US Department of State Daily Press Briefing #163, Thursday, 10/31/91

Snyder Source: Press Office Director Joseph Snyder Description: 12:46 PM, Washington, DC Date: Oct 31, 199110/31/91 Category: Briefings Region: MidEast/North Africa, East Asia Country: Israel, USSR (former), Haiti, China, Iran, Vietnam, North Korea, Jordan Subject: Mideast Peace Process, Regional/Civil Unrest, Democratization, Arms Control, Nuclear Nonproliferation, Military Affairs, POW/MIA Issues, Human Rights, Trade/Economics, State Department (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED) MR. SNYDER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Because I'm still relatively new and an infrequent visitor to this podium, let me introduce myself again: Joseph Snyder. I'm Director of the State Department Press Office. I have no announcements. I'd be happy to take your questions. Q Could you answer the unanswered questions about what the Department knew, and when did it know it, concerning the nuclear connection between China and Iran? MR. SNYDER: Specifically on Deputy Secretary Eagleburger's testimony. I think that was the main question. Deputy Secretary Eagleburger stated before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in June that to the best of our knowledge "we have no reason to believe the Chinese have assisted Iran in nuclear weapons development." At the same time, the Deputy Secretary specifically reiterated the fact that we have expressed our strong concerns to the Chinese on numerous occasions about their nuclear cooperation with Iran, particularly because we are also concerned that Iran may well not be complying with IAEA safeguards. We stand by that testimony as correct. Q You raise two different issues there which may explain some of the ambiguity. He said in that statement, "There is no information that weapons technology had been passed." On the broader issue of nuclear technology, did the State Department then have knowledge that there was a relationship between China and Iran? MR. SNYDER: There have been forms of civilian nuclear cooperation between China and Iran which, given our concerns about Iran's nuclear intentions, we oppose. We are concerned that any dual-use equipment sold to Iran for commercial purposes could be diverted to other applications. We have, therefore, repeatedly told nuclear exporters, including China, that they should not sell nuclear technology of any kind to Iran. We would find highly disturbing, evidence that China or any other country has knowingly provided assistance to Iran to develop nuclear weapons. Q Well, did the exchange of dual-use nuclear technology occur before June? In other words, calutrons which could be used for either weapons or non-weapons use? MR. SNYDER: I believe so, but I'll have to check. I understand calutrons are not dual-use items, but I can check specifically on that. Q Are you concerned about any other nations having passed or maybe about to pass or trying to pass nuclear technology to Iran, specifically India, Pakistan or any others? MR. SNYDER: Without specifically mentioning any countries, I would repeat: We would find highly disturbing any evidence that China or any other country has knowingly provided assistance to Iran to develop nuclear weapons. Q But do you have any evidence of other countries passing nuclear technology or engaged in a process that might lead to that? MR. SNYDER: Let me comment on Iran's program. Iran is a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In joining the treaty and signing the treaty, it has made a solemn, legally binding commitment not to manufacture or acquire nuclear weapons. A number of Iranian officials have made statements in recent years, calling that commitment into question. Because of the doubts that have been raised, we have been following Iran's nuclear program very closely and obviously with great concern. Anything further would necessarily get into the area of intelligence, and we don't comment on intelligence matters. Q What, if any, message have you conveyed to the Chinese in recent days on this issue? MR. SNYDER: We've raised this issue with Chinese officials on a number of occasions as part of our comprehensive effort to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. I cannot discuss the content of specific diplomatic exchanges. Q What made the United States bring this issue up, if it did not suspect that the Chinese were providing nuclear weapons or technology to other countries? MR. SNYDER: As I said before, as Deputy Secretary Eagleburger said in June, while we have no reason to believe the Chinese have assisted Iran in nuclear weapons development, at the same time he stressed that we've expressed our strong concerns to the Chinese on numerous occasions about their nuclear cooperation with Iran. Q