US Department of State Daily Press Briefing #173, Wednesday, 11/21/91

Tutwiler Source: State Department Spokesman Margaret Tutwiler Description: 12:01 PM, Washington, DC Date: Nov 21, 199111/21/91 Category: Briefings Region: MidEast/North Africa, North America, East Asia, Eurasia, Caribbean Country: Iran, Libya, Israel, Syria, Indonesia, Haiti, China, Mexico, USSR (former), Kazakhstan Subject: Regional/Civil Unrest, Refugees, Trade/Economics, Development/Relief Aid, Terrorism, Human Rights, Immigration (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED) MS. TUTWILER: I don't have anything. Q Margaret, do you have anything on the Times story about the negotiations with the Iranians? MS. TUTWILER: Not a lot. As you know, the standard procedure and policy over the last ten years is that we do not discuss the subject matter that's discussed in these meetings before the meetings. I could go over for you where we are on these things. Last year, the United States and Iran signed an agreement to settle 2,361 claims of less than $250,000 by U.S. nationals against Iran. This agreement, in addition, settled a claim by the U.S. arising out of certain assistance loans. A dozen relatively small government claims were settled during 1989 and 1990. A number of large oil company claims have also been settled. In late June 1990, Iran paid AMOCO $600 million in settlement of two cases. Some very large government claims, including Iran's multi-billion dollars claims arising out of the Foreign Military Sales program, as well as about a 130 large private claims, remain pending at the Tribunal. We are continuing our efforts to achieve settlement of cases pending at the Tribunal where it is in our legal and financial interest to do so. The Department of State Legal Adviser, Ed Williamson, met with his Iranian counterpart in The Hague on October 7-8 to discuss issues concerning claims before the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal. These were a continuation of talks that have been held routinely over the past two years in an effort to address purely legal and technical matters. As I said earlier, we do not comment on details of these meetings or the future of these meetings -- when the next ones will be held. Q Is there any connection, direct or indirect, with the hostages? MS. TUTWILER: As has been the policy, since these talks have been going on, these are technical and legal talks. As you know, even when Judge Sofaer was here, we always made a point of saying that that is one thing they do not discuss in these talks. They do not discuss political matters, and that is still the same policy under Mr. Williamson. Q But in the sense that it improves the general climate, is there an indirect connection, perhaps? MS. TUTWILER: I can't draw that conclusion for you since they do not discuss these there. These are legal and technical talks, and it has clearly always been the policy that those types of issues -- political issues -- are not discussed at these talks. Q So there is no link, then? MS. TUTWILER: Not in our minds, no. Q Margaret, Ahmed Jabril says he is going to sue the U.S. Government for slandering the PFLP-GC because of information that it has put out over the years through the media linking his group to the Lockerbie bombing of Pan Am 103. I'm just curious whether you would have a response to Mr. Jabril's intent to sue the government for slandering his good name and the good name of his group? MS. TUTWILER: I haven't seen that particular comment. What I saw this morning, I thought -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- is one wire copy, briefly, where Mr. Jabril was calling to take action against American interests. Maybe I'm being unfair and I didn't see that. But I saw one wire copy this morning and that caught my attention. I'm unaware of his comment that he's going to sue the United States. I guess my attitude or statement would be, have at it; good luck. Q The other point of that is that there are stories that say the Israelis -- the Mossad -- have said the United States is wrong in clearing, or at least in not pursuing, Jabril and Syria. They're claiming that the United States has evidence that Jabril was involved in Lockerbie. Can you say anything about that? MS. TUTWILER: I saw one unnamed Israeli official this morning in one of our American news publications. The only thing I would say is if that individual has something, as we said in our public briefings by the Attorney General of the United States -- as every official of this government has said -- if you have evidence, bring it forward; it will be tracked down to the fullest. I think that it is somewhat unfair, to be honest, for an unnamed official to be claiming these things when the Israeli Government by our Government -- as all governments around the world -- have had an intensive, thorough, unbelievable briefing on every bit of evidence that we have, that we know that we have. We've given it all to the public through you. As you know, yesterday, we met with those family members who wanted a meeting. They met here with Justice Department officials, FBI officials, State Department officials. There's nothing that we're hiding from anyone. So if someone has something, we've said publicly, bring it forward. Q Are you saying that the United States did give Israel, among others, a detailed briefing on what we have and sought Israel's cooperation on anything they have, and that what we have said here at the White House and at the podium -- MS. TUTWILER: