Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Daily Press Briefing

INDEX
MONDAY, JANUARY 4, 1999
Briefer: JAMES P. RUBIN

IRAQ

 

1

Reports Iraqi Planes Violating the No-Fly Zone Near Kuwait Border

9,10

Iraqi Procedures for Visas for UN Humanitarian Workers

9-10

Status of Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction Program

10-11

Prospects for Lifting of Sanctions/Status of Oil for Food Program

11

US Assistance for Iraqi Opposition

11-12

Situation Update in Iraq/Reports of Repression of Kurdish Population

12

US Position on Enforcement of the No-Fly Zones

13

No-Drive Zone in Southern Iraq

   

SPRATLYS/CHINA/
PHILIPPINES

 

21-23

Spratly Island Dispute/Congressman Rohrabacher's Travel

 

 

 

 

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING
DPB # 143
MONDAY, JANUARY 4, 1999 1:20 P.M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

 

 

MR. RUBIN: This is a very full house. You all must have missed us a lot here.

Welcome back to the State Department briefing room. I know I missed you.

(Laughter)

I hope everyone had a good New Year. In order to start the New Year right, I figured I'd be an hour late, and I was just shy of that.

I have no statements and no opening remarks. Let me go right to your questions.

QUESTION: Evidently the Pentagon hasn't been any help, so let me try the State Department about these curious reports that the Iraqi plane - at least more than one - but that Iraq tested the no-fly zone by flying up to the Kuwait border. Is this building of any help on that?

MR. RUBIN: I don't have any information on military movements like that.

.................

QUESTION: Iraq - what do you have to say about the Iraqi attempt to prevent British and US citizens from taking part in humanitarian UN operations?

MR. RUBIN: My understanding is that the Iraqi Ambassador delivered a formal notification that is still being translated. The notification was delivered to the acting head of the UN office of the Iraq program in a meeting late this morning.

In his oral presentation, the Iraqi official emphasized that no UN workers are going to be expelled; that some Americans working in UN humanitarian programs will receive visas; and that denial of visas to others is a temporary measure. Any Iraqi effort to selectively exclude some nationalities from this staff of the UN humanitarian program would contravene the UN's worldwide policy of non-discrimination on the basis of nationality. With respect to the concept of discrimination, we understand the UN has referred the matter to its legal office.

The numbers involved here are very, very small, and as my information just indicated to you, it seems that it may have little or no impact.

QUESTION: You said denial of visas is a temporary measure?

MR. RUBIN: That some Americans working in UN humanitarian programs will receive visas, and that denial of visas to others is a temporary measure. This is what the Iraqis told the UN today.

QUESTION: You can't explain that in any way?

MR. RUBIN: I've given you the information as I've received it.

QUESTION: Does the US Government believe that there is a conformity on the part of Saddam's government with regard to weapons of mass destruction; or do we feel that the attacks on allied aircraft are a defiance and a basic subversion of keeping track of what he's doing now?

MR. RUBIN: I think in our view, the Iraqi actions in recent days are the actions of frustration. They're lashing out at fellow Arab countries for having or not having a meeting, further demonstrating their isolation. They're trying to find ways to demonstrate that they were stung quite badly and punished quite badly by these missile attacks. So this is the pattern in which they at first show that they can still get their anti-aircraft missiles destroyed by using them and then they show that they can still get their anti-aircraft missiles destroyed by using them. Then, they make certain declarations which are repeated by some and understood better by others. In our view this is a clear act of frustration by a regime that has been unable to achieve its objective of getting changes in the international community's position vis-à-vis Iraq.

All that's happened is that Iraq has left itself without anybody to defend itself and left it without any allies to support its position on UNSCOM, because there is no UNSCOM. No country -- despite what I see written over and over again - no country in the Security Council has proposed changing the sanctions regime in the absence of a declaration of disarmament by UNSCOM.

So there isn't any country in the UN Security Council - and those of you who might be listening or write this subject I hope will take note - have proposed changing the sanctions regime. So there's no proposal to change the sanctions regime. His weapons of mass destruction have been set back significantly; in the case of missiles, by more than a year. His prospect of having sanction's relief has been set back by the time it would take to get an UNSCOM back in have that tested and operating. So this situation leaves Saddam Hussein stung and punished; and this is what we've come to expect when that happens.

QUESTION: Is it the duty - is it the policy of the US and Britain to monitor the weapons of mass destruction progress on the ground and possibly go back by air and make these -

MR. RUBIN: We've made very clear we reserve the right to use military force if we think he is reconstituting his weapons of mass destruction. This is not the best way to disarm Iraq - through the military - but it's another way to do it if they won't cooperate with the UN Special Commission, which they will not do.

QUESTION: To go back to the previous Iraq subject, you said the statements that were made about the visas, that was Ambassador Hamdun?

MR. RUBIN: It was an Iraqi ambassador - I didn't mention his name since it could have been in Iraq.

QUESTION: So it wasn't necessarily in New York?

MR. RUBIN: It could have been New York, too; I don't know whether it was New York. I don't think it's really relevant. It was the official Iraqi position that I was describing to you as we understood it.

QUESTION: It was made to the -

MR. RUBIN: The UN. That's the acting head of the UN office of the Iraq program, probably in New York.

