US Department of State Daily Briefing #66: Tuesday, 4/23/91

Dillen Source: Press Office Director Mark Dillen Description: 12:51 PM, Washington, DC Date: Apr 23, 19914/23/91 Category: Briefings Region: MidEast/North Africa, Subsaharan Africa, Caribbean, Central America Country: Iraq, Kuwait, Ethiopia, Costa Rica, Panama, El Salvador Subject: Regional/Civil Unrest, Development/Relief Aid, Refugees, Environment, Democratization (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED) MR. DILLEN: Before we start, I just wanted to mention to those not present here, but who may be listening at the Foreign Press Center -- they like to know when we have a surprise appearance of another personality -- my name is Mark Dillen, and I'm standing in today for Richard (Boucher). Again, ladies and gentlemen, my apologies for being tardy today. I hope we will have something to make up for it. I would like to simply continue our practice of giving you the latest information on the refugee crisis, and one or two other matters.

[Iraq: Refugee Update]

First off, on the numbers of refugees. The total numbers of refugees in Turkey, Iran, and the southern Iraq area, including those at or moving in those directions, has not changed significantly.
In Turkey, about 450,000 Iraqi refugees have entered Turkey and about 400,000 are located near the Turkish-Iraqi border. It appears that refugee flows into the Turkish border areas have stopped and that as many as 2,500 refugees a day are being relocated from the camp at Isikveren to camps on flatter terrain near Silopi in Turkey.
In Iran, approximately 1 million Iraqi refugees have entered the country and another 500,000 are located at or near the Iranian-Iraqi border.
Southern Iraq
In southern Iraq, about 24,000 Iraqi refugees are located in southern Iraq in the coalition-occupied area. Between 30,000 and 40,000 people -- refugees and local civilians -- are being provided assistance by U.S. military forces there. In Turkey and the Turkish-Iraqi border, with regard to refugee centers, progress continues on the establishment of refugee villages and support centers for Iraqi refugees. DoD reports from Turkey yesterday, as you may have heard if you were monitoring Pete Williams briefing at the Pentagon, do not indicate that Iraqi forces are interfering with the humanitarian relief effort in northern Iraq. In fact, the best way to describe this at this point is to say that they are demonstrating a presence but they are not interfering with the establishment of the refugee centers or the provision of humanitarian aid.

[Iraq: Relief Supplies/Conditions]

A couple of words on delivery of relief supplies, just to keep you up to date. On April 22 -- yesterday -- multinational forces, including the U.S., U.K., France, Canada, Italy, and German forces, flew 120 missions and dropped a total of 567 tons of relief supplies. To date, 898 air-drop missions have delivered 4,732 tons of supplies to refugees in southern Turkey and northern Iraq. On conditions at the camps: In Turkey, distribution of relief supplies has improved at organized camps in Turkey run by international organizations or the U.S. military. Kurdish leaders are being identified to assist in the management of the camps. Most people in the camps are now under cover. Finally, with respect to Iran: About 700,000 Iraqi refugees are located in Bakhtaran and another 300,000 are in west Azerbaijan Province. About half of the refugees are children, by our reports. In addition, international relief experts visiting the area report that there are hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced people blocking the roads for almost 60 kilometers up to the border. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the French organization, Physicians Without Borders, are working in Iran with the Iranian Red Crescent Society. The Iranian Red Crescent Society has fielded some 6,000 staff and volunteers and is currently administering 29 camps holding 250,000 people. In southern Iraq: There are an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 people in the area occupied by coalition forces near the Kuwaiti border. The U.S. military forces in the area, as I mentioned, continue to provide assistance and security for this population along with assistance from the ICRC. A final note on contributions: Since January 1991, the United States has provided $63.3 million in cash and in-kind contributions to the relief effort for Iraqi refugees. This $63 million figure includes an added $5 million that the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance plans to allocate to U.S. and foreign private voluntary organization activities in northern Iraq. More details on this are available in the OFDA Situation Report that was distributed this morning.
Mortality Rates
On the mortality rates, let me just mention that, again, as we have stated before, accurate information about the death rate among the Iraqi refugees is difficult to ascertain. In northern Iraq/Turkey, the border area there, again, doctors and health workers conducting surveys report that the death rate has stabilized to approximately 6 deaths for every 10,000 persons. For a population of 850,000, which is our estimate of the number of refugees in that border area, this would translate into a rate of approximately 510 person, or people, per day. Q Mark, on that point, where do you get 850,000? Your report says 450,000 in Turkey and 400,000 on the Iraqi side of the border. I make that to be 950,000. MR. DILLEN: Four hundred and four hundred and fifty. Q Oh, I'm sorry; I'm sorry. You're right. MR. DILLEN: And, again, these are just estimates. I had one other item.

