US Department of State Daily Briefing #38: Friday, 3/8/91

Boucher Source: State Department Deputy Spokesman Richard Boucher Description: 12:27 PM, Washington, DC Date: Mar 8, 19913/8/91 Category: Briefings Region: MidEast/North Africa, East Asia, Southeast Asia, Eurasia, Central America, Europe Country: USSR (former), Italy, Israel, Iraq, Kuwait, Albania, China, El Salvador, Cambodia, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia Subject: Refugees, Travel, Terrorism, Military Affairs, State Department, Human Rights, Democratization, Regional/Civil Unrest, Security Assistance and Sales (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

[Kuwait: Travel Advisory]

MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I don't have anything particularly to offer at the beginning of this today, other than to note we put out a new travel advisory on Kuwait that concerns the lifting of the passport restriction. It continues to discourage travel because of the situation in city services and other things in the city right now. And then Treasury is also apparently working on the issue of lifting or changing, as appropriate -- Q They have. MR. BOUCHER: Oh, have they done it? The financial restrictions. So we'll see that. We'll probably have to revise our travel advisory once more if they've actually done it. With that, I'd just be glad to take your questions. Q What do you have to say about the story about plans for a new Embassy in Moscow?

[USSR: New US Embassy in Moscow Sought]

MR. BOUCHER: Ivan Selin was up on the Hill yesterday, testifying on this. So the first thing to do, I think, is to refer you to his testimony. Let me give you an overview. We continue to believe that the best solution to our need for secure space in Moscow is to tear down the existing building and rebuild it. Despite our efforts over the past two years, however, we have not obtained congressional funding for that solution. We do believe that we must move into new headquarters which work both functionally and securely as soon as possible, and, therefore, we've proposed a new solution. This proposal is to achieve the badly needed secure space in Moscow by removing the top floor of the existing partially completed new office building and replacing that with three new floors, thereby increasing the building from eight to ten floors. These three new floors would be built to the highest security standards by Americans, using only American materials shipped securely from the United States. So the option that we would prefer is the one that we told Congress we would prefer some time ago, and that's a total tear-down of the building that we have and rebuilding it. The other option that we floated is what's now being known as "Top Hat," which is to slice a bit off the top and put some new floors on. Q Does it also get a white tie and tails? (Laughter) MR. BOUCHER: I'm not sure about that. Q Selin said in his testimony that the other plan was dead -- not going to happen, he said. MR. BOUCHER: As I said, we haven't been able to get funding for it after two years of efforts, so we're looking for other possibilities. Q So why do you still state for the record that you prefer the other one? You basically acknowledged that that's not going to happen. MR. BOUCHER: Because we thought that that was the best solution in terms of financial, security and functionality issues. We think, you know, it was the best solution, and we still think it's the best solution. This is another apparently acceptable solution that's being worked on. Q The previous solution was worked out after a very long and exhaustive investigation, inquiry. How was this one arrived at? Who was involved? Who has approved it? Was Selin speaking -- I assume he was speaking with the authority of the Secretary of State and the President. MR. BOUCHER: I don't know exactly who approved this particular one. We have over the course of time studied many possible options on meeting the need for secure space in Moscow. We've looked at possibilities such as partial tear-downs, rebuild solutions, new annexes, new buildings on hypothetical new sites, and the complete tear-down and rebuild approach. The only ones which we feel meet our criteria for security, functionality, cost and constructability are the complete and partial tear-down solutions on the existing sites. So we've examined -- as you say, we've examined a number of solutions very exhaustively. These two -- complete tear-down and what's being known as "Top Hat" -- are the two that we think are viable. Q Richard, there's a report that Syrian and Iranian officials have been discussing the American and other hostages in Beirut, and that there may be some progress in the offing. Do you know anything about that report? Can you help us at all on it? MR. BOUCHER: I don't know -- Q Do you know anything about the talks? MR. BOUCHER: No. I don't have any information on those discussions. You'd obviously have to ask them. At this point we are following the situation with the hostages in Lebanon very, very closely. It's something that we continue to be concerned about, but I don't have any information, you know, that might indicate some release is imminent. Q The report says that the Syrians, before they sent off their troops to join the others in the desert, made some sort of a commitment to the United States to try and resolve the hostage issue. Is that true? MR. BOUCHER: Again, I haven't seen this specific report, so I really can't comment, especially on details like that that might be in it. I would note that Syria in the past, as you all know, has been helpful and has facilitated the release of hostages in the past.

