US Department of State Daily Press Briefing #171, Tuesday, 11/19/91

Boucher Source: State Department Deputy Spokesman Richard Boucher Description: 12:53 PM, Washington, DC Date: Nov 19, 199111/19/91 Category: Briefings Region: MidEast/North Africa, Subsaharan Africa, E/C Europe, Eurasia, East Asia Country: Haiti, Yugoslavia (former), Croatia, Serbia-Montenegro, Indonesia, Lebanon, Kazakhstan, USSR (former), China, Kenya, Albania Subject: Regional/Civil Unrest, Terrorism, Immigration, Development/Relief Aid, State Department, Trade/Economics, Human Rights (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED) MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I don't have any statements or announcements to make, but I'd be glad to take your questions. Q Could you bring us up to date on the Haitian refugees? How many have been returned, and where others are being dispersed to elsewhere in the Caribbean, and so forth? MR. BOUCHER: The total number of boat people picked up, according to information provided by the Coast Guard this morning, is now at 2,160. Fifty-three boat people were flown to Miami yesterday after having been interviewed by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and found to have a plausible claim to asylum. Of those 53, 37 were from the group at Guantanamo Bay, 12 were from the Coast Guard vessel Confidence, and four were from the vessel Dallas. The Immigration and Naturalization Service continues to conduct detailed interviews with all the Haitians to determine who might have a plausible claim to asylum. We'll provide you updates on these figures as we receive them. The Coast Guard cutter Confidence returned 224 people to Haiti yesterday. Three hundred and fourteen people were returned this morning by the Coast Guard vessel Dallas. These are people who have been screened out by INS. More will be returned, of course, as the screening process continues. Venezuela, Honduras, Belize and Trinidad and Tobago have offered to take between 100 and 250 Haitians each, but to date no Haitians have been transferred to these countries. It's planned to take those at the U.S. Naval Facility in Guantanamo Bay, where there are 483* people, to these countries. We'll provide further information on that when it becomes available. Jan? Q There's less than 483, Richard, because 37 of them have already come here. *Note: Haitians remaining at Guantanamo today number 446. MR. BOUCHER: Well, Jan, I suspect you may be right. Let me double-check that one. Actually, they gave me a chart. Q While we're on the subject of Haiti, what time yesterday did the Coast Guard cutter take the 224 back to Haiti? Your announcement at the briefing was, as you know, correct at the time you were making it, or was this Coast Guard cutter already taking these people back? Had the decision already been made to return them? What I'm driving at, Richard, is by the time the State Department circularized us last night with information that the 224 were being returned, they already had been returned. MR. BOUCHER: Jan, I think we got the announcement out the door at about the same time as the vessel arrived in Port-au-Prince. It was about 3:30 in the afternoon. The situation at my briefing yesterday was that we were working on arrangements. There were some meetings, I think, in Port-au-Prince shortly after that time, where the Haitian regime agreed or at least did not object to the taking back of these people. It was at that point that arrangements fell into place, and the vessel was ordered to Port-au-Prince. Q But by the time you were briefing yesterday, the decision had already been taken to send these people back? MR. BOUCHER: It was a possibility, but it wasn't a firm decision until -- it wasn't clear that that was the way it would work out until after we'd had that meeting with the Haitians. Q Couldn't you have said that it was a possibility? MR. BOUCHER: George, I don't think I excluded it as a possibility. Q Richard, the first question you were asked yesterday was about reports that they were going to go back. You didn't answer it initially, and then several minutes later when the question was raised again, you referred to the original question and said, "I'm afraid my answer to that is that we're working on finding a regional solution to the problem. We don't have that answer for you at this point. I can't say yes or no at this point." That's not suggesting that there were talks going on with Haiti about returning them. MR. BOUCHER: Well, Terry, I guess I just can't agree with your interpretation of what I said. I thought I was very careful yesterday not to exclude this possibility. It could have turned either way at the point that I was briefing, and I didn't say yes or no to any given arrangement, because it could have turned either way. Q You didn't say anything about those talks specifically with Haiti in yesterday's briefing, though you knew they were going on. Is that correct? MR. BOUCHER: I knew that there had been discussions with Haiti, and that there should have been more planned. Q Well, basically the decision had been made by this government to try to send them back, and