US Department of State Daily Briefing #43: Monday, 3/18/91

Boucher Source: State Department Deputy Spokesman Richard Boucher Description: 12:43 PM, Washington, DC Date: Mar 18, 19913/18/91 Category: Briefings Region: MidEast/North Africa, E/C Europe, Europe, Central America Country: USSR (former), Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Italy, Greece, Lebanon, Yugoslavia (former) Subject: Arms Control, Security Assistance and Sales, Terrorism, Regional/Civil Unrest, Human Rights, Democratization (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED) MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. It's a pleasure to be here. I don't have any particular announcements to make so I'd be glad to take your questions.

[USSR: All Union Referendum]

Q Do you have anything on the referendum in the Soviet Union? MR. BOUCHER: First, I think we have to refer to the Secretary's comments yesterday on TV where he mentioned that in our view it's not clear that the referendum is going to solve the problem. There are issues -- fundamental problems of how the republics relate to the Union, the question of devolution of political authority and economic authority to the republics, and related and even larger problems with how to convert the command economies to some other form which have to be dealt with by the Soviets. A referendum, of course, is a democratic process that's accepted as a means of expression of popular will. The content of the particular referendum, the conditions under which it is conducted, and the clarity of its questions must be considered in assessing the outcome. We hope that these questions that we've mentioned before will be resolved democratically on the basis of peaceful political discussions between the concerned parties. As for exactly what the results are of the referendum, we're all seeing sort of initial reports based on some districts, but I don't have any firm results or assessment at this point. Q Access to the voters is said to have been one-sided in favor of the government. Do you have anything on that? MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything at this point that would allow us to characterize the way that the voters made their determinations and made their votes.

[Arms Exports: Ex-Im Bank Financing US Sales]

Q Richard, on another subject matter. Do you see a discrepancy between a stated U.S. policy to discourage arms proliferation in the Middle East and Administration plans to ask Congress to underwrite large arms sales? MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't, Frank. The plan -- the proposal that has been submitted to Congress is for a 1-year pilot program that would use about $1 billion in guarantees for commercial bank financing of defense exports administered by the Ex-Im Bank. The program is designed to give U.S. defense exporters the same kind of opportunity that's given to other exporters and, in a sense, to level the playing field, vis-a-vis their foreign competitors. The proposal is to use the money for members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Japan, Israel, and Australia. Other countries which Ex-Im Bank has determined are credit-worthy could be eligible for guarantees if the President determined that that support is in the national interest. The exporters, however, could apply for guarantees only after passing the interagency review for foreign policy and national security concerns which is required by the arms export licensing process. The policy review process would ensure that the guarantee program complies fully with both existing arms sales controls and with any future changes in the control regime for arms sales.

[Iraq: Continued Civil Unrest]

Q Is there anything you can tell us about the insurgency in Iraq today? Is it still going on? Is the government getting the upper hand, or what? MR. BOUCHER: Yes, to the first. And, second, I can't characterize it. Let me try to talk about what we do see going on today. There's heavy fighting between government forces and Kurdish dissidents which continues in northern Iraq. Kurdish dissidents now appear to control large portions of predominantly Kurdish areas of northern and northeastern Iraq. Fighting is also continuing in the south along the lower Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and in the vicinity of the Shi'a holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, but the overall situation in that area is unclear. We can confirm that, unfortunately, both holy shrines in Karbala have been damaged in the recent fighting there. Q Could you more specifically define what you mean by "large areas of the Kurdish areas?" MR. BOUCHER: No, I can't. Once you get to the specifics, it's a little more difficult to define. There are reports that some cities -- I think Irbil and Sulaymaniyah may be largely, or by and large, in rebel hands. Other reports say that Kirkuk and Mosul are more or less in government hands. Fighting continues in these areas. Q Any idea of how well organized the leadership of these movements are at this point? Is it showing better signs of more organization -- the dissident movement? MR. BOUCHER: I'm not in a position to characterize it. Jan? Q Richard, what do you have, if anything, about reports that the Iranian Muj are battling members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard inside Iraq? MR. BOUCHER: That Iranians are fighting Iranians inside Iraq? Q Iranian Mujahedin are fighting the Iranian Revolutionary Guard inside Iraq? MR. BOUCHER: I'm afraid that's a new one on me. Q This is being reported by -- it's being reported by Iranian dissident groups -- Muj groups -- both here and in London, and it was all over the wires on Saturday. I'll get you a copy. MR. BOUCHER: I wasn't reading the wires on Saturday. I don't know where you were. I'm afraid I just haven't seen that, Jan. I had not heard anything about it. I'll see if there is anything we have to say, but it's not necessarily something we'll have something on. Q Richard, you said in the past that the U.S. takes a case-by-case attitude on whether and when to meet with Iraqi dissidents. Has the United States, at any level, been meeting recently with people who are opposed to Saddam Hussein in Iraq? Can you give us a status report on that? MR. BOUCHER: We had a meeting a few weeks ago that we talked about with our Human Rights Bureau. People met with Iraqi Kurds. Q Nothing since then? MR. BOUCHER: I'm not aware of anything since then. I'll have to check on that.

