US Department of State Daily Briefing #41: Wednesday, 3/13/91

Boucher Source: State Department Deputy Spokesman Richard Boucher Description: 12:15 PM, Washington, DC Date: Mar 13, 19913/13/91 Category: Briefings Region: MidEast/North Africa, Central America, North America Country: Iraq, Kuwait, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, El Salvador, United States Subject: Terrorism, Military Affairs, Human Rights, Democratization, State Department, Regional/Civil Unrest, POW/MIA Issues (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED) MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. If I might, I guess I'll start off by updating you with everything I can tell you about the unrest inside Iraq, and then we can go on to your questions.

[Iraq: Civil Unrest Update]

As we have noted previously, the situation inside Iraq remains very fluid. Our latest information indicates the government is using larger forces in the Kurdish north in order to suppress the widespread unrest there. Unrest continues in the south, but it's difficult to give a clear picture of the overall situation there today. The government continues to employ particularly large Republican Guard and regular army forces in the Basra area and in and around the Shi'ite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, suggesting that the situation in these areas remain unstable. We can confirm now that there was unrest in Baghdad yesterday, probably in the Shi'a neighborhoods in the eastern portion of the city. With that, I'd be glad to take your questions. Q Richard, does the fact that it's going on and on have a accumulative eroding effect on government control? MR. BOUCHER: Well, Jim, I think first of all we've made clear with our statements over the past few days that government control, when it's established, can often dissipate rather quickly into renewed violence. Second of all, we've refrained from trying to make predictions about how this will go in the future. We see the situation as very fluid, and we're not in a position to do that. I think it does reflect how widespread the dissatisfaction is with the government. But by saying that, it's still not possible to predict the ultimate outcome. Q What kind of unrest in Baghdad exactly? Can you tell me a little bit more about it? MR. BOUCHER: I'm afraid I just can't be more specific about the indications that we have. There have been reports of groups outside the country of demonstrations and road blocks and various things. Q Is this the first time in Baghdad? MR. BOUCHER: I can't confirm anything. Q Is this the first time you have specific reports of unrest in Baghdad? MR. BOUCHER: As I said, there have been reports that have appeared in the media of unrest over the course of days. I wasn't in a position to independently confirm those. But at this point, we do know at least that there was unrest in Baghdad yesterday and very likely some of those reports of early unrest are probably true. Q What is the status of our diplomatic relations with Iraq, or the lack of them? MR. BOUCHER: As you know, Iraq announced it broke relations with the United States. We are currently considering or engaged in discussions on the issue of a protecting power for Iraq. Those considerations -- that hasn't concluded yet. Q Have they indicated an interest in having a protecting power here? MR. BOUCHER: Yes. Q You can't identify who they might have in mind? MR. BOUCHER: No, I can't. Q Are there any indications that those who are engaging in unrest in Basra or in the north are getting any overt support from countries outside of Iraq? For example, Iran in the south? MR. BOUCHER: There's nothing in that area that I could confirm for you. Q Anything in any area that you can confirm? MR. BOUCHER: On the question of outside support, I have no confirmation of that report. Q So nothing by Hezbollah in the north or Turkish Kurds in the north or anything -- MR. BOUCHER: Again, I'm not in a position to go into any specific detail, but I know that there's no -- I don't have any information that I would confirm for you here.

[Iraq: Status of Diplomats and Properties in the US]

