Public Papers - 1990 - August
Remarks and an Exchange With Reporters on the Persian Gulf Crisis
The President. Well, let me just say that we've had a very good briefing, update, from the Secretary of State. I thanked him for the success of his diplomatic mission, a very important trip to our good friend President Ozal of Turkey. And Jim filled me in on the details of the Turkish leg. And then, of course, I'm so pleased that the NATO alliance is together and that we're in accord on how to look at the problems in the Middle East; and I think every single member of NATO is in accord with our economic plan. And so, it was a good trip, and I'm very grateful to Secretary Baker, just on the heels of this long swing, to come back up here and brief us.
I filled him in on four phone calls I had today: President Mubarak [of Egypt], King Fahd [of Saudi Arabia], and then two other countries. And I think things are moving in the right direction, and we're pleased so far with the solidarity, cohesiveness of the economic actions that have been taken.
So, I'll be glad to take one or two questions. And then I know the Secretary would, too. Yes?
Q. Mr. President, did President Mubarak say that Egyptian troops would stand shoulder to shoulder with American troops in Saudi Arabia?
The President. Well, he -- did who say that?
Q. Did President Mubarak tell you Egyptian troops will be on the ground next to ours in Saudi Arabia?
The President. Well, he made clear that they're willing to do their share and, yes, that they will be there.
Q. When will they be there?
The President. I don't have the exact time on that. But they will do their share, and so will other Arab countries. And I think we've been saying all along, or indicating all along, that, indeed, this would be a multilateral force and it would be a multilateral force with some Arab components. And that's exactly the way it's working out, and I think that sends a very good signal.
Q. Mr. President, did you -- or can you tell us, please, the state of play on the thinking of an international naval quarantine of Iraq at this time?
The President. The good news is that no shipping from Iraq is coming through the Strait of Hormuz. And we are in consultation -- active consultation -- with other powers who have naval vessels there or underway to be sure that no oil goes out. But we aren't prepared to announce anything more than that. But I think, in terms of the world market and in terms of the effectiveness of the sanctions, I can tell you that, with the exception of one small tanker, I believe it was, no vessels from Iraq or Kuwaiti ports are trying to get out of there with cargo, with oil cargo.
Q. Sir, if I may follow up: Haven't you made the decision in principle anyway to impose this kind of quarantine?
The President. I've made the decision in principle -- and I think most other leaders have -- that the sanctions will be fully enforced and that exports from Iraq will not get into the market.
Q. Let me ask you, at this point, with all of the diplomatic efforts that you've constructed, what exactly is your strategy now? If not simply just patience -- is that it?
The President. No. Well, the goal is to get Iraq out, obviously, of Kuwait and have the legitimate rulers return. That is the goal. And the strategy is to use economic sanctions, fully effective, to see that that happens. And there's another part of our strategy, and that is to show a willingness on the part of the United States and other countries to tell Saddam Hussein [President of Iraq] that aggression will not be successful and that friends will be protected.
Q. Is it part of your thinking, sir, that with all of these sanctions in place and the effective encirclement that you have going, that there will be forces inside Iraq who will rise up against Hussein?
The President. That sometimes happens when leaders get so out of touch with reality that they commit their country to outrageous acts. That does happen. And I know that some countries around the world are hoping that that will happen in this situation. But we'll wait and see.
Q. Is the United States one of them?
The President. My feeling is that whatever it takes to have our objectives met is what should take place.
Q. Mr. President, who is in command of the multinational force that is on the ground in Saudi Arabia now? And who will take the lead -- --
The President. Well, General Schwarzkopf is in command of the United States forces, and then arrangements are being worked out as these other countries send components to have a more detailed structure. And clearly, we're in Saudi Arabia at the invitation of the King. The Saudis have forces on the ground, so we will be very sensitive to the requirements of the Saudi Government.
Q. But is it the Saudis who are actually in control of -- --
The President. Well, as I say, the arrangements -- I don't believe -- you could ask General Scowcroft -- --
General Scowcroft. Still working on it.
The President. Still being worked out.
