US Department of State Daily Briefing #25: Tuesday, 2/18/92

Boucher Source: State Department Deputy Spokesman Richard Boucher Description: Washington, DC Date: Feb, 18 19922/18/92 Category: Briefings Region: MidEast/North Africa, Eurasia, Southeast Asia, Caribbean, Subsaharan Africa, East Asia Country: Israel, Libya, USSR (former), Russia, Burma, Haiti, Zaire, Japan Subject: Mideast Peace Process, POW/MIA Issues, State Department, Regional/Civil Unrest, Refugees, Immigration, Terrorism 12:18 P. M. (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED) MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I don't have any statements or announcements, so I'd be glad to take your questions.

[Middle East Peace Process: Resumption of Bilateral Talks/ Acceptances/Israeli Detention of Palestinian Delegates]

Q Richard, there's a little suggestion now from the Middle East that may even grow that the Palestinians will delay their arrival here, protesting Israel's jailing, I guess, of two Palestinians who are on the delegation. Does the State Department have any remarks about that? MR. BOUCHER: Let me run down where we are on this, Barry. First, it's important to note that all the parties informed us that they accepted to come to the bilateral talks in Washington, starting on February 24. As Barry mentioned, today the Palestinians announced that they have suspended their travel plans because of the detention of two Palestinians who had been recently added to the delegation. We urge the Palestinians to continue the process and to come to Washington for negotiations. As you know, the United States long opposed the practice of administrative detention as it pertains to the treatment of inhabitants of the occupied territories. We've raised this issue with the Israeli Government, particularly the administrative detention of Mohammed Hourani and Jamal al-Shoubaki. At the same time, we urged the Palestinians to act in their broader interests by pursuing peace negotiations here in Washington next week. Q When you say "raised," it is in no sense a protest or anything formal like that -- just a raised eyebrow, or did it go beyond that? MR. BOUCHER: We've talked to the Israelis, both here and in Israel, and we expressed our concerns about the practice of administrative detention, particularly as it applies to these two individuals. Q Did you ask them specifically to release these two individuals, Richard? MR. BOUCHER: I don't know in that great a detail exactly how it was worded. I think we expressed our opposition to their detention. That should be sufficient to explain it. Q Do you see any link between rising violence in Lebanon and the peace process? MR. BOUCHER: No, we don't, Jim. I mean, we believe that the plans are still basically on track for the talks in Washington. I believe we over the weekend expressed our concern about the rising cycle of violence in the Middle East in recent days. We said we regretted the loss of life in Israel and in Lebanon, and we've urged all concerned to exercise maximum restraint. I think you're very familiar with our position as I've restated it today that it's important that all the parties continue to pursue the avenue towards peace that's offered by these negotiations. Q I know you don't like to get hypothetical usually, but when you say the talks are "on track," if the Palestinians are not here on time, would the United States think that the talks should proceed or -- they've been delayed on a couple of occasions -- the various parties? MR. BOUCHER: They have been. I'm not exactly sure how it's going to turn out this time. But, as I said, we've had acceptances from all the parties. Now we note that the Palestinians have made this announcement, but we would urge them and all the others to come to Washington and proceed with the negotiations. Q Richard, is there a closing end this time because of Ramadan, March 4? I mean, are you working within a shorter time frame than before when it's usually been open-ended and, if people didn't show up for a couple of days, you could tack on a day or so at the end? MR. BOUCHER: Not that I'm aware of. I'm sure we'd do whatever the parties felt was appropriate. Q Richard, on this business of -- MR. BOUCHER: Patrick, did you have something? Q Yes. Did you notice an announcement out of Tunis saying that the delegation will be there on time? MR. BOUCHER: I didn't notice that, no. Joe. Q I was going to ask, do we favor, or do we -- aren't we opposed to the addition of these two men, who have been detained, to the delegation and their coming to Washington to participate in this peace process after all the commitments made by our government to Jerusalem? MR. BOUCHER: I don't have a definitive reading one way or the other on these two individuals. Q Richard, does the United States Government have any problem with the use of military equipment in such things as the attack on the convoy of the head of Hizbollah? MR. BOUCHER: It's something I'd have to look into. I forget exactly what the rules are on that. Q Yes, would you look into it to see if that comes under the purview of the export -- Q There have been reports in Israeli newspapers that the Secretary of State has specifically sent a letter to the Israeli Government, asking that this time they come prepared with a detailed autonomy plan? Do you have anything to say about those reports? MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't. Q I mean, you're not denying it? MR. BOUCHER: It's not something that I've looked into, Mary. I think in the past we've declined to get into that level of detail about our discussions with the various parties on the substance of the negotiations. Q I noticed on -- it must have been Sunday that State through you reacted to the assassination of the Hizbollah figure. MR. BOUCHER: To the rising cycle of violence in the Middle East. Q The familiar rising cycle of violence reaction. There have been all sorts of analyses of how this fellow figured, particularly in the release of the American hostages. Do you have anything along those lines whether the United States sees him as somebody who helped finally gain the release of the last American hostages? He's been described as a moderate or -- MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any description like that for you, Barry. Q Richard, there are reports of another Israeli helicopter rocket attack this morning in southern Lebanon. MR. BOUCHER: I've heard those reports. I think our position remains what it's always been, and that we hope parties will avoid provocative action. We hope they'll pursue the peace process. I don't have anything particular to say about that attack. Q Richard, do you have anything on Tami Arad's visit here to the State Department today -- who she saw, what she's here for? MR. BOUCHER: I understand she was going to see Peter Burleigh this morning -- I think with representatives of our Near East and South Asian Bureau as well. Q Do you have anything on the announcement that was apparently made by Hizbollah that at the moment of Musawi's burial, Arad was killed? MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't. I checked this morning to see if we had anything on the status of Ron Arad. We just don't. Q But does the United States Government believe that he's alive? MR. BOUCHER: Again, I don't have any information one way or the other on his status.

