US Department of State Daily Briefing #24: Friday, 2/14/92

Boucher Source: State Department Deputy Spokesman Richard Boucher Description: Washington, DC Date: Feb, 14 19922/14/92 Category: Briefings Region: MidEast/North Africa, Caribbean, E/C Europe, Eurasia Country: Iran, Haiti, Libya, Israel, Algeria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yugoslavia (former), USSR (former) Subject: Arms Control, Mideast Peace Process, Regional/Civil Unrest, Democratization, Human Rights, Nuclear Nonproliferation 12:24 P.M. (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED) MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. My only announcement today is in the way of housekeeping, to remind you that you have a 3-day weekend coming up. Monday is a Federal holiday, and we won't be briefing on Monday. With that, I'd be glad to take your questions. George. Q Could you tell us the drill concerning the Supreme Court deadline this afternoon regarding the Haitian question? MR. BOUCHER: No, I can't. I think you'll have to get that from Justice. Q 3:00 o'clock. Q Richard, today is the third anniversary of the fatwa, or death sentence passed by Iran on Salman Rushdie. Does the United States have any words to mark this event? MR. BOUCHER: I'd note that at the time that Khomeini issued the decree, President Bush called it deeply offensive to the norms of civilized behavior and said we would hold Tehran accountable for any ensuing actions. That remains our position. Recent statements by senior Iranian officials confirm that the decree remains in effect. We've repeatedly cited the death threat against Salman Rushdie as evidence of Iran's disregard for basic standards of behavior and Iranian support for terrorism. As a designated state sponsor of terrorism, Iran is already subject to a range of U.S. sanctions. Along with other nations, we have publicly urged the Islamic Republic to lift the decree. Our efforts in this regard have not diminished. Q When the Japanese translator of "The Satanic Versus" was stabbed to death last April and when the Italian translator of "The Satanic Versus" was stabbed and wounded around the same time, how did the United States then hold Iran accountable? MR. BOUCHER: Alan, I don't know what we said at the time. As I said, Iran, for a variety of reasons, including its support for the assassination of Iranian dissidents overseas, remains on the terrorism list. For those reasons, they also remain subject to the sanctions and restrictions that we have against Iran.

[Haiti: Repatriation Issues]

Q Can we go back to the drill on Haiti and tell us if they're still being repatriated and what the State Department still believes, and nobody is being persecuted for his political views? Who goes back? MR. BOUCHER: Who goes back? Let me start out with the numbers, if I can find them. Five hundred and eight Haitians are due to be repatriated to Haiti from Guantanamo today. This will bring the total number of Haitians repatriated since the coup to 3,403. That number includes 538 that went back in November. Further repatriations are expected to take place next week on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. As for the issue you raise on persecution and violence, let me remind you that our human rights report, for example, and our other statements, discuss and condemn the violence that's going on in Haiti. The judgment that we have to make under our law is whether individuals have a well-founded fear of persecution, and that's why we screen people. We interview the people who are picked up at sea. Those who have a plausible claim are allowed to pursue their claim. Q Richard, on Haiti again. Has the Embassy in Haiti been able to come up with anything on its investigation on the incident involving Alan Tomlinson and Matt Sheppard? MR. BOUCHER: At this point, I don't have any information on that. It's a report that we take seriously, and we will be looking into the report. We also -- I understand our Embassy is meeting with the two journalists who reported yesterday on their detention up-country -- that they'll be meeting with them this afternoon. The detention of the journalists is something we also take very seriously, and that we expect to raise with the Haitian authorities. Q Concerning the substance of the story, do we have any information to show that pro-Aristide supporters throughout the country have been the victims of a recent crackdown by the military regime there? MR. BOUCHER: I wouldn't phrase it the way you're phrasing it. The situation, as we see it, is that there is violence and persecution in Haiti. Our human rights report, as I said, goes into considerable detail on that point. But the policy question, the choice that we're faced with, relates to the qualifications to asylum and whether people sent back might be persecuted. Political violence or unrest in a country does not automatically mean that all its citizens qualify for asylum in the United States. Those who were picked up sea who were interviewed, who have this plausible claim for asylum, are allowed to pursue their claims. Those who don't qualify for asylum are returned to Haiti under the bilateral agreement. The agreement's purpose, to begin with, is to try to make sure that those who are seeking better conditions don't put to sea and risk death. We're concerned when we hear allegations that people are being persecuted for trying to leave Haiti. We've increased our Embassy staff to better investigate these allegations. We're in contact with human rights and humanitarian groups in Haiti, including the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Haitian Red Cross, and various other groups. So far, we have no evidence that returnees are being singled out for persecution. All Haitians -- those who have returned and those who never left -- obviously face a very difficult situation. We're doing what we can to change that. We continue to work with the OAS to