the only thing that was lacking was the permission of the Haitian authorities to receive them -- is that right? -- at the time we were talking yesterday. MR. BOUCHER: If that decision came through, then yes. If they had rejected it, we would have been back on some other course of action. Q My point is, as far as this government was concerned, the decision had been made early in the day that they would be sent back, contingent upon the Haitian authorities receiving them. What I'm saying is that the first part of the decision by this government had been made early in the day, right? MR. BOUCHER: Yes. If you all think I misled you, I'm very sorry. But I did not try to indicate that that was excluded. I tried very hard not to prejudice it one way or the other, frankly. Q Would it have harmed the process in your mind if you had said that we are in contact now with Haitian authorities about the possibility of taking them back? MR. BOUCHER: It might have. I don't know if that would have changed their reaction or not. Q Richard, when you said yesterday that you were working on arrangements or that there were discussions going on and so on, were there discussions with anybody else except for the Haitian Government. In other words, were there still attempts to get places for these people to go, or were there only discussions going on with the Haitian Government about returning them? MR. BOUCHER: We had been having, as we have reported to you, and we -- Q There had been, but were you having yesterday? MR. BOUCHER: I think we're still having discussions with these governments, the specific ones, about setting up places for the numbers that they've agreed to take. So, those discussions have been on-going. Q Did you receive assurances from the Government of Haiti that these people would not be prosecuted, persecuted, and so forth, before sending them back? MR. BOUCHER: Basically, we informed them of the returns. They did not object. And this is a resumption and continuation of a routine operation which has been going on for a number of years. As you know, we have a 1981 agreement under which people are returned to Haiti if they don't qualify for asylum out of the country. We notified the Haitian Red Cross and the authorities. We've had our Embassy down at the port monitoring the arrivals, and we've been -- as I said, we've kept the Haitian authorities informed of who was arriving. Q Are you aware that it's taking a lot of heat from Capitol Hill as being discriminatory, immoral, etc.? I'm wondering, what your response is to that? MR. BOUCHER: Our response is that our overriding concern has been to prevent the loss of lives. Over the past three weeks, there have been hundreds of Haitians that have put to sea in unseaworthy boats. In the past, many of these people have perished on the seas before they could find help. We have worked urgently to find a regional solution to the humanitarian problem, and we will continue to do that. But our policy on Haitian asylum seekers is established by the 1981 bilateral agreement, and I think it's important to note that there's no history of any persecution of boat people who have been returned to Haiti under that agreement. Since 1981, we've been doing this. We've seen a number of different political situations in Haiti. We've seen governments come and go and different conditions. But we've seen no history of persecution of boat people returned to Haiti, and, of course, our Embassy will continue to monitor the situation closely to determine that those who are returned will not be subjected to any reprisals. Q Has the lawsuit that's been filed in Miami, seeking to block these returns -- has that had any impact at all on the return of any of the Haitians, so far as you know? MR. BOUCHER: I'm not familiar with the lawsuit in Miami. I'll have to check on that. Q Could we change the subject to Yugoslavia? Q I have one more on this one. MR. BOUCHER: There's more on Haiti. Q O.K. Sorry. Q The regional governments that have agreed to take 100 each, are they insisting that the people they take meet international standards of refugees, or are they taking economic refugees as well? MR. BOUCHER: My understanding, Norm, is that they have agreed to take people, in large part, as temporary safe haven or temporary refuge. I think we told you in our statement yesterday that our fear was that if we started bringing people to the United States, that would only increase the outflows, since this is where most people intended to come. Q Just a quick question as a follow-up. Why are those at Guantanamo Bay the ones who will be relocated to those countries, whereas the ones who were subsequently picked up or have been held aboard ships are the ones who are being returned? Is there a logic in that, or is this a matter of convenience? MR. BOUCHER: The only answer to that, Terry, I think, is that we just have a limited number of places. We didn't have sufficient places in terms of our efforts with other governments to find temporary safe havens for all the people that are on board ships. So the decision was made to find safe havens for those who are in Guantanamo Bay. Q Purely