US Department of State Daily Press Briefing #165, Friday, 11/8/91

Boucher Source: State Department Deputy Spokesman Richard Boucher Description: 12: 32 PM, Washington, DC Date: Nov 8, 199111/8/91 Category: Briefings Region: MidEast/North Africa, East Asia, Caribbean, E/C Europe Country: Philippines, North Korea, Japan, Cuba, Haiti, Yugoslavia (former) Subject: Trade/Economics, State Department, Environment, Development/Relief Aid, Regional/Civil Unrest, Nuclear Nonproliferation, United Nations (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED) MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. A couple things I want to mention up front. One is the Philippines; the other is Korea. On the Philippines, I think you noticed we put up a statement yesterday expressing our sympathy to the people of the Philippines in the wake of the natural disaster of the storm that struck. We noted that we allocated the $25,000 -- our Ambassador has -- and that we've already provided some MREs. AID is in the process of reviewing additional needs with the Philippine Government. The only thing I have to add to that today is that our Ambassador -- Ambassador Frank Wisner -- and our Consul from Cebu visited the area earlier today to determine the extent of the damage and to look at how we can best provide assistance. So that's something that we're trying to help with as much as we can. Q On that, Richard, isn't that the sort of thing that the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance is supposed to be doing? MR. BOUCHER: And they are. Q What are they doing, specifically, beyond the $25,000 and the MREs? MR. BOUCHER: The $25,000 comes from the Ambassador's fund. USAID and the U.S. Navy have provided military food rations -- MREs and other assistance -- including shelter materials to the disaster area. And, as I said, AID is in the process of determining further emergency relief needs to the Philippine National Disaster Coordinating Council. So we've got some stuff out there already, and we're working on seeing what the other needs are, both with AID and with our Ambassador's visit. On Korea: We strongly welcome and support Republic of Korea President Roh Tae Woo's declaration of his government's policy regarding nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. We believe it is a comprehensive and bold initiative which makes a significant contribution to peace and stability on the Korean peninsula. President Roh's announcement reiterates the Republic of Korea's policy to use nuclear energy only for peaceful purposes and to continue placing all of South Korea's nuclear facilities and materials under full-scope international inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, in compliance with its Non-Proliferation Treaty safeguards obligation. President Roh's declaration that the Republic of Korea will not possess nuclear fuel reprocessing and enrichment facilities is an especially welcome and important decision. President Roh has ruled out acquisition of chemical and biological weapons by the Republic of Korea and pledged to actively participate in international efforts to eliminate those weapons. We hope that North Korea will respond positively to this initiative by taking corresponding measures in all these areas, especially not to possess nuclear fuel reprocessing and enrichment facilities, and that North Korea will quickly fulfill its unconditional international obligation under the NPT to bring its nuclear program under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. North Korea's quest for a nuclear weapons capability is the most significant threat to the security and stability of the Northeast Asia region. We reiterate our call for North Korea to halt this quest. With that statement, I'd be glad to take your questions. Start, George, or not? Q If it's the same subject. Q So you are going to initiate a U.N. resolution to condemn the North Korean nuclear power program? MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything new on a U.N. resolution. I think you've seen the calls by other countries, as well as our own, including the decisions of the International Atomic Energy Agency's board that the international community is already united in calling for North Korea to accept, conclude, and abide by. Q So including -- former Defense Minister Schlesinger and Senator Joseph Biden and some other university professors urged the U.S. Government to use some kind of an approach, so-called operational strike to the North Korean nuclear site. Do you have any comment to that kind of -- MR. BOUCHER: I hadn't seen those statements. I'd have to say that that is hypothetical at this point. The international community is united in urging North Korea to do this. We've seen steps by South Korea now; we've seen their statements. We've seen the voice of the international community raised. You've seen the President's statements on our worldwide nuclear initiatives, and we think it's time for North Korea to abide by its obligations. Q Richard, also on Korea, you seem to, in your statement, put some stock in the IAEA's techniques of supervision. But isn't one