DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Welcome to our briefing.
One of the many unsung heroes in the public affairs operation is Bob Whitmer, who is in charge of the audio operations, among other things. When the secretary speaks downtown or in California, anywhere off-site and we have it piped back, it's done by Bob Whitmer and his people. So I would like to welcome some visitors he's hosting from England, I guess family members, Richard Trez and Leslie Talbott and also Walter Andrews. I assume that they'll be able to understand what I say without a translator, but if not they can always get a transcript from Bob Whitmer later.
With that, I'll take your questions.
Q: Bob Dole and Joel Liebermann and a large number of groups, including human rights groups, held a news conference today and called on President Clinton to take the lead in arresting these war criminals in Bosnia. The Pentagon has continued to insist and the secretary insists on a role that no political decision has been made to arrest these people and this was just a random affair. They decided it was the best time to do it. What's the Pentagon's response to this?
A: The Pentagon's response to their call to us to arrest war criminals? Well, our policy is well known. It's the job of the parties of the Dayton Accords to turn in war criminals. We think it's very important that war criminals be detained and brought to justice. We have been working with the International War Crimes Tribunal to bring war criminals to justice. I think that the events of the last couple of weeks make clear that the NATO countries are dedicated to helping the War Crimes Tribunal bring war criminals, indicted war criminals, to justice, and those efforts will continue.
Q: Should the military go after these people more actively?
A: Our policy under the Dayton Accords is that the military will detain these war criminals and turn them over to law enforcement authorities. It's primarily a law enforcement operation; but when they encounter the indicted war criminals they will turn them over to proper authorities.
Q: So you're saying the policy is the same as it's been all along.
A: I'm saying that's what the policy is. Yes. But we, I think, have made it clear in words and actions that we're dedicated to helping the War Crimes Tribunal bring indicted war criminals to justice. It remains the job of the signatories to the Dayton Accords to do that. It's their responsibility under the accords they signed. The President stressed that today in remarks he made at the White House.
Q: Again, have you yet discussed the threats from the Bosnian Serbs of breaking the Dayton Accords, going into armed conflict against SFOR? How do you accept that possibility or probability or that threat that's coming?
A: Well, the President said today it would be a grave mistake for the Serbs to do anything of that kind and I think I'll just let the President speak for the country and the NATO allies in that respect.
Q: And I would ask a little follow-up on a little different subject. Mr. Karadzic reputedly, reportedly, has 2,000 armed militia guarding him. And I would ask is it really militarily feasible to nab Karadzic without -- and is it feasible to capture him alive, for that matter? Does the military think that that is really possible?
A: Well, I don't think I want to talk about military operations except those that have already taken place. I'll limit my comments to military operations that have already taken place.
Q: Can you discuss, however, if in light of any increased threat because of the action that was taken last week have there been any steps taken by U.S. forces there to improve their own self-protection, anything along those lines?
A: Well, the level of protection is always very high. All of you who have been to Bosnia know that that's the case. The security posture is high. The troops are dressed for combat. They travel in convoys of multiple vehicles at all times.
We have a very active intelligence operation going on and we're constantly evaluating information. And individual commanders adjust their security posture in response to information they receive on a daily basis and that continues. We think that we are doing our best to maintain the highest possible level of security.
Q: In the past, Secretary Cohen has said that U.S. troops will be out of Bosnia by June of 1998. President Clinton, during his European travels recently, seemed to leave the door open to the possibility of a continued U.S. troop presence in Bosnia after the end of SFOR. Can you reconcile those two positions?
A: I don't think there's anything to reconcile. President Clinton and Secretary Cohen and Secretary Albright have all said that the SFOR mission will end in June of 1998. That's not only our policy, it's NATO's policy.
What President Clinton said was that NATO has an interest in Bosnia and what happens in Bosnia, after June of 1998. And he didn't describe how we would respond to that interest, but it's perfectly compatible with having the SFOR mission end in 1998.
