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DoD News Briefing: Captain Mike Doubleday, DASD (PA)

Presenters: Captain Mike Doubleday, DASD (PA)
December 02, 1997 1:30 PM EDT

Captain Doubleday: Good afternoon.

Let me welcome 30 students from American University who are participating in the Washington semester program. This program, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year at American University brings college students from all over the country to the nation's capital for a semester of classes and internships with a variety of government agencies and to meet the nation's decisionmakers. Today's group is specializing in American politics, and we welcome all of you to our briefing.

I'd also like to welcome a group of four journalists who are here today with the U.S. Information Agency in a program for UN fellows. These journalists are from Bosnia, Barbados, South Africa and India, and they'll be in Washington this week and will visit the White House, State Department and other parts of the government who are interested in foreign affairs.

With that, I'll try and answer some of your questions.

Q: Could you comment on the report in the New York Times? Does the Defense Department agree with the assertion that the building that's going on and the potential hide-away for Libyan military or chemical weapons?

A: This is a very large project which we're watching with all of our usual care, but this project at this point appears to be an irrigation project.

Q: So you see no evidence at this point that it has been used or could be used as a troop movement mechanism?

A: At this point I am aware of no indications that we have that the project has been used for the movement of troops or military equipment. The one thing I noticed from the article, there does not appear to be, as far as any reporting in the article, any kind of ventilation systems which would be required for large-scale movement of human beings.

Q: How about building a chemical weapons plant in a pipeline? Does that seem like a logical possibility? Do you have any evidence that that has occurred or might be occurring?

A: There is no evidence that I'm aware of that there is a chemical weapons facility within this system.

Q: What about up at Tarhunah? Do you see any more construction of that facility going on?

A: No. In Tarhunah the facility was never functional there and the construction activity has ceased.

Q: What about Rabta? Just as long as we're going around the horn on our favorite Libyan sites. Is that still a functional chemical weapons facility?

A: I don't have anything with me on Rabta but I think it is in our latest publication, and we'll get back to you with an answer on that one.

Q: So is it safe to say then that you do not believe that these 13 foot irrigation pipes could be used for the movement of troops?

A: It is safe at this point to say that we are watching this project carefully. We're always attentive to what is happening in Libya, but at this point we have seen no indication that that's the purpose for which this project is being used.

Q: Different subject. Do you have any comment on President Yeltsin's apparent announcement that he intends to cut nuclear weapons?

A: We don't have all the details on this, but certainly at this point, knowing what we do based on press reports, we would welcome a decision by Russia to reduce overall nuclear warhead inventories. Assuming that the Russian decision includes tactical as well as strategic nuclear warheads, such a move would bring Russia's overall stockpile numbers more in line with ours. Under START I the U.S. and former Soviet Union are committed to reduce accountable strategic warheads by roughly 40 percent. When ratified, START II will mean a further 40 percent reduction.

The United States, as you're aware has slashed its tactical nuclear weapons by roughly 75 percent since 1990, and we, at this point, are looking forward to the initiation of START III negotiations once Russia has ratified START II.

Q: These seem to be unilateral steps. Does this indicate to you some hope that he has of getting this treaty ratified in the Duma?

A: As I say, our information at this point is just based on the press reports, so we don't have any information that goes beyond what we've seen in the press.

Q: What number level does this bring... Do you have any...

A: Under START I the limits were 6,000 deployed strategic warheads. Under START II the limits are 3,000 to 3,500 deployed strategic warheads, and the guidelines for START III, which were agreed at the Helsinki summit, puts the limits at between 2,000 and 2,500 warheads.

Q: Haiti. What's the status on a decision of whether or not U.S. troops now in Haiti will be pulled out?

A: The decision there is still pending. We at present have 380-some U.S. troops still in Haiti, and a number of these are involved in projects down there involving reconstruction and repairs at school facilities.

Q: Isn't it sort of late? Isn't this decision a bit late, given that the UN mandate expired last weekend?

A: You may be aware that our troops, although they coordinated with the UN troops down there, their presence was not supportive of the UN mission. It was independent of the UN mission. In fact the initial approval for the deployment of the current number of U.S. troops was done some time ago, and it actually runs through December. I would anticipate a decision in the near future, but that is still pending.

Q: It wasn't part of the rationale for allowing American forces to be there without real security -- the comfort level that was provided by the Canadian and Indian troops that were there, that did provide security? Is that not a concern for the United States?

A: That certainly is a consideration, although I would point out that there are a number of troops in the U.S. contingent down there numbering over 150, who are devoted almost exclusively to force protection of the engineering and medical programs that are going on down there.

