US Department of State Daily Press Briefing #186, Monday, 12/16/91

Boucher Source: State Department Deputy Spokesman Richard Boucher Description: 12:12 PM, Washington, DC Date: Dec 16, 199112/16/91 Category: Briefings Region: MidEast/North Africa, Eurasia, E/C Europe, Caribbean Country: USSR (former), Haiti, Burma, Cambodia, South Africa, Israel, Jordan, Slovenia, Croatia, Yugoslavia (former) Subject: Mideast Peace Process, Terrorism, Democratization, Arms Control, Nuclear Nonproliferation, United Nations, EC, Regional/Civil Unrest (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED) MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I don't have any statements or announcements for you today, so I would be glad to take your questions. George. Q Can you tell us whether the State Department is playing any role in trying to help facilitate the discussions, particularly with respect to the Israelis and the Palestinian-Jordanian delegation? MR. BOUCHER: George, the situation, as far as our role, remains where it was last week. I think Margaret described it to you several times. We think it's important that they've decided to go on for a second week; that the talks are continuing. We don't want to lose sight of that. That's a very big step forward in a region that's had hostility for 43 years. Over the weekend, Assistant Secretary Djerejian met with the Israeli and Palestinian delegation members. He doesn't have any specific meetings scheduled today, but obviously we've been keeping in touch with the parties. We've been urging them, as we have all along, to get beyond procedure and get into substance. Q So as far as you know, they are still in the hallway -- MR. BOUCHER: They're still talking. My understanding is they were still talking. I don't know exactly where they are, Chris, but I think our view has been made clear. We haven't put forward any proposals of our own. At this point, they're dealing with the issues themselves. Q But wherever they are talking, it has not changed since last week -- the sort of state of those talks? MR. BOUCHER: As for the exact state of those talks, I think you'll have ample discussion by them of where they stand, and I'll leave it to them to discuss it. Q Richard, just out of curiosity, have any of the parties expressed interest to the United States in allowing history to visually record the fact that the Arabs and the Israelis are, in fact, sitting across the table or are actually sitting together? We have no evidence of that at this point other than words. MR. BOUCHER: You have what they, themselves, are telling you about their talks. I think we've told you before that if both parties wanted our help in arranging a photo opportunity or something like that, that we'd be glad to do it. Q So my question is -- MR. BOUCHER: But at this point, that has not happened. Q Has anyone asked for your help in that -- MR. BOUCHER: As I said, if both parties agreed to it and asked us to do it, then we would do it. As far as what individual parties want, you'll have to ask them. Q Richard, when you set the December 4 date for these talks to resume, it was said that you didn't want to lose momentum from Madrid. It's now been almost 2 weeks since then. Are these talks in danger of losing momentum? MR. BOUCHER: Ted, I'd go back to what I said at the very beginning: That we think it's important that they had discussions last week; that they're continuing into this week, and that they are continuing their discussions. We think that's a big step forward from the situation that we've had for many, many years, and we think that's something we shouldn't lose sight of. Q Richard, anything new regarding the regional multilateral talks in Moscow, about the site, about the time? Everything is as is? MR. BOUCHER: Nothing new. Q Richard, these talks are not taking place in a vacuum. While they're going on here, there was some evictions of Palestinians in the village of Silwan next to Jerusalem, and there's been apparently very restrictive curfews in effect in several cities -- Ramallah and one other city. Do you have any opinion on any of these Israeli occupation measures? MR. BOUCHER: We do, Jim. We're seriously concerned about provocative acts. As for the Silwan situation, we understand that the issue of legal title is still under consideration in the Israeli courts. The real issue to us is not legal title or legal issues surrounding ownership of houses, but the real issue is the exercise of control by the government over individuals who are obviously bent on destroying the prospects for peace. We call on the Government of Israel to demonstrate its own commitment to peace by preventing unilateral acts and restoring harmony to the city of Jerusalem. We're also deeply concerned about the violent incidents in the occupied territories by individuals or groups who appear to be bent on destroying the prospects for peace, and we think that both Palestinians should refrain from acts of violence against Israelis and that the Israeli settlers should refrain from acts of violence against Palestinians and from taking the law into their own hands. Q And are you making this -- urging directly to the Israeli Government or just through here? MR. BOUCHER: No. We have raised it with Israeli Government officials as well. Q Could you elaborate on what these provocative acts are? MR. BOUCHER: I think you've all seen the various press reports about the situation in