US Department of State Daily Press Briefing #153, Thursday, 10/10/91

Tutwiler Source: State Department Spokesman Margaret Tutwiler Description: 12:08 PM, Washington, DC Date: Oct 10, 199110/10/91 Category: Briefings Region: MidEast/North Africa, E/C Europe, Caribbean Country: Israel, USSR (former), Haiti, China, Zaire Subject: Mideast Peace Process, Regional/Civil Unrest, Democratization, Arms Control, Human Rights, Terrorism, Travel, OAS, Trade/Economics (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED) MS. TUTWILER: On Reggie [Bartholomew]: Yesterday you all had asked if he could do a BACKGROUND briefing for you. After discussing it with him and with others, this is not the best time for him to be doing such a thing. He will be more than glad to do one for you on down the road. But, understandably, he has just returned and wants an opportunity to discuss this not only with people here in the building but with an interagency process on things that they learned there. So he cannot unfortunately do one today. Concerning the Palestinians, I believe -- because all of you have been calling all of us -- that you know the meeting today is at 4:00 p.m. I do not have for you a finalized list of the Palestinians that will be in that meeting. They have just either landed or are getting ready to land in a little while, so we will have that for you as soon as we get it. This meeting will be handled as all previous meetings, both here in the United States and in Israel, have been handled. There is open press coverage at the beginning of the meeting. As you know, they have to date never come out at the conclusion of the meetings together and spoken; and every time they have met, the Palestinians have spoken to all of you. I can't speak for them today -- what their "druthers" are -- but that's how it will be handled, as it was on all other occasions. Q How many Palestinians will be meeting with the Secretary? MS. TUTWILER: As I just tried to mention, as soon as they get here and we have an opportunity to speak with them, we will publish the list for you. We've heard different things and there are different things in the press, so we will give you the finalized list once we have it. Q Do you have an idea how long the meeting might go? MS. TUTWILER: No, we really don't. The Secretary has not set a timeframe on this, as he doesn't when we see them in Israel. So I really have no way of knowing. Q You say they don't ordinarily talk together, but the Palestinians -- MS. TUTWILER: At the conclusions of the meeting. Q At the conclusion. But the Palestinians do talk separately? MS. TUTWILER: Normally, they do. But, again, I'm not prejudging -- Q Is that is usually out front here or -- MS. TUTWILER: What? Q Do they normally do that simply out at the entrance? MS. TUTWILER: They were last here on July 2, and I believe you all caught them -- I believe it was on the sidewalk -- outside of the State Department in a stakeout. But I do not want to prejudge what their "druthers" will be concerning what they do or do not want to say at the conclusion of the meeting. Q Do you have any views on the latest Israeli squatting in houses in east Jerusalem? MS. TUTWILER: As I understand the situation, an estimated 50 settlers, some with arms, moved into the Palestinian village of Silwan outside of the Old City on October 9. They reportedly used force to evict some Arab residents from a number of houses and moved in. They were joined by a cabinet minister and four Knesset members. The Police Minister ordered the police to evict the militants from all but one house. Our information is that they still occupy that house. We understand that Prime Minister Shamir has been quoted as saying that the occupation of Arab houses by the settlers was mistaken. We agree with him. Q In that case, why should they still be there? Why should they not be evicted? Are you aware that the Israeli Justice Ministry has now said that the matter will not be resolved until after Secretary Baker has been in Israel and they will be allowed to sit there until then? MS. TUTWILER: You've caught me on something that I have not had an opportunity to see prior to walking out here, so I can't respond to -- who do you say it is? The Justice Minister has said this? Q The Justice Ministry. MS. TUTWILER: Sorry. Q What about the essence of my point? Why should they -- do you believe that these people should be allowed to stay in this one house if both you and Shamir think it's a mistake? MS. TUTWILER: If we think it's a mistake, then that probably is a way of answering your question of what we think. We agree, if it is correct, with what the Prime Minister is quoted as having said, that it is a mistake. We agree with the Prime Minister. Q Some of the interviews being given by some of the participants suggest that the timing of this is not accidental; that it is linked with Baker's trip to the area and in fact is designed to obstruct that trip. Do you see it that way? And do you think it could have any impact? MS. TUTWILER: I don't want to comment further on this specific instance. By what I'm getting ready to say, I'm not linking the two. Once before we made a statement from this podium, commenting on those in the region who have their own agendas and who are probably not necessarily interested in seeing a peace process begin. I think that it is important that we step back and that we put this in perspective. As we move closer to a possible peace conference and direct negotiations, extremists throughout the region may take actions in an effort to derail the process. Recent incidents across the region are unfortunately part of a familiar, historical pattern of disruption in the face of genuine progress. The critical message