We have to assume that there will be civil aid programs continuing, the War Crimes Tribunal may continue, there may be a number of operations that continue in efforts to rebuild Bosnia after June of 1998 when the SFOR mission ends.
Q: But aside from the SFOR mission, Secretary Cohen said that if there was a continued need for military presence after June, that the Europeans would have to do it without the United States. And during his confirmation hearings, he said he wanted to send a clear message to the European partners of that. President Clinton seems to be pretty clearly saying that they'll consider the possibility of maintaining a military presence.
A: I don't think that's what President Clinton said at all. He said that we will have a continuing interest in what happens in Bosnia. He has said very clearly himself that the SFOR mission will end in June of 1998. That's what he said in England, in his press conference with Prime Minister Blair, and he's said it since then.
Q: But he seemed to be hiding behind the SFOR mission language as opposed to whether or not there's the consideration of maintaining U.S. troop presence after the SFOR mission ends. No one is arguing --
A: Well, I think Secretary Cohen made it very clear, and White House officials have made it clear as well, that there has not been consideration of what happens after June of 1998. Right now, we're focused on doing everything we can to make lasting peace possible in Bosnia. We have about 11 months left in the SFOR mission. We're trying to use those months as productively as possible.
Q: But has the United States ruled out the option of maintaining some sort of military contribution to whatever force replaces SFOR?
A: I think that everybody has spoken very clearly on what our plans are in June of 1998.
Q: Secretary Cohen told us on the plane coming back that the matter of further U.S. or any participation has not even been discussed beyond June 1998.
A: That's what I just said.
Q: Having said that, does he still oppose any presence of U.S. troops on the ground after 1998? Which he repeatedly said early on that he opposed?
A: Charlie, that issue has not been discussed. As the Secretary said, we are concentrating on the next 11 months making the current mission succeed. I think it is premature now to talk about June of 1998. What we have to talk about is doing everything we can to help the current mission be as successful as possible.
Q: Do the Secretaries still oppose U.S. troops on the ground after 1998 as they indicated earlier?
A: The Secretary strongly supports the administration's policy which is that the SFOR mission will end in June of 1998. Yes?
Q: In the first days of June, a meeting has taken place here, with the Cypriot Foreign Minister Kasoulides and senior DoD officials. Do you know anything about that? And may we have the names of the participants?
A: There was a meeting between Jan Lodal, who is the Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, and the Cypriot Foreign Minister on June 6th.
Q: Who did you say [was] at this meeting, the purpose and how long it lasted?
A: The meeting lasted about 30 minutes and they discussed ways to reduce tensions in Cyprus.
Q: And do you know if the so-called issue of installation of Russian missiles -- S-3 on Cyprus -- was discussed during the meeting and to which direction?
A: I do not know whether that issue was discussed.
Q: Mr. Bacon, on June 30th, another special meeting was taking place here at the Pentagon on the (inaudible) of Mr. Kasoulides, the Cypriot Foreign Minister, with the participation, also, of Under Secretary Jan Lodal. Do you have anything on that?
A: I'm afraid I don't have anything on that. Yes?
Q: Reports in a German newspaper, the last few days, about efforts underway to form -- negotiations to form a joint U.S.-German brigade. EUCOM is directing questions on that to the Pentagon. Do you have anything on that?
A: Well, there have been discussions on that and those discussions are continuing. There is no decision, as I understand it.
Q: Do you know anything about what type of brigade this would be? What its purpose would be?
A: I'm afraid I don't, no.
Q: The Germans confirmed it today. We have a story saying that the German military confirmed it today.
A: Well, they confirmed that there are discussions going on. I don't believe that a final decision has been made, but I'll double check on that. Yes?
Q: Can you update us on the status of the efforts to find a new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff?
A: Those efforts are continuing. Secretary Cohen discussed his candidates with President Clinton last week. There will be at least one other discussion. I would expect that a decision by the President to be made in the next several days.
Q: I take it you mean they discussed this while they were at the summit, during that time frame?
A: They discussed it last week, yes. Yes?
