Israel and Egypt are concerned with this control? MR. BOUCHER: The regions include countries. I mean, the countries in the region are covered by the region, so all the countries in the region will be covered. But I'll let the briefers this afternoon go into more detail as to how people who are getting licenses for different countries know what to submit and what not. Q Is that your only announcement? MR. BOUCHER: O.K. That's my only announcement. I thought I'd do updates on two questions we've been discussing. One is the unrest in Iraq, and the other is the "rest" in Kuwait City.

[Iraq: Update on Unrest]

On the unrest in Iraq, the situation remains fluid. It's essentially unchanged from the way we've described it before. We do continue to receive numerous reports of civil unrest inside Iraq. I should emphasize that our information on these developments is somewhat limited. But, as I said, the situation remains essentially unchanged. We would characterize it as fighting between government forces and dissidents, which is occurring in a number of cities, towns and other outlying areas. As before, most of the unrest appears to be in southern Iraq, with the key areas of fighting being around the holy cities. And there is also some fighting occurring in the Kurdish north. Q Do you have a list? MR. BOUCHER: No. I don't have a list. Q What do you have on the missing journalists? Any independent confirmation --

[Kuwait: Update]

MR. BOUCHER: Let me go through the situation in Kuwait City, and then we'll deal with the other stuff. I talked to the Ambassador in Kuwait City, Skip Gnehm, this morning, and we talked about some of the reports that have been coming out here and coming back here about the situation in Kuwait. And I'd like to share with you the way that he described to me what he's seen today, and what his Embassy officers are seeing. The Embassy has people out on the streets. They've had people walking around the Palestinian neighborhoods. They tell me that the water is now on in those neighborhoods, as it is throughout the city. We also understand that some of the street lights may be coming on very shortly. The shops are opening. The markets are full. The Embassy officers, when they go out, they talk to people. They talk to groups of people. This comes to several hundred people in the Palestinian neighborhoods -- key Palestinian neighborhoods -- over the last day or two. And none of these people had any stories to tell us of problems or incidents which had occurred to them in the last 24 or 48 hours. In previous days, before about Tuesday, there had been only a few incidents reported. In addition to the regular Embassy people, you're aware of the 352nd Civil Affairs Command in Kuwait that's helping work with the Kuwaitis to restore city services and get things going again. Those people, incidentally, have had daily contact with all the major medical facilities in Kuwait, and they report as well that they have been advised in those visits to the hospital of no killings or serious injuries to Palestinians which might have occurred. So basically, the bottom line is this: That our Embassy is in touch with people, both private and official people, in Kuwait City. They've been out and about the city, and the situation is generally calm. City services are being restored. And with that, I'd be happy to take your questions. Q On the journalists --

[Iraq: Efforts to Locate Missing Journalists]

MR. BOUCHER: O.K. On the journalists. Iraqi Ambassador al-Anbari told Ambassador Pickering in New York last night that he had spoken to his government in Baghdad. At that time he said that Baghdad had no information about the journalists. He also said that the authorities in Baghdad did promise to pass on immediately any information that they could get on the journalists. I'm not aware of any other specific response to the messages that we sent out through the three different channels, inquiring about the journalists. Now, I think the ICRC representative out at Safwan this morning was speaking on television after his meeting there with the Iraqi authorities, so we know that he said he has plans to go and get 20 journalists as well as I think it was 2,000 Kuwaiti citizens tomorrow. We're certainly hopeful that those plans can be worked out, and we really look forward to having these people back with us soon. We don't have detailed information at this point from the ICRC on that meeting, and we're looking to get that. We also understand that two of the journalists who had been reported missing had been found. Pete Williams just reported that they were CBS journalists, and he had the names, but I don't. We have remained in very close contact with the ICRC in Geneva, and our Embassy has been following the situation very closely in Kuwait. As I said, we hope to get details from the ICRC about this meeting at Safwan today. There was also the meeting in Riyadh today between U.S. and Iraqi military authorities. And again at this point I don't have any readout of what might have come out of that meeting as far as Kuwaiti citizens being released or journalists being released, but we look forward to getting any news out of there that might pertain to the journalists. Q Are you saying they do have independent confirmation of the journalists being released? MR. BOUCHER: No. We don't. Q You do not. MR. BOUCHER: We don't. At this point we don't have detailed information either from the ICRC on that meeting at Safwan, nor do we have a readout of what happened in Riyadh. Q Richard, you don't have detailed information. Do you have enough details to say -- did the ICRC say whether these 20 journalists and 2,000 Kuwaitis are being held by Iraqi authorities or by some other entity in Iraq? MR. BOUCHER: No. I did try to make clear. We don't have confirmation of what happened, and what the details -- you know, of the basic facts nor the details of those meetings. We have seen the guy on TV just as you have. I don't have any additional information to that. I don't think the ICRC has received any yet from their representatives who were at a very remote location when they spoke to the television reporters.

