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The President's News Conference on the Persian Gulf Crisis

August 16, 1990

The President. We've had some good meetings here today -- two good meetings -- one with King Hussein of Jordan, the other with the Foreign Minister, His Highness Prince Sa`ud of Saudi Arabia. In addition, I was on the phone earlier to President Ozal of Turkey. He reported in on some conversations he's had and, I must say, was somewhat optimistic about the effectiveness of these international sanctions in which most countries around the world have joined. So, it's been a very illuminating day.

I, of course, was very pleased that King Hussein, who previously had announced his support for sanctions, his willingness to go with sanctions, reiterated that to me, making clear that this was a decision that Jordan had taken some time ago. But nevertheless, I put this under the heading of very encouraging developments.

In terms of the Saudis, Prince Sa`ud very kindly thanked me for the strong support from the United States, and I told him that we were determined and wanted to do everything in our power to enforce the United Nations resolution which calls for Iraq to get out of Kuwait and calls for the restoration of rulers to Kuwait. So, we're in sync with the Saudis.

I feel that the differences that possibly existed with Jordan have been narrowed, and I cited one extremely important point there. But I was pleased to see them both here at our home.

I'll be glad to take some questions.

Q. Mr. President, what kind of report did King Hussein give you on his trip to Baghdad, and did he offer any kind of hope that Saddam Hussein would pull his troops out of Kuwait and let the Amir return to power?

The President. He didn't go into any details of his trip to Baghdad, and I did not come away from that conversation with a feeling of hope that Saddam Hussein would do that which he's been called upon to do under international law.

Q. Mr. President, what can you tell us about reports -- or what do you know about reports that foreign nationals in both Iraq and Kuwait have been ordered segregated and been reported to report to one place, including some 2,500 Americans? Are you concerned that their lives may be in danger at this point?

The President. I'm concerned that any coercion on foreign nationals in some other country is a violation of international norms, and I must say that I did see a report. We've discussed it. They've checked with one of the hotels to which people were encouraged to go, and the hotel had no knowledge of an influx of people coming there. So, it's a little vague right now, Jim [Jim Miklaszewski, NBC News], but anything that compels individuals to do something against their will would of course concern me.

I don't want to overstate it, because we continue to get statements out of these various representatives of Iraq -- the Ambassador to the U.N., for example -- that these people in all countries will be permitted free passage or will not be harassed. But I saw the report, and thus, I must say I was concerned.

Q. Following up on that: The Americans who are in Baghdad, I believe, are the ones who were taken from Kuwait. Today the American Embassy personnel were, for the first time, not allowed to go in and see them, and news people were thrown out. Isn't it getting more dangerous for those Americans, and would there be anything that would -- --

The President. It gets more dangerous, I think, if I heighten the concern that I've already expressed. I have said that the other day, and I'll repeat it here. On the other hand, when you get reports of this nature, of course you're concerned about them.

Q. Mr. President, may I ask your reaction to the rather bellicose speech we heard today from Saddam Hussein in which, as you probably know, he called you a liar and vowed to send Americans home in body bags?

The President. I really haven't seen the speech. I've seen some excerpts -- or the open letter, I think it was. I think it's clear that what we need to do at this point is to enforce the international law. The statements at the United Nations from many countries really say it all, so there's no point in me responding to the letter. Nobody has at least presented, so far, to me from that letter any concrete proposals to which I feel a necessity to respond.

Q. Mr. President, what is the situation on the ground in Iraq and Kuwait? What's going on with the sanctions? How are they working today compared to how they were working 2 days ago, say?

The President. The sanctions against Iraq and Kuwait? I get the feeling that the sanctions just put into effect and just being put into effect are beginning to take hold. I would cite a very upbeat statement from President Ozal of Turkey in this regard.

And so, there doesn't appear to be any shipments of oil coming out of Iraq, and that is very positive because I think 90 percent of their foreign exchange -- I'm looking for help here -- is based on petroleum. And so, I'd say that is a very encouraging step. And the other part of it has to be arms being interdicted, and everything, all across the board -- foodstuffs, whatever it is. They have been penalized by the United Nations. Chapter VII is seldom used, but it has been used now to bring these people to do what's right. And I must say I'm encouraged with this concept of the world staying together and making these sanctions fully effective.

Q. But is there evidence of their feeling it, though?

The President. I can't cite specific evidence. There was one little tidbit that we saw saying that -- and again, I probably shouldn't even go into the details of it at all -- but anyway, it was a report that some of the bakers had been ordered to stop making confectionery goods, whatever it is, sweets and these things, and concentrate on the fundamentals, the staples. But knowing the economic situation in Iraq, I don't think one can sustain true international isolation for long, especially when you depend on the outside world for a lot of your goods.

Q. Did you call up or sign the order calling up the Reserves, and is that something you think you may have to call upon?

The President. I've not signed anything on that. There's some consideration. We have a Ready Reserve. We have a Reserve that I've been told by a couple of proponents of the Reserves they're very eager to do their part. But no decision has been made in that regard.

