US Department of State Daily Briefing #42: Thursday, 3/14/91

Boucher Source: State Department Deputy Spokesman Richard Boucher Description: 12:24 PM, Washington, DC Date: Mar 14, 19913/14/91 Category: Briefings Region: MidEast/North Africa, Central America, Subsaharan Africa Country: Israel, Kuwait, Iran, Syria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Albania, El Salvador, North Korea Subject: Terrorism, Regional/Civil Unrest, United Nations, Travel, Human Rights, Democratization (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED) MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I have nothing particular for you to start off with today, so I'd just be glad to take your questions.

[Iran: US Policy on Contacts and Relations]

Q Do you have anything on the supposed proposal for direct talks with the Iranians? MR. BOUCHER: We have had a longstanding position that we're willing to talk directly to authoritative representatives of Iran on the issues of concern to both of our countries, including hostages. Iran is well aware of this position, and they're also well aware that any substantial improvement in relations with Iran depends on the release of hostages and the cessation of Iranian support for terrorism. Q Has this offer been renewed since the end of the Persian Gulf war? MR. BOUCHER: George, we have declined in the past to get into the specifics of any discussions that we have with the Iranians. You know that we have exchanges from time to time through the Swiss. I think on this point, the only thing I can tell you is that since there has been -- while there has been no change in the U.S. position, this is a longstanding position and that Iran is well aware of our position. Q In those exchanges, Richard, have the Iranians described any of their requirements they might have in order to assist in the hostage matter? MR. BOUCHER: Well, first I have to decline to get into the exchanges, but, if you're referring to one report that appeared yesterday on television, I just don't have anything on that. Q Richard, could you tell us what you don't have anything on, for those of us who didn't see the report? MR. BOUCHER: Reports that appeared on a network sitting next to you. Q And what was the report -- Q I'll tell you about it. MR. BOUCHER: You can ask him later. This is my briefing. Q -- you have no comments on? (Laughter)

[Iraq: Civil Unrest Continues]

Q Richard, the Iraqi opposition radio says that it now -- or is taking control of eight cities, and it also -- well, that's the first question. Do you have anything to confirm that? MR. BOUCHER: We can't confirm those opposition claims that the dissidents were actually in control of large portions of Kurdistan. What I can tell you is that the information available to us shows continued heavy fighting in and around several cities and towns in the Kurdish north since yesterday. In addition, there continue to be heavy clashes in the area north of Basra and around the Shi'a holy cities. The situation in the south continues to seesaw, as we receive reports of renewed fighting in towns where the government had previously appeared to have suppressed the earlier unrest. Q Iraqi official radio has denied what you said here yesterday, that there has been an uprising in parts of Baghdad. Have you confirmed your information? MR. BOUCHER: We stand by what we said yesterday on that. I have nothing particularly new for you on Baghdad today, although I think some of the opposition sources are continuing to report unrest in Baghdad. Q And as far as you know, is it still continuing? Is it still as it was? MR. BOUCHER: Again, I don't have anything new from here on Baghdad today, other than to note that there are these other reports. Q And do you know if the Iraqi government forces are using armed helicopters to try to subdue the uprisings? MR. BOUCHER: I know exactly what the President said yesterday, and that's we have received information over the past week that he, Saddam, has been using helicopters in an effort to quell civil disturbances against his regime. Q The Iraqi opposition seems to have come to some unification situation in Beirut. Is the United States interested in talking to these people? MR. BOUCHER: At this point there's been no change. As we've said, the question of contacts with the opposition is something we handle on a case-by-case basis. We've seen various press reports of statements made by people who attended the meeting in Beirut. We haven't seen a joint statement of some kind that would represent a consensus. Again, on the meeting I'd repeat what I said before, and that's that the leadership of Iraq is for the Iraqi people to determine, and we have no plans or intention to try to choose alternatives to the present leadership. Q The United States has said that it doesn't favor the dismemberment of Iraq, and it has also said that it doesn't favor Kurdish national rights. Therefore, what is your position with regard to the Kurdish nationalists in the north who are in an uprising against Saddam Hussein whom the United States has said it will not weep any tears over should he be removed. Are we against both he and the Kurds? MR. BOUCHER: Well, Alan, I think what I need to repeat is more or less what you understand: we have no support for the dismemberment, disintegration of Iraq. We think that its territorial integrity should be respected. We've also certainly said that we'd weep no tears if Saddam Hussein departed the scene, and the President said yesterday that we couldn't conceive of a normal relationship with Iraq with Saddam still in power. There was widespread unrest in Iraq for very good reasons on behalf of different groups, and we're watching the situation closely. Q Could you tell us anything about the relationship between allied forces and Iraqi civilians in the occupied area, if there is any relationship, and can you tell us whether there's been any civil unrest in the occupied part of Iraq? MR. BOUCHER: The answer to both of those is no, but I suspect the Pentagon may be able to do that. Jan? Q Richard, there was a report yesterday about American air bases in Kuwait. Do you have anything on that? MR. BOUCHER: Those reports were totally unfounded. There was nothing behind them. The President and the Secretary have talked about our future security relationships with the countries in the Gulf. I think the Secretary addressed it on the airplane going out. He talked about the continuation of the U.S. naval presence. He talked about exercises. But again, among the things he said he was going to discuss, there was no mention of air bases. So those reports just have no foundation. Q Richard, now that the Amir is back in Kuwait and the Kuwaiti -- and that the United States has achieved its stated objective of restoring the legitimate government, does the United States favor free and fair elections for the Kuwaiti people? MR. BOUCHER: Alan, I'd refer you back to what the President and the Secretary have consistently said, and that's we stand for democracy in the world.