And the Justice Department. Q -- and the Justice Department is based on what Israel has said -- and what went on at all of these meetings? MS. TUTWILER: No, what's been said at the White House, the Justice Department and the State Department is based on what is a three-year, extensive investigation. Q Including consultations with Israel and others? MS. TUTWILER: I didn't ask that particular question this morning, but I have no reason to believe -- just as we have cooperated extensively with any number of countries over the three years -- that our Government wasn't discussing this at a government-to-government level with the Israelis. But I specifically asked -- having seen this report this morning by this unnamed official -- "Did the Israeli Government have a briefing as did many, many governments," and the answer was in the affirmative. Yes, they did. Q There was an Israeli -- MS. TUTWILER: Of our evidence -- excuse me, John. Q There was an Israeli television report indicating that in the last several days there has been additional information passed from the United States to the Israelis indicating that there is more evidence -- or some evidence -- linking Jabril's group to Pan Am 103. Are you aware that additional evidence has been passed? Is that a no? MS. TUTWILER: No, I'm not. Q So at this point, you are denying the Israeli television report that additional new evidence has been passed to the Israelis linking Jabril's group to Pan Am 103? MS. TUTWILER: I haven't seen the Israeli TV report, so I can't comment on something responsibly that I haven't seen. I am personally unaware, and I have stayed in very close contact, in my opinion, with the individuals here at the senior level who have been conducting this and know a whole lot more about it than I do. I'll be honest, I didn't ask that specific question. But it would seem to me, since the United States -- when was it? -- just last week -- went out with what I would characterize as a very, very public explanation and briefing for the world to see -- and I have read what all has gone to the posts -- that if something new had come up, someone would have said something about it. But I will take your question and ask. I'm unaware of it. But I do know, since the first day, we have said, if you have something, give it to us; show it to us. We will track it down to its conclusion. So we've been totally open about that. Q Along the same lines, I gather that some of the families in the meeting you referred to yesterday had similar sorts of concerns that perhaps there's some political and diplomatic reason the U.S. had an interest in saying that Syria was not a culprit in the bombing. I gather it drew a very strong response from Secretary Eagleburger. Could you -- MS. TUTWILER: It did, and it should have, to be honest with you. Q How do you react to this in the sense that there's a political agenda, if you will, in keeping Syria out because of the peace process and because of the interest in relations? MS. TUTWILER: I think it's garbage. I think that does a disservice to the tragedy of Pan Am 103, to be quite honest with you. I don't know of a single, solitary American who has been involved in this investigation who has not gone at it with, "Let's find out who did this barbarous act." I don't know of a single, solitary American who would even think such a thought. It is an outrageous thought, in my mind. I understand and no one doubts the tragedy, the sympathy, the outrage that people feel. But the United States Government, to the best of their human ability, with every agency at their disposal, with every cooperation from every government, at the end of -- what was it? -- almost three years -- came forward and said, "Here is the evidence." I have no training in the FBI, or anything else. I read the reports and thought it was quite incredible what all was painstakingly put back together -- luggage tags, suitcases, all of that that you have read and we've all been exposed to. It appeared to me, as a novice, that that was an incredibly first-hand, thorough investigation. So I just have to tell you that I'm not aware of an individual by name who has said that. I just think that it is a statement that I, obviously, don't subscribe to at all. Q Margaret, has there been any official reaction by the United States Government towards what Libya was asking, a third party -- a neutral body -- to investigate all the charges and all the circumstances that led to the charges? MS. TUTWILER: I'm not aware of Libya asking for that. I'm very confident that we stand by our investigation. Q Have we been in touch with Libya on this? MS. TUTWILER: No. It's my understanding, our protecting power is the Belgians. Q But have we been in touch through the Belgians with the Libyans to officially notify them? MS. TUTWILER: My understanding on this, Betsy, is that the British, through their legal system, are required to transmit this -- what do they call it? -- indictments. Through our legal system, it is not required. It is a matter of protocol. It's my understanding that it is being transmitted through the Belgians as a matter of protocol. It is something we do not have to do at all. Q But it is being done? MS. TUTWILER: Yes. Q Margaret, on Secretary Baker's meeting this afternoon, can any provisions be made for us to stake out the Secretary? Is he expected to make comments afterwards? MS. TUTWILER: You might want to talk to the Israeli Embassy. I believe they have made those provisions, but check with them