US Department of State Daily Briefing #58: Tuesday, 4/9/91

Boucher Source: State Department Deputy Spokesman Richard Boucher Description: 12:42 PM, Washington, DC Date: Apr 9, 19914/9/91 Category: Briefings Region: MidEast/North Africa, Central America, Eurasia Country: Iraq, Kuwait, Nicaragua, USSR (former) Subject: Regional/Civil Unrest, Development/Relief Aid, Refugees, Democratization (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

[Iraq: Update on Relief Efforts]

MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. If I can, I'd like to start off by updating you on relief efforts in Turkey, Iran and southern Iraq. First, I have to note that the numbers of people involved are covered by estimates only. It's been very difficult to get precise information on the level of the refugee outflow from northern Iraq.
Turkey
At this point, Turkish government and international relief officials estimate that about 270,000 Iraqi civilians -- mostly Kurds -- have crossed the border into Turkey. An additional 250,000 displaced civilians are reported to be across the border in Iraq. Relief efforts for the Kurdish refugees are underway. U.N. agencies have turned over to Turkey relief supplies for 20,000 people as well as medical kits for 110,000. The Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance has provided $275,000 in the last few days for the local purchase of water, blankets, clothing and baby food. Other supplies of blankets, tents and plastic sheeting for shelter are being flown to Turkey from stocks in Europe and in the region. On Monday, the Defense Department reports 12 military relief flights -- that's nine U.S., two British, one French -- air dropped 57.6 tons of relief supplies. The supplies consisted of pre-packaged meals, tents, blankets, sleeping bags, water and other foodstuffs. An additional 17 relief flights are scheduled to be flown today. In addition to that, alternative means for air delivery of food are being examined. In addition, U.N. supplies for an additional 10,000 people, now stockpiled in Syria, will be moved to Turkey by convoy later this week. So that's a rundown on what's actually -- some of the supplies that are actually moving now. There are many other efforts underway in terms of contributions of money and planning and needs assessment, and things like that, that are being done to see to the needs of the people who are in northern Iraq.

[Iran]

Q Do you have some numbers for the refugees on the Iranian border? MR. BOUCHER: Iran: The international relief officials report that between 400,000 and 700,000 Iraqi civilians -- mostly Kurds -- were seeking refuge in Iran, with perhaps 500,000 to 700,000 more across the border. The Iranian Red Crescent Society and previously established U.N. and International Red Cross infrastructure are providing assistance to these refugees. The Red Crescent Society is undertaking a needs assessment and preparing a plan of action for an expanded relief operation. U.N. supplies earlier pre-positioned in Cyprus for the Gulf refugee crisis are being readied for shipment to Iran.
Southern Iraq
And in southern Iraq, U.S. military forces and the Kuwaiti Red Crescent Society continue to provide assistance to over 25,000 displaced persons and local civilians who are located in occupied southern Iraq. U.S. military forces are providing medical care, food, water, shelter material, and they are assisting local leaders to restore food distribution systems within the area of coalition control. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has agreed to assume responsibility for the care and protection of refugees and displaced persons in coalition-occupied southern Iraq when U.S. forces withdraw. In preparation for assuming this function, UNHCR has opened an office in Kuwait and is already starting to work with U.S. CENTCOM personnel. The ICRC is already active in the area, and the ICRC is helping to effect an orderly transition of assistance responsibility from U.S. military forces to the UNHCR. Q How many people are going to need this -- refugees? MR. BOUCHER: It's a very flexible number, depending on how you count it. The people that are being cared after, looked after, are about over 25,000 people. There are other estimates that there are some 40,000 total in the zone. Q Richard, there are reports today that Britain and France are making some airlifts to Iran where you acknowledge that even larger number of refugees are fleeing. Is it still the U.S. position that it is not going to airlift directly to that area? MR. BOUCHER: Well, I don't think I ever said it was not the U.S. position to airlift there. Q You said there were no plans to. MR. BOUCHER: The way we've been working with things with Iran is through the international organizations and our support for the international organizations who are set up and operating in Iran. You will remember that last Friday the President, and then over the weekend the Secretary, both indicated they were interested in every way possible to provide the humanitarian assistance and relief to Iraqi refugees, wherever they are going, including Iran. As the President said, we would communicate that to the Iranians. We have communicated that to the Iranians through the protecting power of the Swiss. At this point we haven't heard back from them. We have continued our assistance through the international relief organizations which are helping refugees throughout the region, including Iran. And, as I just said, the Iranian Red Crescent is reportedly doing a needs assessment for further U.N. international efforts there. Q So if Iran came back to you and said, "This situation is desperate. We need the same kind of direct U.S. help that you're giving to the Turkish border," you'd be willing to do that? MR. BOUCHER: I can't say at this point. The plan is to work through the multilateral organization. We've indicated our willingness to do that. That was in the President's statement last Friday. That's been communicated to Iran. We'll have to see back what the assessment of needs is.