[Kuwait: Treatment of Palestinians and Others]

Q Richard, have your people been able to look any further into those reports of Kuwaiti mistreatment of people suspected of collaboration? MR. BOUCHER: We have been looking at those. We have been following up on the allegations, and I can give you a rundown, if I find it. Yes. We continue to look into all allegations of mistreatment of Palestinians in Kuwait. Senior government officials have continued to enunciate clearly that the Kuwaiti policy is to treat all nationalities in Kuwait according to the law. Frankly, we have been concerned about the possibility that individual Kuwaitis might have acted on their grievances against individual Palestinians accused of collaboration. So far our extensive inquiries amongst the Palestinian community in Kuwait have failed to substantiate reports of torture or killings of Palestinians by the Kuwaiti authorities. We have raised the general question at the highest level of the Kuwaiti leadership on various recent occasions as well as in the past. And in addition, our Ambassador has raised these specific press reports, which came out yesterday, with Kuwaiti cabinet members. They denied that there was a detention center such as described in the article that appeared yesterday, and they reaffirmed that the Kuwaiti government has no policy of deportation. They assured our Ambassador that any incidents of abuse of Palestinians that may have occurred in the aftermath of the liberation were not condoned by the government and were, if they occurred, isolated incidents. We've also been in touch with the ICRC in Kuwait, and the ICRC cannot confirm any reports of abuses of Palestinians. But once again, let me tell you we are concerned about the situation of Palestinians there, and we continue to follow up on all such reports, and we're watching the situation very closely. Q Did you say so far your investigation has failed to substantiate any mistreatment by "official Kuwaitis." But in the talks with the Palestinians, have they given you convincing evidence one way or another that there in fact had been individual abuses? MR. BOUCHER: As I said, on the question of individual abuses and isolated incidents, that is something that both we and the Kuwaiti authorities are concerned about -- the possibility that that may have occurred. In our contacts with the Palestinians, our Embassy officers have reported that the Palestinians have complained about harassment and verbal abuse at checkpoints. Palestinian residents have also complained about food shortages at the local food cooperative. Those are the kinds of complaints we're hearing about directly. And, as I said earlier, our inquiries among the Palestinian community in Kuwait have failed to substantiate reports of torture or killings. Q Richard, there's a report today that quotes a prominent Kuwaiti as saying that in the future there shouldn't be more than about -- I think the figure was 30,000 Palestinians in Kuwait. Does the United States have any opinion about what should happen to the other 150,000 that are there or the 450,000 that were there before the war? MR. BOUCHER: I'm afraid I haven't seen that report. I don't know anything about it. Q On that same line, would the United States have any view about Kuwait prosecuting Palestinians as war criminals for collaborating with the Iraqis during the occupation? MR. BOUCHER: We have said that individuals who have committed crimes should be held responsible. The Kuwaiti government -- I'm thinking in particular the Crown Prince's press conference a little while ago -- and I think at other times he's said that any persons who would be detained would be detained according to the law and prosecuted for specific crimes. Q Richard, on this subject, I'm getting a little bit the feeling that the investigations that are being done by the embassy don't cover a whole lot of ground. I'll give you an example. There were several reports with videotape on various networks yesterday which showed Palestinians