try to and restore democratic rule to Haiti, the surest way to end Haiti's suffering and to answer Haiti's humanitarian needs. Q Is anyone from the -- as a follow-up -- is there anyone from the Embassy who is checking out reports specifically dealing with the "chefs de section" who were reportedly involved in the incident with Tomlinson and Sheppard? MR. BOUCHER: As I said, we take those reports seriously. We're going to be looking into it. We're meeting with the reporters involved this afternoon, and I'm sure our Embassy will take it from there. Q Have we previously been aware of the activities of this particular group, which are apparently active in the rural areas of Haiti? MR. BOUCHER: I think the question of the chefs de section is addressed in our human rights report. I'm told it's either the second or third paragraph on Haiti. It's prominently mentioned. Q Richard, is the State Department able to identify the people who, when they try to leave the country, were threatened with persecution? Do you know who those people are? Because if you do, and they got out, the question is whether any of them were repatriated? Because I suppose the logic would be, if someone is threatened with doing something and he does it, it's conceivable he would face at least as much a threat if he came back -- when he came back. MR. BOUCHER: I think that's the point of interviewing people -- to find out on an individual basis, to talk to them, to hear from them their stories about any threats that might exist against them on an individual basis. That's why those who have such well-founded fears of persecution, or who appear to, are allowed to pursue their claims and are not sent back. We send back people who do not appear to have that kind of plausible claim, that kind of specific individual reason to fear persecution upon being sent back. In the cases that we've checked out, and based on the information that we have available to us from this wide network of contacts, those judgments appear so far to be accurate. We don't have any information that the people that we have sent back are the people that face that fear or have, in fact, been persecuted upon their return. Q Richard, do we have any numbers on the number of "double-backers" that we've had? And how many of these have been granted entry to pursue asylum claims? We've been asking the question since -- MR. BOUCHER: I don't have the numbers on that. I think we told you at one point that INS wasn't really counting them that way. We know here only of the 42 that have been reported, but you would really have to check the numbers with INS. Q According to the documents that some of the refugee groups who are advocating for the Haitians, they say five of these "double-backers" told INS initially that they were Aristide supporters and that they were still sent back. But on the second time back, they were given entry. Do you have anything to confirm or deny that? MR. BOUCHER: No. That's a question that you really have to ask INS. Now, we had very specific reports that we got of the interviews with at least four of those people, and we're seeking the rest of them. When we went to check out those reports on the ground, both in parts of Port-au-Prince and in another city called Petit Goave, not only did we not find any information to corroborate those reports but we found some information that directly contradicted the stories that these people had told at Guantanamo. Q Can you say by how much the Embassy staff has been increased? MR. BOUCHER: We've increased the Embassy staff in about the last week by ten people to work specifically on refugees. That includes two INS officers. I think, as we've said, the Embassy is using all the people available that it can to work on this subject, and we have something like 18 people working either full or part-time on the question of refugees and monitoring. Q Can you bring us up to date on how the State Department is doing in trying to round up the Middle East parties for a February 24 session? Q Can we have one more question on Haiti? MR. BOUCHER: Let me try to answer Barry's question quickly. The Jordanians, I think, have stated publicly that they plan to attend. We've been in contact with all the parties. We think it's up to them to announce publicly their plans concerning attendance. We certainly hope that they will attend the next round of bilateral negotiations, and we encourage them to do so. Q Well, the Secretary said some while ago that he thought it would be appropriate someplace down the road to have the talks in the Middle East since the talks concern the Middle East. Do you have any idea when that might turn out to the be the case? Is there some round in the future that the Administration figures ought to be in the Middle East? This is Round 3 coming up now. MR. BOUCHER: We've stated our view on that in the past, Barry. The exact arrangements that will be made, I think are for the parties to decide and announce. Q No, no, I'm sorry. Well, the formula has been the U.S. says the talks are here, then, at this time; come or don't come. So I don't know if the parties get to decide the formula. Because so far only one party -- actually, there are two -- have agreed to come February 24 to Washington. Israel prefers another formula, and I think Syria does, too. So, really, the U.S. has something to do with concocting the formula. MR. BOUCHER: Barry, that's not the formula that I've expressed. I haven't expressed a formula like that. As I said, we're in contact with all the parties on the next round. And other issues regarding timing and venue, and things like that, we have been all along. At this point, I don't have any further announcements to make. Q Richard, the State Department -- sorry. The United States, which is holding the Chair at the U.N. Security Council, I understand, is beginning consultations today on a resolution that will include mandatory sanctions against Libya. Can you