of the lessons of the Iraqi episode that the IAEA had no inkling of what was a very elaborate, sophisticated nuclear weapons program? MR. BOUCHER: In the Iraqi case -- you can check with the IAEA inspectors -- I think "no inkling" may be going a little far. Certainly we think, starting out, that since North Korea has failed to sign and implement an IAEA safeguards agreement, it's full and rapid implementation of that agreement will go far to assure the international community about the extent and nature of its nuclear program. So, certainly, the first step is to put the entire program under safeguards. At the same time, it's something that we obviously would continue to follow closely. I think you're aware that there have been discussions recently in the IAEA about improving its inspection regime and giving it more access to information. Q Richard, do you have any reports of unrest in North Korea? MR. BOUCHER: Not that I'm aware of here. Q There are some rumors going around. Ham radio operators on the West Coast apparently have had reports from -- I don't think we should dismiss that totally. MR. BOUCHER: I don't want to dismiss it totally, Alan. I don't have anything here. I'll be glad to check on it for you and see if we have anything like that. Q Do you have anything further to say beyond what the President said about the EC sanctions against Yugoslavia? MR. BOUCHER: Well, I could read you a full page, but I could basically say "no." As you know, for those who didn't follow the President, he said that we've been very supportive of the EC's efforts. There was a NATO summit statement today, which I can give you all copies of. That welcomes the European Community's new measures. The President this morning congratulated the EC for the leadership it has shown and said that he'll be taking some formal decisions on the part of the United States shortly. Q Do you have anything on Secretary Baker's schedule in China? MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't. Q Do you have any confirmation of the statement out of Egypt that Washington has been chosen as the site for the next bilateral talks on Middle East peace? MR. BOUCHER: I hadn't seen the statement; but, no, I don't have anything for you today on the site of future bilateral talks. Q What about the status of the Haitians on the Coast Guard cutters? MR. BOUCHER: Since last week the Coast Guard has stopped six overcrowded and unsafe vessels carrying about 200 Haitians who were trying to enter the United States illegally. These people are now aboard Coast Guard cutters. They are being fed. They are receiving needed care, including medical assistance. For our part, we're in touch with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and other countries in the region regarding the problem of these Haitians leaving Haiti who are then picked up at sea. We view this as a regional problem, and we are treating it accordingly. We're addressing this problem urgently and hope it will be resolved soon. However, we have not as yet decided to make any changes in our policy or procedures. Q Which way are these cutters going -- north, south, or in circles? MR. BOUCHER: I think you'd have to check with the Coast Guard on that. I'm not sure they're going in any particular direction at this point, John. Q Are they just sort of sailing around out there waiting for somebody to make a political decision? MR. BOUCHER: You'll have to check with the Coast Guard on that. Q But isn't that really what's happening? They're not headed for port, right? MR. BOUCHER: At this point we are carefully considering the situation in Haiti to see if there should be any change in our policy. Our policy at this point has not changed, but we're addressing this, as I said, as a regional problem. We're treating it that way. Q And could you restate what our policy is toward refugees? MR. BOUCHER: Well, under a bilateral agreement with Haiti, U.S. immigration officials interview Haitians coming to the United States who are picked up at sea to determine if they may claim asylum. I think you're familiar with the definition of "asylum." The claims for asylum are adjudicated on a case-by-case basis. Applicants for asylum must demonstrate that they have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Q And what happens to people who don't receive this status? MR. BOUCHER: Under the agreement that we have with Haiti, those who do not have a claim to asylum may be returned to Haiti. Q Richard, what's the United States' position on involuntary repatriation of boat people? MR. BOUCHER: I think you're referring specifically to the people who were leaving Hong Kong today, or who have left Hong Kong today. Q I'm referring to all boat people, actually. MR. BOUCHER: Okay. Q I don't know if the United States -- MR. BOUCHER: The U.S. position on forcible repatriation is well known. We oppose the forced repatriation of asylum-seekers who are determined not to be refugees to Vietnam under current conditions there. That's our position on it. Q That's your position on Vietnamese boat people. Does that also extend to Haitian boat people? MR. BOUCHER: It's the same