August, 1991

US Department of State Daily Press Briefing #121, Tuesday, 8/13/91

Boucher Source: State Department Deputy Spokesman Richard Boucher Description: 12: PM, Washington, DC Date: Aug 13, 19918/13/91 Category: Briefings Region: MidEast/North Africa, E/C Europe, Southeast Asia, Caribbean Country: Iraq, Yugoslavia (former), Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia-Montenegro, Israel, USSR (former), Lebanon, Iran, China, Jordan, Albania, Germany, Japan Subject: Mideast Peace Process, Regional/Civil Unrest, Democratization, Terrorism, Trade/Economics (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED) MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. As far as announcements today, I just wanted to introduce to you Joe Snyder over here on the left, who is the new Director of the Press Office, who arrived for work yesterday. I think we've been able to introduce him to some of you already, but he'll be heading our Press Office for the next couple years, and I'm sure you'll find him an able and nice person to work with. I should also note that we've acquired some new Press Officers during the course of the summer, and I think most of you have already met Cynthia Whittlesey and Phyllis Young. With that administrative note, I don't have any other announcements, so I'm glad to take your questions.

[Lebanon: Hostages]

Q Richard, is the U.S. Government in favor of piecemeal release of hostages? In other words, would you like the Israelis, for instance, to release Sheik Obeid? MR. BOUCHER: Barry, we're in favor of the release of all hostages. We have made that clear in our contacts with other governments. We've made that very clear in our public statements. We've welcomed, for ourselves and especially for the family members involved, the releases that have occurred over time, and we think that any release is a positive contribution. But our basic position is that we are in favor of the release of all hostages. Q Of course, ultimately I suppose all hostages would be released if there's a grand deal. But would you like to see -- would the U.S. Government like to see Israel release or in some way reciprocate for the two or three releases that have come about recently? MR. BOUCHER: Barry, as you know, we're not in the position of making any deals. We don't urge third parties to make any deals. Words like "reciprocate" don't appear in our vocabulary. We believe that the hostages, on humanitarian grounds, all deserve to be released; that people held outside the judicial system in the region deserve to be released, and that is the policy that we expressed to other governments. We don't get involved in urging specific releases of people or specific steps that would constitute deals. Q One quick one: Reports persist that there have been meetings secretly in Paris involving American officials, British officials, and Shi'ite extremists. Notice I'm not saying the Islamic Jihad. Has the United States been involved with such discussions, not necessarily directly with the Islamic Jihad, but with people who can represent their views? MR. BOUCHER: We have not heard of such meetings. We have not been involved -- U.S. officials have not been involved in any such meetings. Marlin, I think, made quite clear yesterday that we have had no contacts with the groups involved. Q Richard, could you tell us, please, do you consider Palestinians held under administrative detention in Israel to be held outside the legal system? MR. BOUCHER: I'm going to decline here to specify any particular group. I think that's what the White House and the President have been doing for some time. We think the definition of people is pretty clear. We think that all those who are held outside the judicial process in the region deserve to be released, and that's been the position that we've been stating. Q Richard, apparently the letter that's been sent to the U.N. suggests that Arabs held in Europe, apparently including the Hamadi brothers, should be part of any deal. Is this something that the United States would think appropriate? MR. BOUCHER: The letter has been analyzed in different ways by people. As the President and Marlin made clear yesterday, there are some aspects of the letter, particularly that one, which are unclear. There are also, as he said yesterday, some positive signs in the letter -- the emphasis on the role of the Secretary General, the recognition that all hostages should be released. So I think that's our position. And you'll remember also that the President -- I think it was Saturday -- made a distinction between people who were held through legal process -- who were tried through the legal process and those people who were being held hostage. Q So the Hamadi brothers are not outside the judicial system, are they? MR. BOUCHER: Again, to avoid breaking the rule of specifying individuals and what their status is, I'm not going to do that. But I think that distinction has been made clear by the President. Q I was going to say if there was a package deal, then it would be inappropriate to include the Hamadi brothers. MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to do an analysis on any specific individuals or groups. Q You won't say for the record that -- I mean, you're leaving open the possibility that