DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.
First I'd like to welcome a group of ten young Air Force officers here who are attending the Air Force Media Training Workshop. They are the up and coming public affairs officers -- up and coming Bob Potters and P.J. Crowleys, so you'll probably be seeing them around in future years.
Also, following this briefing, Major General Robert Clark, who is the Deputy Chief of Staff for Combat Developments in the U.S. Training and Doctrine Command, will discuss the Army's advanced warfighting experiment which will be conducted by the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood, November 5-13. He's accompanied by our old friend Mark Brzozowski. So welcome to both of you.
And because I know you all want to hear General Clark, I'll try to keep this briefing as short as possible.
Finally, in answer to your many questions about the visit of President Jiang Zemin -- Charlie, I can tell you that General Chi did not come, and that Secretary Cohen and General Shelton met with President Jiang yesterday after the press conference for 20 to 30 minutes and discussed a wide range of regional security issues. They discussed Iran and the importance of non-proliferation in Iran. They also discussed the military-to-military relationships between China and the United States and the Secretary's visit there next month. It was a good meeting.
With that, I'll take your questions.
Q: Was there any specific reason why there wasn't, in your perspective, why there wasn't a senior military officer on the trip? Were there protocol reasons or something of that sort?
A: You'll have to ask the Chinese that. They chose their own delegation, but certainly security concerns were on their minds because President Jiang Zemin did meet with Secretary Cohen and General Shelton. As you know, security was one of the issues addressed during the Summit.
Q: Has the United States taken any additional or new military moves in the Gulf because of Iraq's decision on the UN inspection team? And is the United States prepared to use its considerable military force in the region to thwart or retaliate against Iraq if they expel Americans from those teams?
A: The dispute now is between Iraq and the United Nations. Iraq has confronted the United Nations with an unreasonable demand and the United Nations has made it very clear that demand is unacceptable and is now -- the members of the Security Council are working to devise responses to Iraq's proclamations. This is an Iraq/UN dispute.
Q: But the United States...
A: We have not changed our force posture in the area in any way. We have a very significant force there on a regular basis. Right now that includes, as you know, the USS NIMITZ battle group. We have made no changes in our force.
Q: Not only has the United Nations made it clear that this is unacceptable, the United States has also made it clear that it's unacceptable.
A: We have made it clear that it is unacceptable but this, right now, is a problem between Iraq and the United Nations. The United Nations is dealing with that problem.
Q: Is this action by Iraq considered by the United States military to be a hostile act? To be an act that could be construed as an act of war? Is it dangerous that they have no inspections there?
A: The Iraqis have been trying to obstruct UNSCOM from almost the first day UNSCOM began its work. As a result of that, the UN has, on many occasions, enacted resolutions and made statements in support of UNSCOM and against the Iraqi actions. One of the principal results of Iraq's refusal to follow international rules of the road and to allow UN inspectors in there or to do their work completely, with complete freedom, is that the United Nations Security Council, time and again, has suspended any review of possible sanction-easing against Iraq. Iraq would like the sanctions lifted. The UN has postponed or interrupted reviews of whether the sanctions should be lifted or changed a number of times. This is clearly a counter-productive policy for Saddam Hussein who says he wants sanctions lifted and continually acts in a way that discourages the UN from reviewing the sanctions. So this is another affront to the UN, it's another affront to international order. It's another affront to an international community's determination to try to remove weapons of mass destruction from Iraq.
Earlier this month Richard Butler, who is the executive chairman of the UN Special Commission which is called UNSCOM, made a report to the UN in which he said that although there had been some progress in accounting for missiles and chemical weapons, that the UNSCOM had found that in the area of biological weapons there had been almost no progress. He said their efforts in the area of biological weapons had been "unredeemed by progress or any approximation of the known facts of Iraq's program." So that's another example of the refusal to deal with the UNSCOM inspections.
Q: At this point in time with so much force there can you rule out the use of military force?
A: I'm not going to discuss the use of military force now. I'm going to say that the UN is dealing with this issue and this, right now, is a dispute between Iraq and the UN. The UN is, the Security Council is figuring out how to respond to it and we're working with the Security Council.
Q: If the UN is unable to get Iraq to change its position does the U.S. reserve the right to act unilaterally?