[Iran: US Refugee Assistance]

We recognize your interest in the matter of aid to the refugees in Iran. As you undoubtedly know, from monitoring Marlin's briefing and now the DoD briefing, there is a little more news for you. If I could just summarize the situation for you, and then we could move on to questions. I apologize for taking so long here at the top. As we've said before, and as the President has said, we are interested in helping the refugees wherever they are. The bulk of our assistance to refugees in Iran has been and will likely continue to be delivered through international relief agencies. The Iranians have told us via our protecting power in Tehran that they would welcome international assistance, including U.S. assistance, and have provided us a list of some items which they would like to have. These include a range of emergency relief items, including shelter components, food, medicine, and other items. We are now searching our inventories to determine what items can be supplied most quickly. We are also examining how to get them to the refugees in Iran by the fastest means possible, whether directly or indirectly. With that, I'll turn to questions. Q Is there a possibility that you'll fly these supplies into Iranian territory? MR. DILLEN: I would say that, first, with reference to precise decisions, no decisions have been made yet as to the most expeditious way of delivering the relief supplies. But we did mention, as early as the 11th of this month, that Iran had indicated that its air space would be open to international relief flights. Again, we are examining how to get these items to the refugees quickly and are looking at both direct and indirect means. Q Have we placed any conditions with regard to delivering aid to those refugees -- conditions on the presence of the Iraqi air force in southern Iran? I believe there are about a 148 planes over there that Iraq still has. Have we asked the Iranians for guarantees that they will not let them move, etc., etc., before we actually do deliver? MR. DILLEN: I'm not really prepared to go into any particulars of the contacts that we may have had with the Iranians through our protecting power. We've tried to indicate that the priority and the motivation for this effort is, indeed, the humanitarian needs of the refugees who have fled into Iran. Q Can I just reformulate that question? Are there political strings attached to the provision of relief supplies for refugees in Iran? MR. DILLEN: Political strings? No. This is an effort that we will undertake as soon a we can establish the most expeditious, most efficient way of carrying out the operation. Q Is there an answer to the previous question about the fate of planes, Iraqi planes, or other possible questions about the fate of U.S. hostages in Lebanon? The answer is that this aid has nothing to do with those questions? MR. DILLEN: This aid is being extended in view of the emergency situation affecting the refugees from Iraq who have fled into neighboring countries, including Iran. Q One would presume that the situation of those airplanes is still unsettled? MR. DILLEN: I have nothing to update the status of those airplanes. Q Mark, you and Richard have told us that in the past two days that the Iranians have told you the exact list of items -- about what they want. How much, in terms of tons and quantities, do they add up to? MR. DILLEN: I don't have for you, Mits, any precise listing of their needs to us. What we are trying to do now is to match as best we can available supplies, inventories, etc., against what they have indicated their urgent needs are. Q Mark, on the delivery options that are being looked at, is the direct air drops by American military planes one of those delivery options? MR. DILLEN: Mark, I'll just have to leave it with the way we have stated it, which is that we have made no final decisions on the best way to deliver these emergency supplies. We are looking at both direct and indirect means. Q But in the direct, that would include military planes doing the dropping; right? MR. DILLEN: It would include air flights as a possibility; yes. Q Forgive me for insisting on this one. Since we're talking about a coastline over here, what about shipping lanes? MR. DILLEN: No final decisions have been made. We're just not in a position at this point to indicate the way the goods and supplies will be delivered. Jan? Q Mark, in view of the relationship, or lack of relationship, between the United States and Iran, do you need special legislation or any form of directive to be able to legally do this? MR. DILLEN: Jan, that's a question I'll just have to take, and maybe we can post an answer on it. Q Does this aid that will be delivered to the Iranian side also somehow reach the 500,000 or so who are moving toward the border? MR. DILLEN: I understand your question, Jim. I would have to say that at this point the needs that would most likely be addressed are the needs demonstrated by the refugees who are actually in Iran. The final disposition of aid that might come to refugees on the Iranian side of the border would depend on the needs, the requirements, the final outcome of the relief efforts there. Q Is there consideration being given to having an enclave or safe haven, or whatever the word is this week, for those people as there is in northern Iraq? MR. DILLEN: Not that I'm aware of, Jim. Q Can I follow up on that question. You have 400,000 people in northern Turkey. You have 500,000 in northern Iraq and you have 500,000 people in southern Iraq. Isn't it natural for people to ask the American Government whether there is any consideration being made to do something to help this 500,000 people in southern Iraq? Whereas, the President of the United States has announced he is ready to establish 5 or 6 communities -- safe haven villages for the 400,000 people in the north. MR. DILLEN: Is your question, "What about an expanded aid program to include a larger portion of the Iraqi population?" Q Is there any consideration being made or being discussed in the building? MR. DILLEN: The