since it's their meeting. Q What they're saying is that they've got a tight pool, but they don't expect Secretary Baker to say anything. Can you give us any guidance? Do you know whether the Secretary will have comments? MS. TUTWILER: I think it's like any other event. You all stake him out all the time. He doesn't have any preconceived decisions that he is going to have something to say. You're correct, there is a tight pool there because, it's my understanding, it's a very small room that they're meeting in. Q But that means that if we go to the Madison, we won't be able to even have access to the Secretary. It's getting very confusing. MS. TUTWILER: It means the same thing as any other thing, Connie. There's a small pool which is made up of Israeli and Americans correspondents. Q (Inaudible) a stakeout. MS. TUTWILER: That is a normal pool. If you want to stand out on the sidewalk and shout a question at him, you all do it all the time. Q When do you expect it to end today? MS. TUTWILER: I have no earthly idea. There's no time on it. Q Is it true there will be an announcement tomorrow by the President -- because the Secretary of State will not make the announcement today -- but will make it tomorrow about the bilateral venue? MS. TUTWILER: That's a new rumor for me. I haven't heard that one. Q The Israeli press this morning were saying that. MS. TUTWILER: I'd just be careful. Q Do you have an announcement you would like to make today on that subject? MS. TUTWILER: Today? Q Yes. MS. TUTWILER: No, I do not. Those discussions are still going on. Q Margaret, the Chinese journalist that was supposed to meet with Schifter in Beijing has been apparently released by Chinese authorities and is making some comments about her forced -- Q Detention. Q Yes, "detention " is a good word. MS. TUTWILER: Travel. Q Yes. Have you now looked into this case? Are you convinced that she was detained by Chinese authorities? And what's your reaction to it? MS. TUTWILER: Our Embassy is continuing to pursue this question with the appropriate Chinese officials. We do not believe that we've received a satisfactory answer from the Chinese as of today. Q Well, do you doubt her statement that she was detained? MS. TUTWILER: No, I don't believe that's the case. The Chinese -- in fact I just read their Foreign Ministry spokesman saying something that is quite different from what she is saying. As of today, this is where we are. We are continuing to pursue this with the Chinese Foreign Ministry officials. Q Did the Chinese warn the Secretary and his party not to meet with dissidents? MS. TUTWILER: Not that I have any personal knowledge of. As you know, because you were on the trip, prior to the trip -- as in any number of trips -- a number of suggestions are made and possible scheduling activities are thought of. This was one that was thought of -- possibly the Secretary meeting with dissidents. And prior to ever arriving in Beijing, a decision was made that he would not schedule such an activity. We did not. It was based on our own experts who were with us and on advice from the Embassy. I know of no Chinese message that we got saying do not do this. But I want to be careful here because individuals at the Embassy -- officials -- could have had conversations with Chinese officials, and that's where that might have been said. But nothing from the Chinese ever got to us on the road or on the plane. Q Margaret, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow has sent an official to try to locate an alleged U.S. POW. MS. TUTWILER: Right. Q Do you have any update on that? MS. TUTWILER: I did yesterday, Frank, and off the top of my head, I believe the individual is out there. Plus, the gentleman -- I believe it's a November 7 article, and I cannot remember the publication -- Q Kommersant. MS. TUTWILER: Right, thank you -- has put out a statement saying that his English translation of that article was incorrect. I have that for you. It's about a page long. So we are still pursuing it, but that was a new piece of information we had yesterday. The author of the article himself says it was a poor English translation. Q Does that raise doubts about the possibility that someone may be living there? MS. TUTWILER: We're definitely looking into it, but again -- only because I didn't bring it, and it's two pages worth of information; I had it yesterday for you -- I'd just refer you, if you wouldn't mind, to the Press Office when we finish, because he clears up what he's talking about. But that does not mean that our Embassy officers aren't going to continue to pursue it and are out there. Q I have a couple of questions on the incident in Mexico. MS. TUTWILER: In Mexico? I know something about that today. Q Do you? MS. TUTWILER: Yes. Q There is a videotape of this incident which the Bush Administration is not releasing. Could you tell me why this is not being released? MS. TUTWILER: My understanding is that you are correct. There is such a thing. And my understanding is that this is in the property of Customs. The State Department does not have this video. We understand that it is being used as possible evidence in the investigation and is therefore unavailable. Q How concerned is this Administration over this apparent corruption within the anti-drug effort, and what is the Administration doing to express its concerns? It appears that these soldiers were trying to protect this shipment of Colombian cocaine. MS. TUTWILER: The United States deplores the deaths of seven Mexican