April, 1991

US Department of State Daily Briefing #52, Monday, 4/1/91

Boucher Source: State Department Deputy Spokesman Richard Boucher Description: 12:06 PM, Washington, DC Date: Apr 1, 19914/1/91 Region: MidEast/North Africa, E/C Europe, South Asia, Eurasia Country: Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Albania, Lebanon, Georgia, USSR (former) Subject: Mideast Peace Process, Regional/Civil Unrest, Development/Relief Aid, Refugees, Democratization, Human Rights (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED) MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I hope you had fine holidays. Welcome back. I thought I'd just update you on the unrest in Iraq, and then we can take any questions you have and then go have lunch.

[Iraq: Civil Unrest Update]

Heavy fighting continues in northern Iraq between government forces and dissidents. Kirkuk seems to remain in government hands despite renewed fighting in that city late Friday and Saturday. Over the weekend, government forces retook Irbil and Dohuk. They have also moved against dissident forces in the Zakho area along the Iraqi-Turkish border, but we cannot yet confirm government claims to have retaken Zakho. The government continues to send reinforcements into northern Iraq. There has been some fighting in central and southern Iraq. Yesterday and today, several areas north of Baghdad and southeast of Kirkuk have been the scene of fighting between government forces and dissidents. There has also been additional fighting in the Basra area and in the general area of the lower Euphrates and Tigris Rivers. With that update, I'd be happy to take your questions. Q They're still flying helicopters? MR. BOUCHER: They continue to employ helicopters against dissidents in both northern and southern Iraq. Q Richard, the U.S. policy continues to be the same regarding the helicopters? MR. BOUCHER: U.S. policy continues to be the same. Q Which is to say . . .? MR. BOUCHER: Which is to say that the Pentagon has expressed it repeatedly, and I'm not going to try to recreate that here. Q Richard, you mentioned fighting in central Iraq. Is that new? MR. BOUCHER: That is several areas north of Baghdad and southeast of Kirkuk. Q I'm saying, is this a new development? MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't think it is. Q Richard, do you have anything in response to those who criticize the United States for not helping the rebels in Iraq after all the statements made by President Bush and Secretary Baker that the Iraqi people should move against Saddam's regime? MR. BOUCHER: We've gone over this repeatedly, and I looked up today some of the statements that the President has been making on this. I think he's made very clear the terms under which our forces are present in Iraq; the things that they would and would not do. He's made very clear what kind of relationship we can have with a government that retains Saddam Hussein in power. But he's also made very clear that we don't think that we or any others, for that matter, should interfere in the internal affairs of Iraq nor should we try to choose what sort of government there should be in the future in Iraq. That's for the Iraqi people to decide. Q Even when commentators like Safire are beginning to refer to it as a "sell-out?" MR. BOUCHER: Our policy is decided on the basis of what we think is in the best interest of the United States and what the President decides to do. Not on the basis of columnists. Q The President also has made it clear that it's not acceptable in the eyes of the United States for Iraq to use helicopters in these combat operations against the rebels, has he not? MR. BOUCHER: Again, I refer you back to what he and the Pentagon have both said. Neither one of them, I think, have threatened specific action on the part of the United States. Q Richard, has the Administration received a formal plea for help from the Kurds? MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to check on that. I'm not aware of anything, but I better check. Q I believe there was a story this morning about Barzani, one of the Kurdish leaders, saying that letters had been sent? MR. BOUCHER: I'm not aware of any specific letters, but let me check on that and make sure that we haven't received any letters. Q Can we go back to central Iraq? Who's doing the fighting in that area? MR. BOUCHER: What do you mean, "Who's doing the fighting?" Q Is that Kurds and the Baghdad government, or is it Sunnis? Do you have any reports of Sunnis defecting from the government and taking up arms? Or is the rebellion so far a Kurdish-Shi'ite operation? MR. BOUCHER: I think I'll have to check and see if I can get into that level of detail. As far as I know, the fighting between Baghdad and in the area around Kirkuk has been with Kurds. Q Richard, there are sort of impromptu refugee camps behind American lines in southern Iraq. When the U.S. forces pull out, has any thought been given to what's going to happen to those people? MR. BOUCHER: I can't give you specific plans at this point. As far as the people who are there now -- the U.S. military, the Kuwaiti Red Crescent, I think some other international organizations are in that area taking care of people. We are in touch with various international organizations that would have a role in taking care of refugees in that area. Q Is there any agreement to the security of those camps once the American forces leave? MR. BOUCHER: Again, I can't give you any specific plans at this point. I don't think it has been firmly settled to that point yet. Q Richard, there were reports Friday and Saturday that the Administration is reassessing its position on not receiving Kurdish dissidents. Have you heard anything about that? MR. BOUCHER: Well, Margaret, addressed last week our willingness to give due consideration to requests that we might get. At this point, we do have some requests. We've received several meeting requests from Iraqi opposition figures. We're evaluating those requests. We anticipate that some meetings probably will take place this week and probably with officials of the Near East Bureau. Q Not with the Secretary? MR. BOUCHER: At this point, it's not scheduled. There's nothing scheduled at this point for any meetings with the Secretary. Q At what level in the Bureau? MR. BOUCHER: Again, that's what we're evaluating, and we'll determine what's the best use of their time and our time. Q Will the scope go beyond the announced scope of the previous meeting, which was strictly human rights considerations? MR. BOUCHER: That remains to be seen, depending on the individuals involved. I'm sure we'll discuss a fairly broad range of things with them. Q How many requests have you gotten and from whom? Q What types? MR. BOUCHER: I'm not familiar with all the requests. There are requests from various Kurdish representatives. I think some of them are Kurdish-American groups who are interested in talking to us. As Margaret indicated last week, we are interested in talking to them. As I've said, we expect to have some meetings here this week, but we're still in the process of evaluating them and setting things up. So