[Libya: Libyan Judge Clears Two Wanted in Bombing]

Q Richard, can we do Libya? A judge in Tripoli today, if I recall the story correctly, rejected the notion that these two indicted individuals should be sent out of the country to either the U.S. or Britain. Do you have any comment? MR. BOUCHER: George, I don't think it will come as any surprise to you that we don't put much faith or credence in what a Libyan judge might say. We think that a Libyan investigation or hearing is a travesty of justice and amounts to nothing more than another attempt by Libya to delay and to evade its responsibility. What Libya should and must do is comply promptly and in full with the trilateral demands made by France, the U.K. and the U.S. on November 27. Those demands were unanimously endorsed by the U.N. Security Council Resolution 731 on January 21. Q Do you have anything on a second resolution to follow up that one? MR. BOUCHER: Nothing new at this point. No.

[Former Soviet Union: Collision of Russian and US Submarines]

Q Has there been any diplomatic traffic on the collision of Russian and American nuclear submarines? MR. BOUCHER: I believe the Pentagon and the White House are explaining the incident itself. I don't think we've received anything directly from the Russians on it, other than the fact that Secretary Baker and President Yeltsin discussed it on Monday, as I think you're aware. Q Is there any indication of why they waited several days after it happened before they discussed it? MR. BOUCHER: Again, I think that's something for the Pentagon to talk about, perhaps more than we. My understanding is that they delayed any announcement of it so that in fact we could discuss it and, of course, Secretary Baker just got to Moscow on Sunday, and so he discussed it on Monday. Q Any handle on the international waters -- the discussion over who has -- MR. BOUCHER: No. I have nothing on that one. Q Richard, is there any reaction in the State Department on that Washington Post documentary last night on PBS on Saudi Arabia and Israel and the United States? MR. BOUCHER: I'm afraid I didn't watch it. I didn't -- Q You didn't see it? MR. BOUCHER: -- hear that there was anything in there that required our comment, Joe. Q Richard, the Secretary's coming back today, correct? MR. BOUCHER: Yes. This evening. Q All right. This evening. You recall, I'm sure, that he went to the Hill before he went to Moscow on arms control, and they had all sorts of suggestions on moving ahead post-START, and he is moving ahead. Does he have any plans to go back to those people informally or formally? There's not a problem, but there's a question about moving ahead with ratifying the treaty as is, and he was urged by Biden, for instance, to move fast, substitute numbers and, you know, they could go along swimmingly and have deeper reductions in the same treaty. Does he have any plans to see these folks or -- MR. BOUCHER: Barry, I don't know of any specific plans at this point. He's not back yet. He, of course, did discuss these issues, not only with President Yeltsin yesterday but with Foreign Minister Kozyrev today in Moscow. And I think we'll have to wait for his return to hear what his next plans are. Q You don't happen to know if the U.S. position still is ratify the treaty as is? MR. BOUCHER: I'm sure the U.S. position was amply explained by the Secretary in Moscow, and I don't yet have a transcript of what he said. Q Richard, any new development on the loan guarantees? There are supposed to be two top-level meetings this week. MR. BOUCHER: Nothing new on that; no. Q Nothing. Do you have any dates for their meetings? MR. BOUCHER: I haven't heard of any dates for their meetings. I'll try to check again tomorrow when he gets back. Q Richard, do you have any comment, or could you take a question, on whether the Department is going to send anyone up to the Hill on Friday for the Obey hearings on the loan guarantees? MR. BOUCHER: I hadn't heard about those. I'll have to check. Q Is this the place to ask about the reports of American prisoners of war, etc. -- post-World War II -- being shipped off to Russian camps? You know the story I mean, don't you? There's been a 3-day -- there's a Senate and House inquiry, so I don't know if this is the place. MR. BOUCHER: That's right. We've been working on this issue with the Russians. I'm afraid I don't have any updates for you. I'll have to get something for you, Barry. Q Richard, has the State Department noted the occurrences on the Burmese-Bangladeshi border where Burma is apparently expelling tens of thousands of members of the Muslim minority into Bangladesh where they are languishing in squalid refugee camps without much in the way of food and other necessary components of life? MR. BOUCHER: I'm sure we've noted it, Alan. I don't have anything particularly to say on it at this point. I'll see if there is something.

[Haiti: Boat People Repatriated/Related Issues]