Well, apart from the statements made by various Iranian officials, what has excited the concern of the U.S. Government since June? In other words, is there knowledge beyond the statements? MR. SNYDER: That is the sort of thing that I can't get into because of intelligence concerns. Q Do you have any recommendations for the IAEA as to how aggressively they should pursue information about what the Iranians are up to with respect to their program? MR. SNYDER: Our concerns about Iran have been expressed publicly. I've reiterated them again today. I think in general we expect the IAEA to carry out its inspection and other duties in connection with the accession of Iran to the NPT. Q In The Washington Post they point out a discrepancy between what the Department was telling the Congress about -- what the Department was saying about Iran's nuclear program and -- or knowledge of it, and what intelligence officials were saying, and that is that intelligence officials were saying that there was indication that they were trying to develop one, while the Department was saying that they had -- they were assuring people that there wasn't any. Can you comment on that discrepancy? MR. SNYDER: I can't go any further than I have already. Q Can you comment on the reports out of the Hill that President Bush's MFN request for China could be in some way affected by this recent development? MR. SNYDER: No. Not specifically on MFN. I've got nothing say about that. Q Do you think it's in danger -- MR. SNYDER: I would rather not go beyond what I've said already on this subject. Q Excuse me, Joe. There are some Chinese officials who have been expressing second thoughts about going along with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Do you know if they said anything to the United States along that line, or would you have any comment at all on that? MR. SNYDER: I'm not aware that they've said anything to the United States. We note that the Chinese Government announced in August its intention to adhere to the treaty, and we encourage China to follow through on this commitment at an early date. Q It is widely reported that China warned North Korea that any nuclear proliferation in the Korean peninsula would be harmful to the stability of the region. Did you get that that kind of statement, warning through official China to the effect that China is willing to cooperate with the United States to curb the North Korean nuclear development plan? MR. SNYDER: No. I'm not aware of that kind of a message, particularly through official channels. No. I'm not aware of that. Although I would say that we certainly would encourage any message to the North Koreans to avoid nuclear proliferation on the Korean peninsula. That's very clear. Q Do you acknowledge also that China is pressing, in a certain degree, to North Korea to curb the nuclear development plan? MR. SNYDER: I'm not in a position to confirm that; no. Q Apart from nuclear weapons, per se, is there any evidence that the Chinese have been selling the Iranians the means of delivery of those weapons, such as missiles? MR. SNYDER: I don't have anything on that. I think that's covered by my admonition that I don't want to go further, of course, out of security concerns. I have nothing on that, however. Q Is that because you can't talk about it, or is it literally you have nothing on it? MR. SNYDER: I have nothing on it. Q Without going into intelligence, of course, can you now say unequivocally that you believe, that you assess, that Iran is trying to develop an atomic weapon? Because I think yesterday was a little bit ambiguous about it. You expressed concerns yesterday but I think Solomon went a little bit further on the Hill yesterday. MR. SNYDER: I'd just repeat what I said. I think this is the way we'd like to leave it. A number of Iranian officials have made statements in recent years calling the Iranian commitment to the NPT into question. Because of the doubts that have been raised, we've been following Iran's nuclear program very closely and obviously with great concern. Q Are you aware that yesterday the Iranian Mission to the United Nations issued a statement unequivocally denying that Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon? MR. SNYDER: We're aware of that statement; yes. Q Do you have any comment on the statement? MR. SNYDER: No further comment than what I've said already. Q Maybe you have it there, but wasn't there the beginnings of a peaceful nuclear energy program under the Shah prior to '79? MR. SNYDER: Yes, there was. There was at least one reactor in operation, I understand. I believe the Shah announced a program of nuclear power development. Q And is that -- MR. SNYDER: Announced it. Q Is that program still in operation? MR. SNYDER: I don't have the facts on that here. I can get