[Iraq: Discussion of Relief Efforts]

Q What do you have on the possibility of an enclave being established in Iraq? MR. BOUCHER: The Security Council in New York is examining a number of proposals to provide emergency relief to displaced persons. We believe the United Nations has a central role to play, and, based on Resolution 688, it can provide relief, look at the causes of the plight of the refugees, and ensure that the Iraqis cooperate with international relief efforts as they are compelled to do under Resolution 688. As that resolution stated, Iraq's repression, resulting in the massive flows of refugees, poses a threat to international peace and security. Authority to provide relief, therefore, in our view stems from that resolution. Q I guess I still don't understand what your answer to that question is. There's a proposal out there that seems to be gathering force. The EC endorsed it. Is the United States going to go along? MR. BOUCHER: There's a proposal out there that is being discussed in New York, along with other ideas about how to help the refugees. We are discussing it with other countries up in New York. Our view is that Resolution 688 provides authority to provide these cross-border refugee services. We are in fact doing so. Our emphasis, I think, if you'll remember what the Secretary said in Turkey, was ensuring that these massive relief flows are undertaken and are undertaken quickly to help people. So we think that Resolution 688 provides the authority to do that. If Iraq would refuse to cooperate with this international effort, we would be willing to look at other options, including further U.N. action, but we believe that Resolution 688 provides the authority to get the job done, and that's what we're concentrating on. Q Well, Richard, you're talking about cross-border and other sorts of relief activities. I think the Major plan is talking about some place to provide security for these people that would be protected, perhaps, with military force, if necessary. What's the U.S. view of that? MR. BOUCHER: At this point, the specific endorsement of one plan or the other, I think, I don't have for you. Our view is that the U.N. has the authority on the resolution to get out there to be doing these relief efforts. We made very clear when we announced our air drop that we expected Iraq should not interfere with these operations. If I remember correctly, that's also part of the United Nations resolution. It's clear that these people's safety should be ensured, and that they should be provided with the relief supplies under Resolution 688, and that's the job that we're trying to do. Q Do you see any contradiction between your frequent support for the territorial integrity of Iraq and such an internationalized enclave? MR. BOUCHER: I haven't heard that expressed. Q Well, I'm asking you if the U.S. Government does see any contradiction there? MR. BOUCHER: Again, Jim, I'm not aware that that's been raised around here. Q What kind of U.N. Security Council action could be used? What does the United States envisage of these sorts of U.N. Security Council actions that could be used if Iraq does not allow this major humanitarian relief effort to go in? I mean, are you implying that there could be coalition military action against Iraq on this, or what -- you have got sanctions. What else is there you could possibly bring to bear on the Iraqis? MR. BOUCHER: At this point I'm not trying to imply anything in particular, because it remains hypothetical as to what Iraq might do. The point is that the resolution provides the authority to go in there to deliver the food and other supplies to needy people. We are doing that. It provides a leading role for the United Nations, and it provides that Iraq should comply with this resolution and permit this to go on unimpeded. That is what we are doing. If something else develops, then further U.N. action would be appropriate. Q The Iraqi Foreign Ministry has already rejected the Major plan. Does that end it, or is it still possible to go ahead with such a proposal, even in spite of Iraq's opposition? MR. BOUCHER: As I said, that idea is still being discussed up in New York. Q How do you respond to the Iraqi response at the U.N. yesterday that the airlift over its territory violates its airspace and its territorial integrity? MR. BOUCHER: Well, as I said, the U.N. decided in the resolution that Iraq's repression has resulted in a massive flow of refugees; that this flow of refugees and the repression constitute a threat to international peace and security. The U.N. resolution is a humanitarian one, and we're carrying out the job of that resolution to help these people get the food that they need. Q Can I just go back to Iran for a minute, Richard. Before the President and the Secretary both addressed the issue of Iran and wanting to help refugees anywhere, including Iran, have the Iranians been in touch through any means to say that they needed help? MR. BOUCHER: I don't remember the precise timing. I know that there were Iranian spokesmen on television, and things like that, describing the refugee flows and describing their need for international assistance. But I think the point is that before last Friday, there were already U.N. activities -- there were already U.S. contributions to the United Nations and U.N. activities to set up camps in Iran in anticipation of refugee flows, and there were already U.N. activities and Red Cross activities in Iran to help them take care of people. Q Could you look into the question of whether or not the United States has been approached by Iran through any of its channels for direct help? MR. BOUCHER: I'll look into that question. I'm afraid that one may come back with, "I'm sorry, we don't comment on the details of our discussions through