for all those who resort to violence and disruption is that neither the United States nor those committed to peace in the region will be deterred from moving ahead toward peace. The actions of extremists will not be rewarded. They will not stop a process that has come closer than ever before to the just, lasting, and comprehensive peace which we and our friends in the region have sought for so long and which the region deserves. Q A follow-up Margaret. Talking about extremists, Ariel Sharon has announced that he will challenge for the leadership of the Likud. Does this put the U.S. in a box? Are you concerned about taking steps which might strengthen his hand? MS. TUTWILER: I don't have any comment, Connie, obviously, on the internal politics in any government, including Israel's, or people announcing or not announcing candidacies. I don't understand the second part of your question. Q Does the U.S. formulate policies with this situation in mind -- with the possibility in mind -- that it could -- MS. TUTWILER: Are we formulating our policy based on someone saying that they might run for office? No. Q Which recent incidents were you referring to across the region? MS. TUTWILER: Many of these, Alan, are public and many are private and are through intelligence channels and are through classified information. That is why this is directed region-wide. This is not to any country specific, and it is not to any individual, but this has been going on. We have said on BACKGROUND, and we have said now today again, ON THE RECORD, that we believe that this could have the potential of increasing and that we will not be deterred. Q Is this applied to Arab countries as well as Israel? MS. TUTWILER: Throughout the region. Absolutely. Q Would you consider the settlements issue, the pursuing of settlements, an extremist policy? MS. TUTWILER: I'm not going to sit here and go through a tick-tock for you of what is considered disruptive or those who are trying to disrupt a process. I think that you know it when you see it, and we know it when we see it. Again, I would remind you that some of this has been public. I would not be shocked if more of it is not public, but there is also obviously information that is classified and is in an intelligence category. Q How long have these incidents been going on? How long have you noted this pattern? MS. TUTWILER: I believe that I spoke to this issue close to three months ago. We looked it up this morning and tried to find it and we just didn't have time to. So this is the second time that I know that I have spoken to elements and extremists and those who will try, or could possibly try, to derail a potential peace process. Q I'm a little hung up on the "mistaken" reference that you made to the squatters, that they were mistaken. Are you saying that -- are those mistaken individuals being disruptive or are they wrong or are they just in the wrong house? MS. TUTWILER: I don't think you need me to tell you that it is disruptive. Maybe you haven't seen TV today; I have. And even without sound, the pictures alone can tell you it's a disruptive situation. Q So the government thinks it's disruptive? MS. TUTWILER: I can't speak for the Israeli Government. Q No, your government, our government. MS. TUTWILER: Our government agrees with Prime Minister Shamir, if that is what the Prime Minister said, that it is mistaken. Q Margaret, what about the legal aspects of what the settlers have done? Is it only a mistaken act or is it an illegal act? Why not characterize it as illegal? MS. TUTWILER: I'm going to characterize it the way I began by characterizing it: we believe that it is mistaken. Q Margaret, the Israeli Defense Minister, Mr. Arens, said about your expression of concern about the flights of Israeli planes over Iraqi air space today that "it is the utmost in irony and hypocrisy" this morning. Do you have any comment on this? MS. TUTWILER: What I'm going to have for you today concerning overflights is to refer you to my record of yesterday. I have nothing further to add to what we said yesterday. Q Margaret, I asked you yesterday if this was the first incident like this since the end of the war. Have you been able to confirm that there have been other incidents as well? MS. TUTWILER: No. Q Does that mean there have not been or you've not been able to confirm that there have been? MS. TUTWILER: I've not been able to confirm that there have or have not. To be honest with you, there really isn't anything else that we have to say on overflights today, and I don't envision that we will be tomorrow. I'll be happy to -- which I don't think you want me to do -- repeat what we said yesterday. But that answer is getting us back into overflights. And I'll be honest with you, it's just something we're not going to debate out here. We've said what we thought about the overflight. We've told you we've raised it. We've said we were disturbed by it, and that's where it's going to be left. Q Are the overflights part of the trend which you were describing in one of your opening remarks -- extremists' actions that are -- MS. TUTWILER: What we're not going to do is -- as I mentioned over here, I believe, I'm not going to go through and say what is a provocative extremist act. I believe that you know groups and individuals who are not exactly enthralled with the idea of having a peace process and will do whatever they can do to try to derail such a process. That is not something new that I'm stating today. We have made it -- or I've tried to make it -- extremely clear. This is region-wide, and that is why we are not going to say specifics because then that would lead you to the next question: "Ah, ha, you think Country X is really trying to do this." That