that had been forcibly evicted from Kuwait and were now in occupied Iraqi territory, some of them in very bad shape, being treated by -- being given some help by American U.S. military personnel. Is this not an incident that the embassy knows about? Are they not aware that Palestinians are being dumped on the road outside Kuwait? MR. BOUCHER: David, as I said, we continue to follow up on allegations and reports of that nature. We continue to look into it. In fact, those kinds of specific reports, the embassy will continue to look into. What we have confirmed so far is that there is not, according to the government, a policy of deportations. The government does not condone and will not condone tortures, beatings, and things such as that. Exactly what happened in those cases is something we have to follow up on and that's why we're saying that we're looking into the possibility that these sorts of things may have occurred as isolated incidents. Q Is there any indication that the government is trying to apprehend and prosecute the people responsible for these isolated incidents? MR. BOUCHER: Again, we have to find out exactly what happened before we can identify that. Q Richard, on the subject of deportation, there are ways and there are ways. In Kuwait, for example, the traditional way of sending someone back home is simply to withdraw his residence or work permit. Would you regard that as deportation? MR. BOUCHER: Jim, that's really a hypothetical question at this point. I have not seen reports that that was being done. As I said, the government says they have no policy of deportations. They have said very clearly and publicly in Kuwait that they will treat all nationalities in Kuwait alike; that the only detentions and prosecutions will be for crimes. They have said very publicly that while some Palestinians may have committed such crimes and others may have committed such crimes during the course of the Iraqi occupation, that there were also numbers of Palestinians that helped the Resistance. So I think what you're asking is really a hypothetical question at this point. Q Well, to take it out of the realm of the hypothetical, could you look into it, please, to see if the Kuwaiti government does have a policy -- an intended policy or a current policy -- of reducing the number of work permits allowed to Palestinians? MR. BOUCHER: That sort of gets back to Gil's question before about the ultimate number of Palestinians. I'll see if we have anything on it, but I think your questions are probably more appropriately addressed to the Kuwaiti government. Q But you are saying that the Kuwaiti government has formally notified the U.S. Government that it has no intention of expelling Palestinians on a mass scale; is that correct? MR. BOUCHER: We have talked, over the course of days and weeks, with senior Cabinet officials of the Kuwaiti government, and they have told us that they have no policy of deporting Palestinians. Q Do you have anything on the Amir returning? Does that have any impact at all on the situation in Kuwait? MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any particular analysis. He returned. Our Ambassador was at the airport. This is something that I think has been looked forward to in Kuwait City, and, certainly, it's the culmination of the process that we've been going through to restore the legitimate Government of Kuwait. Q There was apparently no great celebrations in the street, etc. Is that indicative of the Amir's popularity? MR. BOUCHER: It just happened a couple of hours ago. The reports that I saw on TV said that the Kuwaiti government intentionally kept it low key. Q Richard, did you confirm anything about North Korea's Scud-exporting to Syria today? And did Secretary Baker mention anything to Syrian President Assad about this? MR. BOUCHER: We have seen quotes on the wires of the Secretary's press conference in Damascus where he addressed this. I don't have the full transcript of that, but we'll get that for you when it comes in.