Q. Mr. President, your feeling now of the situation: Do you think the situation is stabilizing, or do you think the United States and Iraq are getting closer to war?

The President. I don't know that I can choose between the two options. But I do know that there is a determination on the part of so many countries to do something about redressing the grievances that I think it's going to work. But I can't say that it's stabilized totally. I hope that the American presence and the presence of Arab forces and the presence of others -- many others -- in Saudi Arabia and in those areas has lessened the risk of further adventure on the part of Saddam Hussein.

Q. Is King Hussein in any way a go-between the United States and Iraq?

The President. I didn't get the feeling. I read some reports, and now I'm wondering where they all came from because I'd read some previous reports indicating that the man was coming with a letter from Saddam Hussein. Some maybe printed it here, which I find hard to believe without any evidence. And so, I was wondering where all this was coming from. And I think I addressed myself to that question at the press conference -- when was it, yesterday or the day before -- where I said I didn't know of that and that I -- and I felt to myself -- and whether I said it -- is I think he might have mentioned to me if there was such a letter.

But back to your question. There was no intermediary mission that I detected at all. I think he'd like to find some way to be helpful, and he reiterated his interest of making everything in an Arab context. But I had an opportunity to tell him my views on the situation and to tell him that in spite of the differences that may have appeared to be grievous a week or so ago that, on the part of this President and I think of the United States entirely, we'd like to see better relations. And I do think that his expressed willingness -- again, expressed before he came here and then reiterated -- to go forward on this international sanctions is something that will be widely appreciated here in the United States and, indeed, around the world.

Q. Mr. President, did King Hussein give you assurances that Jordan would not allow Iraqi goods in and out of the port of Aqaba?

The President. Yes.

Q. Mr. President, Iraq made some pretty significant peace overtures to Iran. Were you surprised by that? What do you know about it? How do you think it will affect the overall equation there? Are you concerned by it?

The President. No, I'm not concerned at all by it, and I -- surprised only in the fact that it seems to be acquiescing to all of Iran's terms, something that Saddam Hussein has been unwilling to accept -- not totally all of them. But I don't know the effect of it. And I do know that Iran has expressed their indignation about the takeover of Kuwait by Iraq, and I see nothing that has changed that. I don't know of any statement that leads me to be concerned that they're going to reverse their position on that point.

Q. You're not concerned that Iran may throw in with Iraq? Or what does it tell you about Saddam Hussein's position right now?

The President. Well, I'm not concerned about the former, and I would simply let the facts and the evolution of events answer the last part because, you see, I don't know that there's been an agreement on all these points. I don't think there has, that I know of. I don't think it's been fully, finally agreed -- has it?

Q. But if it comes to that, don't you think he's desperate, sir?

The President. Well, that's what you think. I'd rather just not speculate on that and just keep my eye on the ball, which is to just isolate -- in conjunction with others -- to isolate Iraq.

Q. Back to King Hussein, Mr. President: You said that he agreed to cut off shipments to Iraq to the port of Aqaba, but he told us that he's exploring with the United Nations what the sanctions mean. Did he tell you that everything would be cut off, including food, oil?

The President. Let me ask Jim because I think he'd -- let me ask the Secretary -- lawyer, fine lawyer that he is, in addition to being a good Secretary of State -- to answer that because he was the one that engaged the King in that particular discussion.

Secretary Baker. I think what the King meant was that there is a provision in the sanctions that permits food for humanitarian purposes, or some such language. And there's really been no definition of exactly when that triggers and what that means, and the Government of Jordan is seeking some guidance from the United Nations on the subject.

Q. Is that a loophole?

Secretary Baker. No, it's not a loophole; it's the way the sanctions were written by the United Nations when they voted 13 - 0 to impose them.

The President. Last one.

Q. Are you satisfied that goods will no longer go through Jordan to Iraq? Are you -- --

The President. I'm not satisfied to total satisfaction on any point regarding the sanctions. I'm very encouraged that they look like they'll be effective. We've got to guard against cheaters. You've got to guard against people who, for economic gain, will try to violate these sanctions from whatever part of the world they come from, whatever country they come from. So, I can't say I am satisfied. But what I am is encouraged that Jordan, prior to the King's coming here, took this position. And I think that is something that is encouraging, and I think it might send a message to some around the world who need a little leadership in that regard.

Thank you all very much. I know you have a deadline. It's been a full day.

Note: The President's 57th news conference began at 5:08 p.m. at his home in Kennebunkport, ME. In his remarks, he referred to President Saddam Hussein of Iraq. President Bush met at his home with King Hussein I of Jordan at noon and with Foreign Minister Sa`ud al-Faysal Al Sa`ud of Saudi Arabia at approximately 3 p.m.

George Bush, The President's News Conference on the Persian Gulf Crisis Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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