[Asia: Asst. Secretary Solomon's Trip]

Q Richard, what does the Department have on a trip by Mr. Solomon to Asia? MR. BOUCHER: Mr. Solomon to Asia. Assistant Secretary Richard Solomon is leaving today. This is an 11-day trip that will take him to Beijin, Tokyo, Bangkok and Jakarta. He will discuss a variety of bilateral and regional issues, including human rights and Cambodia, as appropriate, and he will also be representing the Secretary at the bilateral U.S.-Japan Conference on Cultural and Educational Interchange, which is meeting in Japan. Q How long will he be in Tokyo? MR. BOUCHER: I'm afraid I don't have his full schedule for you. I have to see if we can get that -- the dates. I'm not sure we can release them, but we'll see. Q When is the last time a senior official has been to China -- if you could jog your memory on that? MR. BOUCHER: The last one I can think of is Dick Schifter, at the Assistant Secretary level, going out in December to discuss human rights issues. As you know, we've said that while the ban on high-level exchanges continues, that visits by individuals for particular purposes, where we have serious issues to discuss, will take place and are taking place, and this is another of those. Q Well, this time what do you think -- can you say anything about what Mr. Solomon is going to discuss with the Chinese officials this time? MR. BOUCHER: He'll discuss bilateral and regional issues, including human rights and Cambodia. Q Economic issues? MR. BOUCHER: I'm sure there's probably a broader range of bilateral and regional issues. I don't have a full agenda for you at this point. Q Regarding Cambodia, during this trip, would he have any contact with any of the Cambodian factions and/or Vietnamese officials? MR. BOUCHER: I haven't heard anything about contacts with Vietnamese officials, but I don't have the specifics of the schedule or who he'll be meeting with. I'll see if we can get some of that for you. Q Like Prince Sihanouk, for example? MR. BOUCHER: Again, I'll see if I can get something like that for you. Jan?

[Albania: Refugee Situation Update]

Q Richard, the Italians have been turning back Albanian refugees. Have you got any comment on that? MR. BOUCHER: Well, my understanding of the situation with the Italians is that they were meeting within their government today, and there's not much more that we have to say at this point. They are currently considering -- the Italian government is currently considering what to do about the difficult situation they face. But we'll have to see what results from their discussions. Q Do you have an update on the general situation? MR. BOUCHER: In Albania? Q Yes. MR. BOUCHER: Yes. We have seen Albanian government statements that one Albanian citizen was killed Wednesday. There are other reports that indicate that at least eight were wounded as large crowds sought refuge in foreign embassies. We, of course, regret the loss of life, and we've frequently stated that the Albanian government should refrain from the use of deadly force against its own citizens. Q Quite a large number of refugees are stuck on the Iraqi/Kuwaiti border, being denied entry to Kuwait, because they don't hold Kuwaiti citizenship, even though some of them have spent their entire lives there. Are you aware of the situation? Do you have any response or reaction to it? MR. BOUCHER: My understanding of the situation is slightly different from yours, Alan. We are aware that Kuwaiti authorities have turned back Iraqis who have been attempting to cross the border into Kuwait, but we have no reports of third-country nationals being turned back. Q There are a number quoted in the newspapers -- Egyptian, Palestinian -- MR. BOUCHER: Again, this is the best information that we have available to us, and our Embassy and military officials are obviously following the situation at the border pretty carefully.

[Kuwait: Treatment of Palestinians]

