U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing
January 29, 1997
5-8 Situation in Iraq/ No New Military Maneuvers
16 No Agreement Yet on Establishment of Liaison Offices
16 Joint Briefing Talks in New York, Feb. 6
QUESTION: What going in Iraq, Mr. Burns?
MR. BURNS: Excuse me? What's going on in -
QUESTION: What's going on in Iraq?
MR. BURNS: Iraq. I'm sorry. I just missed the country. I couldn't quite get that. It's always hard to know what's going on in Iraq. We've seen, as Mike McCurry said this morning, some instability there and some internal political machinations. If you have a specific question, Bill, I'd be glad to answer it.
QUESTION: I would say more specifically, does the U.S. Government see these activities and reports as a power struggle for leadership in which Mr. Saddam Hussein is in some jeopardy?
MR. BURNS: I'm not in the business of analyzing what's happening, the palace intrigues in Baghdad, what's happening in the 15 palaces that Saddam Hussein has built for himself to enrich himself since the end of the Gulf War, at a time when the Iraqi people are suffering because he's building palaces. I'm not in a position to analyze those palace intrigues. But it's an unstable place. It has been for a long time because he rules, with a very narrow circle of advisors, concentrated on the people from Tikrit - his family members. We continue to watch the situation within Iraq very, very closely.
QUESTION: Just to follow briefly by asking, are there any troop movements to the north, to the south toward Kuwait? Anything indicated insofar as rebellions, or fighting amongst the army?
MR. BURNS: We believe that Saddam Hussein does maintain the military potential to threaten his neighbors, including Kuwait, but we have no evidence that Iraq is staging new moves to threaten its neighbors. I can assure you that we maintain a very close watch over Iraqi military movements, and we have adjusted in the past and we'll continue to. We've adjusted our own military presence in the Gulf to counter potential threats.
You remember the events in October of 1994 when Saddam Hussein threatened to invade Kuwait again. It was the dispatch - the very quick dispatch of a very sizable contingent of American forces by President Clinton that forestalled that.
I think it's fair to say that Saddam Hussein has intimate familiarity with what we can and have done in response to his threatening military moves in the area, and he would do well to keep that in the fore front of his thoughts. He should not mistake our resolve, as he clearly did in the summer of 1990. We have substantial military forces in the region. We have the capacity to inflict substantial damage on Saddam Hussein, should he get out of line again.
QUESTION: Nick, if there is no evidence that Iraq is moving troops or that there's any imminent threat from Iraq, what is all this about? Why are Pentagon officials, you know, sort of stirring the waters on Saddam, and why is the White House and the State Department feeding this right now? I don't understand.
MR. BURNS: Carol, I don't know who's stirring the waters. I'm not aware of any stirring of waters anywhere in Washington. I would just say that we've learned with Saddam Hussein that when he does peek his head up above the foxhole that he has dug for himself in the desert, it's always good to remind him from time to time about the reality of our relationship with him.
He learned a lesson in 1990 about the resolve of the United States, and he would be gravely mistaken to repeat even verbally any of the threats that he from time to time makes against his neighbors to the south. We just think it's prudent politics internationally to remind him of the reality of who's got the power in that part of the world.
QUESTION: But how has he poked his head up out of the foxhole?
MR. BURNS: Pardon?
QUESTION: I mean, what -
MR. BURNS: Oh, Carol, he does it all the time. I mean, just look at the events of the last six months. All sorts of threats by him or his government ministers against neighbors, and then we saw in September and we took action against these movements outside of the strategic box in which he has been placed by the people who defeated him in the Gulf war - namely, the United States and the international coalition.
It's not just the United States that takes this position. Embodied in U.N. resolutions is the concept of a strategic containment of Saddam Hussein, embodied in the UNSCOM mission, led by Ambassador Ekeus is the international will that we need to contain his ambition to build nuclear and chemical weapons. There is an international consensus on the containment of Saddam Hussein, and it is not a bad idea to remind him of that from time to time.
So we've just taken the opportunity of Bill's question to do that today. Thank you, Bill, for giving us that opportunity.
QUESTION: But that question was prompted by a background briefing yesterday at another institution in this town, which it seemed like the Pentagon wanted to raise this issue anew now which leads one to wonder whether there's any new information in the last month, in the last couple of weeks that makes you - you know, raises concerns, new concerns about Saddam.
MR. BURNS: There's no evidence available to us, and I think I can speak here for the State Department, but I've been in contact with the White House and the Pentagon as well. There's no evidence that Iraq is staging new military maneuvers or placement of its troops militarily to threaten its neighbors.