Silwan and the various reports of attacks over the weekend in the occupied territories. Q The question of raising it with Israeli officials -- has that taken place here or in Jerusalem or both? MR. BOUCHER: I think it's taking place in both. I don't have a report back that it was discussed in Israel yet. Q But you know it was here? MR. BOUCHER: I know that it was raised here. Q Did the visit of the Israeli military intelligence chief in the building have any connection with the provocative acts or responses or anything else going on over there? MR. BOUCHER: I didn't know about that visit, Howard. I don't know. Q Could you give us some reaction to the North -- Q Continue on this for one moment, please? MR. BOUCHER: Hang on. Q You used the word "provocative." Would you go any further than that and suggest that they are deliberately provocative, designed to disrupt the atmosphere in which these talks are taking place? MR. BOUCHER: I think that is what I said, Jim. I think that we see these acts as actions by people who are bent on destroying -- interrupting the peace process. Q Richard, you also used the term "restoring harmony to Jerusalem." When was there harmony in Jerusalem? I mean, I don't remember in all the years that I covered the region and with the intifada for the last 4 years and a couple of weeks that there has been harmony in Jerusalem. So why the use of the word "restore"? MR. BOUCHER: Jan, I haven't been following this situation even as long as you have, so I don't want to belabor the point, and any word for "harmony" would do, but some sense of civil order, some sense of comity. Q Can I come back to Jim's question for a second -- the question of being bent on destroying the peace process? You said the U.S. is concerned about provocative acts, and you called on the Israeli Government to exercise control. Are you suggesting that the Israeli Government, which is engaged in the peace talks, is among those whom you describe as "people bent on destroying the peace process"? MR. BOUCHER: I didn't describe them that way, Ralph. I described this as a question of individuals, and I noted there have been individuals on both sides who appear to be attempting to disrupt the peace process. We think the Israeli Government has a role to play in bringing this under control. I've seen, I think, press reports that both Prime Minister Shamir and Minister Arens talked about some of the violence over the weekend and said it should stop, and we certainly agree with that. Q You referred to the Israeli legal system. Can you tell us by what authority Israel exercises its legal system over the occupied territories, because those territories should be subject to international law and the Geneva conventions? MR. BOUCHER: I don't have handy with me our view, Alan. I think it's been expressed before as to our view of the legal authorities in this area, and I'd just go back to that. Q Given the record of the past and past decisions on settlements, and given the fact that the Israeli Government is no neutral bystander in this case, do you have confidence in the Israeli legal system's ability to make a just decision on the Silwan issue? MR. BOUCHER: Again, Alan, what I said about the Israeli legal system is that to us the real issue is not the legal issues of title. The issue is the question of whether the government will exercise control over individuals bent on destroying the peace process. Q Could you take the question on how Israeli law meshes with international law as far as this issue is concerned? MR. BOUCHER: I think we've expressed before what law applies in these areas. I'd be glad to get that for you. Q On a related matter, can I ask you what the state of play is with the U.S. self-imposed -- self-announced deadline for repealing the Zionism-is-Racism resolution at the U.N.? MR. BOUCHER: There is a General Assembly session. It starts this afternoon, we think about 3:00 o'clock. Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger is up in New York. He is expected to introduce the resolution for repeal and will make the statement, obviously in support of the resolution, urging repeal. At this point there are 83 countries which have agreed to co-sponsor the resolution, and we certainly welcome this show of support. Q Does that mean that you have a majority -- the United States has a majority of votes in the General Assembly to support repeal? MR. BOUCHER: Ralph, I'll let you do the math. We've avoided claiming victory. We're still working on getting further co-sponsors and further support, and we look forward to a vote. I think it may occur this afternoon. Q Richard, are there any -- excuse me, one last question -- any Arab co-sponsors? MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. That's something you could check on the list in New York. I'm sure the resolution -- all the co-sponsors are people who have signed on to the resolution. That must be available in New York. Q Has the U.S. asked the Arab nations to co-sponsor this resolution? MR. BOUCHER: We have sought support throughout the world, Ralph. Q Does that include any Arab nations? MR. BOUCHER: Throughout the world. Yes. Q You can't say that word, though? MR. BOUCHER: I can say the word. We sought support throughout the world. I think in the end, you'll see how different countries vote and see what happens. Q Any comment on expectations that the Arabs -- or most of the Arabs are going to