Q Do you have anything new on Haiti today, particularly with respect to the fate of the repatriated Haitians? MR. BOUCHER: First, let me explain the numbers. There were 527 Haitians repatriated to Haiti from Guantanamo yesterday. There were no repatriations scheduled for today. This brings the total of Haitians repatriated since the coup to 3,930. Further repatriations are expected to take place this week on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Two hundred and fifty-one Haitians were picked up over the past four days. That's 92 on Friday, 34 on Sunday and 125 yesterday. That's the information from the Coast Guard. That brings the total -- since the Supreme Court decision on January 31, 14 boats with a total of 719 Haitians aboard have been interdicted. As far as the process goes, all repatriations of Haitians so far have been uneventful. Returnees have left the Coast Guard vessels, gone through immigration and customs processing, and received Red Cross assistance and departed the port without any incidents. Q You still have no reliable reports, or no reports of any mistreatment or persecution of these returned people? MR. BOUCHER: That's right. Our Embassy is still in touch with various international human rights and other humanitarian groups in Haiti. Embassy officers are also looking into allegations that they receive that returnees might have been persecuted. But, to date, we have no evidence that suggests that they are in fact being persecuted upon their return. Q Richard, do you have anything more about the NPR -- Q Why does the State Department think that 719 have left since the Supreme Court decision? Is there a theory about this? You made it very clear that you're going to send them back, and yet they keep leaving. MR. BOUCHER: I don't think I can analyze their motives, Johanna. As we've noted all along in this process, even before the coup when there was a clear and consistent pattern of repatriation, there were people who departed on these boats. So it's something that happens. I'm sure that people go for a variety of motives. These are the numbers of people that are going right now. Q Richard, you remember last week, I think you confirmed that some people are threatened -- some would-be refugees are threatened before they leave. And, indeed, you found there was no evidence -- the State Department had no evidence that they were punished when they were repatriated. Is that still the case in this new batch? Do you know if State has picked up any threats against people? In other words, are people leaving even with threats of bodily harm; do you know? MR. BOUCHER: Barry, I don't know the results of the interviews of particular people. I don't want to try to ascribe a motive to any particular individual or even groups of individuals that have been picked up over the weekend. There is violence in Haiti. There's economic hardship in Haiti, and there are a lot of people in Haiti who would like to come to the United States one way or the other. That, as a general category, is why people are leaving. As you know, we pick people up. We interview them to see if they have a well-founded fear of persecution. Those who we feel don't have that sort of plausible claim, we return to Haiti. As far as we know, we have no real evidence that those people who are returned are, in fact, persecuted. Q Do you have any better numbers on "double-backers?" MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't. INS would be the only ones to provide that. Q What did you learn from Tomlinson and his colleague after the debrief? MR. BOUCHER: We met with them on Friday afternoon. We expect to have an Embassy official go out and visit the village later this week, and we have raised the incident of their detention with Haitian authorities already on Saturday. Q Who do you talk to in Haiti? MR. BOUCHER: We talk to various officials down there, people