people who have been tried in European courts and sentenced and convicted for sometimes quite heinous crimes -- you're leaving open the possibility that it would be acceptable to the U.S. Government that those people would be released. MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I was leaving that possibility open. I was saying very clearly that the President has made a distinction between people who were tried under the legal process and the people in the region whom we view as hostages. Q Richard, you just said that the U.S. and U.S. officials have not met with -- have not met in Paris or anywhere else with Shi'ites who might be able to represent the views of those holding the hostages. Is the U.S. prepared to have such meetings, or do you rule out such meetings? MR. BOUCHER: We have always taken the position that we're willing to meet with people who will discuss with us the safe, unconditional and immediate release of our hostages; and, I should add, the full accounting of those who have died in captivity. Q How is that different from negotiating with them? MR. BOUCHER: Barry, the question, I think, comes down to concessions and deals. We said we're not going to make concessions, that we're not going to make deals. We have always urged the safe, unconditional, and immediate release of the hostages, and that's what we will continue to urge, and that's what we would urge if we were to have any such meetings. Q But would any such meetings -- you know a sense of recognition, elevating the status of people who take people hostage -- isn't that the sort of recognition they seek? MR. BOUCHER: Barry -- Q Or would you contribute to that? MR. BOUCHER: It's really -- you're asking me to analyze a hypothetical situation that hasn't occurred, so I just can't get into that level of analysis for you. Q Richard, do you have anything new on the Israelis? Do you know anything new? Has anything new come out in recent days about how many of them may be alive or where the remains could be found? Who has them? MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything new. There have been public statements before, I think, by the Israelis of what they knew about their people. There is a story in the London Times -- I guess today -- that quotes some unnamed officials of Hizbollah that says that they're willing to free two Israeli servicemen in return for Arabs held in Israel, but we don't have any confirmation of that. In mid-May, in fact, there were similar press reports, I'm told, with a secretary general of Hizbollah, saying his group would be willing to swap two Israelis for Lebanese prisoners. At that time, the Israeli negotiator said, and others in Israel said, it was an encouraging sign. So there are these stories out there, and there have been public statements. But as far as the exact status of their people and what they know, I'd say that's something that the Israelis would have to give the rundown on. Q Richard, can you give us any indication of how involved the U.S. is in the talks that are currently going on in Geneva? Do we have someone there as sort of an observer, or we're keeping in touch with Perez de Cuellar? MR. BOUCHER: We're keeping in touch with various people, I think, generally. We don't have anybody in the meetings as an observer. We've been in close touch with other governments that are concerned about the hostage situation through our Embassies and our representatives overseas. We've also maintained close contact with the U.N. since the Secretary General and his representative are working actively to see that the hostages are released. Q Richard, what's the status of the negotiations at The Hague? MR. BOUCHER: It's not something I've checked on recently. I'll have to check on that. Q Can I go back one more time? Prime Minister Major said Israel should release -- I don't know if they referred to Obeid; I can't remember -- a prisoner or two as a gesture. That is not -- the U.S. doesn't agree with that statement. Is that correct? MR. BOUCHER: Barry, as I said before, we hold that all people who are being held outside the judicial system in the region should be released; that they, on humanitarian grounds, deserve to be released. We're not going to get ourselves involved, either directly or by urging third parties to get involved, in any specific deals or specific patterns or release of specific individuals. We think that we have a general policy that we've made clear to all parties in the area. I'm sure they're all very well aware of our policy. We would welcome any releases of people being held hostage, but we're not going to get ourselves involved in dealmaking. Q If you would welcome -- deal making, I wasn't asking about -- if you'd welcome any release, I suppose that means with some ambiguity -- with artful ambiguity that you would welcome Israel releasing a prisoner, two or three or five hundred -- and I wondered if -- MR. BOUCHER: We're not specifying any particular course of action like that for Israel. Q How about whether the U.S. Government agrees with Israel that Israel should not release prisoners until it has information about its seven missing soldiers and airmen? MR. BOUCHER: No, we're not specifying anything like that in our contacts with other governments either. Q Richard, at the