U.S. contribution to the international effort would include contributions to the U.N. agencies that are endeavoring to help the civilian population, including that population inside Iraq. But that's about where we would have to leave it for today. Q Mark, you have no doubt read in the press here the various quotations of Kurds who say they are afraid to come into these camps. What nature of assurances will future inmates of these camps been given as regards their safety? MR. DILLEN: You mean the camps in northern Iraq? Q That's correct. MR. DILLEN: Let me say, Alan, in our view, we believe that the presence of the U.N., international organizations, and private organizations should be sufficient to ensure the security of the refugees in this area in northern Iraq. I would remind that Iraq has signed an agreement with the U.N. to facilitate relief and assistance for the refugees, and we do expect, of course, that Iraq will abide by its obligations. Q Mark, does that mean the Iraqi military will be allowed to stay in that zone? MR. DILLEN: As to Iraqi military, I'd have to refer you to the United Nations representatives or the DoD with regard to whatever our personnel may have observed on the ground. Q Mark, there's be no apparent attempt by the Iraqis to interfere. But there are reports in the press this morning that some of the Iraqi troops are tearing down power lines and such, apparently in an effort to harass the camps. Are these accurate? MR. DILLEN: I've seen those reports. We've seen those reports, Jim. But at this point, I think this was an issue that was addressed at the DoD -- at the Pentagon briefing today -- and I have no other observations or assessments of those reports at this time. Q Why has there been such a delay in terms of getting aid to the refugees on the Iranian border? You said yourself that Iran invited us, or said it would make its air space available, if you will, for flights. They've criticized the slow pace of getting supplies to the region. Why is it taking so long, when the Administration itself regards this problem as enormous and acute, to get the ball rolling as far as Iran is concerned? MR. DILLEN: We regard the situation in its entirety as acute and requiring international assistance. We have been a part of all the international assistance that has gone into the area, including helping the refugees who fled to Iran. At this point, once we had a clear list from the Iranians of the needs of the refugees in that region, we have done our best to try to identify how we could help address those needs with the goods and the supplies that we have in our inventories. Q If I could follow up, you're saying that Iran only until recently provided you with a clear list of the inventory that they needed, and that's the reason for the delay? MR. DILLEN: Well, you'll have to give your own definition to "recently," but we have indicated in this forum, and constantly, the state of our activity across the board on refugee relief. And I think if you check that record, you will see that once we have had satisfactory information on what requirements were, we have acted upon that and are acting upon it. And as soon as arrangements can be made, this part of the relief effort will be expanded. Q When did you get the list from the Iranians via the Swiss? MR. DILLEN: Mark, I'd have to check on the precise date. Q Can you give us any idea when this new aid would begin flowing? I mean, the government's been turning over its stock for a couple of weeks now, and it shouldn't take too long to figure out what's available. MR. DILLEN: I don't want to, Mark, jump the gun on any deliveries; so I would not want to take up your offer to suggest a time when they might commence. They will commence as soon as reasonable, as soon as those shipments can be arranged. Q Mark, can I follow on my previous question? When I asked what U.S. guarantees there would be, you said that the presence of international aid officials, the U.N. officials, were the guarantee. Can I therefore infer that there will be no specific U.S. guarantees as to these people's safety? The United States is not saying to these people, "Come down to these camps, and we will make sure that nothing happens to you." This is saying, "Come down to these camps, and we're going to put a lot of international relief workers in there to make sure that nothing will happen to you." MR. DILLEN: Alan, I think as far as guarantees are concerned, that is a term I would not offer up. However, as we have indicated, given the magnitude of the international relief effort, including the presence of international teams of workers setting up, helping to operate these camps, the United Nations will certainly help to ensure and assure those refugees who are in that area and who are considering going to that area. Q So what are you saying to Kurds on the mountain who fled because they were afraid of being gassed by Saddam Hussein? You're saying, "Come down. You'll be O.K., because there will be lots of international workers there, and therefore Saddam Hussein won't dare do anything to you." Does that fairly kind of encapsulate the message? MR. DILLEN: I don't think that fairly encapsulates the message. I think the message is as I've just given it. Q What about the presence of Iraqi military and Iraqi police? Are there any requirements as to how far away from the camps must they stay? MR. DILLEN: In northern Iraq? Q In northern Iraq. MR. DILLEN: That again is a question that you will have to check at DoD to see what sort of, if any, arrangements have been worked out as these camps have been set up. Q Mark, forgive me for asking about my second favorite subject -- the Secretary's trip. In the New York Times somebody calls him the "Secretary of Stealth" because he's not saying one word about it. Can you furnish any morsel of information on why is he going to the U.S.S.R.? What's happening, etc? MR. DILLEN: I'm sorry. I thought we were helping you out by giving you an update this morning that confirmed his travel to Kislovodsk, but that's about where we'll have to leave it for now.