I can't say specifically who we're going to talk to about what and when. Q Why has it taken the State Department so long to even begin to consider these kinds of meetings. Perhaps earlier in the process it might have done these groups some good to talk to the U.S. Now that they're getting the living daylights kicked out of them in the north, suddenly, the Administration is contemplating meeting with them. What's the point? MR. BOUCHER: Again, Margaret addressed this last week. As far as I'm aware, before she made her statement, we really hadn't gotten any requests, or had only gotten a few requests. We had met with some Kurdish representatives, including Kurdish-American groups at various levels. After Margaret talked about it last week, we got a series of requests that we're looking at right now. Q Those meetings are confined to Washington. Are you planning any meetings in the region -- the Gulf itself? MR. BOUCHER: I don't know exactly what meetings have been requested -- in the Gulf, or in Europe, for example, where some of these groups are located. The policy would apply to both places. Q Richard, Margaret had said specifically that the Secretary would be willing to entertain such requests. The requests that you have on file now, were they specifically to meet with NEA, or has anybody asked to meet with the Secretary? MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. Q Are they limited to Kurds -- these requests? MR. BOUCHER: Let me check on that. The ones I've heard about have been Kurdish people or Kurdish-Americans. Q Is the Administration thinking of providing aid or reassessing, at least, that policy of not providing aid? I'm thinking not necessarily of lethal aid but other -- money, for example, intelligence, things like that? MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything new, and I think I just repeated the things that the President has stated before, that we don't think it's for us to try to choose or to influence and decide on the future leadership of Iraq. We think that people from outside should not become involved. Q Paul Wolfowitz was quoted last week saying that "No one in the Administration had a policy for these post-war developments." If that's more or less accurate, what exactly is it that you intend to discuss with any of these organizations? MR. BOUCHER: I'm afraid I haven't seen that quote from Paul Wolfowitz. So I'm not in a position to address it. I think the Pentagon might be able to tell you whether it's accurate or not. But in any case, we do have a policy. It has been enunciated by the President. Our views of the future leadership of Iraq. The fact that it would be near-impossible to have normal relations with the United States if Saddam remains in power have been clearly enunciated by the President. Q Richard, can you bring us up to date on the U.N. vote? MR. BOUCHER: The members of the Council are examining the text, and we want swift action by the Security Council in adopting this resolution. At this point, there are no formal meetings scheduled today. Q Can we go to Israel? MR. BOUCHER: You can go anywhere you want to, George. Q Do you have anything to say about the plans for deportations and other types of restrictions on Palestinians? MR. BOUCHER: What we've seen so far have been the press reports of decisions, I guess, on security that were made by Israel over the weekend. Our Embassy in Tel Aviv will be seeking more information from the Government of Israel. In general, I would note, as we have in the past, that as a matter of policy Israel should be looking for ways of developing dialogue and trust with the Palestinians, not imposing new restrictions. Q Richard, back to the Kurdish meetings, if I may? Q Do you feel they're doing that, though? Can I just follow that up? Do you feel that that's the direction Israel is now headed? MR. BOUCHER: Again, our Embassy in Tel Aviv will have to follow up on this and see exactly what these restrictions are -- if they are as reported and what they mean. Q There have been other events, too. There was that reported "Shoot to Kill" order last week which apparently over the weekend was followed by the shooting of at least three young Palestinians. Are you bringing that up? Are you now convinced that there is such an order? MR. BOUCHER: That, I assume, will be discussed by our Embassy in the context of finding out about the discussions over the weekend, since originally the "Shoot to Kill" order, as it was called, was reported by different people, different statements made by government ministers. But then it was said that that would be among the subjects discussed at the Security Cabinet meetings over the weekend, and that's what the Embassy is going to be inquiring about. Q Richard, can I go back to the U.N. situation for a moment? Why is it taking so long to get agreement on this? I realize it's been a holiday weekend, but why is it taking so long to get agreement on a text which had been virtually agreed upon by the Permanent Five before the holiday recess set in? I was also struck by your language in saying that we want swift action. Is there some indication that there's not going to be swift action on this? MR. BOUCHER: I wouldn't draw that conclusion. I would just want to reiterate that we are pressing for adoption of a resolution as soon as possible; that we have been discussing this with other countries, as I think you've seen from the various reports that have emerged, without my confirming any details. There are a number of elements in the resolution. It's long. It's a complex resolution, as these things go, and we're working out various pieces of final detail with all the various people that have to look at it. We established broad agreement by last Friday with the Permanent Five, but they and the other members of the Council still have to work out some of the details in the text. It's just a long thing that has to be worked through with everybody. Q Some members of the Security Council have expressed concern about the broad-reaching nature of this, and the fact that it impinges on the sovereignty of certain member states. Is that a valid concern in the view of the United States? MR. BOUCHER: Well, obviously, we think that everything that we've discussed with other countries in terms of putting in the resolution is called for, and that we see the resolution as one that can complete and further carry out the mandate that the United Nations has given to us and to other countries through this previous resolution. And we see the steps that we put in the resolution as ways of ensuring complete and full Iraqi compliance with the terms that have been laid out previously by the United Nations. Q You mentioned their willingness to meet with Kurdish rebel representatives. In principle, are you also willing to meet with representatives of the Shi'ite rebels? MR. BOUCHER: Yes. Q And one other point, are you able to confirm or comment on the story that 20,000 American troops are about to be withdrawn from southern Iraq? MR. BOUCHER: That's something I have to leave for my colleagues at the Pentagon. Q Can we switch to the Soviet Union? MR. BOUCHER: Sure.