give us any detail on that? MR. BOUCHER: Alan, I don't know why you say you understand that. There is no resolution that's yet been tabled on this subject. Q Well, I'm a journalist and I talk to people and they tell me things. Are you beginning consultations? MR. BOUCHER: We've been in consultations all along with other countries about this issue. We had one resolution. I believe that resolution itself -- maybe not in the resolution but at the time we talked about if Libya didn't comply, we would consider further measures. We've been discussing these things with other countries, especially with the U.K. and France, which are the two other countries most directly involved. Q Are you now putting some time limits on it, though? MR. BOUCHER: Not that I've heard of, no. Q Richard, the Israelis this morning say that the United States is giving next weekend as the deadline for proposing or presenting the United States with ten favorite cities for holding the bilateral talks outside the United States and that the 24th will be the last time that they will be talking here. Do you have any comment on this? MR. BOUCHER: I hadn't seen that report, and I'm not in a position to comment. Q And also on the same subject, in the last bilateral talks here -- the round -- I think the second round, there was a proposal made by the Israelis to the Palestinian delegation about self-government. Today's papers in Israel say that Israel will not be discussing in the upcoming talks -- the 24th -- anything of such a nature, but the whole talks will be procedural matters that they will be discussing. They are reneging on the proposal they made last month here in the talks. Do you have any comment on this? MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't. Q Can we turn the question around, though? From the State Department view, should this next round be a matter of dealing with substance or are there still procedural matters that ought to be ironed out first? MR. BOUCHER: Barry, our view remains the view that we've expressed before -- that we think it's important that the parties get beyond procedural matters and discuss substance. Q Richard, give us a read on the situation in Algeria today. Are things worse? MR. BOUCHER: The reports that I have from Algeria are as follows: Following Friday's prayers, there was no attempt to stage the march of the Islamic Salvation Front which had previously been called. We have one report of a shooting incident at Martyr's Square in which one child was hit. We are concerned about the upsurge in violence. As we've said repeatedly, we urge all parties to remain calm and to find a peaceful solution to the crisis. As the Secretary said in Congress last week, we hope that Algeria gets back on the road to political reform as quickly as possible. Q Richard, by chance, you might look for a reaction from State to an Arms Control Association report that since President Bush proposed limiting arms sales to the Middle East in May, the United States has transferred roughly $6 billion in weapons to Middle Eastern countries. Are you able to say whether these transfers are consistent with the President's initiative? MR. BOUCHER: Barry, first of all, I haven't done the total myself. The transfers are notified and announced publicly in accordance with the procedures that we always follow, so I don't know what the numbers are. As you know, our arms tranfers are done under very careful criteria that are set out in law and policy. Yes, I would say that any transfers that we engaged in are fully consistent with the President's initiative and the guidelines that have been agreed upon for conventional weapons transfers already by the five countries involved in the initiative. Q Just to make sure -- it so happens there's an Arms Control Association report and there's an Arms Control and Disarmament Agency report. I was asking you, of course, about the Arms Control Association -- MR. BOUCHER: I know you were. The Arms Control and Disarmament Agency report, I think, only has numbers up to 1989. Q On the peace talks again, can you tell me if the meeting between Ambassador Djerejian and Mr. Jaja of Lebanon, on Tuesday, focused on Lebanon's participation in the peace talks or other issues? MR. BOUCHER: The meeting, as I understand it, focused on the situation inside Lebanon -- our support for the continuation of the process begun under the Taif accords. Q We were told in Moscow that the Syrian-Lebanese boycott of the Moscow Conference did not spill over, did not carry over, to the bilaterals that the U.S. expected they would be attending. Even though they haven't announced yet, does the U.S. expect Syria to -- what? -- and Lebanon, which tends to do what Syria does -- does the U.S. expect those two countries to be in Washington? Or have you heard something that is negative along those lines? MR. BOUCHER: Barry, we're still at least a week and a half to ten days away from it. We are in touch with the parties. We hope that they all will attend. We encourage them to attend. What their specific plans are is for them to announce. Q Richard, can you please elaborate further on the meeting with Mr. Jaja and Ambassador Djerejian? MR. BOUCHER: I'll do that after the briefing. I don't have the piece of paper with me. Q Would you please, while you are making contacts with the parties, ask the Israelis if you can, or inquire about a statement attributed early this week to Mr. Netanyahu who says that Israel will be offering cantonization of the West Bank for cantons of heavily populated Palestinian territory instead of self-government? That's what the Israelis want to propose to the Palestinians. MR. BOUCHER: We'll take your suggestion on-board. If you really want to know what the Israeli Government thinks or you want an explanation of Mr. Netanyahu's remarks, I'd suggest you question him. Q Richard, is something there you can take down from the shelf on Iran's nuclear program? Does the