police officers who were killed trying to prevent, as you say, a cocaine shipment from transiting their country. Details are still emerging about this tragic incident which took place on November 7. The Government of Mexico announced yesterday that the National Commission on Human Rights would investigate the incident. The Mexican Human Rights Commission has a record of conducting thorough investigations, and we look forward to this report. The Salinas administration has carried out a major and valuable effort in the drug fight in cooperation with the United States and other countries of this hemisphere. We will continue to work closely with the Government of Mexico in this extremely important international effort. Q Are we satisfied with the way they are handling this incident? MS. TUTWILER: I know of no dissatisfaction. Q And with their cooperation, in general, with the drug war? MS. TUTWILER: In their cooperation in general, I just think I addressed myself to that. The Bush Administration has been very pleased with their cooperation. Q Customs is going to use this videotape in the prosecution of what? This is a Mexican crime in Mexico. What does Customs -- MS. TUTWILER: Customs has this tape, and I would really refer you to Customs to answer questions concerning the tape. The State Department does not have this tape. Q (Inaudible) MS. TUTWILER: We don't have the tape. How can I give it to you? I don't have it. Q Is there anything new on East Timor, and is the U.S. re-evaluating its approval of Indonesian annexation of East Timor? MS. TUTWILER: I don't have anything new on that. No. Q Would you take that last part, please? MS. TUTWILER: Sure. Q How about Haiti? Do you have any update on numbers of interdictions, and so forth? MS. TUTWILER: Yes, I do. Let me go through the numbers for you. Three hundred and fifty of the Haitians at Guantanamo Bay were flown to temporary safe haven facilities in Honduras and Venezuela yesterday. Of these, 250 went to Honduras and 100 to Venezuela. The receptions of the Haitians in Honduras and Venezuela went very well. Arrangements are being made with the International Organization for Migration and the UNHCR to move the remainder shortly. Both Trinidad and Tobago and Belize have offered to provide temporary safe haven facilities. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is responsible for organizing and running the temporary safe haven facilities in these countries. While in these third-country facilities, the Haitians will come under the protection of the UNHCR. The total number of Haitian boat people picked up to date, according to information provided by the Coast Guard, stands at 2,843. Only 26 people were picked up by the Coast Guard yesterday. Fifty-three, as I told you yesterday, have been found to have a plausible claim to asylum and have been flown to the United States. Five hundred and thirty-eight have been repatriated to Haiti. Ninety-six of the original 483 remain at the U.S. Naval facility in Guantanamo Bay, and I just told you where the others are in Honduras and Venezuela. Eight hundred and fifty-eight have been transferred from Coast Guard cutters to the U.S. Naval vessel Tortuga, which is moored in Guantanamo Bay. And right before the briefing -- about ten minutes before -- I was told that 572 are landing today off Coast Guard cutters at the U.S. facility at Guantanamo Bay. So there are now some 380, we believe, that are still on Coast Guard cutters. Q Margaret, there was a report this morning that there is a deal in the works to try and get the embargo lessened in Haiti in exchange for talks with Aristide and Haitian officials to get Aristide back to Haiti. MS. TUTWILER: My understanding is -- yesterday I was asked this question -- that the talks are on for Friday; that President Aristide has publicly said that he will be at those talks, and that the legislators have said they would be there. I don't know about a deal, but I just know that overnight that development took place, and these talks will go on in Colombia on Friday. Q Margaret, yesterday Mr. Gelbart testified before a House Committee that this temporary restraining order, handed down by a Florida court, would increase tragically the massive outflow of Haitians at a terrible cost of life. The figure you give today, 26 picked up yesterday, doesn't seem to bear that out. Would you agree? MS. TUTWILER: We also said yesterday -- and I heard the same views, without interjecting ourselves in the case and getting in the Department of Justice -- that the Coast Guard believes that 50 percent, Jim, of the people who have left Haiti have probably drowned and died. Q I understand that. What we're -- MS. TUTWILER: So these are 26 they found yesterday. I'm not competent to say that's all that are out there. Q You haven't seen any massive outpouring since the court order was handed down, though? MS. TUTWILER: We haven't seen it, but we believe that sending a signal is the most inhumane, irresponsible thing that this government could do, and we feel very strongly about that. And let me remind you that in 1981, Haitians were coming here at a rate of 15,000 per year, and all you have to do is go back and look at your own reporting of those that were washing up on the shores of Florida dead. Our policy is to save lives. I gave, yesterday, some extensive, detailed examples of some of the conditions of these boats. These people are trying to cross 600 miles of open sea in nothing but flimsy boats with no life jackets, no food