[USSR: US Embassy Fire Update; Services Restored]

Q I wondered if you had any more about the fire and what might have caused it, and what the Embassy personnel are doing now for work space. MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything more for you on the cause. The Department's fire damage assessment team has arrived at the Embassy. They are focusing their efforts on making the building usable, at least in part. The Embassy is setting up work space in Embassy housing for some personnel displaced by the fire. Limited Consular services were re-established today, although the Consular Section still has no working phones. I'm told these Consular services, which are some basic visa and American citizen services, are set up out of the ground floor of the existing building -- the one where the fire was. There were some areas there that didn't have much damage. We think it will be some time, however, before the central section of the Embassy can be used again, and the Embassy is making an intense effort to restart basic Consular services and to do refugee interviews. Q How about secure communications? Have you re-established them yet? MR. BOUCHER: I've been asked not to talk specifically about our ability to communicate with our Embassy. Q You can't even say "yes" or "no"? MR. BOUCHER: So I can't even say "yes" or "no." Q It sounds like it's "no." MR. BOUCHER: I wouldn't draw that conclusion, Carol. Q Is there any thought of using the new but bugged Embassy? I mean -- MR. BOUCHER: At this point, as I said, the Consular Section is working out of some of the lower floors of the fire damaged building. We've set up some offices in different facilities that we have in the new Embassy compound -- not the new office building itself -- and I think I said last week that that structure work had not progressed far enough that it was usable, even if you discounted any security concerns.