[Iraq: Contacts with Dissidents; Leadership]

Q Is the U.S. military, which is obviously in position on the ground there, meeting, on any basis, with any of these people? MR. BOUCHER: Frankly, I don't know. You can ask them about that. On this general subject, once again, let me remind you what the Secretary said over the weekend. He said, "It's really up to the Iraqi people to determine who their leadership is. We would, of course, like to see a change in government. We've made no secret of that, but we're not now in the process of assisting through the provisioning of arms to these groups that are uprising against the government." He reminded people, "We and other members of the coalition and other countries in the region all want to see the territorial integrity of Iraq preserved." Q On that point, he said, "Not helping through the provision of arms." Is the U.S. helping in any other way? MR. BOUCHER: The position of the United States, as the Secretary said it and as it has been stated, I think, repeatedly here, is that it's for the Iraqi people to decide who the leadership of Iraq is going to be and that it's not for us to try, or it's not our intention or plan to try to choose any alternatives to the present leadership. Q But is the U.S. helping in any other way besides arms? MR. BOUCHER: I'm not aware of anything, David. I haven't asked about every possible meeting or every possible way. I'll check and see if we've had any recent contact. Q Could you take the question as to whether the United States is trying to influence the outcome in one way or another in Iraq? MR. BOUCHER: I just said it's not for the United States to try to choose any alternatives to the present leadership. We have no plans or intentions to try to do that. Q How about taking the question as to -- MR. BOUCHER: I'll take the question and see if we have anything on that. Q Since Mr. Jalal Talabani of the radical front and the Turkish President, Mr. Turgut Ozal, are in full agreement for a Kurdish (inaudible) federated state in northern Iraq, can you clarify the U.S. position to this effect? MR. BOUCHER: I would just stick with what I've said before. I'm not sure your characterization of Turkish and Kurdish positions is entirely accurate. I'll leave that to you to explore with them. Our position is what the Secretary said over the weekend and what we've said before: That's it up to the Iraqi people to decide on their government and that we and other coalition partners support the territorial integrity of Iraq. We do not seek the dismemberment of Iraq. Q One more question. Since the U.S. warned Saddam Hussein not to use warplanes and helicopters to crush the Kurdish uprising in northern Iraq, why does your Administration not reply to Mr. Talabani's plea for such protection as it was reported today in the Washington Post? MR. BOUCHER: What kind of protection? Q To implement Mr. Bush's statement the other day warning Saddam Hussein not to use warplanes and helicopters against the rebellion? MR. BOUCHER: Those subjects have been discussed in the talks that our military has been having. I'm sure they can give you a more detailed readout on that. The Secretary made clear over the weekend that in our view Iraqi use of helicopters for other than logistical purposes, and certainly the use of fixed-wing aircraft, were things that were of concern to us and that we just told them yesterday, no, with respect to fixed-wing aircraft. I don't believe he circumscribed that in any region of the country. Q On the damage in Najaf and Karbala, the Shi'ite holy places, can you give any more details about what the damage was, first; and, second, is there any -- is this likely to increase in the U.S. view Iran's possible involvement in the insurgency? MR. BOUCHER: I'm afraid I'm not in a position to give you any more detail on the damage that we've seen there, and as far as speculation on Iran's future actions, I just can't do that. Q Speaking of damage and Iran, the U.S. seems to have allowed the World Bank to go ahead with a large loan to Iran without sort of attempting to block it in any which way. Can you comment on all of that? MR. BOUCHER: I just heard about that before I came in. I'll have to find you something. Q Something on that? Thank you. MR. BOUCHER: Yes.