A: I don't want to predict the future. We're right now working with the UN Security Council, of which we're one of the five permanent members, to resolve this dispute.
Q: One of the Iraqi demands, in addition to the expulsion of American inspectors, is the end of overflight by U.S. reconnaissance aircraft over parts of Iraq. Can you tell us what the status of those reconnaissance flights are? Have they been temporarily suspended? Are they going on as usual? How often are such flights conducted?
A: There have been no changes in our plans to conduct those flights in support of the UN.
Q: How about the NIMITZ? The NIMITZ is on an around-the-world cruise. Have you changed its deployment plan...
A: There has been no change in our deployment plans as of this time.
Q: Do you plan to send an additional carrier to the Gulf region?
A: I said there have been no changes in our deployment plans. As you know, we have a carrier in the Gulf approximately three-quarters of the year. It's on average there 270 days or more. A carrier is there. So the normal state of affairs is to have a carrier there. The NIMITZ happens to be there now.
Q: How often are these reconnaissance flights the Iraqis are objecting to being conducted? Is this something that's done every day or are they just on an occasional basis?
A: It varies according to the needs of UNSCOM.
Q: Can the UN monitor successfully, accurately -- with recon flights, satellites, etc. -- activities of the Iranians with regard to possibly moving or preparing their weapons? In other words, is this a possible motive for what they're doing, that they're making some preparations that people on the ground only could detect?
A: Without getting into any details, I think the international community can monitor movements of forces within Iraq with some degree of confidence.
Q: As the rhetoric heats up over the last couple of days, has there been any change in disposition of Iraqi military forces in any way?
A: Nothing significant.
Q: Nothing significant?
A: Nothing particularly unusual, no.
Q: Has the U.S. stepped up its Southern Watch flights or any other sort of unusual...
A: I said it before, we've made no changes in our deployments or our operations in the Gulf since this dispute between Iraq and the UN arose.
Q: Have there been any more reconnaissance flights since the Iraqi government issued their unacceptable demand?
A: Without getting into details, the flights that are made in support of UNSCOM are, as I said, at UNSCOM's request. They are episodic. The pace or the intensity, the frequency of the flight varies according to UNSCOM's needs. There's been no change in those plans. There's a flight schedule which I choose not to get into, and that flight schedule has not been changed.
Q: Just a question to follow-up on China. Was there any work on increasing military-to-military exchanges or anything? Just to go back to the topic of the discussions, anything at all that they talked about?
A: Military-to-military exchanges was one of the topics that the Presidents touched on in their Summit. But the details of a program for 1998 and for planning for years beyond 1998 will be worked out when Secretary Cohen goes to Beijing. So there was a commitment to have exchanges, to continue with the exchanges that have been going on, and that list is fairly extensive, actually, and to build on it. But the details will be worked out.
Q: Was there any written communique as a result of this on military matters?
A: Not that I'm aware of. Not that I've seen.
Q: Can you check?
A: I will check. That's more a question that you should ask the White House.
Q: Since the Pentagon will be doing the military part of it, I would assume...
A: I don't believe that we have completed a written schedule yet. That's something that may happen next month in Beijing when Secretary Cohen visits.
Q: Also the Chinese President spoke yesterday about strategic cooperation. Is the Pentagon seeking some type, or agree that the United States should have a strategic cooperation arrangement with China?
A: I don't know exactly what he meant by strategic cooperation. It is very clear that we want to, and plan to work together with China as world citizens to avoid and resolve disputes, both in Asia and around the world. I think that's one of the reasons why Iran has, why Iran was a topic of discussion, and it's one of the reasons why China has agreed to limit, to change its program in support... To halt its program in support of the Iranian nuclear industry.
Q: That pledge... What's the Pentagon's assessment of how advanced Iran's nuclear program is, and how much of a difference will the, assuming the Chinese make good on their pledge, denying them Chinese technology. How will that hamper Iran's ability to develop a nuclear program?
A: It will certainly complicate their efforts to develop their program. We've been also working with other potential suppliers to discourage them from supporting Iran's programs. We think their ultimate goal is to develop weapons of mass destruction. We think that would be harmful to not only our interests but interests of many countries around the world.