[Lebanon: Return of US Embassy Staff]

Q Another subject: Anything about the meeting between the U.S. Ambassador in Beirut and the head of the government? MR. BOUCHER: Ambassador Crocker and a limited Embassy staff returned to the U.S. Embassy in Beirut on Saturday, March 30. The return is confirmation of our strong support for an independent Lebanon, free from non-Lebanese forces and militias. He has been meeting so far with government officials, including President Hawari. Q Nothing about the hostages? MR. BOUCHER: No.

[USSR: Elections in Georgia]

Q Also on the Soviet Union, any comment on the election yesterday in Soviet Georgia? MR. BOUCHER: We've seen from press reports that 80 percent of Georgian voters participated in the referendum, and that 90 percent of those voting reportedly were in favor of independence. As we've said before, the distribution of roles and responsibilities between Soviet republics and the Central Government is an issue for the Soviet people to decide. It's a complex question that we hope will be resolved democratically and on the basis of peaceful discussions by the concerned parties. And we believe, obviously, that the results of this referendum should play a role in that process. Q Can you say anything about General Scowcroft's trip to the Middle East? MR. BOUCHER: No. Q Do you have anybody from the State Department accompanying him? MR. BOUCHER: Again, I don't have anything to say beyond what the White House has said, and I'll refer you to them to say it. Q Why the veil of secrecy over a high-ranking U.S. official flitting around in that part of the world? Q Are we going to find out afterwards? MR. BOUCHER: I'm afraid that the travels of General Scowcroft is a question that's best addressed by our colleagues in the White House, and they will say as much or as little as they determine appropriate. Q Are there any toasts this time? (Laughter) Q Richard, back on the Soviet Union, do you have any assessment that -- or does the government have an assessment you could share with us about the kick-in of price increases tomorrow, and what effect it might have on the stability of the Central Government? MR. BOUCHER: That's a pretty big question. I don't have anything specific for you on that. I think we've always expressed our view that economic reform was necessary, and that prices are a key component of economic reform, and that these things have to be done in such a way as to further economic growth and to further economic opportunity.

[Albania: Election Update]

Q Do you have any comment about -- apparently the Albanian Communists have won the election. MR. BOUCHER: Albania. On Sunday, the Albanian people voted for members to the new 250-person Parliament in the nation's first multiparty election since 1945. According to official accounts, 96 percent of Albania's 1.9 million eligible voters cast ballots. Unofficial reports of the initial election results indicate that the ruling Communist Party won heavily in the countryside, while the opposition Democratic Party scored impressively in Tirana and other major cities. U.S. diplomats, private American observers and other foreign election observers are meeting today to assess the electoral process. We have some initial reports from our people that are out there, but nothing that would lead me to any conclusions that I can share for you on the conduct of the elections. So we're awaiting the results of those discussions with other observers, and waiting to hear what public statements observer groups may want to make. I'm told the official vote count is to be announced later today or on Tuesday, so we don't have any comment at this point on the results. Q Can we return just a moment to Iraq? Two questions: Do you have a comment on the tactics or the general level of force that is being used by the Iraqi government to suppress opposition movements? You have expressed, for example, in the context of other countries, that it is all right to use force to maintain the integrity of the country? Is the kind of force that is being used in Iraq acceptable to the United States, number one? MR. BOUCHER: As for the characterization of the force, I think we've characterized it in the past, noting specifically that very heavy equipment was used by the government; that there was indiscriminate shelling in many cases, some of which in the past has damaged holy sites -- a lot of heavy armor and equipment being used against civilian groups and rather indiscriminately.