something for you. Q Can we move onto something else? MR. SNYDER: Sure. Q Vietnam: Hanoi has apparently offered more information that might lead to the discovery of the remains of U.S. servicemen. Do you have anything? MR. SNYDER: This summer the Vietnamese gave our POW/MIA specialists in Vietnam access to some pages of a museum document which they considered very sensitive -- the Vietnamese. These pages contain some very useful information about American POW/MIA cases. We have repeatedly asked the Vietnamese for access to the rest of the document. We are pleased that they now apparently intend to do so. Q So you haven't actually received them yet? I was under the impression that you had. MR. SNYDER: For confirmation about receipt of this material, I would refer you to the Department of Defense. Q Well, apparently, some people at State in Hanoi were saying that they had received it who are with the Department. MR. SNYDER: Check with Defense on that. I tried to find out something about it specifically. Could you check with Defense. I don't have it. Q Sure. Can you give us anything general on whether you think this is continued Vietnamese cooperation and a warming of U.S.-Vietnamese non-relations at this time? MR. SNYDER: I can confirm yes. The pace of cooperation with Vietnam on the POW/MIA issue has picked up. We have begun to move on the "Roadmap" program, and this kind of thing is encouraging; yes. Q You're not prepared here to announce the lifting of the embargo, are you? MR. SNYDER: No. Q On a new subject. Has the U.S. Government now released the remaining military assistance for Jordan? MR. SNYDER: I don't have anything on that. Let me check for you. Q It's in the paper this morning. It was confirmed by U.S. and Jordanian officials. I'm surprised that you can't announce it. MR. SNYDER: Let me try to get something. It was not something we did this morning. We don't have anything here. Q How many political prisoners are there in Cambodia at the moment? MR. SNYDER: We don't have precise figures on how many political prisoners or detainees are left in Phnom Penh prisons. We've noted this announcement that some 442 political prisoners have been released. We don't have independent confirmation of the release of these prisoners nor do we have a list of the names of those released. If the announcement is true, we would certainly welcome this decision on the part of the Phnom Penh regime. Our latest estimates, prior to this reported release, ranged from 1,000 to 2,000 political prisoners. We urge Phnom Penh authorities to release all political prisoners and detainees as they have promised to do. Q Does the United Nations organization have a plan that it must free all the political prisoners before the general election will be taking place in the country? MR. SNYDER: I don't remember the specific details of the U.N. plan that was signed in Paris last week. You might check with the U.N. I don't have those details. Q What is your opinion concerning that kind of political prisoners which was supposed to be detained by the present Vietnam-backed Hun Sen regime? MR. SNYDER: We would welcome, if it is true -- if this announcement is true, and we can't confirm it -- we would welcome this decision, and we urge Phnom Penh to release all political prisoners and detainees, as they have promised to do so. In the signing of the agreement -- Phnom Penh authorities indicated in September that all political prisoners would be released after the signing of the Cambodia peace agreement, so we hope they follow through on that now that the agreement has been signed. Q You said last week that once the agreement was signed that you would lift the trade embargo against Cambodia. That signing took place over a week ago. Can you report any movement on normalizing relations with Cambodia since then? MR. SNYDER: I'll have to get back to you. I can't remember whether it was specifically the signing or the beginning of the implementation, but we can get that for you. We have certainly not normalized relations with Cambodia yet. Q In that same line, do you know when the U.S. liaison office will be opening in Phnom Penh? MR. SNYDER: Shortly. Let me get that for you. I don't have it here. Q Can you make it part of his? MR. SNYDER: Q Can you make this also part of his? MR. SNYDER: Sure. Q Secretary Baker said the talks would begin with the Vietnamese officials next month -- November. I gather at the United Nations. Do you have anything on when that might occur? MR. SNYDER: Not specifically. The Secretary did announce last week that we plan to have talks next month, in November, on the issues of modalities associated with normalization. New York has been discussed as a possible site, but I don't have specifics for you. Q Thank you. (Press briefing concluded at 1:05 p.m.)