a random sort of thing. There's no policy behind it. It's simply those who were grounded or came early, they're the ones who get relocated, whereas the ones who came later or came differently -- were on ships -- are the ones who get sent back. MR. BOUCHER: Yes. That's more or less the situation. I think it's important to point out, however, that we are carefully screening all the people, whether they were at Guantanamo Bay or whether on board ship, to determine who has a plausible claim to asylum; and that those people have been and will continue to be brought to the United States. Q Do you know how many INS people are aboard to do that screening? MR. BOUCHER: Let me double-check that to make sure. Q Because, obviously, they've screened quite a number in a short period of time, so you wonder how long does the screening take? MR. BOUCHER: I think that's something you probably have to check with INS on -- how they conduct it. Q Aren't these contacts that you're having with the regime there amounting to a progressive recognition of the system there? MR. BOUCHER: No, they're not. Q Some of your critics have been saying that you have a hypocritical policy, that you oppose forced repatriation to Vietnam of Vietnamese boat people, but have a very different policy towards Haitian boat people. MR. BOUCHER: George, each of these situations is different. The legal status is different. The country conditions are different, and the political and social conditions in the country -- those which have a bearing on asylum -- are different. We believe that the country conditions in Haiti are such that persons being returned will not face persecution, and that has been the history of this in the past throughout the last nine or ten years. We are, of course, going to monitor the situation very carefully. We recognize the difficult economic situation in Haiti and the fact that these people do face some hardships. But in terms of asylum and the conditions that lead to the granting of asylum, we don't think those conditions exist in Haiti except for the people that we've been able to identify in the interviews. As regards Vietnam, we oppose forcible repatriation until the conditions change in that country. Moreover, we believe that there's no need for forcible repatriation since the UNHCR voluntary repatriation program is working well, and more than 15,000 Vietnamese have returned there voluntarily. Q Going back to the Haitian refugees for a second. Is it fair to assume that you made your decision based on precedent, and you did not receive any direct assurances from the Government of Haiti that there would be no persecution or prosecution? MR. BOUCHER: Let me double-check on that, Frank, and see exactly how they phrase that. Q Has the flow of boat people stopped now? MR. BOUCHER: No, it has continued. As I said, the number today was 2,100 and something. I think that's up about 370 from what we had yesterday. Q Is there any reason to believe that there aren't any more boats out there on the seas? MR. BOUCHER: I would assume that there are more boats out there on the sea. Q You've said repeatedly that one of the reasons why you don't want people to leave is because they set forth on the high seas in unseaworthy vessels. Is there any chance the United States would reassess or re-evaluate this policy, bearing in mind that it takes an enormous amount of personal courage to climb into a little boat that is unseaworthy and try and get away to a better life, which is what I always thought this country was supposed to herald for other people. I mean, for somebody to flee and to take these kinds of risks, to make that move, there must be very pressing and urgent reasons. So will the United States even consider reconsidering it? MR. BOUCHER: Jan, the answer has to be that I think there are people throughout the world that would like to do this -- to make attempts to get to the United States. We're not going to be able to take all of them. We operate under legislation. We operate under international agreements and we operate under an international standard that shows compassion in terms of people that you can identify who face a well-founded fear of persecution, but, at this point in the world's history, doesn't allow for free flows of migration from place to place for any reason. Q Richard, when the United States helped sponsor the economic embargo against Haiti, was there any planning done? Was there any recognition that this might cause an extra flow of boat people; that, in fact, you were imposing these economic conditions on the island? MR. BOUCHER: There was recognition of the economic difficulties, and I think throughout this crisis, ever since the coup, we've recognized the difficulties that were faced by the people of Haiti in going through this crisis. The OAS resolution, as you know, has specific exemptions for humanitarian deliveries of food and medicine, and we've made those part of our embargo regulations. So that concern about the lives of the people in Haiti was clearly apparent to the OAS and was clearly apparent to us when we put together the exemptions. Q Richard, can you tell us what the