abstain? MR. BOUCHER: Again, I'm not going to comment on how specific countries might vote, except for the fact that there are 83 co-sponsors, and we have urged everyone to support the repeal. Q Would the U.S. consider abstention to be a positive decision by anyone who abstains not to obstruct, or would it be considered a negative decision? MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to characterize individual votes at this point. I'd just say that we sought the maximum possible support for the resolution. We'll continue to do that right up until the vote. Q Any comment on events in the Soviet Union, particularly the assurances about safeguarding nuclear weapons? MR. BOUCHER: My only comment is the Secretary will make whatever comments there are to be made for us. Q Richard, Yugoslavia. Germany says it's now going to recognize the independence of Croatia and Slovenia on Thursday. Do you have any words? MR. BOUCHER: I will basically stick with what the President said. Of course, we're aware of reports that Germany and possibly others may take some steps to recognize the independence of Slovenia and Croatia this week. Our position has not changed. We're prepared to accept any outcome that's chosen peacefully and democratically, and I think you all saw that President Bush said yesterday that we seek a peaceful resolution; that we support the efforts of the EC and the U.N. The U.N. and the special envoy, Cyrus Vance, have advised that the situation is fraught with danger, and it's best to proceed cautiously on the issue of recognition. And the President said yesterday that's the approach that we're taking. Q Richard, the countries that appear to be ready to follow Germany's lead are Italy, Austria, and Hungary. Do you think it's a coincidence that these countries -- if you look back in history in 1941 -- are united again around an issue? MR. BOUCHER: Alan, I think that's something that a news analyst with a broad historical perspective would want to write about. It's not something I have a comment on. Q Don't you think it's a bit worrying that the fascist alliance is recognizing a country that only one -- and had independence as a Nazi puppet state? MR. BOUCHER: Again, Alan, you can do whatever analysis you like. I'm not going to join you in it. Q What is your evaluation of the recently signed reconciliation treaty between North and South Korea? Do you think that it was quite important enough to reconsider your policy toward the Korean Peninsula, such as the North Korean nuclear problem and the U.S. ground forces reduction program in South Korea? MR. BOUCHER: You're dealing, I think, with two separate things here. First of all, on the agreements that they reached last week, I think we warmly welcomed that. We said that any steps that can reduce tensions on the peninsula are something that we welcome, and we certainly see the agreements of last week in those lights. In terms of the question of nuclear safeguards, that's, as you know, an unconditional obligation that the North took on, and we think that they should fulfill those obligations to sign and implement a safeguards agreement as soon as possible. Q Richard, how about the ground forces reduction program? You stopped the reduction -- ground forces reduction program because of the North Korean nuclear threat and because of the recently signed reconciliation treaty, you are going to lift that kind of stopping policy. MR. BOUCHER: As you correctly point out, and, as I think Secretary Cheney and Secretary Baker both explained during recent trips to the region, that the delay in the further withdrawal of ground forces was because of the nuclear situation on the peninsula. And I just told you that the situation with regard to the North, with regard to nuclear proliferation, hasn't changed, so I'm not aware of any policy change in the issue of ground forces either. Q Richard, to follow up on that, does the signing of the agreements last week in any way change the U.S. view of U.S. diplomatic contact, or high-level contact, with North Korea? For example, would it facilitate a high-level visit to North Korea or perhaps high-level meetings with North Koreans outside that rather circumscribed situation that exists in Beijing, and so on? MR. BOUCHER: I'm not aware of any change in that situation at this point, Ralph. I'll check and see if we have anything we can say. Q You said, at the outset, that you would welcome any steps that lead to reduction of tensions, or words to that effect. Does this agreement constitute a step toward reconciliation? MR. BOUCHER: Didn't I say that? I said we welcome any steps that move toward reconciliation and lessening of tension on the peninsula -- Q You could have said that 2 weeks ago. MR. BOUCHER: -- and we certainly see this agreement in that light. That was what I said. Q Richard, one more on Yugoslavia. Other European Community states are arguing/debating/advising/consulting Germany on its step. Is the United States involved in any diplomatic contacts on this? MR. BOUCHER: We, of course, have been in regular contact with allies and friends on this issue. And, yes, we have made our views on recognition known to the other countries. Q Richard, I'm sorry to go back to the U.N.