We don't believe that Iran has the indigenous scientific and industrial base necessary to support major nuclear programs now, so they have to import technology and some industrial products from abroad. To the extent that countries agree to stop supplying Iran with nuclear materials and technology it will slow their program.
Q: Is there any way to characterize, any general way, how far along they've gotten?
A: I can't. I'm not enough of a nuclear expert to be able to do that. But this clearly will slow them down.
Q: Do you have any comment on our report today that China is also assisting Iran with chemical weapons, including the construction of an equipment factory that will have chemical weapons...
A: It won't surprise you to know that I'm not going to comment on an intelligence report.
Q: How about on Chinese support for Iran's chemical weapons program?
A: Your report noted that this was dual technology. I'm not going to get into intelligence reports on this. I cannot discuss that at this stage without getting into intelligence reports so I'm not going to do it.
Q: Given all the agreements and things announced here over the last couple of days, when Secretary Cohen goes to Beijing, what's tops on his list now in terms of following up with the Chinese, specifically on the non-proliferation issue, but with regards to nuclear and missile exports? Are there things he still wants to discuss with them on this? Or does this pretty much resolve the concerns?
A: Non-proliferation is an issue that will be high on the agenda of any national security representative who goes to China, I think, because we both share concerns about proliferation of weapons of mass destruction around the world. But the main point of Secretary Cohen's trip is going to be to continue to build the personal relationship he has with Chinese officials. He's met Jiang Zemin now twice. He's met General Chi when he was here, when General Chi was visiting Secretary Perry, and Secretary Cohen had been named but had not yet taken over as Secretary of Defense, had not yet been confirmed. We will talk about ways to increase transparency not only between our two military establishments, but among China and its 16 or so neighbors so there will be less room for miscalculation and confusion about plans in Asia. We'll also talk about various confidence building measures. The President mentioned one yesterday which is the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement, sort of the maritime rules of the road for our navies. This is important because China's navy is increasingly becoming a blue water navy, and operating at greater distances away from Chinese shores.
This is the type of thing they'll be discussing. They'll talk more about exchanges, they'll try to nail some down. They may also talk about ways we can cooperate on various humanitarian projects from time to time.
Q: Non-proliferation. Did Secretary Cohen, or any other official that you have knowledge of, speak with the Chinese regarding the Korean missile threat to South Korea and to Japan and the proliferation of perhaps as much as a billion dollars in missiles around to the Middle East, especially?
A: I can't answer that question, but it's obvious to everybody that if Korea is operating on programs, is developing longer range missiles, that those missile can be fired 360 degrees. And there's nothing in the world that says they all can fly in one direction. So that's the type of activity that I think, the type of proliferation activity that would be of concern to all neighbors of North Korea.
Q: But that wasn't brought up specifically?
A: I said I can't answer that question. I did not attend the Summit.
Q: Now that the nuclear certification issue has been out of the way, I was wondering if the issue of U.S. military sales to China came in the Secretary's meetings with Jiang Zemin.
A: I'm not aware that it did.
Q: And do you know, does the United States have any plans to lift that ban on military sales?
A: Not that I'm aware of right now.
Q: What is the Pentagon's current view on supercomputer exports to China? Is there any update on...
A: We have rules that govern supercomputer exports. Those rules are, basically they deal with the speed of computers, which is measured in something called MTOPS which is millions of theoretical operations per second. Those rules basically say that, they prevent computers, I believe, from being exported if they're above 7,000 MTOPS and they apply to, if the computer is between 2,000 and 7,000 MTOPS there are certain licensing requirements or permit requirements, depending on the end use of the computer. Those rules are still in place.
Q: Are there plans to change those rules?
A: Not that I'm aware of, no. Now 7,000 MTOPS sounds like a lot, but today supercomputers are operating at well above 100,000 MTOPS, the top of the line supercomputers. So it will give you a sense of how these rules fit in.
Q: Regarding the military sales question, I was wondering if you could take that question, whether the Pentagon favors lifting the ban on military sales.
A: That's a different question than you asked before. The question you asked before was whether it was discussed. Now you're asking whether we favor a change in the ban. Do you want me to take both questions or just...