Q: Another issue. Do you know whether the issue of the three Turkish frigates -- Perry class -- started a day after the so-called Madrid Agreement had been reached between Greece and Turkey, the other day? Otherwise, are you ready to release them to the Turks and to terminate generally the embargo on the transfer of weapons to Ankara?
A: My understanding is that the release of those frigates has been held up by political considerations. I am not aware that we have had a chance to go back to Congress and discuss that issue with them, since the Madrid Summit.
Q: Are there concerns in the building about the potential for Kuwait purchasing Howitzers from China in terms of in our working relations with the type of equipment that we have?
A: Yes. This issue came up when Secretary Cohen visited Kuwait last month and he talked to his Kuwaiti counterpart about this and stressed that we believe that it is important for Kuwait and the United States to have systems that are compatible, that work together as well as possible.
He made a public comment about this, as a matter of fact, at a press conference after meeting with the Kuwaiti Defense Minister, so this has been raised by Secretary Cohen and by others as well.
My understanding is that Kuwait has not yet made a final decision on the artillery purchase that they are considering.
Q: Is there a scheduled meeting at the White House on the Joint Chief selection?
A: I don't think I want to get into White House schedules. That's something for the White House to answer. Yes, Bill?
Q: Now, that John Hamre has been nominated as Deputy Defense Secretary what's the scheduling for his confirmation hearing in the Senate? And, secondly, has Dr. Hamre met with Senator Grassley who is going to oppose his nomination on the grounds that he's a lousy financial manager?
A: Well, certainly, to answer your first question, we hope that he will be confirmed as soon as possible. We think he's a terrific candidate. You all know him. He's briefed here many times. Many of you have met with him privately over the years. He has vast knowledge of what's going on in the Department much broader than you would gather just from his knowledge of the budget, but he really has a firm grasp of Defense Department policies.
So, we hope he will be confirmed as soon as possible. I'm not aware that a date has been set. I asked about that this morning and no date had been set as of then, but we hope it will happen as soon as possible. He does have many, many friends and supporters on the Hill, you know. He worked on the Hill for over a decade before he came here and he has testified up there many times. Frequently, he receives public accolades from members of the House and the Senate when he testifies there. My hope is that he'll be confirmed quickly and I don't anticipate a great deal of opposition.
In terms of Senator Grassley, Dr. Hamre has spoken to Senator Grassley in the past. I'm not sure he's -- I'm not aware that he's spoken with him recently. He stands ready to go up and talk to him at any time. The dispute that Senator Grassley has focused on has to do with progress payments, as I understand it. It's, by many rights, quite a technical dispute and it's one that the Pentagon has worked extremely hard to resolve and we continue to work to resolve that dispute.
It's my understanding that actually if you -- you have to look at the problem in two parts. One is the past and what's happened under old contracts, what may be happening under old contracts, and the present, that is what's happening under new contracts. And we've made an effort to resolve the progress payment problem with all new contracts so that it won't arise. The issue is how we deal with it under some past contracts.
Q: Can you update on Secretary Cohen's progress in reviewing the Air Force's Khobar report?
A: He continues to review it. He's been working actively on it, as has his staff. And I hope that he anticipates that the review will be done in the next week or two.
Q: Will he come down and brief when it's done?
A: Yeah. I'm quite sure that he will make his conclusions known to the public when he reaches them. Is there a follow-up on that?
Q: I just wanted to ask about security there. General Zinni, in his confirmation testimony indicated that there had been almost a constant surveillance of U.S. troops in the area. And, you know, I'm just curious whether there's any new information or any new threat or any change in the status of the threat to U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia or that general region lately? Has there been anything that -- was there any incident or intelligence that precipitated the remark by General Zinni that U.S. troops are being stalked?
A: Well, there are many reports of surveillance of U.S. troops in facilities in the Middle East and we -- this is one of the reasons we've moved so aggressively to increase force protection in the area. The most dramatic step we've taken, of course, is moving the 4404th Air Wing from Dhahran to the Prince Sultan Air Base in Al Kharj.