[Iraq: War Crimes]

Q Can you update the U.S. position on possible war crimes trials for Saddam Hussein and other Iraqi leaders, especially in light of the information you must have now from released POWs and other people who were listed as MIA. MR. BOUCHER: There's not much to update, really. You're aware of what the President has said. He said again last night that people who committed crimes need to be held accountable. We have been engaged all along in a process of collecting information. That process has been centered at the Pentagon. They have an office that does this. We've also been collecting what information we can get on the atrocities that have occurred and, obviously, there's more information being made available now that Kuwait is free and people can go in and talk and investigate things. But as far as decisions on mechanisms or anything like that, no, we don't have any update on that. And the Secretary, we expect, will be exploring some of these issues during the course of his trip. Q But based on the information you're getting from Americans who have been released by the Iraqis, is there any more reason now than there was before to pursue that avenue, or is there less reason based on their treatment by the Iraqis? MR. BOUCHER: Again, that would imply that we had an indication of what decisions will have to be made. There were clearly many atrocities committed by the Iraqis in Kuwait. The military has discussed how they are looking at prisoners, running name checks, and things like that, to find out if we can find any individuals who were responsible for that. As far as more general questions of war crimes, really I can't lead you one way or the other as to what specific charges there might be or how we can pursue it, because those decisions have to be made on the basis of the information once the information has been carefully collected, and that's what's going on now. Q How would we hold Saddam accountable, though, since we are not making any move to remove him from power, and presumably we can't get to him? How would we hold him accountable? MR. BOUCHER: At this point, those are the kinds of things that need to be discussed and decisions that have to be made. Q Richard, there are some accounts that some of the unrest may have spread to Baghdad. Do you have anything on that at all? MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't. The situation is fluid. I said yesterday that in some places the government appears to be in control, and then there are other incidents and unrest that arise. I don't really have anything on specific cities today that could characterize it, so I can't give you a rundown on Baghdad. Q Any meetings between members of the opposition who are here and State Department officials in the last 24 or 48 hours? MR. BOUCHER: Who do you mean, "the opposition"? Q The opposition to Saddam Hussein. MR. BOUCHER: Not that I'm aware of. I'll check to make sure. Q Do you have any indication that Kurdish leader Barzani has joined the fighting in the north? MR. BOUCHER: I hadn't followed things in that degree of detail. I just don't know. Q Richard, you haven't got a list of cities for today. Are you saying that things remain very much the same as they did yesterday in the same places? MR. BOUCHER: I said essentially unchanged. I can't say that there's not a few more or a few less. The situation is fluid. Things happen in different cities at different times, and it's just hard to pin down. Q What about Basra? MR. BOUCHER: Again, I'm not in a position to characterize specific cities today. Q Because there are reports this morning -- as you probably know, there are some reports this morning that it is in control of pro-Saddam forces. MR. BOUCHER: Again, I think on Basra or any other specific city, I think I have to leave it with what we've said before but noting that the situation is fluid and it's never totally one way or the other. Q Could I just follow up on your discussion of Kuwait? MR. BOUCHER: Yes. Q You mentioned that the Embassy knew of no incidents of killing or injury of Palestinians in the last 24 to 48 hours, but I thought I heard you saying that there had been incidents before that. Does the Embassy know of incidents before that, and what incidents are they? MR. BOUCHER: The specific ones that I was told about were three incidents of harassment of Palestinians. Let's see if I have any more precise definition than that. The Embassy was informed of three instances of Palestinians being mistreated. This is in earlier interviews with people in the predominantly Palestinian Hawali neighborhood. I'm told that was before Tuesday. They were unable to confirm any deaths by execution or, you know, any killings of Palestinians during the course of these interviews. Q There was an OpEd piece in The Post today which reproaches the Administration for not receiving several Kurds who were in town last week. What was your reason for not receiving them? MR. BOUCHER: The reasons were the ones that we put up in the statement several days ago. I can give you a copy of that. Q O.K. Q