Tuesday, March 28, 1995 - 1:30 p.m.
Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Thanks for coming to the Pentagon's briefing.
I've got a couple of announcements to start with. First, I think you saw yesterday, we released a memorandum that the Secretary is going to Charleston Air Force Base as part of his program to visit with enlisted men every quarter. The host of the visit will be Air Force Chief Master Sergeant Campanale. He's scheduled now to have a brief press conference down there at 11:30 a.m. That could be subject to change, but that's the current schedule.
Tomorrow, there will be a briefing by a senior defense official on the Secretary's trip to Russia, the Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. He leaves on Thursday for that trip. That will be at 11:00 a.m. here tomorrow.
At 1:30, an old friend of ours, General Sheehan, will brief on the transition to the UN forces in Haiti which takes place on Friday. As you know, the President will be down there for that, also, to meet with U.S. troops in Haiti and thank them for the magnificent job they've done there over the last several months.
Tomorrow afternoon at Fort Benning, Georgia, Major General John Hendrix will hold a press conference to present the results of the investigation of the four Rangers who died of hypothermia. If you need further information on that, you can call the Fort Benning Public Affairs Office.
Finally, at 4:00 o'clock tomorrow we'll pipe back into the building Secretary Perry's speech to the U.S./Russian Business Council which he's giving in Washington.
That's all I've got.
Q: The subject of the speech? Direction?
A: He's going to be talking about, what would you guess, addressing the U.S./Russia Business Council? He's going to be talking about doing business in Russia. What we can do to improve the climate for U.S. business people in Russia.
Q: Is there Q&A afterwards?
A: I'll try to find out. It's a good question.
Q: What's the situation on the two U.S. guys being held by Iraq?
A: They remain in detention in Iraq. We believe they're still in the Iraqi Detention Center but will be transferred to the Abu Garaib Prison. Diplomatic efforts to win their release are continuing. You've probably seen reports that aside from the Poles, we're also asking the French, the Russians, and the Turks to help make the case for their release. We continue to believe, of course, that their captivity is outrageous and they should be released as soon as possible.
Q: Is there any indication or suggestion, official or otherwise, on the part of the Iraqis that they might be willing to release these folks?
A: No, but I actually saw a reference to a Reuters report that was mildly encouraging, that the Speaker of the Parliament, who yesterday said that they had come into Iraq for "purpose of sabotage," which we deny totally, has backed away from that, and he said he was misquoted. So it does appear to be a more reasonable statement about these gentlemen than we saw yesterday from the Speaker of the Parliament.
Q: Some Republicans in Congress have suggested the United States should take a harder stance, specifically not ruling out any military options. Are there any military options in a case like this?
A: First, I think it's irresponsible now to talk about military options at a time when we're pursuing a number of diplomatic options. Secondly, we have not ruled out anything.
Q: The Secretary himself said that these people had gone into Iraq illegally, when we were on the trip to the Gulf. Therefore, they had been legally taken by the Iraqis. While the Iraqis did take advantage of the situation, they had legally taken them. Is that right?
A: He did say that, yes.
Q: Then there would be no reason for military options.
A: We believe that diplomatic solutions are the way to go here, and that's what we're pursuing.
Q: Has the Pentagon been asked to look into whatever possible military options there might be?
A: I'm not aware of any such request.
Q: Regarding Turkey, does the Administration feel that they're getting the full story when they talk to the Turkish authorities? On one hand, you've got the civilian leadership in Turkey saying that their stay in Northern Iraq is going to be short-lived, and they're there just for a short duration. On the other hand, the military seems to be aggressively pursuing a longer stay in Northern Iraq. Do you sense there's a split in what you're hearing between the civilian and military side within Turkey?
A: Those words you used, "longer" and "short-term duration", of course are all subject to interpretation. It's hard to know how much they differ.
Having said that, I don't have any reason to believe that we're getting conflicting stories. There's also some history here. Turkish troops went into Iraq to police Kurdish terrorism in 1992 and they did not stay a particularly long time. We've been assured by both the President and by the Prime Minister that this will be of short term duration and that's our hope. That's our expectation as well.
Q: Can you give us the status of troop numbers in Haiti now, what the situation is?
A: Did you go to the briefing at the White House yesterday on this?
A: Currently there are 4,871 U.S. troops in Haiti.
Q: Do you have a breakdown?
A: There are 3,725 members of the Army; 161 members of the Air Force; there are 402 in the headquarters of the multinational force; there are 503 special forces people; and there are 21 other Americans over there, something that in my chart is described as JPOTF which is some special task force, obviously. We'll find out what that means. But that's the breakdown. [Joint Psychological Operations Task Force]
Q: The 402 in the headquarters of the multinational force, are they Army?
A: I don't know, Charlie. We'll try to find out. You can see, obviously, that more than three-quarters of these people are in the Army.
Q: There's no Navy presence down there at all, or Marine Corps?
A: Not that I see listed here.
Q: How many will remain?