our protecting power." Q What a surprise! Q Richard, during the major fighting in the rebellion against Saddam Hussein, you would say that the Iraqi army had appeared to be moving up toward the Kurdish areas, and so on. Can you tell us today if they are still there in the same strength, or have they started moving south, or are there more attacks? What is the situation on the ground now? MR. BOUCHER: I don't think we've seen any particular movement of forces. I've reported on movements in recent days. The situation today is that some sporadic and relatively small-scale ground clashes have occurred between government troops and dissidents in northern and southern Iraq over the past 24 hours. I think Secretary Cheney described it this morning as "skirmishes," not heavy fighting. Q Richard, how would you describe the status of the fighting now? Some of the Kurdish leaders have said that their forces are just regrouping and preparing, I guess, for a new assault. Are you saying that the rebellion is over or -- MR. BOUCHER: I think I just tried to describe the status of the fighting. I didn't say it was over. Q No. I realize that, but you also said that it was sporadic and small-scale clashes. That doesn't sound like major action to me. MR. BOUCHER: Well, I'm not saying any major action has taken place over the past 24 hours, but I'm not declaring it over. Q Does the United States regard the refugee flight other Kurds northward and eastward as a humanitarian problem or as a political problem? MR. BOUCHER: We regard it as a massive humanitarian problem, one that requires a massive response from the international community, and you're seeing that response as it proceeds. We also regard it as the U.N. resolution regarded it, as a threat to international peace and security -- the repression and the resulting flows of refugees. Q Richard, what's the view of the United States to the possible use of U.N., U.S. or other protected refugee sanctuaries for rebel troops who might later re-engage in fighting against the Iraqis? MR. BOUCHER: I guess that's a question that's based on some variation of an enclave or safe haven idea, and all I can tell you is that ideas about sanctuary and safe havens are under discussion up in New York. Q Richard, yesterday you were going to look into the claims by the Kurds that they rose up in response to broadcasts from these clandestine radio stations. Have you looked into that? Do you see any connection between those radio stations and any government in the coalition? MR. BOUCHER: I'm afraid I found out there was nothing I had to say on the subject, so I didn't say anything. Q And you were also going to look into the possibility that the Kurds may have brought up the possibility of supplying stinger missiles. MR. BOUCHER: I think we answered that question. Q I didn't see that. What did you say? MR. BOUCHER: You can see it later. Q It's not on the board. MR. BOUCHER: (To staff) Isn't it, Mark [Dillen]? I think it is. I think we posted something that described the meeting. Q And the fighting still -- yesterday you gave a lot more detail about this city of Sulaymaniyah where there was supposed to be heavy fighting and unrest. Are we to take it then that the situation is unchanged -- the government is still in control in these areas that you mentioned yesterday; that there's been no -- MR. BOUCHER: Yes. As far as the situation on the ground, my understanding is that the presence of forces remains largely unchanged, and the level of fighting is now the level that I described. Q Richard, I think as recently as yesterday you said that the government was sending more re-enforcements to the north and yet today you say we haven't seen any particular movement of troops. MR. BOUCHER: Over the past 24 hours. Q And could I -- MR. BOUCHER: I'm not trying to negate what I said before. There's just nothing new to report on that score. Q On these large numbers of refugees in Iran, I think when Margaret briefed last week, she was saying that the relief agencies had some sort of establishments in southern Iran and that that's where they were expecting a flow. I'm assuming with these extremely large numbers -- and you're saying most of them are Kurds -- that a lot of these people must be in northern Iran, or in the northern border area there? MR. BOUCHER: I don't have precise information on that. I think the update on displaced persons that we put out on Saturday, mentioned that there were some 20 different camps set up in Iran. The situation is that many of the people in the north are going into Kurdish villages, Kurdish areas, that relief supplies are being provided there and no separate camps are being set up. But I don't have precise locations for those camps. I just haven't been able to get that information. Q But relief supplies are being provided up there in the north as well? MR. BOUCHER: That's right. Q One of the things that some of the Kurdish leaders have requested is that the United States take in a number of Kurdish refugees as asylum or refugee cases. Is there any consideration being given to that? MR. BOUCHER: Let me get you a more developed answer on that. I think the President expressed some willingness to do that on Friday, and we have, in the past, had numbers under the refugee program for Iraqis. Let me see if I can find out exactly where we stand. Q A related question. My understanding is that the United States had expressed a willingness to take some of the 65,000 Kurds who fled to Turkey after the gassing in 1988. MR. BOUCHER: That's right. Q Three years later, or almost four years later, the United States hasn't taken any of them and is still in the process of processing people. I was just wondering if you could have an update on that? MR. BOUCHER: Let me see if I can get you an update on it.