time that the hostages were released recently, the President thanked Iran first in his comments. What did Iran do? MR. BOUCHER: They did what the President said they did. I mean, I can get you the quote for it. But he expressed appreciation for whatever influence they might have used in bringing about the releases. Q But does the U.S. know whether they did anything specific to achieve the result? MR. BOUCHER: He said, "I'd like to express our appreciation to the Government of Iran which used its influence with the Lebanese groups involved in order to gain the unconditional release of these hostages." Q Richard, isn't that like telling somebody who's been hitting you, thank you for not hitting me any more? (Laughter) Q If you're not going to answer that -- MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any analogies for you, Howard. You'll have to think them up yourself. Q Let's try it the other way. If Iran was -- played an effective role in getting this hostage released, can -- does Iran have the power to get them all released, and why isn't it using the power, and why don't you ask them to instead of thanking them? MR. BOUCHER: Barry, as I've made clear, we have urged the release of all persons being held hostage. We have made that clear to other governments. We have had exchanges with the Iranians from time to time, as circumstances warranted, through our intermediary, the Swiss, about our policy and about the situation there. It's clear to them what we seek. We are supporting the efforts of the Secretary General who is in contact with Iranians and other parties in trying to bring about the release of hostages. So I think our position has been made clear. We have welcomed the releases that have occurred. We've called on all parties with influence to use their influence to see that further releases occur as well. Q What I'm driving at is what is the going theory in this building among the analysts and the experts? Is the theory that Iran and Syria, at least together, have it within their power to bring about the release of all the Western hostages, or is there some feeling that they could help but they haven't got total control of the situation? MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any analysis of that for you. Q Richard, has there been any further communication with Iran, either through the Swiss or through the Secretary General in the last, say, 24-48 hours? MR. BOUCHER: We've declined in the past to go into specifics of the exchanges. I think I have to limit myself to saying that we do have exchanges from time to time as circumstances warrant. Q I was also wondering if you could tell us any more about the condition of Edward Tracy? There were some indications in the press that he suffered quite a bit. MR. BOUCHER: I think we're going to have to leave -- primarily for Privacy Act considerations -- that to him and his doctors who have talked in Wiesbaden to some extent about his medical condition. They've also announced his plans. That is, that he's scheduled to fly back to Boston tomorrow. Arrangements are being made for follow-on medical care in the Boston area. Q Have Tracy and McCarthy provided additional information you could share with us about the condition of the remaining Western -- American and European hostages? MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any additional information I can share with you, Barry. I think Mr. McCarthy has been rather forthcoming in terms of what he knew and describing in public what he knew about the other hostages. Clearly, we have an interest in the other hostages and any information that these people might have that we can share with the families of the other hostages, and we're talking to them. We're in close contact with the British. We share information with the British. Q Richard, do you have any information that Israel will release Sheik Obeid this Saturday, as Iran is reporting? MR. BOUCHER: I saw those reports. I have no confirmation. It's a question you'll have to ask the Israelis. I think they've already started to comment on those reports. Q Is there anything new on the Middle East peace talks, and will part of them be held in Washington as has been reported? MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any answers like that for you at this point. Q Indeed, you remember there was a long stretch where Baker hadn't -- before he went off to Wyoming -- hadn't heard from the Palestinians. Is that still the case? Three Americans went over there to work on that memorandum with the Israelis. But has there been any word from the Palestinians, the last holdouts, I guess, to a peace conference? MR. BOUCHER: As you you know, we've had a team of experts out there. They're scheduled to return today. Their work was focused in Jerusalem and Amman. While in the region, they met with appropriate Israeli and Jordanian officials and with Palestinian representatives to explore how best to deal with various issues related to a peace conference. Since you ask, I think I should make clear that it wasn't their purpose to reach any final agreement on any point. I'm describing it as an expert-level discussion of how to deal with some of these issues. Q You're talking about the Kurtzer and Miller and Hull group? MR. BOUCHER: Yes. Q They met