international definition that applies to those who qualify for asylum or for refugee status. What I read you about the well-founded persecution applies in all cases. And, at the same time, in both cases those who are screened out, those who do not meet this definition, in the case of Haiti can be returned to Haiti. In the case of Vietnam, as I just said, we oppose the forced repatriation of those determined not to be refugees there. Q And what is the difference in circumstances between Haitians who can be returned and Vietnamese who can't, in the view of the United States? MR. BOUCHER: The differences are between Vietnam and Haiti. They're two difference places, and I'm not going to do any particular comparisons of them. Q Isn't it a fact that the difference is that the Haitians want to come to the United States. MR. BOUCHER: That may be a difference, Alan. Whether that is the difference, I don't think I would specify that as being the difference. I said that we oppose the forced repatriation of asylum-seekers determined not to be refugees to Vietnam under current conditions there. That is the chief question as regards our policy for Vietnamese boat people. Q Well, on Haiti, is what you're saying that under the current regime -- that interim military regime, or whatever they call themselves these days -- it would be easier for Haitian refugees to prove justified fear of persecution? MR. BOUCHER: I haven't said that, Jim. Q Well, is that the case? MR. BOUCHER: I said, I think, before that we were looking at the question of whether -- I'll get it exactly for you. We're carefully considering the situation in Haiti to determine whether there should be any changes in our established program. So, yes, we are looking at the conditions in Haiti. At this point, we have not made any changes to the program. Q Also any contact with the de facto regime as to whether or not they would accept the repatriation of these refugees? MR. BOUCHER: Not that I'm aware of. Q How about with third countries? MR. BOUCHER: I think I said we're in touch with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and other countries in the region regarding this problem. Q Has there been a request that third countries would accept these people? MR. BOUCHER: I don't know, and it's nothing I can get into at this point. Q Is your use of the word "illegal" to describe their attempted entry into the United States -- does that prejudge the case in any way, if they claim refugee status? MR. BOUCHER: Gil, what I think that refers to is the fact that they don't have visas. It's the standard formulation that is used for people who put to sea without the required entry papers. I think that's all it refers to. The question of asylum is a standard international definition, and that's what applies always. Q Any plan right -- Q President Menem of Argentina is due to come to the U.S. next week. What will be the major topics of conversation with President Bush? MR. BOUCHER: I don't really have a preview of that visit for you. I think you'd have to get that from the White House. Q Okay. And just one more question on the Japanese Government's response to Bush's deferral of his trip there. What kind of explanation are you guys going to give to the Japanese Government? I mean, this has been prepared several times. It's been postponed twice already. MR. BOUCHER: The Japanese Government was informed, and I think we explained the postponement in the same terms that the President has used very frequently. Q One more question about Haiti. Any plans, while you're deciding their status, to get them off the cutters on to land? MR. BOUCHER: You'd have to check with the Coast Guard if they're doing anything like that. As I said, we're aware of the urgency of the problem. We're addressing it. We're in touch with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and other countries, and we hope to resolve it shortly. Q Do you have anything on the OAS mission to Haiti which starts tomorrow? MR. BOUCHER: Well, as you know, the OAS has announced that the mission is going. It announced yesterday that its civilian mission for the reestablishment and strengthening of democracy in Haiti will leave Washington for Port-au-Prince tomorrow. We hope to see a peaceful resolution to the crisis in Haiti which respects the essential principle that a democratically elected president cannot and must not be forced from office through violence. Q Have you seen the report that the interim government has issued an arrest warrant for President Aristide? MR. BOUCHER: I think I just saw something before I came in here. Somebody told me about it. I haven't seen the arrest warrant or the decree myself. I can't confirm it for you. I think our view would be that the OAS mission is going down there under the mandate of the OAS resolutions, and we'll see if they can accomplish their goals. Q New topic? Cuba trying to get the U.S. trade embargo suspended. What is the justification still for that embargo against Cuba? MR. BOUCHER: Let me get you a more precise formulation than I would make up off the top of my head. Q Thank you. (The briefing concluded at l2:48 p.m.)