Q Richard, just to get it on the record, could you outline for us the status of diplomatic properties belonging to Iraq in Washington? MR. BOUCHER: Last Friday afternoon and evening, the Department of State's Office of Foreign Missions took custody of the chancery building which housed the Iraqi Embassy, as well as the Iraqi-owned building which was previously used by the Iraqi Ambassador as his residence. It's customary in situations where a country has severed diplomatic relations but in which no protecting power has been arranged that after a period of time the Department of State would assume custody of that country's diplomatic premises. This would continue until either diplomatic relations are restored or arrangement is made to transfer custody to another country as the protecting power. Q What happened to the three remaining diplomats who were using that place as their headquarters? MR. BOUCHER: They are excluded from the buildings, and they remain subject to the travel restrictions which have been previously in effect. That is, that they can't travel more than 25 miles from 1801 P Street, Northwest. Q Do they still have diplomatic status? MR. BOUCHER: I frankly don't know what the exact definition of that is at this point. I think we said in the past that they continue in their diplomatic status for a reasonable period of time until a protecting power can be named. Q Could you find out, because diplomatic status brings with it all kinds of little perks and privileges, like places where they can buy things without tax and God knows what else? It depends on what kind of rights they still enjoy. MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think the assumption has to be made that their diplomatic status continues for a reasonable period of time. If there's been any change in that, I'll try to tell you. Q Richard, what is the holdup in finding a protecting power? I realize that you don't want to tell us the names of the specific countries that might be in consideration for this. But is it a problem that they haven't proposed one or you haven't accepted one, or whatever? MR. BOUCHER: The question of protecting power, first of all, lies with the country that breaks relations to indicate an interest in a protecting power and then for us to discuss with the protecting power some of the arrangements and details that have to be worked out. So we are in discussion with a third country about this. At this point, we just haven't concluded. Q So they have suggested a third country and you are discussing it with that third country now? MR. BOUCHER: Yes, basically, although I can't remember if they suggested the third country first or whether the third country came forward and said we've been asked. That's the only detail that I can't pin down for you. Q Is there a status of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad? MR. BOUCHER: As far as I know, it's unchanged. They're obligated under international law to respect and protect our mission in Baghdad. Q Is there any consideration being given to evicting the Iraqis? MR. BOUCHER: You mean expelling the diplomats? Q Yes MR. BOUCHER: I've heard of no discussion or decision to that effect. Q They are in this country -- MR. BOUCHER: As far as I know, yes. Q And none of them -- MR. BOUCHER: -- (inaudible) 25 miles of 1801 P Street. Q And none of them has asked for political asylum? MR. BOUCHER: I don't think we'd confirm it if they had, but I'm not aware of anything with regard to that that we wouldn't confirm. I don't want to set a precedent that we have to talk about it if somebody does. I haven't heard anything about -- just dealing with that whole area. Q You were not supposed to smile in answering the question. MR. BOUCHER: I know.

[Iraq: War Crimes]

Q Same country but a different subject. Yesterday, the Pentagon talked of mistreatment of the American prisoners of war, and that information is still being gathered on possible war crimes but they say the State Department will decide what to do with that information. I'm wondering if you can shed any light on what will be done with that? MR. BOUCHER: No, I can't really at this point. As I think we've said in the past, there are decisions on mechanisms and options and ways to pursue this that have to be made in consultation with coalition partners and others. The information is being collected and gathered at this point. The Secretary is discussing this, among other issues, during the course of his trip. It gets into sort of the whole arrangements for the future questions that he is discussing during the course of his trip, and at this point I just don't have any decisions to relate to you. Q Can you give us anything on the whole subject of when will the U.S. and it allies be satisfied that the terms that have been laid out for a ceasefire have been satisfied? Where does that process stand? Who's going to decide? MR. BOUCHER: There's really nothing definitive I can give you at this point, David. The terms for a formal ceasefire have been laid out in various fora, including in the U.N. resolution that was passed. It's obviously a matter for consultation and discussion with coalition partners and with the United Nations Security Council members. It's something the Secretary, of course, is exploring with other people during the course of his trip. So at this point, I don't have any predictions of exactly how or when those formal decisions will be made. Q Are they going to be made at the U.N. Security Council? Is it the Security Council that will decide when the terms have been met? MR. BOUCHER: I think, basically, yes. The Security Council set out those standards and it's up to the Security Council to decide when they've been fulfilled. Q And then will that require the Security Council to pass a resolution nullifying some of its previous resolutions? What form will the acceptance be? MR. BOUCHER: Again, as a basic rule, when the Security Council sets out terms and conditions, it's up to the Security Council to decide when those terms and conditions have been filled and up to the Security Council to decide whether it wants to modify any of its previous actions, but I can't give you a specific course of action at this point. Q Richard, there have been some fairly gruesome stories about some people -- Palestinians and others -- who have been beaten-up in Kuwait and then thrown across the border into Iraq. One, have you been able to confirm these stories, and (2) is there anything that you can or will do about it?

[Iraq: Reports of Torture of Palestinians and Others]

