US Department of State Daily Briefing #62: Tuesday: 4/16/91

Boucher Source: State Department Deputy Spokesman Richard Boucher Description: 1:00 PM, Washington, DC Date: Apr 16, 19914/16/91 Region: MidEast/North Africa, Europe, Subsaharan Africa, Central America, E/C Europe, East Asia Country: Iraq, Kuwait, South Africa, Sierra Leone, Liberia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Japan, Czechoslovakia (former), Jordan Subject: Mideast Peace Process, Regional/Civil Unrest, Development/Relief Aid, Refugees, EC, Democratization, Terrorism, Military Affairs, Media/Telecommunications, United Nations (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED) MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. If I can, I'll start out by giving an overview of the situation in Iraq and the refugee situation. I'll try to just give you the new things but some of the old things are still there to provide some context.

[Iraq: Status of Rebellion]

As far as the situation inside Iraq, some heavy ground fighting occurred between Iraqi government forces and armed dissidents between Kirkuk and the Iranian border in the last day. We believe there was also some limited skirmishing yesterday in southern Iraq along the Tigris River. There does not appear to have been any military helicopter activity in Iraq since the weekend.

[Iraq: Refugees on Iranian Border]

As far as the relief effort, I'll start off with Iran. According to international organizations and Iranian officials, 1 million Iraqi refugees have entered Iran and hundreds of thousands are at or moving towards the border. Despite the overwhelming influx of refugees, the Government of Iran is generally dealing very effectively with the needs of these people who are coming across their borders. For example, the Iranian Red Crescent has fielded over 6,000 staff and volunteers and they're operating 29 camps, holding about 250,000 people at this point. Of course, more is needed and more is being done. The International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees have been actively involved in Iran since before the beginning of the refugee influx. You know that of the money that we have given for the effort, that initial $10 million, $6 million of that went to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and $2 million to the International Red Cross. That's for their general relief operations in the area. The U.S. and the international community are providing the assistance through U.N. and international relief organizations, and we are in touch, through our protecting power, the Swiss, with Iranian officials. We're considering ways that we can be of further assistance. That's on that side.

[Iraq: Refugees on Turkish Border]

On the Turkey side of the border: We continue to work with the Government of Turkey, U.N., and international relief organizations to establish effective and efficient means for delivering and distributing relief supplies. Relief organizations are now present at four of the drop sites and are working to establish effective delivery systems. UNHCR is working inside Turkey and is managing refugee camps on Turkish territory. Yesterday, the Turkish government began moving some of the refugees located near the Turkish border to Silopi. The Government of Turkey has said that it plans to move between 25,000 and 40,000 refugees to the new location, and the United States is providing assistance as may be required. We're working with international organizations and with the Government of Turkey to develop methods to deliver the assistance more effectively. This includes looking at ways to relocate refugees to more easily accessible locations. On Monday, 46 military relief supply missions were flown -- that's 31 U.S., 10 British, and 5 French. These missions delivered 326.2 tons of prepackaged meals, water, food -- including milk, sugar, flour, salt, and tea -- tents, blankets, clothing, ground sheets, sleeping bags, tarp rolls, and baby food. There are 8 primary drop zones -- 5 in southern Turkey and 3 in northern Iraq. In addition, additional relief supplies were delivered using ground transport. To date, there are 198 military relief flights that have air-dropped 1,390.4 tons of relief supplies. U.S. military personnel are providing a variety of services to Operation Provide Comfort, including moving supplies by helicopter and truck to border areas, medical and engineering assistance and water purification.

[Iraq: Refugees in the South]

In southern Iraq: Reports that the U.S. military forces have declined to feed new refugees who arrived at refugee camps are just untrue. U.S. forces continue to provide necessary food, water, and medical support to refugees in the area. The U.S. forces are implementing U.S. Central Command policy not to abandon any refugees who desire to come into the demilitarized zone during the withdrawal process. This includes transporting refugees to the temporary relief sites, as necessary. There are an estimated 30,000 people being assisted by coalition forces in coalition-occupied Iraq. Coalition forces will remain in the demilitarized zone until the U.N. Observer Unit is in place and functioning along the Iraq-Kuwait border. Until this occurs, coalition forces will continue to protect and provide humanitarian assistance to refugees in the demilitarized zone, including the refugees who are at Safwan. Refugees at the camp in Rafha, outside the demilitarized zone, will remain under the care and protection of the coalition forces until the refugees are moved to a more suitable location.