I don't know -- some of you I know were with Secretary Cohen in June when he went there and earlier with Secretary Perry when he visited Al Kharj. It's a very isolated, large air base with a huge set-back from the outer fences to the operations. So, that's the most dramatic step we've taken.
We've taken a number of other steps, as well: consolidating people at Eskan Village; improving our security in a number of other ways. But it's something we're watching constantly. We get a lot of intelligence and we pay a lot of attention to it.
Q: Is there any new threat or are these just the same threats that you've been seeing all along?
A: No, I think General Zinni was talking about threats that we see from time-to-time, or surveillance that he was talking about. We don't always know what the surveillance will lead to, but we take as many steps as possible to make sure that the troops are protected.
Q: Ken, can you speak to this issue? Does the DoD, especially Military Intelligence, concur with the CIA, purportedly the FBI -- This is Bob Woodward's article on Sunday -- that the Chinese government, the PRC government, was indeed involved in attempting to influence the U.S. Government, and especially the election of last year? Do you have any comment on that article?
A: I'm not going to comment on intelligence issues.
Q: Is the DoD on board with those agencies in solidarity?
A: This is a very clever follow-up question. [Laughter]
And I think I'm going to have to deal with it the same way I dealt with the first question. I admire your persistence, but I can't go beyond what I said.
Q: In light of the Madrid Summit last week. Can you just discuss at all whether or not the U.S. has changed its defense posture to include these three -- well, these three countries that have been invited to join NATO? I guess, basically, my question is, are we in a position now that we're willing to defend them before they are actually given --
A: Well, they're not covered by the Article 5 common defense provision of the treaty.
First of all, we do not anticipate that they will need protection in the next couple of years. NATO is primarily -- is entirely -- a defensive alliance. It's been extremely successful. NATO has never been attacked. NATO has never attacked anybody, and no country within NATO has ever attacked another country within NATO.
I think those are three important points, and that's one of the reasons why these countries want to join NATO, because they see that it has created a zone of security within Europe, and we want to broaden that zone of security.
NATO will be sending assessment teams to these countries very soon, to start the filling out of what's called a defense of planning, a program questionnaire, and then they will -- force goals will be set for them that they will have to meet for building up their forces, making their forces more compatible with NATO, et cetera. This will all be happening over the next several months.
The U.S. is ready to help these countries in any way it can, bilaterally, to get their forces into shape. And I might add that, on the trip that Secretary Cohen took to Central Europe last week, and also the trips that the President took and Secretary Albright took, all three made it very clear, to countries that did not receive an invitation to join NATO in the first round, that the door is open for them to join in subsequent rounds -- countries like Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria -- and that we will be ready to work with those countries in order to help them improve their forces and meet the other conditions for NATO membership.
So we will be working with these countries in a bilateral way, and also through NATO, between now and April of 1999, when the session is supposed to take place, and we will also review what other countries might receive invitations to join in the second or a later round.
Q: One more?
A: Yeah. Let me take this lady in back.
Q: Just back once to the German-American unit, who initiated these discussions?
A: I'm afraid I'm going to have to get you more information on that. I'm not an expert on the German-American unit. But what I told you is, I don't believe it exists. I believe it's something that's under discussion and has not been agreed to yet. But we will check and get you a full account. You can check with Colonel Bridges here.
Q: To add onto that, would that be under cooperation with NATO -- if someone could be --
A: Check with Colonel Bridges on that.
Q: Since I fell through on my last question, let me try on Colombia. Myles Frechette, Ambassador to Colombia, has said that U.S. military personnel were able to join the Colombians in fighting some of the insurgents that are in the dope business, as well. Is this accurate or do you have anything for us on Columbia?
A: I'm afraid I don't. I'll check into that. Generally, we support law enforcement efforts, and do not get involved in military operations against drug dealers, but I will check the facts here.
Q: This is a communist insurgent group that does deal drugs, as well.
A: The fact is, that what our military does is to support law enforcement activities. We don't get into the business of making arrests, detaining people, et cetera. We leave that up to law enforcement people.
Press: Thank you.