Richard, regarding Basra, is it your understanding that that's where the ICRC will be going to get the 2,000 Kuwaitis and the journalists? MR. BOUCHER: Again, I don't know. We don't have the official confirmation or any of the details from the ICRC. At this point we just have what the representative said on television. Q The President said in his speech last night that he wants to bring the Arab-Israeli conflict to an end. Do we have some new ideas there or do we feel that the situation is ripe for change? What are your thoughts on that? MR. BOUCHER: Pat, I think I have to leave it -- as the Secretary departs for this trip, in which he's going to explore the possibilities, the opportunities, and leave it with what the Secretary has said before -- that he'll be exploring along two tracks: One is of direct Israeli contacts or negotiations with Arab states, and the other is the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. And he'll be going out to explore in the region the willingness to seek a real peace, and we'll see what he can do under the mandate the President gave him last night and that he has for this trip. Q Richard, can I follow up on that? MR. BOUCHER: Yes. Q The White House expressed some measure of optimism about the climate. I wonder if you have anything to say about that. MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't particularly. I think those kind of questions about optimism are best addressed to the Secretary on his journey. Q Just to the reports French television are carrying that Baker is, in fact, taking with him a new peace plan for Israel, which will include, once again, elections of the Palestinians and things based along such lines. I mean does he have it? MR. BOUCHER: Again, that's -- Q He says he hasn't got a new plan. MR. BOUCHER: That's the kind of question that has to be addressed to the Secretary that I can't do from here. Q Richard, in that connection, what with the ushering in of the New World Order to be based on international law, I was wondering if the United States was now going to take a new look at the settlements issue and to try to determine if and whether and what international law had to say about the settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. Could you look into that? MR. BOUCHER: I'm not aware of any efforts to do that. As you know, we've stated our policy on settlements many, many times; and that remains unchanged. Q That it's an obstacle to peace. MR. BOUCHER: That's right. Q But international law has nothing to say about it then? MR. BOUCHER: Again, I'll leave it with the things we've said previously. I'm not aware of any effort to look at that question again. Q Richard, the Secretary said, before he left, that he wasn't taking a new plan. You're now saying, "Leave it to the Secretary." So you're opening up sort of an area of ambiguity. I mean does that mean that there is a new plan -- MR. BOUCHER: The Secretary said -- Q -- you just haven't announced it? MR. BOUCHER: The Secretary said he did not have a blueprint. Q Right. MR. BOUCHER: That remains the state of affairs as he got on the airplane this morning, as far as I am aware. If one wants to ask him, during the course of his trip or his thinking since he last spoke, if he has developed anything, then one should ask him; but I'm not aware of any change. I'm not trying to change anything that he said previously. Q Going back to the MIA issue, if I may. Does the United States believe it now has a full accounting of all the people who are listed as either POW or MIA in the Gulf war? MR. BOUCHER: That's a question you have to address to the Pentagon. Q The reason I addressed it to you was that, in the past, officials from President Bush down have said that the war wouldn't be over until every American who is listed as MIA was accounted for. It seems that last night President Bush declared the war was over, so I thought that it's reasonable then to ask the question whether the United States has a full accounting since. MR. BOUCHER: I'll agree it's -- Q He's now saying it's over. MR. BOUCHER: -- reasonable to ask the question, and I think it's much more reasonable to ask over at the Pentagon than it is to ask me here, since they're the ones that keep track of POWs. Q Richard, the President last night said he wanted to pursue the land for peace settlement process, and already today the Foreign Minister of Israel has said they disagree with that approach -- have said if Israel is under too much pressure that, I think the quote was, "could drive peace away." Do we have any indication that Israel has changed its positions at all, that it's willing to negotiate? MR. BOUCHER: I really think I have to leave that kind of question to the Secretary during the course of his meetings. We have stated these principles that guide U.S. policy on Middle East peace before. The President talked about elaborating on them and working things out, and that's what the Secretary is going out to do. And so I really have to leave it to him -- and to the Israeli government, of course, to express their own views.