[Eithopia: Famine Relief]

Q Can you give us an update on the famine relief effort in Ethiopia, and what the U.S. attitude toward Mengistu is? MR. DILLEN: We did post a response yesterday afternoon on the status of fighting in Ethiopia, and I believe the other day -- I'll have to check -- but we did have something on the status of relief efforts. The only thing that I would add to those statements is a comment on the results of the ongoing meeting of Ethiopia's parliament. For now we have only preliminary reports on that meeting, but it appears that the results have been positive and that the legislators are taking a broad view of the need for change in Ethiopia. Q Can you give me any comment on camera on famine relief in Ethiopia? MR. DILLEN: I'm afraid not at this time.

[Caribbean Earthquake: Relief Efforts]

Q Mark, do you have anything on relief efforts for the Costa Ricans or the situation there? MR. DILLEN: Why don't I start with what we know now as the reports are coming in on the results of the earthquake. A severe earthquake struck the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica and northern Panama yesterday afternoon. Early reports are that 29 people were killed in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica. We have seen press reports giving a higher figure, but for now the report that we have is that it's 29 killed in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica. There are now reports in Panama of extensive physical damage and deaths in the Bocas del Toro Province, and the latest report we have is 15 deaths and 284 injured. However, we have no information that any U.S. citizens were killed in Costa Rica or in Panama. On relief efforts, a team from our Embassy in Costa Rica, including Defense Department and Office of Federal Disaster Assistance officials, left this morning for Puerto Limon. They will contact U.S. citizens known to be in the area. The U.S. Southern Command in Panama is sending helicopters and a C-130 transport with emergency supplies to Puerto Limon. We have also supplied $25,000 in emergency relief assistance to Costa Rica. This comes out of the Ambassador's discretionary funds, as you know. In Panama, over 100 U.S. military personnel who were on a road construction project in Bocas del Toro in Panama when the earthquake struck are all safe. The U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. military and Panamanian Government officials have left for the area to assess the damage. There are four U.S. military helicopters in the area, and here, too, we plan to provide the $25,000 in emergency assistance that the Ambassador is authorized to grant.

[El Slavador: Talks Continue]

