THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
STATEMENT BY THE PRESIDENT
The Briefing Room
11:15 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. In the past week the United States has taken significant steps to alleviate the problems in Rwanda and the suffering -- the terrible suffering -- of the refugees. We have delivered more than 1,300 tons of equipment, food, water and medicine. We have increased safe water production and distribution from nothing to 100,000 gallons a day.
This relief effort is the most difficult and complex the world has faced in decades. I want to commend all those in the field who are facing the frustrations and the heroic challenges.
The United States must do more. Today I have requested that Congress immediately provide $320 million in emergency relief assistance. I commend Chairman Obey, Chairman Byrd, Senator Leahy, and their colleagues for their swift action yesterday in support of the initial $50 million of these funds. If Congress approves the balance of our request this would bring total United States assistance since April to almost half a billion dollars.
To monitor our on-the-ground activities in the refugee camps I have asked Secretary Perry to visit the region this weekend and to make an immediate report to me upon his findings. We are urgently reviewing whether to open a new airfield in Kigali in Rwanda to help deliver supplies that are being held up because of the limited airport capacity in Zaire.
Let me be clear about this. Any deployment of United States troops inside Rwanda would be for the immediate and the sole purpose of humanitarian relief, not for peacekeeping.
The men and women of our Armed Forces have responded to this tragedy with vigor and speed. They have already met the goals we have set out last week. The Entebbe air hub is operating around the clock. The Goma Airport is capable of operating 24 hours a day. Transportation between airfields and the refugee camps is vastly improved, and as I noted, we are expanding water supplies as quickly as we possibly can.
The United States is also working hard with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to create conditions that are necessary for the refugees to return home to Rwanda. Assistant Secretary of State George Moose will be traveling again to Kigali this weekend to continue his talks with the new leadership, and we are hopeful that more refugees will be returning soon. That is the only solution ultimately to this humanitarian tragedy.
Yesterday I met with representatives of the world's private relief organizations, whose employees and volunteers have converged on the refugee camps. The American people should know about the remarkable skill and compassion they bring to their work. But they, too, need more assistance to continue. And I appeal to all Americans to reach out in the form of private contributions to these relief efforts so that more people can be kept alive.
Working together with the international community, both public and private, I believe we are making progress in the battle against suffering and death on the borders of Rwanda. The United States will not cease its efforts until the dying stops and the refugees have returned. This is our mission; we must continue it until it's accomplished.
Before I close, I'd also like to say a word about the terrible wildfires that are burning in the West. As of this morning, we had reports of 320 fires burning in seven states. The Interagency Fire Command Center in Boise reports that the federal government has mobilized more than 330 fire crews and more than 200 fire engines, helicopters and air tankers. Two battalions of Marines have begun training today and will be deployed to fight the fires as soon as possible. Our hearts go out to all those who have been displaced, or who have lost property in these fires.
The federal government will continue to monitor the situation closely, to marshal the necessary resources, and to coordinate the firefighting efforts. This is a deeply troubling development, but we will do all we can to help them deal with it.
Now I'd like to turn the briefing over to the National Security Advisor, Mr. Lake, and to General Shalikashvili to discuss the operations in Rwanda in greater detail, and to answer whatever questions you have.
Q How do you feel about the French going -- Rwanda, Mr. President?
Q What about mission creep --
Q How many troops would have to go if there are troops that have to go to Kigali, Mr. President?
THE PRESIDENT: You've asked me three questions. I want to let General Shalikashvili respond to Andrea's question.
I don't think that -- mission creep is not a problem here. And General Shalikashvili will explain why that is. We've had a long talk -- we just completed about an hour and 45 minutes national security principals meeting this morning. And I do not believe that that is a problem.
With regard to -- the French will have to make whatever decision they make. But I do believe you will have large numbers of people contributing to this humanitarian effort. I was most deeply moved when we met yesterday at some length, and the General and Mr. Lake and others briefed the representatives of the nongovernmental organizations. I am deeply moved by the number of volunteer organizations, many of them American citizens who are there working. I think everyone knows this is a humanitarian effort, and it will be kept at that.
END11:20 A.M. EDT