Q. Mr. President, yesterday you said that maybe, just maybe, somebody could talk some sense into Saddam so he'll retreat and back off. But you said you weren't optimistic. Following the events of the past 24 hours with the Arab League and whatnot, are you any more optimistic that -- --
The President. Well, I don't know about being optimistic or pessimistic, but I must say that the forthright position taken by the Arab summit is very, very positive, and it must make Saddam Hussein realize how isolated he is in terms of world opinion. There have been many manifestations of that before the Arab summit; but now with the Arab countries weighing in, in spite of Saddam's outrageous rhetoric and outrageous military action against Kuwait, I'd say that's very promising.
Q. Mr. President, you just said a moment ago you supported doing whatever it takes to meet your objective. Does that include overthrowing Saddam Hussein?
The President. I'll just leave it sit out there, and everybody can figure it out. And they can see the mobilization of forces and they can see the determination on the part of the whole world to make these economic sanctions be successful.
Q. Mr. President, can you give us any optimistic report on efforts to get out nondiplomatic citizens who are trapped there?
The President. Well, I might ask Secretary Baker to comment on that. But some Americans have come out today. But, Jim, can you add anything to that?
Secretary Baker. Simply repeat what I said yesterday in Brussels, and that is that we are still discussing this matter with representatives of the Government of Iraq. We're hopeful that we'll be able to resolve the situation, because it does, after all, run against all international norms -- the fact that American citizens and other foreign nationals as well are not permitted to leave Iraq or to leave Kuwait.
Q. Why do you not believe this constitutes a hostage situation, since they are, in fact, detained there?
Secretary Baker. Well, nothing has been demanded or asked in connection with permitting them to leave the country, for one thing. And we think it would be a mistake to characterize it as a hostage situation and to use a word like that since we are in discussion with respect to the matter. And as far as we know, no American citizens have as yet been mistreated.
Q. Will you keep the Kuwaiti Embassy open, Mr. Secretary, unless the Iraqis force it closed? Is that what it would take to close the Embassy in Kuwait City?
Secretary Baker. That's a matter that, frankly, we are discussing today; and we will continue to discuss it. The European Community, the ASEAN nations, and others have all told Iraq that they are going to maintain their Embassies because they do not want to give credence to the suggestion that Iraq has somehow annexed Kuwait. I think it's important to remember that not only do we have these loyal government officials there, but we have 3,800 American citizens in Kuwait as well.
Q. Mr. President, there are now reports there may be as many as a quarter million American troops going to Saudi Arabia -- --
The President. Again, I'm not prepared to comment on troop numbers. I've tried to make that clear. I believe that [Secretary of Defense] Cheney and Powell [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] have taken that same position, and as long as forces are moving, we're just going to leave it there.
Q. But, sir, is a quarter million out of the realm of possibility?
The President. You must have misunderstood me. I said I'm not going to comment.
Q. Mr. President, did you talk to King Hussein [of Jordan]?
Q. Mr. President, on the subject of -- why don't you go over there. I'll come back.
The President. Okay. No, I did not speak to King Hussein. The two other Arab leaders that I talked to today were the rulers of Qatar and Bahrain [Amir Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani and Amir `Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, respectively].
Q. There seems to be some concern that Jordan is something of a back door for Iraq, both in terms of being able to provide a supply line and also perhaps further military exercises. What are you saying or trying to do to convince Hussein that he should perhaps go along with the rest of his Arab neighbors?
The President. Well, you know, it was interesting at the Arab summit that Jordan did not vote against the resolution. I believe they abstained. But in any event, they were not against. We all recognize the difficult position that King Hussein is in; there's no question to that. And in my view, he has been a friend of the United States for a long time, and I'd like to see that friendship be reinstated or be reinvigorated in the future. He's in a difficult position, and I was pleased that he did not vote against that resolution yesterday. But let's face it, we have had some differences with Jordan over what initially appeared to be a little bit of a strong backing for Saddam Hussein.
So, we respect the territorial integrity of Jordan. We respect its sovereignty. And I will not -- not inclined to go into hypothetical situations as what might happen to Jordan. But it is a relationship that Presidents for years have valued; and it's one that I hope we can restore, through a lot of contact, to its vitality in the future. I think I spoke quite candidly the other day when I said there was a certain disappointment factor there. But now, with what the King was able to do yesterday, perhaps we can find ways to move forward -- and would like to do that when all of this calms down.