is not what we're saying here today. This is directed at individuals, at extremists who will try, we believe, across the region, to disrupt a potential, possible peace conference. Q Margaret, in your view, is there a heightened terrorist threat at this time in the region to Americans -- Westerners, in general -- or anyone else? MS. TUTWILER: I would be reluctant, Alan, today, on October 10, to tell you that there is a heightened terrorist threat. As you know, there are certain mechanisms that we go through when there is such a thing. You know that this region is known for terrorist activity. But I cannot stand here today and tell you that there is a terrorist-heightened alert in the region. Q Do you consider Ariel Sharon among these extremist elements who are -- MS. TUTWILER: They are what? Q Do you consider Ariel Sharon among the extremist elements who are brewing all of this, scuttling the peace efforts? MS. TUTWILER: I don't do adjectives. Q Okay. Can you answer this question? I have a question, maybe you could answer, about the overflight. A former Israeli Chief of Intelligence said yesterday, or this morning, that the United States has no right to ask Israel to stop the overflights over Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, or any of the regional countries. MS. TUTWILER: I answered all of this yesterday, and I'll just continue to refer you to the record yesterday. It was quite lengthy, and I addressed myself to those types of questions. Yes, John. Q The Israelis, a number of Israeli sources, have indicated that Israel intends to continue these flights. Does the United States intend to content itself with the one message to Israel or is this an on-going problem for you and will this be raised again? MS. TUTWILER: One, you are asking me to deal with a hypothetical. I don't know that the Israeli Government, whoever you're saying is quoted as saying they are going to continue this. So my answer would have to be, should there be such an overflight, should we have that information as we did, then this government will decide what they will do at that moment in time. Q Let me try you with one that is not a hypothetical. MS. TUTWILER: Okay. Q Have there been further overflights of Iraq by Israeli planes since the one incident last weekend? MS. TUTWILER: Not to my knowledge. Q Did any of the Arab governments contact you and ask you to raise this issue with Israel? MS. TUTWILER: I answered that yesterday, and the answer I gave yesterday hasn't changed today. Q Is there anything new on Haiti? MS. TUTWILER: A little bit. There is little change in the overall situation in Haiti. The atmosphere there remains tense, but no shooting was reported last night. Soldiers continue to patrol the streets. The airport is open, and some commercial and other flights are arriving and departing. Late yesterday, after consultations between this Department and our Ambassador in Haiti, we authorized the voluntary departure of dependents and non-essential personnel from our Embassy in Haiti. We expect that about 90 to 100 of the 170 official personnel in Haiti will be eligible to leave. We don't, at this point, know exactly how many will actually depart. Yesterday evening we also issued a new travel warning which now urges private American citizens to consider leaving the country. We are not at this time evacuating Americans with charter flights or military aircraft. We expect to use commercial flights as they are available. A Federal Aviation Administration survey team is on its way to Haiti to determine whether U.S. carriers can resume operations at the international airport. Q Margaret, are you otherwise confident that there are available flights or seats for Americans who wish to leave? MS. TUTWILER: I think we'll have a better understanding of that after we see what the FAA team reports back to us. There was commercial traffic in and out of there yesterday, and so we'll just see how it goes. Q Are you hearing of a backlog of people who want to leave and can't get out at this point? MS. TUTWILER: This voluntary departure was just given last night to the Embassy; and I am not aware, as I said, how many people actually want to leave. It's voluntary, and I am not aware of a backlog or a crunch at the airport of Americans standing in line trying to get out. Q The Supreme Court Justice who was named president is apparently trying to form a cabinet. Do you have any comment about that? MS. TUTWILER: No different than yesterday. In the OAS resolution, as you know, we don't recognize that. Q And this peace commission? Is there any indication when this peace commission might go down there? MS. TUTWILER: No. It is my understanding from the OAS resolution that they would not be going -- I believe it's called a civilian force -- until the parties there ask for them to come back in. Q Margaret, is 8,000 still the number you are using for Americans? MS. TUTWILER: That is the number of registered Americans. As you know, all Americans who visit any country in the world do not have to register with the Embassy, and we believe that there is probably a very large number in Haiti that have not registered. So 8,000 is the number we know about. Q Is there any communication, Margaret, between the U.S. Embassy and the de facto government on any resolution of this, other than on the safety of U.S. citizens? MS. TUTWILER: Not to my knowledge. Q Margaret, are there any regulations in effect on the trade embargo -- penalties, criminal, civil, whatever, against -- MS. TUTWILER: I'm not sure what you are asking me. Q Could American companies still deal with Haiti legally or not? MS. TUTWILER: I'll look into that for you. As you know, we have suspended all aid. We have stopped all