US Department of State Daily Briefing #47: Friday, 3/22/91

Boucher Source: State Department Deputy Spokesman Richard Boucher Description: 12:31 PM, Washington, DC Date: Mar 22, 19913/22/91 Category: Briefings Region: MidEast/North Africa, Subsaharan Africa Country: Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Ethiopia, Israel Subject: Military Affairs, Refugees, Human Rights, Democratization, State Department, Regional/Civil Unrest (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED) MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. What I thought I'd do to start out is clear up a few questions that have come up over the past couple days. I'll tell you about neutral zones, Falashas, and then give you an update on the unrest.

[Announcement: Iraq-Kuwait-Saudi Neutral Zone Clarified]

Neutral zones: We were asked a question yesterday about some supposed tripartite neutral zone and whether the border demarcation effort -- the issue of the demarcation of the border would affect that. And the answer is, no, because there isn't any such zone. The Iraqi-Saudi neutral zone was resolved in 1981. There's no tripartite neutral zone, so the demarcation of the 1963 border couldn't affect in any way the neutral zones. Q The Saudi neutral zone -- the Saudi-Iraqi neutral zone? MR. BOUCHER: The Iraqi-Saudi because the -- Q That diamond-shaped thing -- MR. BOUCHER: Demarcation of the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border. I'm told that diamond-shaped thing was essentially resolved in 1981. Q So there are lines in the sand? (Laughter)

[Ethiopia: Emigration to Israel Resumes]

MR. BOUCHER: You might call them that, Alan. The second: We talked in days past, I think, about the issue of the emigration of the Falashas from Ethiopia. I think you'll remember that we've raised this issue and expressed our deep concern about a halt in departures to the Government of Ethiopia. Yesterday, a charter aircraft with 200 people aboard left Addis Ababa, and we're hopeful that the rate of emigration of the Falashas will continue to rise and that no further interruptions will occur. We view this as a positive development, and we call upon the Ethiopian government to make it possible for all Eithopian Jews who wish to emigrate to do so without further delay. Q What they have, Richard, on that is a family unification scheme, officially. They've never said they're going to allow all Ethiopian Jews who wish to leave to do so. MR. BOUCHER: I understand the commitment for continued departures was released publicly by the Ethiopian Embassy here. I haven't seen exactly what they said and how they described it. But the issue that we have raised is for these people to be allowed to emigrate if they so choose. As I said, we're hopeful that that will continue now that it's resumed. Q They said that one of the problems was that the Israelis were using the same forms time and time again to get people out because the Ethiopians are operating a family reunification scheme and not everyone who wants to leave has a family member in Israel? MR. BOUCHER: I find that very interesting. But if you want further details on it, I'd suggest you ask the Ethiopians. Q How long have these flights been suspended? MR. BOUCHER: I'd have to check. It's a period of a couple weeks, I think it was. I think when we talked about the fact that we raised it, we had the time that they stopped. I think it was from the beginning of the month, if I remember correctly.

[Iraq: Civil Unrest Continues]

Then, just to update you on the unrest in Iraq. Fighting continues between government forces and dissidents in both northern and southern Iraq. With respect to the situation in the north, we cannot confirm reports from Iraqi opposition sources that the government has lost control of the cities of Mosul and Kirkuk. However, government forces in the Kirkuk area remain under pressure from dissident elements that appear to have made additional gains over the past 24 hours, and there is some fighting around Mosul. The Iraqi government continues to transfer additional forces to northern Iraq from the south. There seems to be an overall decline in the levels of fighting in the south over the past two days, although clashes do continue there, particularly in the general vicinity of the Shi'a holy cities of Najaf and Karbala. In Baghdad: Large numbers of government special forces and security personnel have apparently been employed to maintain relative calm. We believe that sporadic clashes continue to occur in the city, nonetheless. Q Is the war over or not? Seriously, we shot down another Iraqi aircraft. We don't seem to be making a great deal of progress toward the conditions of a permanent ceasefire. Are we going to continue -- we've also, I guess, taken some more prisoners?

[Iraq: UN Discussions on Ceasefire]

MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I have anything on the taking of prisoners. You have to look to Defense. We're at a situation now where the fighting has stopped; the hostilities have ceased. We have set down rules, clearly, to the Iraqis about the use of aircraft during this period. But as you know, the permanent ceasefire will come when the U.N. establishes one, basically. Q What have you got on that? MR. BOUCHER: The resolution is still being worked in New York. Members of the Council are engaged in intensive consultations on elements of a resolution based on proposals we've put forward. The Council has not yet scheduled a formal meeting on this, and Iraq has not yet provided full information on its compliance with Resolution 686. Q When do you expect a formal vote, roughly? MR. BOUCHER: These things are always hard to predict. We would expect the Council to examine it formally next week.