[Iraq: International Red Cross and UN Effort]

Finally, on that score, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has established a presence in Kuwait, and we continue to work with them and the International Committee of the Red Cross concerning their assuming responsibility for these displaced persons. The International Committee of the Red Cross has been working inside Iraq, including northern Iraq, for some time now. Prince Sadruddin, the Secretary General's representative regarding the refugee situation, met with Iraqi government officials yesterday, and he informed them of the United Nations plans for assistance for Iraqi refugees and displaced persons. Mrs. Ogata, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, met with Iranian officials yesterday, and she will meet with Turkish officials today and tomorrow. But we expect that she will provide us, as well as other members of the International Relief Committee, with a report on her discussions when she completes her travels in the area. That's the end of the update for today. I'll be glad to take your questions. Q You seem to have a lot of specific information on what's happening on the Turkey-Iraq border but very limited information as to what's happening concerning Iran. You don't have very much in the way of statistics as to what kind of help is being sent there. Beyond that, you praise the Iranians for the job they're doing. I don't know if the refugees there would agree with that. There are some horror stories about what's happening along the Iran-Iraq border. MR. BOUCHER: George, I don't think the refugees anywhere would praise the efforts until the food and supplies and the blankets and the clothing actually reach them and they're taken care of. The response that the Iranian government has mounted has been effective, in our view. That doesn't mean that everybody is being taken care of at this point. We've all seen the terrible pictures on television of the fate that has befallen people, both on the Iranian border and on the Turkish border. I think the emphasis here is on trying to help and trying to get supplies in and trying to help out in any way we can. As far as the information goes, we've got 8,000 military personnel, Embassy teams, AID teams, and things like that operating in Turkey. On the Iranian side of the border, it's been an effort spearheaded by the Iranian Red Crescent and the United Nations organizations that are in there helping. But I also said that we've been in touch indirectly with the Iranians through the Swiss, and that we are looking for ways that we can help them further. Q Can you be more specific about that? It's kind of provocative. What options do you see? Is direct aid to Iran a possibility? MR. BOUCHER: At this point, I can't be more specific. We're looking at various possibilities. We have received some more specific information on their needs from Iran, the kind of information that we expect they're providing to Mrs. Ogata and to the other international officials. We'll be looking for ways that we can assist the refugees that are coming across the border with Iran, in ways that complement some of the efforts of the rest of the international community and the United Nations organizations. Q Can you say, though, that they had responded -- that Tehran has finally responded directly to your offer of assistance? MR. BOUCHER: Well, I said last week that they had responded through the Swiss. They passed the message to us saying they needed international relief. That included a willingness to accept assistance that might be provided from the United States. Of course, we've always indicated our willingness to help. In addition to that, we've heard from them, in somewhat more specific terms, about the kinds of things that they might need. We expect that those are more or less the same kinds of information that they are giving to the international organizations as well. Q How about U.S. military personnel? Are you likely to deploy them to the Iranian border? MR. BOUCHER: I really don't have anything for you on specific options, so I can't say what we're likely or not likely to do at this point. Q Richard, can you just tell us if any of the options would actually involve direct contact between the United States and the Iranians to provide this service? Or are you only talking about international organizations in Iran? MR. BOUCHER: I just don't know at this point what the options are, so I don't want to start dealing with one or the other as likely or unlikely or possible or not possible.

[Jordan: Status of US Review of Aid/Arms Deliveries]