U.S. -- I know it's a little bit off the wall, but it's come up -- is there an assessment by the State Department or the U.S. Government as to whether Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program? MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything on the shelf on the subject, Barry. As you know, we've said that repeated Iranian statements in recent months call into question their commitment to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. There was an IAEA inspection team that was recently there, and we welcomed that at the time. I don't have anything really further I can say at this point. Q You just referred to the Taif Agreement. Do you have any progress report on how that is being implemented? Could you get one? My question goes to this: The agreement set out the demilitarization or disarming of various armed groups in Lebanon. Palestinian and Christian militias have been disarmed, but the Hizbollah has not been disarmed. It should have been by now. I'm interested in the State Department's view on how the Taif Agreement is being implemented in view of the fact that Hizbollah has not been disarmed. MR. BOUCHER: Alan, I don't think I'm in a position to do the analysis of that. I think you see the reports that are out there, and you can do your own analysis against the agreement. I'd say that we have seen the process underway. We have welcomed the progress it has made, and we encourage everybody to continue the process. Q Richard, Rolf Ekeus came down yesterday to talk with Brent Scowcroft, apparently about some stepping up and the effort to get ballistic missiles out of Iraq. Is there anything that you can share with us on that? MR. BOUCHER: He was over here as well. I understand he met with Mr. Kanter yesterday and other senior State Department people. As you know, the President said on January 31 to the Security Council that we must continue to focus on Iraq's capability to build or maintain weapons of mass destruction. We certainly support continued intrusive inspections by the U.N. and the IAEA in Iraq to determine the full extent of the Iraqi program for weapons of mass destruction. We also strongly support both the U.N. Special Commission and the IAEA moving promptly to gain the destruction of a large number of Iraqi weapons-related facilities and equipment. That is something that's specified in the U.N. Security Council resolutions. We expect Iraq to cooperate fully with ongoing inspections and U.N. destruction demands. The U.N. Special Commission Chairman Ekeus met yesterday with General Scowcroft and senior State Department officials. We've reiterated to him our support for the Special Commission's work. Q Is that basically what Mr. Kanter read to the Iraqi diplomat, or can you give us some report on the talks? MR. BOUCHER: Excuse me? Q I'm sorry. Are you getting any place? MR. BOUCHER: What Iraqi diplomat? This is Rolf Ekeus-- Q Oh, I'm sorry. MR. BOUCHER: -- the Swede who's in charge of the U.N. Special Commission -- Q I misunderstood. MR. BOUCHER: -- whose efforts we fully support. I didn't say we fully supported the efforts of an Iraqi diplomat. Q I'm sorry. I misunderstood. Q Richard, will the U.N. Special Commission shortly be entering into a stepped-up destruction phase on Iraqi missiles and other weapons facilities? MR. BOUCHER: Mark, the exact timing of specific inspections is something that the Special Commission and the IAEA are going to have to set. There have been something like 30 inspections so far. I think the tenth nuclear team just left the other day, and I just said that we strongly support their moving promptly to gain the destruction. That's something that's specified in the U.N. resolutions, and we support that moving along briskly. Q But you don't know the timetable. MR. BOUCHER: I don't have the timetable formula. That's something they'd have to specify. Q Richard, you promised two hours ago that we would go back to Haiti shortly. MR. BOUCHER: Sorry, George. You didn't have your hand up again. Q You said before that there is no evidence that returnees are being singled out for persecution. I think the previous formulation as of two or three days ago was that you had no evidence that any returnees had been persecuted, and this is a slight change which leaves open the possibility that some may have been persecuted. MR. BOUCHER: George, I'm sorry if we changed the words on you today. We don't have any evidence that any returnees have been persecuted for having gone off and come back. But we will continue to look into any allegations or reports that we get on that subject, obviously. Q Richard, not to belabor this point, but groups like -- human rights groups like Amnesty International and some others described even today again that Haiti is a killing field essentially; that they are getting reports of people being tortured and killed. What explains this dramatic difference between what they're hearing, and what your people apparently are not? MR. BOUCHER: I don't think there is that much of a difference, and I think if you look at our Human Rights Report, you'll see how we report on the very deplorable conditions that do exist in Haiti, and it's for that reason that we interview people to examine, based on our law, whether those individuals would face this kind of violence if they were sent back to Haiti. People that we think have a plausible claim to this well-founded fear of persecution are in fact the people who are allowed to pursue that claim, and who are not sent back. People that don't have a plausible claim that they might face that kind of violence or be singled out or have that well-founded fear, those are the people that are sent back. And to date in our research and our efforts to keep in contact with these people, and our efforts to check out reports that we get, we have not found any documented cases where the people that were sent back in fact did suffer persecution as a result.