[Greece/Italy: Arrest of Achille Lauro Terrorist]

Q Do you have anything on Abdulrahmin Khaled, who was arrested earlier this month in Greece? The Italians want him back because of Achille Lauro. MR. BOUCHER: That's right. Let me get you something. Abdulrahmin Khaled, a Palestinian and a member of Abu Abbas' Palestine Liberation Front, was arrested in early March in Athens, and he is presently in custody. He's the subject of an international arrest warrant issued by the Government of Italy for his role in the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro. When originally tried in Italy in absentia, he was found guilty and sentenced to a term of 90 months plus a small fine. Consistent with Italian law, this sentence was appealed by the prosecutors, and the appellate court ruled in their favor. The appellate court determined that Khaled planned the Achille Lauro hijacking and increased his sentence to a life term. Since he is the subject of an international arrest warrant due to this conviction and based on the seriousness of the charges, we assume that the Government of Italy will seek his extradition. Q Would the United States like to see him extradited to Italy? MR. BOUCHER: We would like to see the rule of law applied against terrorists. Q What is the reaction to Alfredo Cesar's plea for a hurry-up in the aid to Nicaragua? He was here last week. MR. BOUCHER: I'm not familiar with that. I'll have to look into it. I'm sorry. Q Could I ask you, was there any comment in Moscow, in conversations there, on Moscow's relations with the Central American countries? MR. BOUCHER: There was a joint statement on El Salvador issued by the party, and I can get you a copy of that. Q Richard, Secretary Baker met with President Bush earlier today, and afterwards President Bush said, "There is a danger that things could revert back to a status quo in the Middle East." Do you know of any specific plans to try to move forward the peace process? What's next? MR. BOUCHER: The Secretary talked about that during the course of the last few days, and I think the best thing is probably just for me to get those briefings for you. He said that we have discussed with the parties, with some of the countries, what we can do to follow up. "We will be following up," he said, "primarily on the telephone to begin with ... that they've discussed that," and that he also declined to get into the who, what, when, where and how. Q Can you say anything about what activity might be going on in the U.N. with regard to next steps? MR. BOUCHER: There is nothing before the Council right now. It was important for us to get the return of the President and the Secretary from their consultations in order to crystalize our thinking. That is a process that's underway now. I would note that there has not been any report to the Secretary General or the Security Council by Iraq of the actions that Iraq has taken pursuant to U.N. Security Council 686 to comply with those terms. And I'd also refer you once more to the President's statement just a little while ago where he said that, "Inasmuch as we're operating with U.N. resolutions, we would be following up with the United Nations."

[Lithuania: Arrest of Defense Minister]