[Albania: Situation Update]

Q Richard, I have a question on a different area. We saw your statement yesterday on Albania and I'm wondering if there's any update on that situation? MR. BOUCHER: A little bit of update on what's going on inside. Large numbers of refugees have left Albania or have sought to enter foreign embassies in order to find a way to leave the country. We do not know whether Albanians are occupying any embassies. And the information received so far does not indicate that the police might have used deadly force to disperse crowds in Tirana or in other cities. Again, we have no reports of casualties, although Albanian security forces may be blocking citizens from reaching foreign embassies. Our view is the one which we have repeatedly stated, and that's that Albanian authorities should guarantee respect for basic human rights, they should exercise restraint, and they should refrain from the use of violence in responding to the present situation. Q Do you have any opinion on -- Italy, apparently, doesn't really want these people coming in there. Any view on that situation. MR. BOUCHER: I hadn't seen the Italians say anything like that, so I don't --

[Human Rights: UN Commission Action on Cuba]

Q Do you have anything on the action concerning Cuba at the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva yesterday? MR. BOUCHER: I don't have much of a response for you at this point, George. We'll try to get something for you later as the reports come in from Geneva. Clearly, we welcome action by the U.N. Human Rights Commission on Cuba. This is something that we work very hard for, and I'll try to explain it to you in more detail. Maybe later in the day we'll get you something. Let's go to the back.

[El Salvador: US Urges FMLN to Negotiate Peacefuly]

Q Anything on Villalobos' statements on El Salvador? MR. BOUCHER: We would welcome any evolution in the FMLN's thinking and Villalobos' stated new commitment to democratic pluralism. With an end to the war, we believe that El Salvador can achieve national reconciliation and rebuild to allow peace, expanded democratic space, and new economic opportunities. We believe, however, that the FMLN should prove its words at the bargaining table and not on the battlefield, as they have in the past. The FMLN needs to show a genuine commitment to a negotiated settlement, to political agreements, and to a cease-fire. We hope that they will return to the negotiations promptly after El Salvador's March l0th legislative elections and engage in a serious effort to accomplish these goals. Last week's FMLN attacks caused more economic damage and civilian deaths, including two children who were killed by a rocket grenade. We find that this is clearly not consistent with the FMLN's professed vision of El Salvador as another Costa Rica. Q Just a follow-up on that. He said that he really did want to push for a complete demilitarization of the country, making public what the FMLN has been negotiating on. Does the United States oppose that as a goal? MR. BOUCHER: We support any goals that can be reached through constructive and serious negotiations. We find that that's what's been lacking on the part of the FMLN so far. But they will have to negotiate these things with the Government of El Salvador, which itself has put forward proposals in all these areas. Q But does the United States find that goal objectionable just on its own? MR. BOUCHER: We support goals and agreements that are reached by the parties through serious negotiations. Q Anything about The New York Times report this morning on Israel and a retaliatory strike that the United States convinced them not to go for? MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't. Q Do you have anything on Chinese weapons shipments to Burma, which was alluded to by Assistant Secretary Solomon in his testimony before the House Subcommittee on Foreign Affairs yesterday? MR. BOUCHER: No. I have to admit to not having read his full testimony, so I don't have anything on that. Q I see. How about on his statement that Vietnam may be dragging its feet on the Perm Five avenue in Cambodia? MR. BOUCHER: Again, I think I just have to refer you back to his testimony. Q He didn't elaborate. Could you take the question just on "they're dragging their feet?" He didn't elaborate in his testimony on that. MR. BOUCHER: Well, I'll check with him and see and if there's anything more to say. I assume that he told all on the Hill. Q Thank you. MR. BOUCHER: Thanks. (The briefing concluded at l:l4 p.m.) (###)