technical status is of these people who are now in U.S. custody but will be returned? Are the considered deportees or interdictees? You know what -- how they're being considered under the law at this point? MR. BOUCHER: I don't know what the precise term is there. They're people who -- there must be some term in the 1981 agreement that would refer to them one way or the other as migrants. They're people who wanted to come to the States, that didn't have permission to do so, and who, after we've interviewed them, were found not to qualify, not to have the plausible claim for asylum; and, therefore, they're Haitians. Q Do you know what the number is now of those who are still being screened? MR. BOUCHER: I don't know precisely where INS is in terms of screening. I know that they've screened the people on Guantanamo; that they've screened the people aboard the two Coast Guard cutters that -- one went yesterday and one went today. Q If the flow of people leaving Haiti continues at this rate, will the U.S. reconsider the policy on the embargo? MR. BOUCHER: I have no indication that we intend to reconsider this policy at this point. One of the reasons that we said in our statement yesterday that we felt we had to implement this policy of returning people to Haiti was because the numbers of people coming out of Haiti were so much greater than the numbers of people that we could find places for. Q I don't understand why it sort of slipped over the transom, as it were. If you want to really stop the flow, then you would want to get it out there with an announcement so that everybody would be clear to understand that we're not going to do this anymore. Instead, it sort of came out, and even the wording of the announcement that we got was rather -- way down in there -- sort of circuitiously worded. I just wonder why you were trying to hide this policy under a bushel basket instead of getting out there and saying, "You people are going to go home," in order to get them to stop from coming? MR. BOUCHER: Saul, we, as you know, made an announcement on Friday about the difficult situation that people faced in leaving Haiti. We've made further announcements since then on that. We've tried to describe for you what we were doing in terms of looking for regional solutions. Our statement yesterday said, "In the absence of a sufficient safe haven option, the Coast Guard has been directed to return most of the boat people to Haiti beginning on Monday, November 18." That seems a pretty straightforward statement to me. Q Was it also broadcast at about the same time, so that the Haitians would know this? MR. BOUCHER: I assume that it was broadcast during the course of the afternoon or evening yesterday. Q Can you tell me whether there was an arrangement with the help of the United States that these people got 7 bucks each when they came back on shore? MR. BOUCHER: Seven bucks? Q That's what I understand -- the equivalent of $7. MR. BOUCHER: We have provided funding to the Haitian Red Cross. The money comes from the Haitian Red Cross. It's to provide some initial material assistance to people who return there. Our funding, as well, will help support their Red Cross monitoring efforts. Q So this is where the money comes from. It comes from us -- $7 that they got -- MR. BOUCHER: I presume there are others who contribute to the Red Cross. Not just us. Q Can you tell me how much? MR. BOUCHER: Fifty thousand dollars in Fiscal Year '91. Q New subject: Can we move to Yugoslavia now? MR. BOUCHER: Okay. Q The federal Yugoslav President Mesic says that he has asked the United States to freeze Yugoslav assets which amount to something like $3.5 billion. Can you say what the response is to that request? MR. BOUCHER: I can't at this point. I'll have to look into it. Q Can you take the question? MR. BOUCHER: I'll look into it. Q Had there been any coordination with the United States before the West European Union's vessels moved into the Adriatic? MR. BOUCHER: We have been in touch with the WEU. We're awaiting further details from them about what kind of role and the extent of the role that's envisioned for their naval vessels. As you know at their meeting yesterday, the WEU Foreign Ministers expressed a willingness to take part in operations directed at the establishment of humanitarian corridors in Yugoslavia. But at this point, we don't have any specific information about what they envision. Q Has the Department of State stopped communicating with the Federal Secretariat for Foreign Affairs because the federal rump Presidency asked Minister Loncar not to -- to give up his job to his Serbian Under Secretary? MR. BOUCHER: I'm not aware that he had been asked to do that. We've been in touch with a whole variety of parties in Yugoslavia throughout the crisis. As you know, we've never recognized this rump group as having legitimate control over the federal presidency. Q What's the U.S. Government's position and specific response to Serbian efforts to oust Markovic? MR. BOUCHER: Let me try to get you something better than I just made up, Frank. Q Do you have any details on the investigations of the American Embassy