Q (Inaudible) -- the arrest in Lithuania, wasn't it? MR. BOUCHER: Yes. The arrest or the detention of the Defense Minister and his driver. Right? Q Yes. MR. BOUCHER: I guess what we have is based on press reports. Those indicate that Soviet Interior Ministry troops -- that's those known as the "Black Berets" -- stopped the car of Lithuania's Defense Minister, Audrius Butkavicius, after midnight on Monday morning. The troops arrested both the Defense Minister and his driver. The Defense Minister was released about 12 hours later. There was a spokesman for the Lithuanian Parliament who said that the Soviet Interior Ministry claimed that the detention followed an unspecified incident at a polling station during the referendum. We obviously have no way of knowing exactly why he might have been detained. We think that the action against a member of the democratically elected Government of Lithuania underscores once again the need for restraint and for both sides -- for all parties there -- to seek peaceful solutions to the tensions in the Baltics. We continue to urge constructive talks between Moscow and Vilnius which we hope will start soon. Q Do you have people in there at the moment, and are you checking into it? Has the Ambassador looked into it in Moscow? MR. BOUCHER: I'm not sure what we know about it at this point. I think we have had people in the Baltics, because some of our people were out observing the progress or the process of the referendum. But at this point I don't have anything back from them. Yes. We did have officers present in the three Baltic states -- in Yaroslav and the Tatar Anonymous Republic in addition to the people in our consulates in Leningrad and Kiev and Embassy officers who were out looking at the process of the referendum. Q Are you going to make any representation over this, other than this statement to us? Are you going to tell the Soviets what you think at the Foreign Ministry level or here? MR. BOUCHER: Well, our general views on this situation and how the problems ought to be solved, I think, has been made very clear over time, not only here but, for example, the Secretary had extensive discussions when he was in Moscow of this point. And he has continuously urged a peaceful path of dialogue to resolve the issues. That's a fine way of saying I don't know if we're going to raise this specific incident or not. Q Do you have any reaction to the statements yesterday in Washington by Israeli Health Minister Ehud Omert who said when he stated he was speaking for the Israeli government and Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir -- said that Israel would be willing to negotiate with Syria on all subjects, including territory? MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't. Q Are you saying anything about the Soviet kidnapping of Mr. Honecker? MR. BOUCHER: No. Q The Lebanese army command has announced that they have received a first shipment of American weapons since -- in over five years -- announced it today. Can you confirm that? MR. BOUCHER: No, I can't. But I'll try to.

[Yugoslavia: US Policy and Situation Report]

Q Anything on Yugoslavia? MR. BOUCHER: This is by way of policy and a sitrep [situation report]. I remind you that the United States supports unity, democracy and dialogue in Yugoslavia. The collective presidency is the legitimate head of state in Yugoslavia, and the Federal Executive Council and the Federal Assembly constitute the legitimate Government of Yugoslavia. We support the efforts of all these institutions to ensure that the decisions on the future of Yugoslavia are made through peaceful, democratic dialogue and not through the use of force of intimidation. We applaud the position of the Federal Executive Council led by Prime Minister Markovic, reiterated on March 16, that Yugoslavia's problems can only be resolved through reform and democracy and without the use of force. We have urged all Yugoslav leaders at the federal and republic level to refrain from precipitous or unilateral steps that would foreclose dialogue, and we deplore any actions at any level in Yugoslavia that serve to undermine the process of peaceful, democratic dialogue. Q Secretary Baker confirmed North Korea's Scud missile export to Syria. Do you have any comment about this against North Korea? MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't. I think he discussed it, and I also discussed it last week. Q Richard, it didn't sound from Secretary Baker's comments over the weekend as if the discussions on conventional and nuclear weapons talks went all that well in Moscow. Where do they go from here? MR. BOUCHER: The Secretary, I think, made clear what the problems are, specifically the problem of interpretation of the CFE Treaty and the -- he had a fancy word for it that I can't remember now. Anyway, he discussed over the weekend what the problems are. I think the follow-up is to continue both bilaterally and in the meetings that we have in Vienna on the CFE agreement to seek to get some resolution of these issues. He said that there had been proposals presented to us while we were in Moscow; that they were not enough, but I think he characterized them as a step in the right direction. So we'll be following up on that, I'm sure, bilaterally and through the appropriate fora, which is principally the meetings that take place out in Vienna. Q And are those ongoing? When's the next meeting in Vienna? MR. BOUCHER: The meetings of the new negotiation were suspended for some time. I'm not sure if there is a new meeting scheduled of that or not, but there are also joint working group meetings that take place out there regularly. Q Thank you. MR. BOUCHER: Thank you. (The briefing concluded at 1:03 p.m. (###)