Q We've exhausted this. About Baker's trip -- evidently, he's going to Jordan, so I'd like to ask you a few questions and see where things stand. Where does the aid issue stand? Is it still frozen? Where does the investigation of their apparent complicity with Iraq in breaking the boycott? And, indeed, if you'd like to say why the Secretary is about to make his first trip to Jordan? I'd be happy to take that down, too. MR. BOUCHER: Barry, let me take them in reverse order. As far as the Secretary, in his meetings with Jordan, you know he met with the Jordanian Foreign Minister in Geneva. The Secretary has, just once again in the lobby, explained to all of you who were there the reasons and the purposes for his trip and, certainly, the opportunity to see what the prospects for peace are. It applies to Jordan as well. As for the investigation of the arms, they were reported to have been shipped by Jordan. I think it was about two months ago now that we had a statement here that I would be glad to get for you that I think put the close to that investigation. On the aid request, I just didn't check. I'm not aware of any change, but I'll check for you. Q You mean it's still frozen? MR. BOUCHER: As far as I know, but let me double-check that. I just hadn't heard anything. Q On the arms investigation, did you accept their statement that the date was incorrect as perceived by the West? MR. BOUCHER: Bill, again, this was two months ago for me now, and I don't remember the exact words. But essentially it said that we had no evidence that Jordan had shipped arms or ammunition or anything like that to Iraq since the start of the embargo. Q Despite the clear dates on the ammunition boxes which read 1991? MR. BOUCHER: Bill, apparently the clear dates turned out to be not such clear dates; there were people that saw some numbers and jumped to some conclusions. Again, we explained it here, and I think it was explained at the Pentagon as well over two months ago. I'll be glad to get you copies of that. Q Richard, can you tell us, will the Secretary be discussing with the Jordanians -- with the King -- the makeup of a Palestinian delegation to a conference? Do you consider the Jordanians an appropriate address for talking about Palestinians? MR. BOUCHER: I think that's the kind of question of that I'll leave for the Secretary during the course of his trip. Q Richard, why is the trip open-ended? Is that just customary caution, or is he open to some shuttle diplomacy? Could there be room for a stop or two, or is it really an open-ended trip? MR. BOUCHER: Again, that's the kind of question that you'll have to ask during the course of the trip. All our schedules have always been subject to change, you know, because we've changed them on you many, many times. Q I can't remember, though whether you ever did it open-ended this way. MR. BOUCHER: At this point, we put out some scheduling information for you, and any further scheduling updates will come from the party as they travel. Q Was my memory correct? Obviously, everything is tentative and things change. I'm trying to recollect if you've ever scheduled a trip that simply had no end to it? MR. BOUCHER: Barry, I don't precisely remember. Every trip is different, especially when you're setting up a trip in the space of 3 or 4 days and working out schedules and things. We don't always have the exact and final information at this point. The party will give you scheduling information as the trip proceeds. Q Let me try another way. After all, he's returning now less than a hundred hours after he came home, so obviously he feels some compulsion to keep going, that there's some momentum. The logical extension of that would be -- and there's a question mark at the end of this -- if he finds something in one of the stops and then finds something at another stop that seems to answer something on the first stop, is he likely to go back and forth between stops? Does he feel just once around is enough? MR. BOUCHER: Barry, all I can tell you is that schedules are subject to change. They'll give you more information during the course of the trip. You're dealing with "if this, if that" for things that he's going to be doing in the next few days. I think, let's let him do those things and he'll make whatever decisions he wants to make about his schedule. Q Back on the refugee situation for a moment. You say there's heavy fighting near Kirkuk, and I guess north. Does any of that involve any Iraqi attacks on what appear to be refugees? MR. BOUCHER: At this point we can't confirm Iraqi attacks on refugee concentrations. We do know that some of the fighting has occurred in areas that are not so far from the areas where refugees are located. I can't be more precise than that. And in some of the cases we know that the fighting was initiated by armed dissidents rather than by the Iraqi forces. Q If you're in doubt, there is a possibility that some of the fighting and some of the action by the Iraqi military could have been against people whom the U.S. Government would define as "refugees?" MR. BOUCHER: At this point, I'm not in a -- we've seen the reports that have been in the press about that, various charges that have been made. We can't confirm that such attacks have occurred on refugees. Q Richard, let me try one quick thing. I don't know if this is -- you know, if you are in a position to, but it is such a ghastly situation. Does the United States know if distribution is equitable once the food hits the ground? I mean, do we have a Darwinian situation? You have these awful pictures of soldiers, Turkish soldiers, necessarily, I suppose, holding back mobs. Starving people are trying to get at airlifted food, and these people are not under U.S. control except in some small portions of Iraq. Does the U.S. know if it is a fair distribution that is going on on the ground? Do you have any way to know? MR. BOUCHER: In some cases, yes. In some cases, no. One of the reasons, I think -- as Princeton Lyman explained in testimony and I think Margaret explained yesterday, one of the efforts is to organize the relief better, to move people to places where they can get the supplies and the relief in an organized fashion. We do know that our air-dropped supplies are being used. We see tents appearing. We know that people are getting the food and what they need. We also know that there are many, many people who need the relief. As far as the distribution, you know, of air-drops, we don't know exactly who gets what and how much. As far as the distribution in more organized places, yes, we are able to make sure that people get what they need, that babies are taken care of, and things like that. So one of the efforts that is underway right now -- in terms of moving supplies by truck and by helicopter to central locations, to distribution points that are near the border, established drop zones and things like that, and then moving people to places where they can more easily and in a more organized fashion receive the supplies -- is I think precisely to address that question, to try to make it so that we can deliver services efficiently and fairly and safely to everybody who needs them. Q To go back to this business about what the journalists and other reports are saying about what is happening because of the attacks on the Iranian border, you are saying that you need other kinds of indications. What other kind of corroboration does the United States need to accept that Iraqi refugees are being attacked on the Iranian border? When there are Western reporters there watching it; there are television cameras; there are photographs; there is medical evidence, the United States is again being