Q Do you have any comment on the breakdown of talks between the El Salvadorans and the guerrillas? MR. DILLEN: Well, we wouldn't quite describe it as a "breakdown." In fact, our information is that the talks are continuing, and we are still confident that they can succeed. The two sides have agreed on many issues. We have urged the government and the FMLN to stay at the table and to be flexible so that definitive agreements can be reached. We understand that the ceasefire discussion has been deferred but not removed from the agenda of the talks. In recent days, the parties have been discussing constitutional reforms in an attempt to reach agreement before the current Salvadoran legislature adjourns on April 30. Q Mark, could I just follow on that? Just, I guess, last week Mr. Aronson testified that there was concern that this constitutional amendment issue could be used by the guerrillas to, in effect, delay and torpedo an agreement with the government. Are those fears still valid, given this latest development? MR. DILLEN: The fears as expressed by our Assistant Secretary are still valid. But, as I mentioned, we are hopeful that the talks can move forward, and they are continuing. And we can point to some agreement that the two sides have been able to reach. Q Mark, a couple of questions back on possible aid to Iran. One, in the past, the United States Government has been loath to deal directly with the Iranian Government and has chosen to do things through private organizations such as the Red Crescent. Would possible aid to Iran have to go through a private organization such as the Red Crescent, or might it go directly through the Iranian Government? MR. DILLEN: Chris, I think I've indicated as much, as far as the modalities are concerned, of these supply deliveries as I can today. We are looking at various means. We are looking at the most efficient way to deliver the goods and supplies that these refugees need, and we will continue the emphasis on international organizations, in particular the U.N. relief organizations, as the best means to deliver the assistance to people who need it. Q Another question: I assume, because you said that there's still a 60-kilometer backup to the border with Iran, that that flow is continuing, unlike in the Turkish border area. Is that correct? MR. DILLEN: That's correct. Yes. Q And how many -- back over to the Turkish area -- how many refugees have actually gone to the U.S. established camps? Have more than a handful actually taken advantage of that opportunity? MR. DILLEN: The ones in northern Iraq? Q Right. MR. DILLEN: Again, I'd have to refer you to the DoD which is, as you know, in charge at this point in setting up those camps to see how many have actually arrived on the scene. My understanding is that we're still putting up the camps. They are not operational yet. Q Mark, the Iraqis have asked for special permission to export a certain amount of oil to buy food, and today Ambassador Pickering said in testimony that the United States -- I think he said the Security Council -- would take a dim view of that request unless the Iraqis were more forthcoming on the question of their chemical, biological, nuclear missile capabilities. Can you actually spell out for us the position of the United States with regard to that Iraqi request? What conditions do they have to fulfill in order for that oil to be sold? MR. DILLEN: I can't really spell it out beyond what Ambassador Pickering stated this morning. Obviously, there are a number of concerns that we have -- concerns that must be addressed by the United Nations. And among the concerns that we have are the ones that Richard [Boucher] discussed in the reference to the Iraqi letters of last week. Q Can you tell us what the other concerns are? MR. DILLEN: Not at this point. I think I'll leave it with what the Ambassador said this morning. Q Mark, the question of a war crimes tribunal came up this morning on the Hill. Do you have offhand the boilerplate on what the U.S. position is on such a tribunal? MR. DILLEN: I think that Assistant Secretary Bolton addressed the issue in the discussion with the Committee, and I certainly wouldn't describe it as "boilerplate." I think he did a very effective job of discussing what our concerns were. Q Can you tell me to what extent rebel fighting in Ethiopia is hampering the relief effort there? MR. DILLEN: No. I'll try to get you a more complete rundown of the impact of the fighting on the relief effort in Ethiopia. Q Has the United States approved the Sierra Leone request for military aid? The state radio in Freetown is reporting that the aid has been approved. MR. DILLEN: I didn't check on that this morning. I'll have to check on it and post something. Q Could I return to the Iraqi refugees? The Turkish Government seems to be distressed by the press coverage that the relief efforts about the refugees have been biased and critical. Do you have any comments on that? Any observation? MR. DILLEN: I'm not sure exactly what reports you're referring to. Could you be perhaps a little more -- Q I mean, the government claims that they are doing their best, and the undertakings have been beyond their means, and the media coverage was still about the mishaps that have been occurring and -- MR. DILLEN: About the only response really that I would have -- and I'm not aware of those reports specifically that you're referring to -- but we would certainly state, as we have stated, and we would underline that from the very beginning of the current crisis, the Turks have assumed a pre-eminent role in assisting displaced Iraqis fleeing Saddam's repression. I would just leave it there. Q Back on war crimes. As I understand it, Assistant Secretary Bolton said or indicated that a war crimes tribunal could conceivably prolong Saddam Hussein's ability to remain in power, and it was unclear as to how he came to that conclusion. Can you help? MR. DILLEN: No, I can't, George. Q Mark, do you have anything on Congressional discussions about China, trade with China, human rights, and so on? MR. DILLEN: No, I don't. Q Do you have any update on the base talks with the Philippines? Any date on the next round? MR. DILLEN: Sorry. I didn't ask for that this morning. Q Mark, back to a factual thing. I thought Richard said yesterday that the death rate was down to 60 per day, and now you are saying by your estimate that it's 510 per day, which is actually just as bad as it was last week or the week before. MR. DILLEN: It was, as we explained in a notice that we put out yesterday evening, an error in math, and we regret that. Q Thank you. (The briefing concluded at 1:29 p.m.)