[USSR: Future of the Soviet Republics]

Q Can we move to the Soviet Union, and independence day in Georgia, possibly? MR. BOUCHER: The declaration in Georgia. I think I have to say just what I've said before, that the future of the Soviet republics is an issue for the peoples involved to decide. It's a complex question. We hope that it will be resolved democratically and on the basis of peaceful political discussions. Only that kind of process will be fully legitimate and accepted by all parties. Q While you're on the Soviet Union, has there been any follow-up on the Gorbachev compromise proposal on CFE? Is the United States still examining it? Or as some people are saying, is there some sort of a draft that the United States is ready to put forward? MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to check on that. I haven't checked for a couple of days. Q Can we go back to the Kurds? MR. BOUCHER: Yes. Q For a little more precision to the answer, there's no movement by Iraqi troops toward the Turkish border today; is that correct? MR. BOUCHER: I reported in the past when we saw movements of Iraqi troops, largely from the south to the north. I don't have anything like that to report for you today. Q How far is an offensive force, or army, away from the bulk of the Kurdish refugees? How many miles or kilometers? MR. BOUCHER: I have no idea. Q An estimate? MR. BOUCHER: I have no idea. Q Are they in a threatening position? MR. BOUCHER: I have no idea. Sorry. Q Have you issued a warning to Iraq that any violence against these people would receive swift retaliatory action by U.N. forces? Has there been any warning of any kind? MR. BOUCHER: The President indicated last week and we indicated in messages to the Iraqis on Saturday -- I think I told you yesterday -- that any interference with the cross-border of the air-drops with the relief effort would not be permitted. Q That's the relief effort. MR. BOUCHER: This is the area where the relief effort is taking place. Q So in other words if they come into this region they can expect to be -- they can expect the unexpected; is that -- MR. BOUCHER: I can't precisely define every scenario for you, but we've made very clear that these relief operations should be allowed to continue, should be allowed to proceed unimpeded. The U.N. resolution makes clear that Iraq is expected to cooperate with these efforts. Q Two more questions on the Soviet Union. There are reports out of Vilnius today that Soviet paratroopers have taken over another building which was used by the Lithuanian government to train its troops, its security forces. Do you have any status on that, or any comment? MR. BOUCHER: I just saw the report this morning, and I don't have anything. Q And then yesterday there was a question about the embassy in Moscow. You referred us to this Congressional hearing which was closed on that portion of the testimony. I wonder if you have any general -- MR. BOUCHER: I didn't realize it was closed on that portion. We also put up an answer yesterday afternoon that was posted. I can get that for you. Q Richard, can I ask you on Vietnam? Do you have any readout on the meeting with the Vietnamese U.N. representative? MR. BOUCHER: Only that the meetings were underway when I was preparing to come down here. Q And another question. The Los Angeles Times is reporting that an offer has been made if they will help to bring a speedy end to the Cambodian situation -- that there will be some improvement and move toward normalization between the United States and Vietnam. Can