A: I thought you might. (Laughter)
Q: There was a published report that there was a meeting of Cabinet level officials on Bosnia last week, and that there was a general agreement that U.S. forces will have to remain after June of '98. There was also a section in the report that Secretary Cohen did not object to this idea in general, that there was no discussion of a mission or any other details.
Was that an accurate portrayal of this meeting, or do you have any comment on that at all?
A: I don't think it's appropriate for me to comment on White House meetings. That's something that White House officials can do. But Secretary Cohen's view on this is very clear. It's that right now the most immediate challenge we face is making the Dayton peace process work and make it as productive as possible between now and June of '98. We have a commitment to stability in Southeastern Europe that will last well beyond June of 1998, and we are in the process of deciding how we will meet that commitment, what sort of presence we might have in Bosnia and elsewhere in the area beyond June of 1998.
The President has been meeting with his advisors to discuss that, and he has made no decision.
Q: Is it true that all of the options currently on the table, being discussed at NATO, include some presence of U.S. troops on the ground in Bosnia past June of 1998? All of the current options that are being discussed.
A: I don't want to get into talking about options. I think the most important thing to focus on right now is that the President is consulting with his advisors about what the U.S. commitment will be after June of 1998. He has not made a decision. He also plans to talk with members of Congress. Those consultations will be going on over the next couple of weeks by the President and his Administration. Whatever decision he makes, he will do so with the advice of Congress, and finally Congress will have to decide whether it accepts the decision.
Q: When you talk about the U.S. commitment beyond June of '98, does that commitment include a military commitment?
A: You've read all of the same things I've read by Sandy Berger, the National Security Advisor, the statements by Secretary Albright, by Secretary Cohen, by President Clinton. They all say that we have a commitment to stability in that area. We will remain involved. The type of involvement, the form of involvement, will be decided later. That's one of the things the President's trying to sort out now. And he has, yes, been talking to his advisors about that but no decision's been made yet.
Q: Can I go back to Iraq and the Gulf for a moment? The last time we talked about U.S. assets in the region, I think there was an expeditionary force in Bahrain and there were some B-1 bombers I guess that just left or something. Can you just update us on, in general terms, what the U.S. assets are in the region currently?
A: Sure. But I want to stress that we have a robust force operating in the Gulf day in and day out. The composition of that force changes as Army units come in or go out; as Air Expeditionary Forces move in and out; and as carrier battle groups go in and go out. Right now we have approximately 18,500 people in the Gulf; there are approximately 200 aircraft -- both land and sea-based in the area; and 15 ships.
I believe that there is, and please check me on this. This is just from memory because it's not here, but I believe there's an INTRINSIC ACTION exercise going on now and there's some Army forces exercising with pre-positioned equipment in Kuwait. That's fairly standard. People are falling in on that pre-positioned equipment all the time, dusting it off, moving it out into the desert, exercising, coming back, washing it down, and flying out again. Then new troops come in. We also have similar exercises elsewhere in the Gulf.
Q: Is the NIMITZ due to exit the Gulf any time soon on the way home? Or is she...
A: I believe the NIMITZ is scheduled to be there for, I think until a little before Christmas time, I believe. Maybe even after. She's supposed to be there for several months. She got there in early October and she'll be there for a couple more months, I believe. But we can get the exact date of that.
Q: Twice before the United States has used cruise missile attacks to punish Saddam Hussein for his actions or his defiance. Like last year when he moved forces up in the north, and then back in 1993, to punish him for the alleged plot against former President George Bush. Is a Tomahawk cruise missile strike an option that the United States always has if it decides it needs to send a message to Saddam Hussein?
A: We have a variety of assets in the area, and they are there to protect our interests.
The current dispute is a dispute between Iraq and the United Nations, and the United Nations is now figuring out how to respond.
Q: Back to Bosnia for a second. Has Secretary of Defense Cohen ever said on the record that he prefers for all U.S. troops to come out of Bosnia permanently at the June of '98 deadline?
A: I, unfortunately, do not have everything he's ever said on Bosnia committed to memory. Clearly, he has been speaking for the last few months in terms of the SFOR mission ending in June of '98, of the U.S. interest in the area continuing, and noting that there will be some sort of U.S. presence in the area, but what that presence is remains to be determined.
Q: Will you take that question for us?
Press: Thank you.