with Jordanians, Palestinians and Israelis? MR. BOUCHER: Israeli and Jordanian officials and Palestinian representatives. Q Is there any -- you know, as far as the Palestinians, was there any change? Was there any notion that the Palestinians are now willing to come forward? MR. BOUCHER: At this point, they get back today. I don't have anything new to report. Q On the same subject: Which Palestinians are they meeting? MR. BOUCHER: I'm afraid I don't have a list. Q Could we get a briefing on the record or on background with them? Could we request -- MR. BOUCHER: I think probably not, Connie. We've been -- we're continuing to work this process diplomatically. We've been declining to work it in public with some of the details that you might be wanting at this point. As I said, this was not a group that was sent out to reach any final agreements. Q However, do you have any comment on Yasser Arafat's statements that he wants an East Jerusalem representative on the team, and that he wants to be able to pick the team, and so on? MR. BOUCHER: No. I don't. I'm afraid that there have been various statements in the past about the peace process, and there probably will be more in the future. We are continuing to work this issue by diplomacy, and we're not going to get involved in commenting every time someone makes a public statement. Q But, Richard -- Q Is the State Department aware of the comments made by [George] Habbash of PFLP, that under the current terms of negotiations, the PLO will not be able to join -- will not be able to let the Palestinians come to the peace conference. Are you aware of this? If you are, what's the status of opinions of the State Department? MR. BOUCHER: I haven't seen that particular comment, but, as with the other comments that you all are referring to, I'm afraid I'm going to decline to get into a public discussion of them. Q Richard, to go back to Arafat, he's not just anybody. Are you saying that his remarks thus far are not considered by the United States to be definitive in terms of PLO/Palestinian reaction to the peace conference? MR. BOUCHER: Carol, I am not saying that. I'm saying exactly what I did say, and that's that I'm not going to get into public commentary on every remark that someone says about the peace process. Q Richard, the Israeli Foreign Ministry says that one of the reasons for this American team going over there was not just the discussion of the Palestinian delegation but, they say, that the team was supposed to reach an understanding on a memo of understanding between the United States and Israel, an actual written document about the understandings of the two countries on terms for this negotiation that went beyond simply what the terms of the Palestinian delegation would be and would include other things. Is that true? And do you know if they did manage to draw up a memo of understanding? MR. BOUCHER: I don't think there was a memo of understanding drawn up. They were out there to discuss the issues, to frame the issues, to define the issues that will be covered in further communications or discussions as things go forward in the future. They are part of the process of working the issues, part of the process of working toward trying to convene a peace conference in October. But these were expert-level discussions to define the issues further. Q But is the United States working toward drawing up a memo of understanding with Israel? MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything specific at that level of detail at this point. Q Richard, could you check that because that would be a change, unless I misunderstood what was going on in the Middle East on the last trip -- the last two trips. MR. BOUCHER: I'll check and see if anybody wants to get to that level of detail of what's going on. Q I don't know about a level of detail. The point was that -- maybe I'm wrong, but I think I'm right -- Baker's assurances to Shamir were going to be put on paper. Now, it was my understanding that it would be put on paper by this trio meeting with Israeli officials. If there has been a problem getting it on paper, there's a problem. MR. BOUCHER: I didn't say there was a problem there, Barry, did I? Q No, you didn't. But you're raising the possibility that the stuff won't be put on paper. If stuff won't be put on paper, that a change. MR. BOUCHER: I didn't say stuff would not be put on paper. I said this team did not conclude any sort of MOU. They were there to define the issues further. I said that these kinds of discussions with the parties will be continuing as we continue our diplomatic work. The Secretary, I think, made that clear when he last briefed in Algeria at the end of his trip. He gave a rundown of how we would continue to work these issues, and we are working them. Q I'll be satisfied, if not from the podium then sometime later, if we can get a simple statement saying whether it is still the intention of the State Department to put on paper the understandings about the delegation that Baker reached with the Israeli Government. MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything at this point that would change the statements that the Secretary made. Q Could you get their full names or titles, or is that classified? MR. BOUCHER: I'll get that for you.