-Zionism thing one more time. Just one more question on that. Is the U.S. aware of any nation which intends to oppose repeal? Has any nation told the United States that it intends to oppose repeal of the resolution? Is there an opposition, I guess, is the question? MR. BOUCHER: Ralph, the answer is yes. I'm sure there will be nations that vote "no." Since we've been urging countries around the world to support this process, we've also been hearing back from them what their intentions are. I'm not going to get into vote-counting for you. I said we will continue to work to get maximum support for the resolution right up to the last moment. Q I guess what I'm trying to get at is, you earlier kept saying we're trying to get support from around the world. There must be some nations who have told you that they're not interested in discussing supporting the resolution with you. I'm trying to get a little more specific than you're willing to be about where the opposition is. Is there an opposition? MS. TUTWILER: And I'm trying to get less specific than you want me to be, Ralph. There are certainly -- we will see when the vote happens what different countries vote. I'm sure you will probably see some countries that vote "no." That's not too surprising in the United Nations. At the same time, we have been talking to countries around the world. I'm not aware that any country has said they don't want to talk to us about it, although they may not agree with us. We're pleased with the level of support that we've got on the issue of co-sponsorship, and we'll continue to work to get whatever support we can as we proceed to a vote. Q Last year, when the U.S. went for a vote on use of force in the Gulf and so on, the U.S. made it clear in public statements and in private meetings that the U.S. would look very carefully at the voting record on this subject; and that votes by individual nations might well affect their relations with the United States. You haven't used that language today. Is that not a factor in this vote-getting effort? MR. BOUCHER: Let's wait until after the vote and see if we have any comment at that point on how people voted -- what that might mean to us. This is an important issue to us. It was from the outset when the President denounced it; and certainly we, in general terms, take people's voting records into account, as we view our relationship with them. There's an annual report on voting records in the United Nations. But as far as tying something specifically to this vote, I think we'll wait for the outcome of the vote. Q If the vote succeeds, do you expect that Israel's position in these talks in the building will in any way be affected? MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. That would be speculation on my part. Let's get to the vote and see what happens. Q Is there any sort of a quid pro quo as far as the United States would push for this resolution in exchange for any specific guarantees from Israel? MR. BOUCHER: I think right at the outset Margaret said that there was no specific link to the peace talks; since many, many years ago, 1975, I think, was when we expressed our opposition to this resolution. We've always thought it was the wrong thing. Those are the terms in which we've addressed it. Those are the terms in which we're addressing it now. Q Richard, do you have an update on Haiti? MR. BOUCHER: What are you looking for, George -- numbers? Q Numbers. MR. BOUCHER: We've got numbers. Why don't I run through the whole thing. I don't think we've done this in awhile. Some of these numbers will be repetitive, some will be updated, and they are all approximate, as we usually say. There are 189 Haitians who have been picked up since Friday morning, according to the information provided by the Coast Guard this morning -- 22 of these on Friday, 129 on Saturday, and 38 on Sunday. The total number of Haitian boat people picked up since the coup now stands at approximately 7,477. Of these, 6,201 are ashore at the U.S. Naval facility at Guantanamo Bay; and 174 are on board Coast Guard cutters. According to the latest figures received from INS, a total of 5,50l Haitians have been interviewed thus far. Of these, 1,012 have been found to have a plausible claim to asylum. Two hundred and twelve of those have been flown to the United States and the remainder will follow shortly. The location of the remainder of the Haitians picked up since the coup is as follows: -- 73 of the 100 who went to temporary safehaven facilities in Venezuela returned voluntarily to Haiti on December 3; -- 27 remain in temporary safehaven facilities run by the UNHCR in Venezuela; -- 250 are in temporary safehaven facilities run by UNHCR in Honduras. UNHCR in Honduras has advised us that 115 of these people have asked to be repatriated to Haiti, and we expect that their repatriation will take place this week. A UNHCR official is making arrangements in Haiti to receive them; -- I just heard this morning that there are 20 individuals at Guantanamo Bay who have been interviewed by UNHCR and who also want to go back to Haiti voluntarily; -- 538 were repatriated to Haiti by the Coast Guard. Two have been medically evacuated to the United States. Q Where will all the 1,012, I guess it is -- where will they be in the United States? MR. BOUCHER: I think they were going to be flown to Miami. I don't know exactly where they will be there. You might check with INS. Q Do you have anything on the process under which the OAS is trying to get President Aristide back to Port-au-Prince? MR. BOUCHER: The OAS is continuing its efforts in Port-au-Prince and in Caracas to find a solution