in East Timor? MR. BOUCHER: I do have some more details on that. Q Can we go onto the Soviet Union real quick? MR. BOUCHER: He's asked a question about East Timor. Let me do to that and then you can go onto the Soviet Union when you get recognized. First of all, to say that we've seen a November 18th Reuters report out of Sydney that said that people were reporting that some witnesses to the November 12th shootings have been executed. We haven't seen this report confirmed, nor has it appeared elsewhere, and we are unable to confirm it ourselves. The report from our Embassy team that went to East Timor made no reference to any new violence. The team from the American Embassy in Jakarta visited East Timor from November 15th to 17th. Its members met with a wide variety of persons, including government, church, military and private citizens familiar with the situation in East Timor and the November 12th shootings. The team found a highly charged situation, as you might expect. Many with whom the team spoke indicated that the number of persons killed probably totalled between 75 and 100. The team heard several reports that the stabbing of an Indonesian Army major at some point prior to the shootings at the cemetery may have sparked the violence. However, almost all of the team's sources concluded that the shootings constituted a serious breakdown of military discipline disproportionate to any threat actually posed by the crowd, and we agree with that judgment. The Embassy team heard widespread calls for investigations and they used the visit to register U.S. concerns over the violence with all the key players there with whom it met. As we noted yesterday, the Government of Indonesia has announced the establishment of an interagency investigatory commission. We welcome that development and will continue to express our concern to the Indonesians that the investigation be complete and credible, and that it lead to appropriate disciplining of those that are shown to have used excessive force. Q In the meantime, is there any action or freezing of the U.S. military assistance funds? MR. BOUCHER: There's been no change in that at this point, Jim. I think I expressed the other day what we felt were the positive benefits from the small amount of military training that we do with Indonesia. We've been making clear to the Indonesian Government our views. We're making clear the need for a full investigation and for appropriate disciplining of those who may have used excessive force. Our Ambassador has been doing that in Indonesia. He's had meetings at the Foreign Ministry, and he's talked on the phone with the Foreign Minister. I expect he'll be talking to other government officials as well. Q Richard, on that, the Senate used a figure for this fiscal year of $1.9 million remaining. Is that what you have in military assistance? MR. BOUCHER: That's remaining, meaning unspent? Q On the books? MR. BOUCHER: What did I use -- $2.3 as the IMET program? Let me double-check that and see. Q The recent videotape that has emerged now and was broadcast last night, I believe in England, Portugal certainly, and Japan, have actually the massacres and real footage of it. Is the Department aware of it? Have you had any reports of that from your Embassies? MR. BOUCHER: We've heard about it, I think, perhaps from you. But we have not seen it. We don't have it in our possession. Sonia. Q Soviet Union? Q Sir, can we stay on the same thing? MR. BOUCHER: Okay. Q Do you know if the State Department asked if the unit involved in this is still on duty in East Timor? MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that. Q Richard, about the hostage release yesterday, do you have any thoughts today as to why this is happening now; what events in the region are -- MR. BOUCHER: I'm afraid I don't, Betsy. We don't want to speculate on things like that. We've seen the efforts of the U.N. Secretary General and his representative. We've seen some success from those efforts, and we hope to continue to see success from those efforts. Q Do we know if the Saudis have been at all involved in this? MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. You would have to ask the Saudis. Q Richard, same subject. Oliver North has said that he met with Terry Waite before Waite's missions to Lebanon. Do you have anything about any association of Terry Waite with the U.S. Government? MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't. Q Does that mean -- MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any information. I don't have any comment. Q No comment? MR. BOUCHER: Yes. Q Richard, has Secretary Baker been informed that Eduard Shevardnadze is going to be reappointed to the job of Soviet Foreign Minister? MR. BOUCHER: Secretary Baker has been informed of the press reports coming out today that quote various unnamed, unofficial sources as saying that, but we haven't seen an official announcement. Q So no phone call to Mr. Baker, as far as you know? MR. BOUCHER: I haven't checked on his phone calls. But as far as I could tell -- he wasn't around when we first heard the news -- but as far as I could tell, we had not