accused of turning a blind eye. MR. BOUCHER: Jan, I would be happy to look at anything of the type that you are describing you have for me. We have a lot of information that is going on. We follow very carefully the press reports, as well as all the additional information that we are able to acquire in the area. We look at that information carefully. You know that we have been very concerned about the plight of the refugees. We have been very concerned about the possibility that Iraq might interfere in some way with the relief operations, and we have issued very clear warnings to that effect, in addition to supporting a U.N. Security Council resolution which insists that Iraq not interfere with that. So this is something that we follow very carefully. We have looked at the evidence and the information we have, and we don't have confirmation that those kinds of attacks have actually occurred. Q Richard, who actually requested the meeting in Jordan? Was it the United States or was it the Jordanians? MR. BOUCHER: I don't really know. I'll have to check. Q Can you take that? MR. BOUCHER: Yes. Q On the question of a regional conference, does the United States consider that an American idea or an Israeli idea? MR. BOUCHER: I'm afraid I just don't know. I'll have to leave that one for the Secretary and the party. This idea was discussed many, many times during the course of the last trip by the Secretary. I'll be glad to get you everything he said about it, but I'm not in a position here to elaborate on it. Q If I can, I would like to ask about the situation in southern Iraq when you say it's untrue that U.S. forces are declining to aid refugees. Does that also include Iraqi soldiers who are deserting from their units and showing up there? MR. BOUCHER: You mean whether we are taking POWs still? Q No, not necessarily POWs, but soldiers who simply have deserted from their Iraqi army units and now really aren't in the Iraqi army any more but are just showing up there. MR. BOUCHER: We are accepting people into the refugee camps and the refugee areas where they come to get help. You have seen the pictures. You know that our medical teams, our military forces, have also been helping the local population in the towns and the cities that are there. I think they are prepared to leave some supplies and services behind when they go. So I think we are helping everybody down there who needs the help. We are continuing to provide assistance to people who are there and to the people who are in the refugee camps who need it the most. Q No distinction is being made if they are former Iraqi army therefore? MR. BOUCHER: I think we are helping people in need. Q Any reaction, Richard, to a new Israeli settlement which has apparently sprung up? MR. BOUCHER: The Secretary was asked that question in the lobby, and I'll leave it with his answer. Q Anything on the death toll over in the refugee areas? MR. BOUCHER: No. We put up an answer yesterday afternoon that described the kind of estimates we had and that said that we thought it was still rising. That remains the case today. People are weak, people came without any supplies and without anything with them to sustain themselves, and you have seen the kind of circumstances they have been caught in. Q Back on the question of the length of the Secretary's trip, is there a date by which he has to be back? Q Is there a Bar Mitzvah in Houston? Q Is there something he has to be back for? MR. BOUCHER: I'll have to check on that and see. I don't know. Q He often has these personal dates. Perhaps there is some hope. Q Or to put it another way, he can't go out again until he comes back. (Laughter.) MR. BOUCHER: That's right, Barry. And you can't report the next trip until we have done this one. Q Richard, I think yesterday -- or last week, rather -- you described the refugee flows on the Turkish side as really stopping and in some cases even some people were going back. Over to the Iranian side, for a minute, with this heavy fighting going on quite close to the Iranian border there and the huge numbers that you reported crossing the Iranian border already, is that flow very much still being driven by fighting? MR. BOUCHER: The flow of refugees arriving at the Iran and Turkish borders does continue in both areas. We do have some evidence that limited numbers of refugees are returning to some cities and towns in northern Iraq. The numbers are not significant enough to affect the desperate situation of more than a million refugees that are crossing Iraq's northern borders. And, as I said, the flow continues there. Q Richard, does the State Department have an opinion on the practice by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, maybe other countries, to not allow Americans who have an Israeli stamp in their passport to go to those countries? MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I'll have to check on that. I just don't know. Q The New York Times had an article about the "Voice of Free Iraq" continuing to broadcast appeals for the population to rise up. Do you have any view just as to the wisdom of such broadcasts and as to whether there should be such a radio station, despite its clandestine nature? MR. BOUCHER: That's a question that I consistently have not had any comment on, and I'll maintain my consistency today. Q Has the United States or the allied forces apprehended or arrested any individuals in connection with war crimes allegations? MR. BOUCHER: The Pentagon talked about that a couple weeks ago. I'm not sure they have given an update, but since they are the people that have the prisoners and that are holding people, I think we'll have to ask the question over there. Q Isn't the State Department conducting the legal investigation into whether war crimes violations should be pursued? MR. BOUCHER: The collection of information has always been centered at the Pentagon. We, of course, provide any information that we get on it to them. We are part of the process, but they have been in the lead ever since August 2. Q Do you have any reaction to the European Community's consensus that Saddam Hussein should be tried for war crimes, punished for war crimes violations, or can you -- MR. BOUCHER: Not further to what the Secretary just gave in the lobby. Q Also on the European Community, do you have any comment on their decision to lift sanctions against South Africa? MR. BOUCHER: No real comment about that. Margaret was asked yesterday about it and said that our position on sanctions has not changed. We'll follow our law, and we'll consult with our Congress as progress is made on the points that are contained in our law. Q Do you have any read-out on the Secretary's meeting with Foreign Minister Dienstbier? MR. BOUCHER: The briefest of brief read-outs, I'm afraid. They talked primarily about economic issues, including the difficult situation that is currently facing Czechoslovakia. They also discussed the future architecture of Europe and questions of security in Europe. Q What building did they talk about? (Laughter.) MR. BOUCHER: Sorry I don't have more. Q I understand that a group of Iraqi dissidents will be meeting with some people at State this afternoon. Can you tell us with whom they are meeting, and do you have anything on the meeting itself? MR. BOUCHER: I didn't bring with me the thing that we posted yesterday about the meetings. We had a number of meetings last week, and we are going to continue to have some meetings this week. I think this afternoon -- Q Who will be meeting with those people? Who will represent the State Department? MR. BOUCHER: I think that was in the answer yesterday. If it is not, I will get it for you today.