[Iraq: Efforts to Prevent Abuse; US Humanitarian Aid]

Q Do you have anything on the U.N. report suggesting widespread depravation in Iraq? MR. BOUCHER: The Sanctions Committee is meeting now, I think, to consider what steps should be taken to deal with the emergency humanitarian needs in Iraq. These needs are identified in what is called the Ahtisaari Report, the U.N. envoy who went out to examine the situation in Iraq. The Sanctions Committee could decide on procedures for the Sanctions Committee to facilitate the shipment of food and related supplies. Over the past several weeks, the Sanctions Committee has approved a number of shipments of food by the ICRC and by various countries. As you know, medicines have always been exempt from the embargo, so there have been shipments of medicines going in on a fairly regular basis. In fact, the Ahtisaari mission took with them, I think, some 20 tons of medicine. The United States has also introduced a comprehensive ceasefire resolution into the Security Council which would take a broader approach. Some relief supplies cannot legally be shipped to Iraq under existing resolutions. We urge other members of the Security Council to move expeditiously in adopting this resolution. The report itself identifies a number of serious problems facing the Iraqi people as a result of Saddam Hussein's war. There are problems of food, water, sanitation, and health which are exacerbated by shortages of fuel and electric power. We're sympathetic towards the Iraqi and Kuwaiti people and others in the region for the hardships that they have suffered at the hands of Saddam Hussein. Since August 2, we have contributed in excess of $35 million in cash, food, and material to the international relief agencies in support of their humanitarian efforts in the region, and we will continue to support such efforts. We'll study the Ahtisaari Report along with the other members of the Sanctions Committee to identify what further steps might be taken. Q But it sounds, Richard, very much like you're saying that until the comprehensive ceasefire resolution is adopted, you're not going to -- the United States will not favor any kind of massive relief effort which, if the report is to be believed, is necessary to avoid widespread famine and disease? MR. BOUCHER: Well, there's, I think, two points. We have made clear our sympathy. The President has talked about the fact that we would be involved in humanitarian efforts. That will be the focus of our efforts; not reconstruction. We are dealing with the other members of the Sanctions Committee right now to continue and facilitate further the process that the Sanctions Committee has established to get food in, to allow medicines to go in, and whatever else the Sanctions Committee deems appropriate. A more comprehensive and broader approach to this is taken on the resolution, and we're working to try to get a further Security Council resolution passed expeditiously. I have to point out that our main concern at this point is that humanitarian relief shipments actually reach the right people, the vulnerable civilian groups that are truly in need. So given the fluidity of the situation presently in Iraq, we believe that an effective monitoring system to ensure proper distribution is essential. Q Richard, as I understand it, other members of the Sanctions Committee are today proposing, in the meeting that's going on right now, that all limitations on the importation of food and certain other emergency items be lifted immediately, today. Will the United States vote yes or no on that question? MR. BOUCHER: David, at this point, I have to hesitate on saying how we would vote in a meeting that's going on right now and proposals that are probably being made right now. Q But do we favor -- is our position that only a comprehensive ceasefire resolution should be the vehicle to allow lifting the total ban on food and humanitarian relief products, or -- MR. BOUCHER: As I said, Bill, we have been working with other countries in the Sanctions Committee all along to approve food shipments. There have been food shipments. There have been relief supplies. We work with countries in the Sanctions Committee. Given the report, we're interested in working further with the members of the Sanctions Committee. We're doing that right now to see what we can do to facilitate this work and have it progress further. Q But it sounds as though you're not willing to release the sanction on food stuffs all together for humanitarian reasons only? MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to try to predict what procedures the Sanctions Committee will use to facilitate the further flow of food and other necessary supplies. We're well aware of the report. We're concerned about the same issues that are in the report, and we're trying to work with the other countries under the present circumstances, under the present resolutions, to make it possible to take care of the needs of the hungry and the homeless and the people who need the relief. We also think that a more comprehensive approach is necessary, and we're working expeditiously on that.