[Iraq: Human Rights Concerns]

We have for many years expressed concern about the way the Iraqi government treated its own people, particularly its overall abysmal human rights record, and I think in the present instance, that as government spokesmen -- I'm thinking of some of the White House briefings last week, in addition to what Margaret has said -- we have expressed our concerns about civilian casualties during the current strife, and our condemnation of any atrocities or violence being used. We don't believe that the Iraqi regime can in fact solve its problems with its own people by violent suppression. Q And do you see a trend at this point that the government appears to be once again getting control of the key cities that it had lost? It appeared for a while it was going to get control, it lost again. Where are we in the pendulum? MR. BOUCHER: It goes back and forth. I think I reported today on some of the areas where the government appears to be in control or where, through heavy assaults it started on Friday, it appeared to have regained control. But in fact even in some of those areas, there is some heavy fighting continuing in the north. There are fighting clashes that continue to be reported in the south. So the situation is by no means stable. Q Do you have any assessment of the stability of the current regime? Any reports of activities that might lead to a change at the top? MR. BOUCHER: I have no specific reports like that, John. Q Richard, on Afghanistan, with the fall of the city of Khost, what's the U.S. view of what impact that might have on the peace process, and do you have any comments at all on that? MR. BOUCHER: That's something I'd have to look into and see if we have any assessment like that for you. Q Richard, do you have anything on the development of the negotiations between the United States and a number of Gulf states for a permanent headquarters in the area? MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't. Q Are they underway or what? MR. BOUCHER: Well, I know we're still in contact with the countries of the region about all the basic areas that we've been pursuing after the war. Anything specific on the forward headquarters for CENTCOM, I guess, would really have to come out of the Pentagon. Q Richard, do you have anything on the Secretary's activities over the weekend while he's been down in Houston? MR. BOUCHER: I don't think there have been any particular activities on the foreign affairs side to report to you. He's been spending the weekend with his family. Q Richard, does the installment of a peacekeeping U.N. force along the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border depend on Iraq's acceptance of the cease-fire resolution? MR. BOUCHER: Margaret talked last week about the conditions that would lead to the withdrawal of our forces from southern Iraq, and that remains unchanged. As for how the resolution specifically deals with the deployment of a U.N. observer force, I'm afraid I can't get into that sort of detail on the resolution at this point. Q Are you able to answer the question of whether Iraq has to accept it for that observer force to be installed? MR. BOUCHER: That would put me in a position of going into certain details of the resolution that I can't go into at this point. Q Richard, is there anything new today on the various meetings that went on in South Africa over the weekend or the violence? Do you have anything? MR. BOUCHER: We have always expressed our hope that the leaders of various parties in South Africa could get together and could act to restrain the violence and reduce the level of violence and our deep concern about some of the attacks and violent incidents which have taken place. We'll have to see if these meetings over the weekend can lead to that kind of result. Q Are you encouraged by the fact that meetings have taken place? MR. BOUCHER: We're always encouraged that people recommit themselves to lowering the level of violence, but I think we'll have to see if they can actually achieve that. Q On the Kurdish thing, if I may, I just want to make sure: Are we talking about Kurdish leaders in exile as well as Kurdish rebels fighting Saddam's forces? And, if you're talking about the rebels talking to U.S. representatives, what are the mechanics, because the airfields are controlled by Saddam Hussein's forces, I understand, so they would have to get into U.S. occupied territory and fly out of Iraq if they want to talk here in Washington. MR. BOUCHER: I don't at this point have a specific list of people who have asked for meetings, nor do I know exactly where they're coming from. I mean, the travel arrangements would really be for them to set up, depending on where the meetings are held.

[Albania: Resumption of Relations]

Q On Albania, what is the status of negotiations to establish diplomatic relations with Albania, please? MR. BOUCHER: We announced the resumption of relations several weeks ago and signed a memorandum of understanding to that effect. The people that we have out in Albania right now are a small team of U.S. diplomats who are looking at the physical setup to see how we can go about establishing a permanent presence there, getting buildings, and that sort of thing. They are also, obviously, paying attention to the developments there. They've been meeting with foreign ministry officials, opposition party leaders, and others. Q Speaking of meetings, any meetings with Iranian officials on things other than the Claims Tribunal? MR. BOUCHER: None that I'm aware of. No. Q Thank you. MR. BOUCHER: Thank you. (The briefing concluded at 12:32 p.m.)