ACCESSION NUMBER:218717 FILE ID:PO-103 DATE:03/09/92 TITLE:WHITE HOUSE REPORT, MONDAY, MARCH 9 (03/09/92) TEXT:*92030903.POL WHITE HOUSE REPORT, MONDAY, MARCH 9 (North Korean ship, Iraq, Aylwin/U.S. visit, Begin, trade agreement) (600) NEWS BRIEFING -- Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater discussed the following topics: NORTH KOREAN SHIP MONITORED Fitzwater told a questioner "there really isn't anything new" on the North Korean ship reportedly carrying Scud missiles believed to be eventually destined for Iraq. According to news reports, intelligence sources assert the missiles are en route to Iran for transshipment to Iraq. Some reports say the cargo ship will be boarded if it maintains its course. "We continue to monitor the ship," Fitzwater said. "There's been no action taken, and we wouldn't speculate on any...." U.S. ROLE ON IRAQ REGRETTED Asked if President Bush is "sorry" U.S. firms were permitted to arm Iraqi President Saddam Hussein when Bush was vice president, Fitzwater noted the buildup in the 1980s was undertaken "for policy objectives which were judged to be valid by everyone involved in the national security community. In retrospect, of course we regret building up Saddam Hussein. But at the time, it was based on logical...security policies." The Reagan-Bush administration sought to bolster Iraq as a military counterweight to Iran. AYLWIN VISIT PLANNED Chilean President Aylwin will pay a state visit to Washington May 12-15 and will discuss with Bush bilateral relations, regional and international developments and "other matters of mutual interest," Fitzwater said. The two presidents last met in December 1990 during Bush's visit to Chile. 1 BUSH EXTENDS CONDOLENCES ON BEGIN'S DEATH The president, praising Menachem Begin for his "courageous and foresighted" role in the Camp David peace treaty, extended the nation's "sincere condolences" to the late Israeli prime minister's family and to the people of Israel. "His historic role in the peace process," Bush said of Begin, "will never be forgotten; particular emphasis, of course, will always be on his historic, and, I would say, very courageous and foresighted role at Camp David....People will remember Menachem Begin as the man that made a significant, courageous breakthrough, just as they will remember (late Egyptian President Anwar) Sadat for the same thing." (The Egyptian and Israeli leaders shared the Nobel Peace Prize for agreeing to the peace treaty negotiated at Camp David.) Asked about the status of the current Middle East peace process, Bush replied, "It's hard to tell. They're talking, though. A year ago nobody would have thought that possible. And it's very important that they keep talking. That's what our whole policy is about...and I think there's a real chance just as long as people keep talking at the peace table." Bush told a questioner he has "no idea" whether Israel will press for U.S. loan guarantees, but he noted, "We're perfectly prepared" to offer them "in accordance with U.S. policy." OPTIMISM ON NAFTA CITED Despite Canadian Prime Minister Mulroney's warning that recent U.S. tariff decisions endanger negotiations on the North American Free Trade Agreement, Fitzwater told a questioner administration officials are still optimistic that an accord can be reached this year. "We're working on it very hard," he said, "and as (U.S. Trade Representative) Carla Hills said, we are negotiating, and we'd like to have that agreement as soon as possible. We still think it's a possibility." Fitzwater said Bush held a "private telephone conversation" with Mulroney on the Canadian leader's reported reaction to U.S. statements about Ottawa's planned withdrawal of its troops from Europe. Canada said it plans to rely more on United Nations peacekeeping forces. NNNN .