provisions, no -- what else did I say yesterday -- compass. That's the word I'm trying to think of. So it is inhumane. It is the complete opposite of what some people are writing, in my personal opinion, to send a signal -- get on these rickety, awful boats and risk your lives and your families' lives out in open seas. They had a boat yesterday that the Coast Guard Dallas picked up with 26 Haitians on it. They were on a 25-foot boat. The winds were 20 knots and the seas were eight feet. Q Margaret, you said that you would try to provide for the humanitarian needs of the Haitians by permitting food shipments and medicine. MS. TUTWILER: Right. Q But apparently the real economic problem is that those Haitians who are still employed, in such things as baseball factories or textile or garment factories, have been laid off because of the economic embargo imposed by the United States. In that sense, would you be willing to lift the economic hardship on the Haitian people, to some extent, by permitting these factories to re-employ these Haitians? MS. TUTWILER: That question would best be asked, I believe, to the OAS. As you know, they have been in the lead on this, and I have not seen -- in anything that I've seen reported -- from their public statements and even, to be honest with you, their private statements, that that is a decision that they are getting ready to make. You know that they have made, and the United States supports, as you point out, a humanitarian clause in this embargo when they put it on. But I would just have to refer those types of questions to the OAS. This is not a solo United States' deal. Q Margaret, I know you'd said that these are economic refugees and not political refugees, and so far as we can see there's no danger. But people who are there report that the United States had made the decision to put them ashore the day before they were actually put ashore, but they were not because this was "Army Day," and there was great fear that on "Army Day" with people running around with guns, there would have been a lot of people killed by the army. And as the situation -- as the economic situation gets tougher, the people in the army have been attacking people -- like newspaper people -- who have been wandering the streets, stealing from them at the point of a gun in many cases. And I just wonder at what point does economic hardship and economic danger cross the line into political danger from people who, because they have guns, will start stealing and killing from people who might have something. At that point, is the United States ready to act to give these people political asylum -- the fact that they're being hit by army people? MS. TUTWILER: The United States has already acted, and they have found 53 people who have a plausible claim to political asylum. On the first part of your question, I'm unaware of whether it was or wasn't "Army Day." The second part of your question is this has been a United States' policy for ten years, and to date, it is my understanding, in ten years of repatriating Haitians under our bilateral immigration agreement, there has been no history of punishment or persecution of returned Haitians. I saw one brief wire copy this morning about some type of harassment of people. I have asked ARA, and we don't have any evidence of that, as I'm standing here. I'm not telling you that an the entire island somebody hasn't been harassed. But we have no evidence, as of this briefing, of any massive, even sporadic, harassment and fear of these people. We're just not aware of it ourselves. And we have Embassy officers down there. We watched the repatriation with our Embassy officers. The Red Cross was there, Catholic relief organizations, and it went off without an incident, and the people went back to their homes. Q You don't have any reports, though, that there is danger from the army or other armed forces who, in the past, have sort of run wild among the populace, shooting at random. Do you know that this happened? MS. TUTWILER: To date, as of this morning, our Embassy has received no reports of mistreatment. Q Do you have any figures there on humanitarian assistance to Haiti, so that perhaps fewer Haitians would be tempted to try to flee the country? MS. TUTWILER: I don't know if I have our numbers or not. On October 11, you know, we approved a resumption of humanitarian aid through private voluntary agencies in Haiti under Title II, PL-480 program. Care and Catholic Relief Services have redirected programs funded by the Agency for International Development to feed up to 20,000 young children, pregnant women, orphans and those in homes for the aged and infirm. AID is working with private voluntary agencies on how best to expand this humanitarian aid to Haiti in the immediate future. Next week the OAS is preparing to send a mission to Haiti to assess food and public health needs. AID, the Pan American Health Organization and the International Committee of the Red Cross will participate with a view toward organizing additional international relief. But numbers I don't have, I don't think, George. Q Margaret, I have one more question about this videotape. MS. TUTWILER: Sure. Q Do we know if this tape has been shared with the Mexican Government, since presumably that's where any court case would take place? MS. TUTWILER: I honestly don't know. I'll be happy to ask. I don't know. Q Could you get a copy and give it to us? (Laughter) Q Thank you. MS. TUTWILER: Thanks. (The briefing concluded at 1:30 p.m.)