QUESTION: On sanctions while ago, Ambassador Pickering - Secretary Pickering - spoke here favorably the idea of expanding the exemptions so Iraq could sell more oil, provided of course, used for food and medication, et cetera. Is that a dead issue now?

MR. RUBIN: I have nothing new for you on that.

QUESTION: There's no movement on it? This is apropos. You're saying the sanctions stand.

MR. RUBIN: I have nothing new on that.

QUESTION: What can you tell us about how the aid for Iraqi opposition groups will be apportioned?

MR. RUBIN: I do not have any information on that. I can say that we do have new reports reaching us on a weekly basis of repression of the Kurdish population in the North and the Shia population in the South. Tensions in the South rose after the assassinations of two senior Islamic clerics this summer -- killings that have been widely attributed to the regime. The repression reportedly reached a peak in November with hundreds killed and actions directed personally by Qusay Hussein.

Over the past six weeks, we have seen reports of mass arrests throughout the southern no-fly zone and in the Shia suburbs of Baghdad and hundreds of summery executions of dissidents at Amara and Radwaniyan prison.

Regime military action against the Shia is an intrinsic and continuing part of this campaign of repression. Since 1991, the regime has been carrying out the widespread and brutal repression of the Shia population of Southern Iraq. Our opposition sources from the Shia report that seven more villages at the edges of the marshlands were recently destroyed or turned into military outposts. The irrigation system was cut off and the tamarisk trees were cut down or burned. More than 2,000 civilians were unable to flee or reportedly taken hostage by regime forces and maybe sent to Baghdad. This is old people, the infirm, women and children taken as hostages and sent to Baghdad.

That is the kind of activity that is going on in the South that was the reason why the Security Council passed Resolution 688, which, of course, was the purpose of the no-fly zones. With respect to your direct question, I don't believe we've made any apportionment decisions; and when we do so, I will try to get them to you.

QUESTION: On that -- (inaudible) -- do you have anything - does State have -- to verify reports that senior people - people that are important to the regime - are moving out of Baghdad, are being taken out of that possible line of fire?

MR. RUBIN: I haven't seen those reports.

QUESTION: Oh yes, it's been all morning.

MR. RUBIN: I haven't seen the reports.

QUESTION: Do you have rough figures on the number of executions and arrests?

MR. RUBIN: The numbers that I had were talking about hundreds killed in actions directed personally by Qusay Hussein in November, mass arrests in the past six weeks and hundreds of summery executions of dissidents.

QUESTION: Okay, can we move to Cambodia, or are we still on Iraq?

QUESTION: In the last week, the Iraqis have fired on planes in the no-fly zone, and they've said that the US and UK have no right to patrol there.

MR. RUBIN: Well, we believe that the no-fly zones are very important to protect the people of Iraq from its dictatorship, which has so blatantly and completely brutalized and terrorized it. We have been enforcing no-fly zones since 1991. The coalition created them in accordance with Resolution 688, as well as Resolution 678 and 687. We are acting pursuant to those resolutions.

They're a coalition activity, but we believe they're clearly in accordance with the UN resolutions. So suggestions of illegality by a regime that is in flagrant violation of every international rule of the game, we don't take very seriously.

QUESTION: So the US will continue to fly, irrespective of what --

MR. RUBIN: Correct. Saddam Hussein can yell and scream; Saddam Hussein can act with frustration; he can have his air defense system shot down by trying to use them. But the United States will continue to enforce the no-fly zones. We will continue to keep the containment of Iraq as tight as possible.

QUESTION: Jamie, you say the no-fly zones - this is an obvious question - are designed to protect the people in the north and the south. From what you just said, not to be contentious, it doesn't sound like it's working very well.

MR. RUBIN: No, it's all a question of everything's relative. We don't own the real estate in Iraq; it's in Iraq. But what the purpose of the no-fly zones were was to prevent him from using his aircraft to brutalize the people in the south. I think all the information that I gave you did not include him using aircraft to brutalize the people of the south and north. So that's the difference.

QUESTION: The Secretary made some statements upstairs with the Kurdish leaders some months ago which were widely interpreted as security guarantees against Iraqi Government incursions in the north. Whether you consider them security guarantees or not per se, is there not the same sort of pledge for the security of the people in the south as there is in the north?

MR. RUBIN: We have never made those same comments about the south as we have in the north. I wouldn't rule out any action and I wouldn't try to prejudge any particular hypothetical situation. The north, we've stated quite clearly that if Saddam moves to the north that we are prepared to act. With respect to in the south, all I can tell you is it is something that I wouldn't rule out.

QUESTION: Could we go to Cambodia if it's all right, and get a straight notice --

QUESTION: There was a suggestion before the latest US missile strikes that at the end of the American action, some consideration would be given to a no-drive zone in Southern Iraq. Can you update us on that?

MR. RUBIN: There is a no-drive zone in Southern Iraq. The Republican Guard is prohibited from going below the 32nd parallel, I believe, which prevents the most dangerous units from operating in Southern Iraq. That's in existence.

QUESTION: Any consideration to expanding that?

MR. RUBIN: I haven't heard that. I wouldn't rule out anything with respect to Iraq.

.............

(The briefing concluded at 2:20 P.M.)

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