Q Richard, yesterday you told us what Skip Gnehm had told you about the situation of Palestinians in Kuwait. Reports are still coming out that Palestinians are being harassed. Palestinians are being beaten up. Journalists say that they've seen this happening in front of their eyes, in front of the cameras, etc., etc. Do you still not have reports of Palestinian harassment? MR. BOUCHER: Our review of the security situation is approximately the same as we had it yesterday. On the specific question of Palestinians, we do not have any evidence to support some of the large figures that have been given out as regards Palestinians reportedly picked up for questioning in Kuwait. Extensive interviewing in Palestinian neighborhoods in Kuwait has not turned up reports of any serious harassment of Palestinians. We know that a number of Palestinians have been detained for questioning as part of the Government of Kuwait's attempt to obtain information on crimes and other illegal activity in Kuwait during the Iraqi occupation, but we have no evidence that the large numbers being reported are in fact involved. We are in daily contact with the Government of Kuwait about the allegations of mistreatment of Palestinians. We've been discussing our concerns about this question for many months with them, and we will continue to be in close touch with them. Q You said you have no evidence of large numbers. Do you have evidence of any numbers and any form of pattern? MR. BOUCHER: Well, as I said, we know that a number have been detained for questioning as part of the Government of Kuwait's investigations into crimes that occurred during the occupation by Iraq. Q You offered your comment that you have no reports of serious harassment. Does that mean that you have reports of some harassment that would fall into another category? MR. BOUCHER: There are reports of things like people getting a hard time at checkpoints -- Palestinians, you know, being asked a lot of questions and having a hard time at checkpoints. We do not have information on the beatings, killings, and things like that that sometimes have been reported. Q Are Embassy officials going to police stations and checking out these reports? MR. BOUCHER: I'm not sure they're in a position to go to every police station and check out every report. They are out on the streets and, as I said, we've been in close contact with the Kuwaiti government at different levels on this. We've had people out on the streets talking to Palestinians and other people in Kuwait. We're getting information on the situation there from a variety of both public and private sources. Q Richard, is the Administration planning another arms package for the Gulf, or planning to revise parts of the Saudi arms package that were put in abeyance? MR. BOUCHER: At this point I have no announcements for you on future arms sales. I think you're aware of the fact that we've sent up notice of the sale of F-16s to Egypt. It's finishing off a ten-year program of, I think, 170 total airplanes. That's the only recent arms sales I'm aware of. Q Has the Administration dropped any kind of attempts to control the flow of conventional arms into that area? MR. BOUCHER: I'll give you the transcript of what the Secretary of State said yesterday when he was asked precisely that question.

[Iraq: Status of Missing Journalists]

Q Richard, anything on the journalists? MR. BOUCHER: On the journalists. At this point, we have seen the Baghdad Radio announcement. Neither we nor the ICRC in Geneva nor, my understanding is, the head of the ICRC, when he spoke to us and over with the President this morning, had direct confirmation that these some 40 journalists might be released today in Baghdad. That's what the radio in Baghdad reportedly said. We are following the situation as closely as possible, and we're in very close contact with the ICRC. You know that this subject was raised and discussed with Iraqi representatives in both Riyadh and at the border meetings yesterday. Q What about the general state of unrest throughout Iraq? MR. BOUCHER: Throughout Iraq? Q Do you have any update on that? MR. BOUCHER: It's very similar to what we had yesterday, but I'll read you the exact text. Our information on the situation inside Iraq is, as I said yesterday, somewhat limited. Civil unrest appears to be continuing in a number of cities, towns and other outlying areas. Fighting between government forces and dissidents still seems to be focused primarily in southern Iraq, particularly in and around the Shi'ite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala. However, there has also been continuing unrest and fighting in the Kurdish north. Q Is the fighting increasing or decreasing? MR. BOUCHER: Again, I don't have any way of characterizing it in those general terms. I would stick with the general characterization I've used for the past few days, and that is that the situation is fluid. Clashes continue to occur in a number of areas. Q What about the number of cities and towns? The military sources put it at two dozen -- MR. BOUCHER: I think the Pentagon yesterday was talking about two dozen. I don't have any particular number to use. Q We have a report that Iran has now called on Saddam Hussein to resign. Do you consider that interfering into the Iraqi affairs, or do you encourage such -- MR. BOUCHER: I really don't have anything particular to say on that. Our view of Saddam Hussein's future, I think, has been made very clear by the President and the Secretary and others. We'll just stick with that. Q Could I follow that a little bit, Richard? Tehran officials have called on the Ba'ath Party to not confront the people, the implication being that the Ba'ath Party is essentially finished. Do you have any indication that that state of affairs does exist within Iraq at this time? MR. BOUCHER: Again, I have no conclusions to draw at this point on the unrest and what it will lead to. The situation is fluid. Clashes continue to occur. As we've said over the past few days, places where the government is reported in control or not in control -- clashes do occur in those areas as well. So it's just -- well, as the Zen masters say, "You can't put your foot on the river." It's too fluid to try to describe. Q If I could just follow up, is the United States offering any help to groups who oppose Saddam Hussein? MR. BOUCHER: I believe that's a question that we've addressed before by saying that we do not believe that outside forces should interfere in the internal affairs of Iraq. Q Is that a "no"? MR. BOUCHER: That's a statement of U.S. policy. Q It sounds like a "no." MR. BOUCHER: David, I'm afraid that's as much as I can go into. Q You have been talking about clashes and fighting, and these terms are rather abstract for me. Could you describe this more in -- something more concrete and in detail? What's the scale of clashes, and how much is the fighting? Are all the people which Baghdad Radio terms as insurrectionists armed with machine guns or small rifles, or are they compatible in combat capabilities with the Iraqi regular army, or something like this? MR. BOUCHER: That's something the Pentagon has tried to address over the previous days, and we have somewhat as well. I'm just not in a position to describe for you the information that we might have on the exact nature of the capabilities of the forces. Jan? Q Richard, has the State Department received any requests from any congressional committees for persons from the Secretary of State on down to appear before them, to explain the role of the State Department in the days leading up to Saddam's invasion of Kuwait? MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. Q Could you check into that? MR. BOUCHER: I'll check into it. I'm not sure it's for us to describe their request for them. I think we usually describe the testimony that we are going to appear at. Q (Inaudible) -- whether or not they've asked you for people to come and appear. MR. BOUCHER: It might be. You might ask them if they've asked us.