that we have to do business with. Q You don't recognize the regime? MR. BOUCHER: We don't recognize the regime, but we do have to do business and we take an opportunity to raise these sorts of things when we can. Q Over the last few weeks, the State Department has suggested two minor changes in policy. One, that Haitian would-be refugees can be interviewed in Port-au-Prince and apply for refugee status outside the United States. The other one was that you would look into visas for people who have apparently been supporting the regime and also freezing their bank accounts. Has anything happened on either of these two? MR. BOUCHER: On the second question -- the targeting of people involved in the regime -- we continue to gather information on that. I don't have any new steps to announce at this point on that. As far as refugee processing in Port-au-Prince, we've sent some officers down there who have been setting up. They've taken some inquiries and I'm told some of the interviews might start in a day or two. Q Richard, there seems to be -- the papers are saying there's considerable competition in winning influence in the Moslem countries in the former Soviet Union. And Egypt has come out and Libya and Iran, and, of course, the Secretary made his trip. Will there be some comprehensive report that the State Department might make as to the views of these countries towards the United States, towards democracy, towards the Middle East? MR. BOUCHER: Joe, I'm not aware. I don't think we have any plans to try to do some kind of comprehensive report for you. As you mentioned, it's something that the Secretary has been consistently addressing during the course of his trip. Of course, his transcripts are available to you as well as the remarks on their attitudes towards the United States of various leaders in these republics and these newly independent states have been making during the course of those discussions. I'm sure there's ample information, if you want to do your own report.

[Zaire: Renewed Violence]

Q Do you have any idea what went on in Zaire in this massacre or riot, or whatever it was? MR. BOUCHER: Jim, have you seen the statement that we put out on Sunday? We put out a statement giving what we understood of the events and stating very clearly that we believe the use of violence to repress a peaceful demonstration is entirely without justification. I'll refer you back to that statement. I can get you a copy right after the briefing. Q Does this suggest to you that the regime is becoming more embattled, more repressive? MR. BOUCHER: Jim, certainly we think that this kind of violence is unjustifiable. It's reprehensible. It appears to have delayed the reconvening of the National Conference. As I think you may know, we made a demarche to the government in conjunction with the Belgian Ambassador and the French Charge. Our Ambassador called on President Mobutu yesterday. They urged him to reconvene the National Conference as soon as possible, and all three governments at that point protested the recent violence. Q What was their response to the request? MR. BOUCHER: Mobutu basically said that he was already working to reconvene the National Conference. Q Richard, on Japan, the new Japanese Ambassador to the United States has said that there's a sticky patch ahead and that relations are not as good as they had been in the past. There seems to be -- besides the "Buy-American" campaign, there seems to be a rising demonization of Japan in the United States. Is the State Department at all concerned about the status of U.S.-Japanese relations? MR. BOUCHER: Jan, I don't think I would buy into your characterization about the state of U.S.-Japan relations. As you know, the President was just there, and he, on many occasions, characterized the state of U.S.-Japan relations. I think I'll leave it at that. Q Thank you. (Press briefing concluded at 12:37 p.m.)