you comment on that report? MR. BOUCHER: I described yesterday the factors that enter into the consideration of moving towards normalization of relations with Vietnam. So I think those certainly apply. If you're talking about something more specific, I guess I can look for a readout of the meeting. Q Has anything changed in the U.S. approach toward relations with Vietnam? MR. BOUCHER: The basic principles remain. I don't want to try to prejudge what work on those principles and movement in those areas might come out of this meeting today. Q Is there a greater disposition now than there was before to accelerate the process of normalization? MR. BOUCHER: I can't describe it one way or the other. Let me see if we can try to give you some readout on what was accomplished at the meeting today in proceeding along the lines that we've laid out in the past. Q Has the State Department resumed language training in Vietnamese? MR. BOUCHER: Let me get you a full answer to that. My understanding is that we've been training people in Vietnamese for a decade or so because we've had the Program of Orderly Departure where officers are assigned in Bangkok and then travel into Vietnam to help people with their departure. I don't know the answer to that now. Q The numbers are higher now, are they not? MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to check on that. Q Is it possible -- to go back for a minute on the Kurds -- to explain why there is such reluctance to endorse this safe haven idea that America's allies have endorsed? MR. BOUCHER: First, I didn't say there was reluctance to endorse it. I said it was something that we were discussing with our allies, and we'll continue to work out whatever steps are appropriate at the United Nations. I think the important point is the point that the Secretary made when he was in Turkey, which is that there is human suffering; there is a massive relief effort required. We think that Resolution 688 provides the grounds for going ahead with that relief effort into northern Iraq; that the U.N. has a central role to play; and under Resolution 688, has the authority that is necessary to go in and play that role in providing relief and ensuring that the Iraqis cooperate. So it's basically a matter of, we've got the authority to do the job; let's go do the job. And then whatever else is needed, we'll continue to discuss with other countries. Q Does that mean that the United States is opposed to the idea? MR. BOUCHER: I didn't say reluctance, I didn't say oppose -- Q I know. I'm asking -- MR. BOUCHER: All I said was, we're discussing it. Q But is there opposition to that idea? MR. BOUCHER: I didn't say that. I said that it's something we're discussing at this point -- Q That's why I'm asking. MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to characterize a reaction to something that has to be discussed before it's formally put on the table. Q So there's no opposition; there's nothing in favor. You're just discussing it and seeing where it's going to go? MR. BOUCHER: And we think that Resolution 688 provides the authority to do what's necessary to help these people -- Q So that's the U.S. position that is being -- MR. BOUCHER: That is the focus and the emphasis that we're putting on it right now. Q I see. Q What are the arguments against establishing an enclave? MR. BOUCHER: I'm not arguing one way or the other, George. I'm not going to get into debating some idea that's been reported in various ways at various times in the press.

[Iraq: Establishing Asylum for Kurds]