[Sierra Leone: Under Attack/Status of US Aid]

Q Anything on Liberia and Sierra Leone? MR. BOUCHER: Anything particular you want to know? Q Well, apparently some guerrillas have been infiltrated into Sierra Leone and ECOMOG is coming to terms with this, or two governments. MR. BOUCHER: Sierra Leone is under attack by forces of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia. In addition to the United States, the Sierra Leone Government has requested assistance from other friendly states to help confront this unprovoked aggression. We have urged Sierra Leone's friends to respond favorably to its requests for assistance. The National Patriotic Front of Liberia's invasion of Sierra Leone makes all too clear the urgent need to reach a political settlement in Liberia. We call on all parties to the Liberian conflict to put aside personal political ambition and to commit themselves to actively work to reach a negotiated solution to the Liberian question. And we are in touch with the various Liberian parties to urge that course on them. Q Is the United States going to provide assistance? MR. BOUCHER: We are actively considering ways in which we can respond positively to Sierra Leone's request for assistance. I don't have any final answers for you today. Q Do we still have ships off the coast of Liberia, off Monrovia, do you know? MR. BOUCHER: I'd better check on that. I don't know.

[El Salvador: Kidnappings of Wealthy Salvadorans]

Q Also, do you have anything on kidnappings in El Salvador that have affected wealthier families in recent weeks? MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't. Q Could you look into that? MR. BOUCHER: I'll look into it.

[Nicaragua: Calls for 10-Year US Financial Committment/Aid]

Q President Chamorro asked for a ten-year U.S. financial commitment to help Nicaragua recover? She made the appeal in a speech to Congress this morning. I wonder if you have any reaction? MR. BOUCHER: I don't at this point. There will be meetings with her over the course of the next few days. I think there will be briefings; and the briefings, I am sure, will address that question. Q What's the status of aid to Nicaragua at the moment? There were some promises of large amounts, some of which have been held up. MR. BOUCHER: The aid this year was about $530-$534 million, something like that; and I think $200 and some has been disbursed. There are understandings with the Government of Nicaragua about the disbursal of the rest of that. Q How much is predicated on the Bermudez case? MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. Let me get the facts for you. Let me make sure my memory is correct in all this stuff. Frankly, I just had some doubts as I was saying the figures, so let me get you a written answer on that. Q On President Gorbachev's visit to Japan, do you have any comment on his plan to call for a tripartite consultation mechanism among Japan, U.S. and the Soviet Union for the security of northeast Asia? MR. BOUCHER: I'm afraid I haven't seen that. I don't have anything on that. Q Thank you. (The briefing concluded at 1:29 p.m.)