to Haiti's crisis. We think it's important for all sides in the negotiation to put the interests of Haiti first. The OAS-sponsored negotiations are the way to resolve the situation in Haiti. Q Richard, are you aware of the U.N. report that some of those who have been voluntarily repatriated have been almost immediately arrested upon their return? MR. BOUCHER: Jim, I saw some press reports late last week. We checked into that, and we found that one group of people that went back voluntarily had been taken to a police station for some questioning. They spent several hours there. Our Embassy, as well as I think some others, intervened. They left for their homes after a few hours, I think late at night -- after midnight or so. Our understanding is that there were some questions that the Haitian authorities wanted to ask of them but that they were released. I'm not aware that that has happened subsequently. Q As far as you know, then, there is no general punitive measures taken against the returnees? MR. BOUCHER: That's right. We've checked into that situation again. I think there were some various reports late last week. We looked at it again. The situation in Haiti is tense. There are reports of shootings -- shooting being heard in the city. But at this point, as far as any pattern of persecution developing or any persecution of individuals who have gone back, we don't have any reports of that. Q Richard, does the State Department have an assessment on how the economic sanctions are working in Haiti -- the effect of those sanctions? MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if I have an overall assessment of the sanctions in particular. We know that there have been gas lines and fuel shortages. There is no apparent food shortage at this point. There was an OAS mission that went down about a week or 10 days ago to look at the humanitarian aid situation. We understand that the OAS Secretary General said he would release a report on that very soon. Q So there isn't a -- as the Washington Post reported on Saturday -- State Department report foreseeing food shortages in a short time? MR. BOUCHER: I don't have such a report for you at this point, Alan. I think the Washington Post talked about an internal document. I'll see if I can get you an assessment of the situation in Haiti as regards the sanctions. But the basic overview is like that. Q But if there is such an internal document predicting famine or food shortages, as we euphemistically call them, you, of course, wouldn't seek to hide that? MR. BOUCHER: Alan, at this point, I'd say our view is what I just said -- that there is no apparent food shortage; that there is a more detailed report that has been done by the OAS. We've been told that will be made available shortly. Q Richard, of the 200-some Haitians found to have plausible claims and now in Florida, at least some of those people have been there now for several weeks, I think. Have any of the cases proceeded beyond that cut of plausible claims and proceeded on? MR. BOUCHER: I don't know, Chris. That's a question you'll have to ask the INS about. Q Have you an analysis for why there are so many more Haitians who have been found to have plausible claims? The proportion is one-in-seven now, and in earlier phases of the problem, it was much lower. MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't have an analysis. I'm not sure if INS could do that for you. I think Margaret was asked that last week, and she said we really can't say precisely why that is; that the INS has teams down there who interview people, who go through and try to determine if individuals -- and it's done on an individual basis -- have a plausible claim. I can't give you an analysis of how the numbers turn out any more than I can tell you why there were 22 boat people picked up on Friday and 129 on Saturday. Q Are they doing a better job of interviewing, then? MR. BOUCHER: I am sure they've been doing a good job all along, Ted. Q The taking of these people to a police station represents a change, I believe, in the policy. In the past, the Haitians had been taken to the Red Cross and then released. I wonder, do you consider this a troubling new development? MR. BOUCHER: As I said, it was something that occurred, something that we were concerned about, and that we think we resolved that evening. I had a more detailed rundown of it, I think, last week. Let me see if I can get that for you. Q One question about Cambodia, please. The venue for the Cambodian peace conference is moving from Phnom Penh to a certain place in Thailand because the Cambodian people do not tolerate the leaders of the Khmer Rouge, such as Khieu Samphan and Pol Pot. What will they do if the people do not receive the Khmer Rouge leaders to their [inaudible]? MR. BOUCHER: That's known as a hypothetical question. We have supported the U.N. process, the formation of the Supreme National Council, and the attempts of the United Nations to address the issues that have come up. We continue to support that process. Q While we're in that area, do you have anything on Burma? MR. BOUCHER: No. I think we put out a statement Friday about our concerns about some of the things going on there. Q Richard, in South Africa: Are we going to be sending a team there to the talks, the first round of the constitutional talks? MR. BOUCHER: I hadn't heard of any team; no. Q Thank you. (Press briefing concluded at 12:40 p.m.)