sales of defense articles. We have frozen Haitian Government assets, and we have blocked all financial transactions with the Haitian Government. So I will find out for you legally how that affects American companies doing business there. Q Margaret, if you no longer recognize the Government of Haiti, who is the Ambassador accredited to now? MS. TUTWILER: The Ambassador is accredited to the legal, constitutionally elected Government of Haiti, which is President Aristide. That is what 34 nations also recognize. Q Margaret, is the United States deporting non-American family members who were brought here as refugees from the Gulf? MS. TUTWILER: Are you talking about the Palestinians? Q Well, any. I mean, I'm a non-American family member -- not brought here from the Gulf; I'm just interested. Q We're working on your case. [Laughter] MS. TUTWILER: If you are asking me a totally broad question, then you could maybe go over to the INS. If you are asking me the Palestinian question, the facts in the case are that the State Department evacuated over 3,000 Americans and their foreign-born relatives from Kuwait and Iraq during the Gulf crisis between September 1990 and December 1990. Our policy was driven by our commitment to remove Americans and their families from harm's way. It is my understanding that all families who were evacuated by the United States Government charter flights were informed prior to departure that their stay in the United States would be temporary. It is my understanding, Alan, that Senator Sanford held hearings on this this week; that he has said that he is planning to propose certain pieces of legislation to help these people. I would have to refer you to the INS. As you know, people have an appeals process here that they can go through. I did not bring all the details of that with me. And the State Department's policy on this is that we would obviously support and hope that a humanitarian resolution can be found. Q Do you have anything on the dispute over trade that the United States is having with China? MS. TUTWILER: It is my understanding that the USTR had a press conference this morning -- it was scheduled for ll:00 a.m. -- that was going to deal with this issue; and I'd like to refer you to that press conference which I have no reason to believe was cancelled. Q In the same area, Margaret, does the U.S. believe the Dalai Lama should be allowed to return to Tibet? MS. TUTWILER: Our longstanding policy, it is my understanding, is that we have always favored a dialogue between the Dalai Lama and the Government of China. To the extent this proposal, which he apparently made in some speech at Yale yesterday, would promote such a dialogue, we would welcome it. As you know, John, the United States' policy recognizes Tibet as part of China. However, we have great respect for the Dalai Lama as a religious leader and as an eloquent spokesman for the human rights of the Tibetan people. The United States remains deeply concerned about the severe restrictions on political and religious activity that remain in effect in Tibet. We have raised this issue with Chinese authorities repeatedly at both senior and working levels. Q Have you raised it again, or do you intend to raise it, as a result of the Dalai Lama's speech at Yale? MS. TUTWILER: I don't know. I'll ask. I didn't ask that. Q Margaret, to go back to the issue of the Palestinians in this country that you airlifted, if December 31st comes by -- and you said that the State Department will support a humanitarian resolution to this issue -- will there be an extension? Do you feel like there will be an extension until the litigation or the wheels of justice will address this issue? MS. TUTWILER: I don't have any way of forecasting that for you. It's before the INS, as I mentioned. They have an appeals process. I don't know. I just can't answer this. Each case, I am sure, is going to be handled on a case-by-case basis; and each case, I am sure, is going to be unique and different. So I don't have any way of answering that for you. Q Margaret, do you have anything today by chance on either Zaire or Togo -- the continuing impasse in Zaire and the call for military aid by the interim government in Togo? MS. TUTWILER: I have nothing for you on Togo. We had something earlier in the week. I would refer you to the record. And what's your specific question on Zaire? Q There continues to be an impasse -- MS. TUTWILER: That's correct. Q -- between them, and so I wanted to ask about the impasse. MS. TUTWILER: It is our understanding -- you are correct, there is an impasse. To the best of our knowledge, they have not yet agreed on the composition of a government. As we said earlier this week, we have urged -- we, the United States -- realism and compromise on the part of all concerned so that democratization and the country's massive economic problems can be addressed. As I said earlier, ultimately it is up to the Zaireans themselves to decide on the form and composition of their government. Q Margaret, last week Richard used the figure 7,500 in talking about the number of American citizens registered in Haiti. MS. TUTWILER: It may be -- the last figure I used was 8,000. I wasn't here a lot last week, George, so maybe the numbers dropped MR. BOUCHER: Those are people who have been registering over the past few days. MS. TUTWILER: So it is back up there. It's 8,000. And we have always said "approximately." And then remember also, which is really important to us, we have said every time we do believe there is a large number that have not registered with the American Embassy. So the actual number, we think, is much higher. Q Thank you. MS. TUTWILER: Is that it? Thanks. (The briefing concluded at 12:31 p.m.)