[Ethiopia: Fighting and Immigration]

Q Do you have anything on the situation in Ethiopia today? MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything different on the overall situation with regards to the fighting. I think we put out a travel advisory yesterday -- (TO STAFF) Ethiopia was yesterday? We're doing so many these days, I can't remember -- that said the fighting was getting nearer to the capital. I think I may be able to get you some more detail that I don't remember right now. Q But nothing beyond that? MR. BOUCHER: There's the question of the immigration of the Falashas -- the Jewish immigration -- and we do understand from reports that the Ethiopian government brought Ethiopian Jewish immigration to a halt about the beginning of March. We have raised these reports at a very high level in Addis Ababa, and we have asked for clarification. If these reports prove true, it will be a matter of deep concern to the United States.

[El Salvador: Overview and Partial Release of US Military Aid]

Q Richard, has the Administration decided to lift the moratorium on aid for El Salvador? MR. BOUCHER: I think the first thing before I try to explain the situation extensively is to quote from the White House statement of January 15, when they announced our original decision. At that time, Marlin Fitzwater said in a statement that "If the FMLN takes a serious and constructive approach to the peace talks so that they result in a political settlement and a U.N. supervised ceasefire within 60 days, these funds will not need to be released for the defense of El Salvador's security." Those were the conditions that Marlin laid down on January 15. Let me go through the whole situation, if you'll bear with me. In January, the President determined that the FMLN had violated the conditions set forth in the legislation withholding military aid to El Salvador. In particular, this was based on the attacks against civilian targets that occurred during November-December, the importation of significant shipments of military equipment. At that time, the President decided to suspend delivery of these funds voluntarily for an additional 60 days as an incentive for progress in the negotiations to reach a ceasefire. I read you the sentence that pertained to that. He called for intensive and accelerated negotiations to achieve a political agreement and a ceasefire by March 15. While the negotiations since then have narrowed the gap, the FMLN was not interested in intensifying and accelerating the process in order to reach agreement on a ceasefire at the earliest possible date. At this point, we have obligated slightly over one half of the first $36.5 million for Fiscal Year 1991, which, in fact, was only available for expenditure in January. In considering, or in deciding to obligate additional military assistance to El Salvador, the United States will continue to take into close account the security requirements for the defense of the democratically elected government, the progress made towards a thorough and professional investigation and prosecution of the Jesuit murders, and the progress in negotiations towards a political agreement and a ceasefire. We would far prefer to be able to utilize these funds to support a ceasefire and the demobilization of combantants on both sides. Agreement on a U.N-supervised ceasefire would permit us to do that. So to try to draw all that together, we've only expended half of the original half. As for the second half, which we said would be released after 60 days -- in other words, after March 15 -- the conditions that prevent that from happening did not occur. The FMLN did not accelerate the negotiations in order to reach a ceasefire by that date so that we would be in a position to obligate those funds. But as we go forward with obligating those funds, we will still have in mind the security situation, the situation with the Jesuits and other things, and still hope to be able to use those funds to finance a ceasefire. Q Does that mean the half of the first half, that part is continuing and you may eventually get to the second half but you're not there yet? MR. BOUCHER: That's about right. Q But where does the figure of $36.5 come from? Q Yeah, right. Q Because the half is $42.5. The whole amount is $85. MR. BOUCHER: That's pretty complicated. I think you're about right, because in the January statement it was $42.5. I will revise and amend my remarks. Q That $36.5 should be $42.5? MR. BOUCHER: I believe it should be, and I'll confirm that to you as soon as I can, if anybody is listening. Q Forgive me if I sound awfully dense, but could you put that into plain English and explain what exactly that meant, that whole thing meant? MR. BOUCHER: Well, I tried once. The money for El Salvador, half was held back by Congress under certain conditions. We said in January those conditions had not been met but that we would voluntarily withhold that half for another 60 days to see if we could get to a ceasefire by March 15. We haven't gotten to a ceasefire by March 15, so the whole amount is available to be spent. Although in actual fact, we've only spent half of the first half. As we proceed with the further expenditures of funds, we will keep in mind the same type of conditions and keep in mind our strong preference to be able to finance a ceasefire rather than just to continue our support as it has been in the past. Q Why have you only spent half of the first half? Is it because they didn't need anymore, or something else? MR. BOUCHER: It's a combination of the actual process of identifying things to spend money on; how the money will be spent, and I guess the fact that the money was not really available until January. Q Richard, on another country. Do you have any notion what's going on in Kenya with the opposition forces combining? And what does that do to the safety of Americans? MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to look into that. I hadn't personally seen anything particular on Kenya. Q Have you passed out any information allowing voluntary departure of dependents and such? MR. BOUCHER: Not recently, at least. I'll have to check on the exact status of travel advisories for Kenya, but I'm not aware of anything particularly new. I'll check on it. Q Have you made some plans for the various Albanians that are coming in -- the Foreign Minister and the members of the opposition? Who will they meet and when will they meet? MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to get you details on that later today or in tomorrow's schedule. There will be meetings tomorrow and the signing will be tomorrow. I don't have the final details pinned down at this point. Q Will that be open to the public? MR. BOUCHER: That's the kind of information I'll have to get for you. Q Can you tell us anything about plans for a joint U.S.-Soviet space venture? MR. BOUCHER: No. Q No? You don't know about it, or -- MR. BOUCHER: I don't personally know anything about it. I guess I can look into it if there's anything. I guess I'd say that the Secretary is in Moscow and I better leave it to him if there is such a thing to talk about. Q Do you have anything on the Birmingham 6? MR. BOUCHER: On what? Q Do you have any comment on the release of the Birmingham 6? MR. BOUCHER: No, I'm afraid I don't. I'm sorry, I don't. Q Thank you. (Press briefing concluded at 12:48 p.m.) (###)