Q Does Resolution 688, though, give you authority to go this extra step and establish a safe haven? MR. BOUCHER: I think the point of Resolution 688 is that it provides authority to provide relief supplies to needy people, whether they're on one side of the border or on the other. We're doing that. We are providing those supplies. We have a U.N. role in doing that inside Iraq. We are supporting the U.N.'s efforts to undertake that role. We also, at the same time, have a resolution which -- I don't have the exact text with me -- but which basically says that Iraq should cooperate and not interfere with those efforts. That means that the people who we are providing supplies to should not be interfered with. Q Is there any authority, be it that resolution or some other statement, that gives authority for a safe haven? MR. BOUCHER: It really depends on what you call "safe haven." Q That's kind of the point maybe of part of the thing that's been proposed, the concept of a buffer zone which implies something more than simply protecting border relief efforts. I guess the question is, do you believe 688 provides authority for that type of a concept, or do you reject that concept? Or is that, in fact, what's under discussion? MR. BOUCHER: The question of the buffer zone is, on the one hand, discussed as a matter of fact for the situation in the south where there will be a U.N. Observer Force and there will be assistance for refugees down there. As I said, the idea of a safe haven, an enclave, a buffer zone, has been discussed in various ways at various times. It's something that we are discussing with our allies up in New York. But I think the important point for us remains that Resolution 688 provides the authority for relief; basically, protected delivery of relief by U.N. agencies and others into northern Iraq, and that's what we want to do. Q Your willingness to enter into discussions about an enclave would suggest that you are not necessarily concerned about the territorial integrity of Iraq; is that right? You're not concerned. Maybe that's a little harsh, but that you're willing to negotiate that point or discuss it or address it? MR. BOUCHER: The territorial integrity of Iraq involves the question of the political makeup, or the future dismemberment of Iraq. That's certainly something we respect. We have here an international problem, a humanitarian problem. We're working to deal with that problem to help these people. Q Are you suggesting, in repeating the provisions of 688, that they are open to wide interpretation -- that the resolution is open to wide interpretation? That the protection of refugees could be carried out under this resolution in some sort of a safe enclosure, haven, buffer zone, what-have-you, and be protected? And if there's any interference, or any attempts at interference by Iraq, that the U.N. resolution -- or that this resolution, and the other one, also provides the possibility that there could be military retaliation? MR. BOUCHER: Let me go back to exactly what I said. I said that Resolution 688 -- based on Resolution 688, the U.N. has a central role to play to provide relief, to look at the causes of the plight of the refugees, and to ensure that the Iraqis cooperate with international efforts. If the Iraqis refuse to cooperate with international relief efforts, we would be willing to look at other options, including further U.N. action. Q Can we go to another area? MR. BOUCHER: Be glad to. Q Could you briefly characterize what reactions the Baghdad government has had? Have they refused to participate or said that they don't want these types of relief operations going on? What reasons would exist to believe that there would be interference by Baghdad? MR. BOUCHER: I can't characterize their reaction at this point. I'm not going to try to speak on their behalf. Q Let me ask about another issue which is developing in northeast Asia. As you may know, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, for the first time, will visit Seoul, Korea, to have a summit talk with South Korean President Roh just after his visit to Japan next week. What is your comment on this new development? What kind of impact does it have on the U.S.-South Korean relations? MR. BOUCHER: I have no particular comment at this point. I'll see if we can get you something later. Jan.

[Nicaragua: National Reconciliation and Investigations of Bermudez Killing]

Q The contras. There's a big piece in today's Washington Post suggesting that there are new contras, or re-contras. What do you have on this? What can you enlighten us with? MR. BOUCHER: We have a new phrase. No, I don't have a new phrase, actually. We support President Chamorro's policy of national reconciliation. All sectors of Nicaraguan society should refrain from violence and contribute to national reconciliation. We have been aware for some time of unrest in rural Nicaragua, centering around competing land claims, unclear titles to land, uncoordinated land giveaways in the last days of the Sandinista regime, and the presence of armed Sandinista cooperatives all complicate this situation. The tensions in rural Nicaragua have led to reports that in some cases former members of the Resistance have rearmed. We hope Nicaraguans will work together to remove all the causes of that tension so that national reconciliation can be achieved. Q Richard, is the United States satisfied with the handling of the Enrique Bermudez killing so far? MR. BOUCHER: We have supported the efforts of the Government of Nicaragua -- I mean, just endorse, let me say rather than material support. The Nicaraguan police continue to investigate the case. President Chamorro has named an independent commission to oversee the investigation and to report on it. Mrs. Bermudez met separately with Assistant Secretary Aronson and Assistant Secretary Schifter yesterday to present her views on the case, and both Aronson and Schifter reiterated our call for a thorough investigation of the killing of Enrique Bermudez. Q Thank you. (Press briefing concluded at 1:15 p.m.)