[Former Yugoslavia: Ceasefire/US Conditions for Recognition]

Q Richard, on Yugoslavia, do you have an updated assessment of the Yugoslavian civil war, for one; two, whether any policy changes are to be expected vis-a-vis recognition of Slovenia and Croatia in the near future; and, thirdly, whether the United States is prepared to contribute peacekeepers to a U.N. force and, if not, perhaps provide logistical support like air transport, things like that? MR. BOUCHER: O.K. At this point, Frank, I'm running out of fingers. But number one was the situation on the ground in Yugoslavia. As we've, I think, noted before, the ceasefire is generally holding. There have been and has been an upsurge in some of these incidents of violence. We're concerned about that, but -- well, we're very concerned about that. But at the same time I do have to say that in general the situation is holding. On the question of recognition, the Secretary addressed that in his testimony last week. He made very clearly the points that the recognition policy is under review; the questions of recognition remain under review, and we'll continue to look at them; and that the key factor in our judgment was whether what we do or don't do contributes to the peace process there. So I don't really have any change in that. That remains the situation. As far as the U.S. contribution to the peacekeeping operation, I think I'd first have to point out the Secretary General has not yet presented his final estimate of the forces necessary and the cost of such a force and things like that. We don't anticipate that any U.S. ground forces would take part in the actual peacekeeping operations, but we will be offering other assistance such as logistical and communications support. Q Richard, can you tell us if there's been any dialogue between the United States and U.N. officials on the possibility that U.S. forces might be part of a peacekeeping force? Has any request been made, and what was the American response? MR. BOUCHER: We have stayed in close touch with the U.N. envoy and the Secretary General on the issue of Yugoslavia. I'm not aware of any request. As I said, we don't anticipate that the U.S. troops -- U.S. ground troops would actually take part in a peacekeeping operation, but we're going to offer this logistical and communications support. Q Can you elaborate on that a little bit? I mean, I can think of all sorts of possibilities -- MR. BOUCHER: I can't at this point, because, as they work out the final details of the operation, we'll have to see what the details are of our help. Q I didn't mean so much on the details. I meant on the thinking as to where peacekeepers should come from. Is it the feeling that the European situation and the Europeans should take the lead? I mean, you know, why would the U.S. not be part of it? What's the thinking behind it? MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I can really do that from here, Barry, because the Secretary General has to work out those questions of composition, size, cost, and things like that, and it's really for him to determine. Q Back on the Salman Rushdie matter, are you considering any new initiatives in his behalf, or are you just going to stick with the sanctions? MR. BOUCHER: I'm not exactly sure what you're proposing. Q I'm not -- MR. BOUCHER: We're sticking with the sanctions. We're sticking with our condemnation of Iranian support for state terrorism, and we're sticking with our -- urgings along with those of other governments that the death threat be lifted. As you know, Iran has not yet done that. Q Has the Secretary revealed to people, wherever they are now, his future plans? I mean, will he celebrate President's Day in Washington or mark another holiday overseas? Do you have any idea what lies ahead? When will we see him again, on television or wherever? MR. BOUCHER: Barry, the party today is in Yekaterinberg and going to Chelyabinsk. They may -- probably have finished that already. Over the weekend they'll be in Tashkent and Samarkand. They get to Moscow on Monday and return here on Tuesday. At least that was the way -- Q (Inaudible) Moscow will be wrapped -- arms control will be done in one day basically. MR. BOUCHER: I don't want to prejudice exactly the Secretary's schedule. I have to say that was the latest schedule I had a couple of days ago. I understand that they're keeping to it, but I don't have any precise revisions or changes that might be made on the road. Q Thank you. Q Monday you -- Q Thank you! Q Monday you expressed your concern about abusing Israeli -- or Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Yesterday, Israel said that they will not conduct an investigation into the killing or the death of Mustafa al-Akawi, and they consider the file is closed. What do you comment on such answer to your concerns? MR. BOUCHER: I've said before that we were concerned about the reports coming out of Israel about the mistreatment of Al-Akawi while in Israeli custody. We have raised this particular case with Israeli authorities. As you note, the press reports indicate the investigation has been completed, and the results are being presented to the Attorney General. We don't yet at this point have the details. Q But you'll have future comment on that? MR. BOUCHER: Perhaps. Q Thank you. (The briefing concluded at 12:53 p.m.)