Q. What's your next step, Mr. President, now?
The President. My next step is to stay in touch with the situation over there and to implement the plan that is already in effect. And that is to do what we can to guarantee the total effectiveness of the chapter VII sanctions and then take further steps -- that I'm not prepared to discuss in detail -- that will guarantee the integrity of Saudi Arabia for openers and, by being there, offer some moral support at least for countries in the area who could be threatened in the future from this Saddam Hussein.
Q. Mr. President, some said yesterday's Arab summit effectively exhausted the diplomatic solution. Do you feel that as well? Is the next step military?
The President. No, I think we've still got plenty of diplomacy ahead of us with lots of countries and in lots of different avenues. So, I wouldn't say that.
Q. How do you get to Saddam Hussein? He's not listening to anybody, it would seem, right -- --
The President. Well, we have these economic sanctions. They haven't been in effect very long. Already, as I've indicated, there are some signs that they are going to have an effect; and we'll just have to wait and see. These kinds of actions cannot be judged 48 hours after they're put into place -- or 72 or whatever. I think we've just got to wait and see how all of this develops.
But I think he does see today more clearly than he saw yesterday at this time that the world is united against him. And by that I mean the action of the Arab summit was very, very important in this regard. So, these things are happening as we go along now -- different countries taking strong positions. And so, I'd say there's still room for more diplomacy, but we'll just have to wait and see whether it makes an impact on him.
Q. Mr. President, would you like to see a United Nations military force? And can you tell us specifically what other countries you expect to put troops on the ground in Saudi Arabia?
The President. No, I can't tell you what others. But I think you'll see others and -- I know you'll see others. And I cannot prematurely say who they will be. And in terms of the United Nations, I think that there could be a role in the naval side for some U.N. role. But I don't think that our plans are contingent upon a U.N. flag flying over the effort, as was the case in Korea, for example.
Q. How critical is it that there be other troops besides Americans? So that this does not look just like an American effort?
The President. Well, they are there, and that's very important.
Q. Mr. President, is the United States prepared in any way to support the overthrow of Saddam?
The President. No, we're not prepared to support the overthrow. But I hope that these actions that have been taken result in an Iraq that is prepared to live peacefully in the community of nations. And if that means Saddam Hussein changes his spots, so be it. And if he doesn't, I hope the Iraqi people do something about it so that their leader will live by the norms of international behavior that will be acceptable to other nations.
This is the last one.
Q. Mr. President, we all noticed yesterday that you didn't want to use the word ``blockade.'' Is that because, in your own mind right now, you consider that the chapter VII sanctions enable you legally to stop an Iraqi ship at sea?
The President. I think we have the authority to stop a ship at sea under chapter VII. There may be some difference of opinion on that. But there's no use using words that may have different connotations in different countries, and this one does in terms of legality. And so, why do that? What we want to do is see that no oil comes out through the Strait of Hormuz. And if it requires naval vessels to see that that happens, fine. But I just am not one who flamboyantly believes in throwing a lot of words around. I'm more interested in action. And so far I've been very pleased that the Iraqis recognize that the export of oil is almost an impossibility now. But we've got some more diplomacy to make sure that it's a total impossibility.
Thank you all very much. I'm glad it's cleared up.
Q. Have the oil companies stopped gouging?
The President. Well, I think there's been a lightening up on the pricing. And there's a lot of efforts underway to see that there's plenty of supply in the international market. For those who are familiar with the availability of production that isn't on the market, one would conclude that other countries can be helpful in making up the loss in Kuwait and loss from Iraq.
So, to the American people I would say: We are using every diplomatic channel we can to be sure that there are no shortages and there is no gouging and there isn't some profit windfall out of these most unfortunate events.
But I'm confident that there can be stability in the international oil market because there is excess capacity around the world. And some countries have stepped up and said they want to help, and we salute them for that. And I'm encouraged by how the diplomacy is working there. And yet we still have more to do to guarantee that there not be a lot of hardship for countries around the world.
Thank you all very, very much. Thank you.
Note: The President spoke at 1:35 p.m. at Walker's Point, his home in Kennebunkport, ME. In his remarks, he referred to Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, USA, commander in chief of the U.S. Central Command, who was in charge of the Persian Gulf deployment. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.