[Iraq/Kuwait: Refugee Assistance]

Q Are we providing humanitarian assistance to the people who are living within the areas of Iraq that we control -- over which we have direct control? MR. BOUCHER: Yes. I think I have a further explanation of that. Both U.S. troops and the Kuwaiti Red Crescent are providing food, shelter, and medical care to displaced persons and refugees along the Kuwait-Iraq border. The Government of Kuwait has invited a team from the International Organization for Migration to assist with repatriating displaced foreign nationals from the border area. Embassy Kuwait reports that the number of refugees and displaced persons in the Safwan area, both in Iraq and Kuwait, approximates 1,000 at this point. In addition, there are others, possibly 5,000 to 6,000 people in southern Iraq who, if they make their way to the border areas, will probably require assistance. Once again, the caution that the numbers change daily. There are steady streams of arrivals. At the same time, others are departing; for example, Kuwaitis admitted by their government and the Egyptians who are being repatriated by their own government. Q Richard, there are continuing reports of torture in Kuwait. Has the United States taken any other steps to raise this issue with the Kuwaiti Government or strengthen its position on whether or not this should happen? MR. BOUCHER: Well, I don't see how you can strengthen our position further on whether or not it this should happen because our view is decidedly that it should not happen. And, in fact, that is as well the view of the Kuwaiti Government. It's a matter that remains a very high priority for the U.S. Government. Ambassador Gnehm and his team in Kuwait are passing on to the Kuwaiti Government, Kuwaiti authorities, whatever credible information they've collected of abuse against Palestinians and other foreigners in Kuwait. The reports, the credible reports they have passed on, include some names given to them of military people who have been accused of committing abuses so that the Kuwaiti Government can investigate and take the appropriate action. Q It sounds like the Kuwaiti Government is definitely not in control of its country yet. MR. BOUCHER: It's still a turbulent situation. It's a situation where a lot of people still have guns. It's a situation where it is difficult to establish control, but in our view the Kuwaiti Government policy, first of all, is that the rule of law is applicable to all residents and the government is committed to taking actions against incidents of abuse committed by renegade elements or to punish those responsible. We see that the Kuwaiti Government has stepped up its investigation and it has taken steps to prevent further abuses. I think we cited before that Ministry of Justice officials are being posted at police stations and military units in order to establish proper oversights. In addition, I'd note that delegates from the International Committee of the Red Cross have visited jails and detention centers in Kuwait to determine the condition of detainees, and we're in touch with the Red Cross and human rights groups and a variety of other people inside Kuwait. Q Could you shed further light on Baghdad? Who is fighting whom exactly? Are we talking about military versus military or civilians versus Saddam Hussein's forces? MR. BOUCHER: I'm afraid I'm not in a position to shed further light, other than what I said, that sporadic clashes occur in the city. Q Has a state of emergency been declared? MR. BOUCHER: That was a report on Tehran Radio, I think. We're not able to confirm it nor would we be able to say how long it might be in effect, if indeed it is in effect. Q Richard, you said that the fighting had died down somewhat in the south. Are you suggesting that government troops have reestablished control? You are aware of eyewitness reports from Karbala now -- MR. BOUCHER: No. I am -- Q -- suggesting that? MR. BOUCHER: -- and I'm not trying to draw any conclusions as to what that really means in terms of the balance between the government and the opposition. As you've known in the past, sometimes the fighting has died down and then flared up again very quickly after that. Q When you say that they're transferring forces to the north, are you meaning that they are transferring them from the south to the north? MR. BOUCHER: Yes. Q Taken together, those two statements would seem to suggest that they were enough in control in the south to be able to move troops away from the area towards the north. MR. BOUCHER: I'm not necessarily drawing those conclusions, Alan. I'm not trying to say who's in control in the south. I really don't know, and I can't give you a breakdown of who has control of different cities. Q How are these rebels armed? Do they have heavy artillery; do they have tanks? What do they have? MR. BOUCHER: I don't know, and I think I'm probably not in a position to go into great detail. My understanding is, as you've seen from their own reports, that they have captured in various areas a considerable amount of equipment in some cases. Q Richard -- Q Could I get back to this U.N. report for a minute? MR. BOUCHER: Yes.

[Iraq: Civilian Relief]