Q: It was reported that Greece and Turkey have finally reached an agreement in the NATO framework for the establishment of a joint military command over the Aegean. We have separate areas for operational responsibility. I'm wondering how this crucial decision affects your military strategic presence into the Aegean is unilaterally or bilaterally?

A: I think what I can say on that is that we strongly support the work of NATO's military committee in developing a new command structure, which was what this was all about. A command structure that will be more responsive to the alliance's contemporary security challenges, including those throughout the southern region. Our interests will be well served by the Alliance's agreement on the new command structure, and its subsequent implementation.

Q: In the case of a U.S. air or naval exercise, how would they deal with that? Would they direct the request to both countries separately, or only to NATO authorities from now on?

A: At this point I can't say since the new command structure has not yet been implemented. But certainly this would indicate that, with this agreement, we would be able to move to presenting the new command structure to NATO authorities. Once that is done it may become clearer exactly what chain of command would be in effect there.

Q: Otherwise, based on this crucial decision you are expecting, did you consider, possibly, from the military's point of view that the Aegean Sea belongs equally to both countries?

A: Say that one more time.

Q: Based on this decision, did you consider that the Aegean Sea belongs equal to both countries?

A: I don't believe that our view of the Aegean has changed at all by this decision.

Q: What is the view?

A: It's been stated many times and I will not try and repeat it from the platform here.

Q: Any Iraqi violations of the southern or northern no-fly zone?

A: I am not aware of any violations, no.

Q: North Korea. Actually, Korea peace talks. Four-party talks will start December 9th. There is a possibility North Korea will place the issue of the U.S. troops in Korean peninsula as one of the general issues. Could you clarify what's your general position? And if North Korea raised the issue, how do you respond to that?

A: First of all, let me say clearly that I don't want to speculate on a hypothetical. The second thing I'll say is that every political leader in the United States has made it very clear that we intend to maintain about 100,000 U.S. troops in the Western Pacific region, and I think you will find that most of the countries hosting U.S. troops believe that that is about the right number.

Q: I'd like to go back to Iraq for a moment, if I may. Given the tranquility in Iraq, any discussions underway to begin to draw down any of the forces?

A: It's not clear at this point exactly how the situation with the UNSCOM inspections is going to turn out. We're looking, of course, for results on the ground. We're looking for full access for UNSCOM inspects to the sites that they believe they need to inspect to ensure compliance with the UN resolutions that have been imposed on Iraq.

At this point I don't see any change in the military situation involving U.S. units that are deployed to the region, and it remains to be seen pending a presidential decision on when any kind of a change there might occur.

Q: With regard to U.S. forces in the Gulf and Saudi Arabia, how did the trip of Dr. Hamre fare? What's the morale? Have they all got enough room? What's the force protection and all those other factors?

A: Dr. Hamre did, indeed, visit a number of troops not only in Southwest Asia, but he also made a stop in Bosnia during a very action-packed 72-hour period.

I think in general you would say that the morale of U.S. troops is very high. We visited, during the course of the time we were in Southwest Asia, Army units that had just come in from the desert in Kuwait, Air Force units at several different locations --- Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, also in Kuwait. We visited Navy units in the Arabian Gulf including amphibious units, aircraft carriers, a destroyer and a cruiser. We visited Marine units embarked in one of the amphibious ships. I am pleased to report that morale is uniformly high and that everyone was extremely well fed on Thanksgiving and the day thereafter. Dr. Hamre participated in serving some of those meals, along with his wife and Admiral Johnson, his senior military aide.

Q: Now that Secretary West has been officially nominated to head Veterans Affairs by the President, what's the status of a replacement for the Secretary of the Army?

A: That, of course, would come from the White House. I am not aware of any kind of an announcement on a replacement.

Let me just go back and pick up one piece. Our new report, "Proliferation, Threat and Response" which I have not yet memorized, indicates that Rapta was closed in 1990. The Libyans announced its reopening in September of 1995 as a pharmaceutical facility, but the Rapta facility remains capable of producing chemical agents.

Q: So the story in the New York Times characterizing this as an "ominous development", the military potential for this pipeline, does not appear to be accurate?

A: John, I don't want to ever be so definitive as you have just characterized this. I think the best thing to say at this point is that we watch these kinds of largescale projects very closely and we will continue to do so. The Iraqis in the past have characterized... Excuse me, the Libyans in the past have characterized some of their supposed non-lethal facilities as being something that they turned out not to be. Certainly Rapta was at one time characterized as a pharmaceutical facility...

Q: But you found evidence that it wasn't, and you haven't found evidence that this pipeline is anything other than a pipeline, is that correct?

A: At this point I am aware of no evidence that this pipeline is anything but an irrigation project. But again, we're going to continue to follow it because it's a very large project.

Press: Thank you.

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