But we're not going to be romantic about Saddam Hussein. We're going to be realistic about him. Here's a man who has violated his agreements with his Arab neighbors in the past, who has invaded his Arab neighbors, and we're watching him, and he has to be on notice that we are watching him, and the message is, "Don't mistake our resolve - the resolve that was clearly demonstrated by President Bush and by many other world leaders in 1990 and 1991." There are no military maneuvers to worry about right now, but it's always good to put him on notice.
QUESTION: Nick, I understand the need to remove any ambiguity in Saddam Hussein's mind, but in his briefing yesterday, General Peay also said that - he was talking about Saddam Hussein putting his wife under house arrest and his son having gangrene in the leg. What on earth does that have to do with your message today?
MR. BURNS: Listen, Sid, you know, I think there was a very impressive briefing given at the Pentagon yesterday, and we would stand by what the CENTCOM commander has said ON THE RECORD, when he was on the record. Obviously, I can't speak to any background briefing, because we don't do that here. But the U.S. Government has a unified position - the Pentagon, the State Department, the White House, other agencies of the U.S. Government - on Saddam Hussein. We've been effective in the past, and we plan to be effective in the future in containing him. That is the strategic objective that the United States has towards Saddam Hussein - containing him so he doesn't threaten his neighbors.
QUESTION: Is demonizing also a strategic objective for the United States?
MR. BURNS: We don't need to demonize him. He is a demon, and he's done it to himself. I mean, look, Sid, he took 600 Kuwaitis prisoner and they were never heard from again. What happened to the missing Kuwaitis? He invaded another country and inflicted punishment on the civilian population. He's responsible for the deaths of thousands of people there. He violated his commitments to all of his Arab countries. He's trying to build nuclear weapons. He's trying to build chemical weapons. He lied to the United Nations for five years about his program to build chemical weapons.
This is a guy - he's subjugated his own population and is guilty of massive human rights violations against his own people. He lets kids starve, because he builds palaces to himself but won't give them the food they need and the medicine they need to get along. He's created this image of himself, which is true, for himself. We haven't demonized him. He has become something quite dark in the landscape of the Middle East.
QUESTION: I agree with you, Nick, but to an observer you are trying to make sure that no one thinks he is becoming less of a demon with these briefings about putting his wife under house arrest and his palaces and popping his head out of the foxhole he's dug. What's the purpose of that?
MR. BURNS: As Secretary Albright said in her maiden press conference here the other day, she said, "Let's tell it like it is." When she addressed the Department employees, she said, "Let's speak plainly." Why in the world should we mince words about the reality of who Saddam Hussein is, given everything that he's done to destabilize the Middle East and ruin his own country?
We need to speak plainly from time to time about events in the world, and this frankly is a black-and-white situation, where we have a very, very serious disagreement with all of his policies and with who he is, and we're not going to have a normal relationship with that country as long as this guy continues doing what he's doing.
QUESTION: North Korea?
MR. BURNS: Yes.
QUESTION: It is reported that some North Korean assets were frozen at a banking institution in the United States. I have two questions. Number one, what is the size of the frozen assets? Number two, do you have any plan to remove the freezing of the assets?
MR. BURNS: I'm just going to have to get back to you on both of those questions. I'm not aware of this report. I don't have any information on it. We'll look into it and see if we can get you an answer.
Still on North Korea? Yes.
QUESTION: There's another report that the U.S. and North
Korea have reached a tentative agreement on the opening of the Liaison Office. Can you confirm the reports? Do you know anything of this?
MR. BURNS: I'm sorry, I was looking at this piece of paper. I apologize.
QUESTION: The U.S. and North Korea have a tentative agreement on the opening of that Liaison Office.
MR. BURNS: Yes. You're asking what the status of that is?
QUESTION: Not the status. There is a report that the U.S. and North Korea had an agreement on the opening of the -
MR. BURNS: I don't believe that's the case. We have as a longer-term objective, and we set this with the authorities in Pyongyang, the opening of Liaison Offices in our respective capitals, but there's been no agreement to do that. There are some remaining technical details that need to be worked out before we can agree to the establishment of Liaison Offices.
MR. BURNS: We're still working the issue; right.
QUESTION: This process, the U.S. and North Korea agreed on opening the Liaison Office by the end of the first half of this year?
MR. BURNS: This issue is on our agenda in New York when we meet with the North Koreans. But I don't believe we finished the discussions. I don't believe there is an agreement to open the Liaison Offices. We need to do more work on it.
QUESTION: Has the site of the (inaudible) talks been definitely been set yet?
MR. BURNS: I believe the talks will be in New York on
February 5. We have every reason to believe that the North
Koreans will be there, having proceeded with their own
discussions on grain with private companies. We're looking
forward to these talks.