seen any official confirmation of that. Q If he had spoken to Mr. Shevardnadze -- or Foreign Minister Shevardnadze -- would you let us know? MR. BOUCHER: I will check on that. Q Going back to the hostages: There are some that say that it's not only the efforts of the Secretary General, but a growing pragmatism in Iran on part of the Rafsanjani regime that is directly concomitant to the release of the hostages. Yesterday, you were asked about the role of Syria, the role of Iran. Is there any acknowledgment now about the role of Iran as being directly responsible for the release? MR. BOUCHER: The acknowledgment comes in the form of what I said yesterday and what I believe the White House said in their statement, that we thank all those who had used their influence and who played a role in this. We named the United Nations, Syria, Lebanon and Iran in that. But I don't have any further analysis for you. I checked yesterday to see if we could specify what exact role each of these people had played. Other than citing the efforts of the U.N., I don't think we're in a position to do that at this point. Q Richard, do you have any update on the status of Dai Qing in China? MR. BOUCHER: Our Embassy in Beijing has continued its efforts to locate Dai Qing in order to confirm the Foreign Ministry's statement that she was not arrested and is free. But as of Tuesday night in Beijing, the Embassy has not been in contact with her. Q News reports yesterday said that Secretary Baker, during talks with the communist Chinese leaders, had agreed to Beijing's request that Taiwan should not become a GATT member ahead of China. Can you clarify the U.S. position on this issue? MR. BOUCHER: The Secretary talked about the GATT issue at his press conference, and I'd be glad to get you a copy of that. Q Richard, any update on the hunt for the alleged American POW/MIA, whatever you want to call it? MR. BOUCHER: The daily update? Q Right. MR. BOUCHER: Our people arrived in Alma Ata, and they're working on further travel from there. At this point, I don't have any kind of new reporting from them. Q Richard, what's happening in the U.S. row with Kenya? MR. BOUCHER: The Kenyan Foreign Minister made some statements which we took exception to. We put up a statement yesterday saying that our Ambassador there is the President's representative and we had confidence in what he was doing. Part of U.S. policy is to raise issues of human rights, and we and our Ambassador will continue to do that. Q Have you seen reports that Arap Moi wants to expel foreign journalists and people -- foreigners from Kenya? MR. BOUCHER: No, I haven't seen those. Q The wires later this morning -- perhaps you can take the question. MR. BOUCHER: I can check on that and see if we know anything about it. Q Richard, is the Secretary going to see Shamir this week, apart from the White House meeting? MR. BOUCHER: Jim, at this point, there's nothing on his schedule apart from expectation that he'll attend the President's meeting with Shamir. We'll have to see. Q Is it true that President Bush is going to visit Japan on January 8? MR. BOUCHER: You would have to ask Marlin (Fitzwater) or the President a question like that. Q Just for the record, anything the schedule for Middle East talks -- bilateral or multilateral? MR. BOUCHER: Nothing new today, Saul. Q Is there any schedule for when we find out about it, or do you know? Do you have any idea? MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't. I don't have any schedule for when we might make proposals or make an announcement. Q Do you have anything to say about Eagleburger's meeting with the three miners from the Ukraine and other republics? MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't. Q Can you get me something? MR. BOUCHER: I'll see if there's anything we want to say. Q Also, can we get a readout on the Albanian Prime Minister's visit this afternoon? MR. BOUCHER: Well, I can tell you what it's about. The Under Secretary for Political Affairs, Arnold Kantor, will meet with the Albanian Prime Minister this afternoon to discuss recent political and economic developments in Albania. The Prime Minister is in the United States on a private visit. That's what I know in advance. I'll see if I can get you more of a readout afterwards. Q Albanian and Yugoslavia relations on the schedule, too? MR. BOUCHER: I don't have an agenda for it. We'll see after the meeting if that goes into the readout or not. Q What about the status of the aid package for the Soviet Union? Someone ask about this? MR. BOUCHER: Many people asked Marlin this morning, and he says it's not quite finalized yet, so I'll leave it with him. Q Marlin didn't seem to be very up to speed on it, with all due respect to Marlin. MR. BOUCHER: With all due respect to Marlin, he knows more than I do and I'll stick with -- Q Is there anything in particular holding up the aid package at this point? MR. BOUCHER: Again, at this point, as Marlin said, it's not quite finalized yet, and I'll leave it to the White House to make any further statements on it. Q Thank you. MR. BOUCHER: Thank you. (Press briefing concluded at 1:26 p.m.)