[Iraq: Draft UN Resolution on Limited Oil Sale]

Q Do you have anything on Iraq today with reference to the oil for humanitarian supplies subject? MR. BOUCHER: There is a U.N. draft resolution that the French distributed to the Security Council members last Friday after consulting with the Perm Five. The French, I understand, are awaiting to hear comments from the other members of the Council. The resolution -- we've discussed the general concept before. The draft resolution would permit a limited sale of Iraqi oil for the purposes of humanitarian relief under strict U.N. control. It would not be a lifting of the sanctions but would take place within the current sanctions regime. Paragraph 23 of Resolution 687 anticipated that such a step might be necessary. The kind of arrangements that are being looked at are being done because the Iraqi regime cannot be trusted to distribute humanitarian relief fairly throughout Iraq. The draft resolution under consideration establishes that a 100% of the revenues from a limited oil sale would be placed in an escrow account under the control of the Secretary General. Part of the revenues would defray Iraq's required obligations to pay the costs of the U.N. Special Commission, contribute a percentage of the total oil revenues to the Compensation Fund, and pay half the costs of the Boundary Commission. Then the remaining funds would be used by the Secretary General for the purchase and distribution of emergency food and medical supplies. The U.N. would administer and monitor the distribution system throughout Iraq to assure the food and supplies reach vulnerable groups within Iraq. At this point, that's what is in the draft resolution. People are waiting for comments -- making comments -- and working toward having a resolution. Q What is the U.S. position on the proposal? MR. BOUCHER: We have, I think, in the past discussed this. We have supported this kind of proposal, and we are continuing to discuss it with the parties. Q Richard, are you talking about -- it sounds like you're talking about a massive United Nations operation. Are you actually talking about U.N. officials on the ground throughout Iraq distributing food to 15 million people? Has the U.N. ever even attempted to do something like that before? MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any final arrangements like that now. They would administer and monitor the distribution throughout Iraq. How many people that would involve -- Q In your mind, what does that mean? MR. BOUCHER: -- I don't know. Q In your mind, has anybody talked about the practicalities of administering and distributing food to 15 million people fairly throughout the country? MR. BOUCHER: That is the subject that has been discussed for some time in New York. I don't have any final arrangements for you at this point. Q Richard, British groups have been complaining about Turkish attacks from the ground and also air inside Iraq, claiming fatalities, etc. Do you have any independent information? And if that is going on, is the U.S. trying to do anything about it? MR. BOUCHER: I think we had something on that last week. I don't remember what it was. Q That's when they were complaining -- last week. MR. BOUCHER: Let me try to get you something on that.

[Albania: US Humanitarian/Technical/Democracy Aid]

Q Richard, when the Secretary was in Albania recently, he got quite an enthusiastic reception as a representative of the United States. There seems to be quite a problem now with refugees, and I was wondering how the United States viewed that situation and whether the United States was planning to take any further steps to ease the situation? MR. BOUCHER: As you know, when the Secretary was in Albania, I think he talked about $6 million of aid during his visit to Tirana in June. Following that, an assessment team traveled to Albania to map the U.S. assistance strategy for Albania. The team recommended that the U.S. provide additional aid in three general categories of assistance -- that is, humanitarian assistance, which includes emergency food aid and medical assistance; technical assistance; and democratic institution-building. The first shipment of humanitarian aid was delivered in July. To help meet Albania's critical immediate needs, the U.S. plans to send emergency shipments of wheat, powered milk, emergency medicines, and basic medical supplies. So we have a program underway that's being developed. Q Is that above the $6 million? How much is it? MR. BOUCHER: I don't have a dollar figure on the three additional categories. Q But it's in addition to $6 million? MR. BOUCHER: That's my understanding. Q Richard, does the U.S. have any position on this refugee problem and the fact that the Italians want the Albanians to leave, to go home? MR. BOUCHER: I guess I'd say, first of all, that we're aware of the enormous difficulties posed by the the sudden arrival of almost 20,000 desperate people who flee from a country that's threatened with economic collapse. We welcome what the Italians have done in recent days to try to address the causes of their flight. We applaud Italy's rapid pledge of economic assistance to Albania. I believe the Italian call for an international response involving, among others, the European Community is a constructive step toward addressing the causes of the exodus. Q Still on the Balkans. What's the current U.S. position about Yugoslav unity? Do you still think that that should be one country and that that's the best result of all the fighting and so on? MR. BOUCHER: The position remains where it has been, that the constitutional arrangements are questions for the Yugoslavs to decide. We're prepared to accept any solution that they arrive at peacefully. We continue to believe that the use of force to change external or internal