MR. BOUCHER: Jim, you're right. There are some pretty shocking stories that have been relayed. And these sorts of things, if they are true, would obviously be of great concern to us. We have previously explored allegations of this nature through our Embassy in Kuwait. We've been in touch with Kuwaiti officials and with independent observers in Kuwait. We have not been able to confirm any of the previous stories like this. As with all of these allegations, we have brought them to the attention of our Embassy in Kuwait. Our embassy out there will follow up on such reports. Senior Kuwaiti officials have assured us that actions of the type described in the news report this morning are not the policy of their government. In addition, Ambassador Gnehm has had both high-level discussions about broad human rights concerns in Kuwait and he and other embassy officials have also investigated specific allegations with appropriate Kuwaiti officials, and we're in regular touch with the ICRC and other observers out in Kuwait City. As I said, this is the kind of thing that we do follow up on, that we are concerned about, that we have brought to the attention of our embassy and asked them to look into. But I have to point out that previous reports of this nature have not checked out. Q Richard, for some time now you've been saying that the previous reports haven't checked out, and you've issued several statements to that effect. And yet there are still credible reports, journalist eyewitness reports, accounts of people being beaten in front of people. Are you the only people saying this is not going on, from what you've been seeing, and everybody else who's out there says, "Well, we actually saw it, and it is going on"? It's just very strange. MR. BOUCHER: Well, I guess I could say that despite the fact that we've made strenuous efforts and have an embassy out there that is following these things closely, despite the fact that the Kuwaiti government has in the past denied these reports and has been on the record as saying that they want the Palestinians, in particularly in Kuwait City, to be treated properly, there continue to be these reports and allegations by various parties. I don't know where they all come from. Some of the reports are quite specific, and, if they prove true, obviously they're of great concern to us. But, I mean, I give you the best information that we can get, and I think we've been very active, both in talking to the Kuwaiti government about our concerns and sharing our concerns with them and in investigating these reports. And what I can do is give you the best information we have. I can't explain where all the reports come from, because I can't explain the sources and methods of the people in the news media. You can do that. Q One of the reports, Richard, quoted someone as saying a U.S. military doctor had shown up. As part of his investigation, does Ambassador Gnehm check with U.S. military authorities? MR. BOUCHER: I'm sure he will. I think I mentioned before that in surveying the situation and looking at reports that had come out, that one of the things is our embassy is, of course, working closely with the Civil Affairs group that's out there, and that group has people who go to the hospitals regularly and in the course of their work on reconstruction in Kuwait, and that the other day they had had no reports of people showing up in hospitals with such injuries. Q Can we do anything more than just express our concerns? MR. BOUCHER: Well, again, as I said, this is a subject that has been addressed by the Kuwaiti government, a subject that we have addressed with the Kuwaiti government. And I'm sure if there are problems and specific incidents, that those will be pursued and investigated. So at this point it's a matter of trying to get the information. I think everyone's concern is evident. Q Has the United States actually tried to talk to people who have claimed that they've been beaten up, rather than sort of going to the community and doing a house-to-house chat? MR. BOUCHER: In many cases, I'm sure we have. As I said, the Ambassador and other embassy officials also investigate specific allegations. There was the man who was shot who was in the hospital. I think we saw him, talked to him. He was in fact going to come to the United States for medical treatment. I believe the Kuwaiti government was paying. Pat? Q I came a little late. Did anyone ask about the reports of Scud missiles going from North Korea to Syria? MR. BOUCHER: No, they haven't. Q What do you know about that, and what's the U.S. reaction? MR. BOUCHER: Well, I want to hesitate a little bit on this point, because the Secretary is currently in Syria and may very well have something to say and, of course, what he says is more authoritative than what I say. As far as the specific information, Syria has had Scud missiles in the past, and we understood that they were trying to get more, probably from North Korea. However, at this point I don't think I can confirm for you whether or not they have arrived there. Q If in fact they have gotten additional Scuds, some reports say they're more powerful and more effective, more precise. What would that mean in terms of the Middle East? MR. BOUCHER: Again, I want to hesitate in drawing any specific conclusions about a specific country or a specific report of a sale. Non-proliferation and weapons of mass destruction, non-conventional weapons in the Middle East have been subjects that we've long expressed concerns about. They are subjects that are being addressed by the Secretary during the course of his trip. Q But you would take a dim view if Syria acquired Scud missiles? MR. BOUCHER: Again, Pat, I would just say that the issue of the proliferation of non-conventional weapons in the Middle East has been one that's been of great concern to us in the past. Q Is it one that's still of great concern to you? MR. BOUCHER: Yes, it is. Q Of conventional weapons? MR. BOUCHER: Excuse me? Q Of conventional weapons? MR. BOUCHER: Again, the question of armaments in the Middle East, I think, has been amply discussed by the Secretary during the course of his trip. He addressed conventional weapons -- I think it was in the press conference on the way out there on the airplane. We can get you a transcript of how he addressed that. Q Richard, how would you -- would you please define the Administration's policy with respect to the Kurds and Mideast? MR. BOUCHER: I have addressed that over the course of the past several days. I don't really have anything further to say on it. Q Because in 1988, when Talabani, the Iraqi opposition leader, was here, there was a detailed readout by the State Department. Is that readout still valid, or is there any modification of that, or do you intend to state it for the record again? MR. BOUCHER: I have no idea what we said in 1988 about that visit. We put up something about two weeks ago about the Kurdish officials who were in town for human rights meetings, and our meetings with them and our policy on meetings. I repeated that in the last few days, and we'll get you copies of that. That's the most current expression of our policy on visits and meetings. Q Have we received any letters from Jordan from -- I know Bush has received -- any letters of trying to re-establish contact, but has the State Department? MR. BOUCHER: I don't know anything about letters. I know there have been reports of a letter to the President, and you can check with the White House on that. The President has said that he wants to keep channels of communication open with Jordan. We have an Ambassador out there. Our Ambassador has been meeting with senior Jordanian officials. They have an Ambassador here we meet with, and so there are ample channels of communication. We communicate with Jordan. Q Is there any foreseeable future when the Secretary might be visiting Jordan? MR. BOUCHER: I know of no specific plans for visits one way or the other.