Q How do you reconcile the oft-repeated statements of the President that we had no argument with the Iraqi people and we were trying to limit collateral damage with the findings of this report, which says that allied bombing relegated Iraq to a pre-industrial state? How do you reconcile that? MR. BOUCHER: Well, the first thing, I think, is to say let us not forget how this all came about. This all came about by Saddam Hussein's army invading Kuwait and creating the turmoil, the massacres, and the destruction of Kuwait. The steps that were taken to insure that Iraqi forces left Kuwait have been explained many, many times by our military. The fact that civilians were not targeted, I think, has by and large been shown very clearly by the military and the detailed information that they have put out. That was a matter of policy. It was a matter of policy that was executed very, very well. We do recognize that the destruction of power plants and the cutoff of trade and things like that have resulted in some major hardships inside Iraq for the Iraqi people. We feel these are a result of Saddam's war, but nonetheless we're willing to extend a humanitarian hand and try to help. And to do that, we've not only worked with other countries in the Sanctions Committee to make sure that some shipments of food could go forward but we exempted medicines from the embargo to begin with and we've given money -- $35 million -- to international relief agencies to take care of the people who are suffering throughout the area. Q But do you think it was necessary to damage the infrastructure to the extent that the allied bombing did to achieve military -- MR. BOUCHER: I really don't have any further gloss on that. The Pentagon has, I think, explained their tactics, their purposes, and the way they executed the campaign. And I think we all feel that it went very much according to plan. Q Can you give us a little bit more specific information on what kind of humanitarian hand the U.S. is ready to extend? Is the U.S. ready to vote for sending to Iraq, in addition to food and medicine, things like portable generators, things like fuel? MR. BOUCHER: David, those are things that are currently being discussed in the Sanctions Committee. At this point, you know, I just don't have up-to-the-minute information of who said what in New York and what the exact proposals are and what position we're taking on them. I think you know that with things in the U.N. we don't give you generic responses about what we're going to do -- you know, we'll vote for this, that and the other. We give responses when there's something specific in front of the Council -- or, in this case, in front of the Committee -- and, as I said, we're working carefully with other countries in the Committee in order to facilitate the further shipment of food and relief supplies and things like that. And we'll all see the results when it comes out. Q Well, let me ask you something else on food. Can you give us a status report on what supplies the Red Cross or other agencies in Jordan, Iran, or elsewhere, have stockpiled and ready to go in quickly? MR. BOUCHER: I don't. I'm sure on the stockpiles you could probably get that from those organizations. I've been trying to collect information on the shipments that have gone so far, and if I can get that I'll share it with you. Q Richard, can you tell us today what, if anything, the Secretary has done to follow up on his trip to the Middle East? MR. BOUCHER: I didn't really check again today on the activities or phone calls or things like that, so I don't have any new information. I'm sure that we'll get in touch with you as soon as we have something. Q I find that rather curious because he sort of demonstrated a rather great sense of urgency on the trip and was very specific in terms of wanting to follow up this week. And yet this question has been asked every day and yet you don't seem to get the information from the people who have the information, and I just wonder why. MR. BOUCHER: Well, I think I mentioned yesterday, Carol, that there have been internal discussions of this. The Secretary has been looking at some of the ideas that were raised during the trip. We have had contact at other levels with the governments of countries concerned and have had further discussions with them. So I don't have anything new on exactly whether the Secretary has made phone calls. Q Is there some retrenchment here? I mean are efforts proving more difficult than you thought? Have you decided that this needs more thought rather than action at this time? There are lot of people who think that if you're going to get anywhere in a post-war peacemaking mode you're going to have to move rather quickly, and time's passing. MR. BOUCHER: I guess I'd repeat two things. One is I would take the Secretary's statement during the trip that, you know, "Give us a chance. We've been at this for six days during the trip. Now it's barely l3 or l4," and remind you that both he and the President are committed to moving forward on this issue -- moving forward as quickly as we can. Q Richard -- MR. BOUCHER: I can't characterize it for you because, frankly, I just plain don't have details today. Q He was very specific about expecting some answers this week. This week is over, and we could be excused for thinking that this is proving even more intractable than he said it was, that things are not moving forward very quickly, that there are problems that have developed -- any number of possibilities -- but there's been no action. Q And it' so unusual for you not to have some sort of a response. Q Well, I hope you're listening upstairs. MR. BOUCHER: I'm very sorry that I don't have a response for you, but I can't help you draw your conclusions without knowing what the facts are; and I just don't know what the facts are. Q Please tell us whether the Administration is considering a special envoy to devote his or her time exclusively to this very important subject matter. MR. BOUCHER: I haven't heard any discussion of that. The Secretary himself has devoted considerable time to this subject in the past. Q Richard, there was an article in The New York Times this morning suggesting that some officials believe that Ambassador Glaspie did not confront Saddam Hussein vigorously in their conversation last July 25th and that the Iraqi version of the conversation was not all that far off base and that this explains the Administration decision not to contest the Iraqi transcript because it was not all that wrong. MR. BOUCHER: I'm afraid, George, The New York Times didn't give us the benefit of the names of those officials, so I wasn't able to ask them what they might believe. Q Well, they'll give you some of them. (Laughter.) MR. BOUCHER: Maybe they will. You know, she testified for six or seven hours over the past few days. We went through this rather extensively yesterday and I really don't have any further comments, particularly on things that some officials may or may not believe. Q Do you stand by her portrayal of the events leading up to August 2nd? MR. BOUCHER: She gave an extremely detailed and comprehensive set of answers to the Congress on those events based on her personal knowledge, and I said yesterday it's entirely consistent with the things that we said here. I'll leave it at that. Q Thank you. MR. BOUCHER: Thank you. (Press briefing concluded at l2:54 p.m.) (###)