boundaries is not acceptable and that any solution should guarantee the rights of minorities in all the republics. Q Richard, Germany has suggested recently that the EC recognize the independence of Croatia and Slovenia. After the strong stand that the CSCE had taken on the question of unity, how does the United States view this break with that position? MR. BOUCHER: I hadn't seen that statement by any German official, so I'd have to look it up and find out. Q Do you have anything to say about the story suggesting that there's a lot more drug smuggling through Panama now than there was under Noriega? MR. BOUCHER: These are stories that pop up from time to time. I didn't get anything new today, but it seems to me that about a month ago Bernie Aronson addressed it up on the Hill in testimony rather comprehensively. Q Richard, on the hostages again, in the last couple of days a lot more ingredients seem to be getting in now with the mention of the Hamadis. Are you worried at all that somehow too many players and too many items are getting involved in this and it's going to delay any action on the release? MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I could say anything like that. It seems to us that the Secretary General is having a large number of meetings with people. He is actively pursuing an attempt to get the release of all the people who are being held hostage. We're keeping in touch with the United Nations as well as with the other governments that are involved. We're supporting the release of all hostages, and we hope to see more movement in that direction. Q Do you have a sense that a process has been started that might lead to the freedom of all of the hostages soon -- or not? MR. BOUCHER: We're trying not to take the temperature of the situation or, as the President I think has said a number of times, to raise hopes that might be dashed as they have been in the past. We don't think that's fair to the families involved, in particular. We think that the efforts that are underway by the Secretary General, a man whom we know and trust, are admirable. We're trying to support those efforts. We are actively engaged with the various parties and keeping in touch and making our views known that the hostages should be released. We'll see where the process leads. Q Do you see a connection between the Middle East peace process and the hostage crisis? In other words, if there are some signs of improvement of relations between the various parties, do you see there is a connection between those two? MR. BOUCHER: I think, Frank, the best answer to that is the one the President gave on Saturday up in Maine. He pointed to an overall climate internationally that would encourage hostage-holders to set aside some of their alleged reasons for holding people. He noted the fact that it might be that people around the world see that there's a good chance that ancient enemies will sit down and talk peace. But he went on to say that he wouldn't make too direct a linkage on that. Q You mean the Islamic Jihad would be impressed with the chance of what you guys call "reconciliation" -- as if there ever was conciliation -- reconciliation between Arabs and Israelis, that would impress the Islamic Jihad to release prisoners? MR. BOUCHER: I think the President was very careful not to make that kind of direct linkage, Barry. Q The Secretary made that kind of statement, too, once -- possibly in an unguarded moment on one of his trips -- that he could see a whole climate develop. The question in the back is a good question. I don't know that you want to say anything. MR. BOUCHER: The President spoke of an overall climate. I think I just read you that. Q Yeah, I know. MR. BOUCHER: That's what he's talking about. The President was, I think, very clear in his remarks, and I'm not going to try to explain it any further. Q You know, on the hostages, the question from the back brings to mind the U.S. used to say we want the people released, period. I'm just wondering if it's because you think the best chances are a broad swap. The U.S. Government seems to be complicating things by putting its focus on this "release of everybody everywhere." That leaves a lot of room for hitches. Isn't it the U.S. policy -- or maybe it isn't -- that the Americans, and I suppose the Westerners, should be released, period? It doesn't require anybody to reciprocate, does it? MR. BOUCHER: Wasn't that what I was saying to you earlier when you asked me to use the word "reciprocate" in a sentence, Barry? Q No. The President and [inaudible] "release everybody everywhere." MR. BOUCHER: We made very clear that we think that the hostages should be released. We are very concerned about the Americans who are being held hostage in Lebanon. We have consistently urged that those people be released, that there be a full accounting of those who might have died while in captivity. And, furthermore, we've stated our view that we think that hostages should be released as a matter of humanitarian principle. Q Do you have any comment about Prime Minister Kaifu visiting China? The first question is, this is the first visit by the seven industrialized nation leaders. He joined the Tiananmen ceremony. The second question is that China promised to accept the NPT Treaty. Do you have any comment to this question? MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any particular comments on the visit by Prime Minister Kaifu other than to note that during that visit, China announced its intention to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty. I think the White House -- it was over the weekend or late last week -- expressed the fact that we welcome that. We hope that they proceed to implement that decision as soon as possible. Q Thank you. (Press briefing concluded at 12:49 p.m.