A: Ultimately there will be about 2400 or 2500 Americans. We won't come down immediately on Friday from 4871 to 2400 or 2500. As I understand it, on Friday there will be about 4100 Americans there. About two weeks into April, about the time you're filing your taxes, we'll be down to 2400 or 2500 Americans, which is our contribution to the UNMIH force. That's just to allow an orderly transition.
Q: Are there any Haitians left at Guantanamo Bay at all?
A: I think there may be a handful left. Let me check on that. They're pretty much all gone, but let me see what...
Q: Can we also get the numbers and status, has there been any change in the number of Cubans in Guantanamo, what the current number is?
A: There are 525 Haitians who have not yet been repatriated for either medical reasons or because more time is required to investigate their situation, whatever that is -- whether it's medical, family, whatever. So there are 525 still remaining. However, they are still leaving for Haiti. Nineteen left Guantanamo Bay yesterday for Haiti.
There are 23,209 Cuban refugees at Guantanamo Bay. We had hoped that there would be a repatriation flight today from Guantanamo Bay to Havana. There were 38 Cubans lined up to go. But the flight has been postponed, as they frequently are. So people are moving very slowly out of Guantanamo Bay, but they are moving.
Q: Can you update us on plans for family visitation?
A: Yes, the family visitation will probably begin around the end of next month or early May. We are working with non-governmental organizations, primarily the Red Cross, to arrange this. I believe the Red Cross will run the weekly flights from Florida to Guantanamo Bay and the costs will be paid by visiting family members, as they were by the visiting families who went to Panama to see Cuban migrants there.
Q: So these won't be military flights, they'll be charters.
A: Right. They were charters to Panama as well.
Q: On the Haiti numbers, most of the drawdown, will those be the forces that were sent into Haiti out of Hawaii, and they'll be going back?
A: Since most of the forces in Haiti are from the 25th ID, most of those being returned will be from the 25th ID.
Q: Bosnia. There are reports that the UN is warning the Bosnian government that it better ease up on its offensive or it might bring airstrikes. Does the United States support airstrikes against Bosnian forces? And it's often and strongly called for air attacks on Serbian forces. Do you support air attacks on Bosnian forces to stop an offensive?
A: Our goal is to contain and then stop the fighting in Bosnia. If we are asked, if NATO forces are asked by the UN, and NATO agrees to use air power to enforce exclusion zones, we will use air power to do that. We have said we support the use of air power to enforce the UN mandates and to protect civilians.
Q: To follow on this subject, it has been historic that every time the Muslims have gone on the offensive, the Bosnians have retaliated massively. The UN is concerned that that will take place now. Three of the major cities the Muslim's hold are being shelled again. It seems that the ceasefire in fact has evaporated. What does this government propose might be a proper approach to the Bosnian Muslims?
A: Our approach is well known. I've explained it here many times and it's been explained throughout the government many times. We hope the sides will agree to a peace agreement. That clearly is not happening right now. We had the cessation of hostilities agreement. It's still in effect. It's supposed to last until May 1st. We would like that agreement to be extended. We and our allies are working on that now. It has never been, and certainly is not recently an airtight agreement. We're hopeful that the sides will cease their hostilities and will negotiate a solution.
Q: Two days after the Muslim leaders left Washington, the weekend before last, the offensives began around Tuzla. Had they informed this government of their intentions to go on the offensive?
A: I can't answer that question. Our position, though, is well known. We want the fighting to stop and we want negotiations for peace to continue.
Q: Will this offensive take you any closer to an UNPROFOR evacuation? Do you think it's more likely now than it was a few weeks ago?
A: When you look at the alternatives, when you look at the possibility of an UNPROFOR evacuation, you begin to look at the alternative which is no UN presence in Bosnia, and all the alternatives are terrible. We believe that pulling UNPROFOR out would lead to an expansion of the fighting, and possibly a spread of the fighting into other areas. We want to avoid that. Plans are continuing for an UNPROFOR withdrawal, but I can't say that today we're closer to it than we were three or four days ago. Things go back and forth. We're hopeful that this fighting will stop.
Q: Do you have any comment on the GAO report that again highlighted the high cost of processing travel vouchers for the Pentagon?
A: Yes. I have several comments on it. One is that it was a little behind the times, because we are in the process of taking fairly vigorous action to correct this problem. We do admit that it was a problem. It's a problem that we're working on very aggressively at this stage. As part of the Administration's National Performance Review, we looked at travel procedures in the Pentagon, and last June a task force was set up to study our travel operation. That task force made a report in January of 1995. John Hamre, the Comptroller, talked about this study today in testimony on the Hill, and you can get a copy of that testimony from DDI.
The recommendation of the task force was that we would rely more heavily on private business to clear up our travel problems, and we're setting out now to do that. We've already taken a number of actions and we'll be taking more actions.
If you went to John Hamre's testimony today, you would have heard him say this, "Our vision is a seamless, paperless system that meets the needs of travelers, commanders, and process owners. It must reduce costs, support mission requirements, and provide superior customer service." That's what we're aiming for.
Press: Thank you.