[Saudi Arabia: Arms Sales]

Q Do you have anything on these reports that the proposed Saudi arms sale is being trimmed down? MR. BOUCHER: Just to say that we haven't made a decision on the follow-on Saudi arms package. As you remember, in January the Administration and the Saudi government jointly decided to defer action on the follow-on package until after the Gulf crisis. We are currently considering the issue of security and stability in the Persian Gulf, and what measures we can take to enhance security in the post-crisis period. A decision on the follow-on arms sales would have to be considered in the context of those measures and in consultation, of course, with the Saudi government. And when a decision is reached, we would, of course, expect to consult fully with the Congress. Mike? Q Richard, there was a hearing today on the House side on burden-sharing, and Congresswoman Schroeder was quite peeved at the State Department. She said they refused to send an official to speak to that committee. Do you know anything about that, and can you comment on it? MR. BOUCHER: No. I don't know anything about that, frankly. We reach agreement with various congressional committees based on the numerous requests we get for people to appear at hearings, and we try to work our arrangements that fit everybody's needs. I think the issue of burden-sharing and the financial contributions have been addressed not only by various Administration spokesmen but in testimony on the Hill. And there was a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday on the whole issue of financial assistance for affected states, and they put out some very detailed information there on what people were doing. Q There is no reason you can think of as to why you wouldn't want to send somebody to talk about this? MR. BOUCHER: I have no idea what went on with regard to that specific hearing. Q Do you have a more complete schedule for the Secretary in Moscow yet? Is he going to see Boris Yeltsin? MR. BOUCHER: I don't have a more complete schedule. Details on his schedule in Moscow are up to the party to put out, and, when they do, I expect we will get them back here.

[El Salvador: Expanded Investigations]

Q Do you have anything on El Salvador today? MR. BOUCHER: Anything specific you want to know about, George? Q The rebel attacks? MR. BOUCHER: Well -- no. (Laughter) Not the rebel attacks. Q How about aid? Q What about the Jesuit case and the 12 -- MR. BOUCHER: O.K. Let's review the Jesuit case and the developments with that. That's something I can address. On February 22, the Salvadoran armed forces High Command sent a letter to the Minister of Justice, asking for an expanded investigation into the Jesuit killings. We believe this is a significant step forward in the progress of the case. The High Command acted in the three main areas which we, the Congress and specifically the Moakley Commission, have been focusing our concern. It called for an investigation into a November 15, 1989, meeting at the Military Academy, and it named ten officers who have been ordered to cooperate. It called for an investigation into the intelligence service's November 13 search of the Jesuit Central American University campus and a November 16 meeting, and it also named three more officers ordered to cooperate with that. Then Minister of Defense Ponce informed the judge that in addition to his three written depositions, he would also appear in person to answer questions. We believe this makes it clear that the prosecution and investigation of the Jesuit killings are continuing, and that neither the Salvadoran government nor the United States Government will tolerate any attempted coverup. We applause the willingness of President Cristiani and the High Command to take this initiative, and we expect and trust that it will be followed by full cooperation with the expanded investigation for which the High Command has called. Q Why do you think it took so long if there wasn't a coverup going on? MR. BOUCHER: Mike, I think we've expressed in the past our hope that this investigation would proceed expeditiously, and at times we've expressed our disappointment with the pace of the investigation. However, it isn't just a judicial process; it is a process that is continuing, and it is a process in which now you have the High Command being responsive to some of the specific concerns that have been raised.

[El Salvador: Status of US Aid]

Q Richard, have there been any decisions on whether aid to El Salvador will resume? MR. BOUCHER: Yes. And I think we have information on that that I can get for you. I don't remember the details of where we stand at this point.

[El Salvador: Charges of Election Fraud]

Q Do you have any comment on the charge by one of the leaders of the left that there was vote fraud? MR. BOUCHER: The international observers who were in El Salvador for the elections have noted some problems with the elections, but they concluded that El Salvador's legislative and municipal elections were free and fair. For example, the OAS observer mission stated that the irregularities reported to it could "not be considered sufficiently grave so as to affect the voting." The U.S. observer delegation called the elections a "free and fair expression of the popular will." Candidates and parties can bring charges of fraud to the Central Electoral Commission, which is a multiparty body that adjudicates charges of election irregularities. In one town, Santa Tecla, defective ballots for mayor left off the symbol of the Democratic Convergence Party, and in this town the mayoral election will be held next Sunday, using correctly printed ballots. Q Thank you. (The briefing concluded at 12:39 p.m.) (###)