[El Slavador: Upcoming Elections]

Q Do you have anything on El Salvador beyond what you said yesterday, given the fact that they have an election in two days? MR. BOUCHER: Well, I'll be glad to read you a statement that we were intending to post at some point this afternoon, but I guess it's good enough to read now. On March 10, Salvadoran voters will go to the polls for the seventh time since 1979 to choose a national legislature, mayors and town councils in elections which will be observed by the OAS and other international groups. We salute the Salvadoran people's continuing commitment to the electoral process which offers a real hope for peaceful change in El Salvador. This commitment stands in sharp contrast to FMLN leader Joaquin Villalobos' reported announcement of a guerrilla offensive for the day after the election. This fits the FMLN's pattern of calling truces only to increase violence later. In fact, before I came in here, there was another report on the wires of renewed guerrilla attacks today. It calls into question both Villalobos' earlier statements of support for pluralistic democracy and abandonment of armed violence, and the FMLN's good faith in negotiations. We have also seen reports that a candidate from a leftist party was shot March 6th by supporters of the ARENA party and that this person is in serious condition. We condemn this shooting and call for a full investigation and prosecution of those responsible. We note that 20 at-large seats have been added to the National Legislature. This, we feel, will give smaller parties a greater opportunity to gain seats in the new Assembly. Q Is there a U.S. observer delegation? MR. BOUCHER: Somewhere I thought I knew that, but I guess I don't. I'll have to check on that. Q Have you taken note of this speech by EC Commissioner DeLors in which he laid out a new security role for the Community, possibly at the expense of NATO? MR. BOUCHER: I haven't noted that particular speech, but this is a subject which we as NATO members and as longstanding supporters of European unity have been interested in, and something that we have discussed with our European allies. Decisions about specific institutions, I think, are for those institutions to make.

[Israel: Treatment of Journalist in Detention]

Q Richard, has the State Department seen a rather passionate report by a reporter -- stringer who wrote for Reuters and for us who was detained by the Israelis for, I think, five or six weeks. The report appeared this morning on the wires about the detention, the degradation, the humiliation to which he was subjected. As the State Department has never been quiet about torture and human rights abuses in certain parts of the world, perhaps you may have something to say on behalf of this gentleman. Taher Shriteh is his name. MR. BOUCHER: I haven't seen his name. I think the report we saw this morning indicated that he had been released on bail. Q Perhaps. But he has written a report about what happened to him over the last six weeks, which you may wish to take a look at. MR. BOUCHER: Well, I'm not sure I have any comment on his specific report, but noting his release, we would say that we stand firmly behind the commitment to a free press, including the ability of journalists to do their job. If the Israelis have grievances against this or any other individual, we feel that they should be brought in a court of law, and that the accused should be given a chance to defend him- or herself.

[China: Reported Arms Aid to the Khmer Rouge]

Q Do you have any comment on news reports that Beijing has said it will continue to supply arms to the Khmer Rouge? MR. BOUCHER: We have not in fact seen such a statement from China -- any official statement like that. I'll tell you what we have seen. The only thing that we've seen so far was a news report that quoted a PRC Foreign Ministry spokesman on March 7 as saying the following: "What is most urgent now is that all parties to the Cambodian Conference accept unconditionally the framework settlement adopted by the Permanent Five members of the U.N. Security Council and the draft agreement." We note that the PRC did announce several months ago that it was suspending arms aid to the Khmer Rouge in order to facilitate a settlement, but we cannot verify whether it actually did so. Our views on this question, of course, are that we've long supported a moratorium on military aid to the Cambodian parties in the context of an overall settlement which addresses all the concerns. Q Thank you. MR. BOUCHER: Thank you. (The briefing concluded at 12:50 p.m.) (###)