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DoD News Briefing, July 23, 1998 - 1:35 p.m. (EDT)

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
July 23, 1998 1:35 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. I'm sorry I'm late.

As you probably know, the President just announced that Mike McCurry's leaving, so I stayed to watch some of that and some of Mike's comments. I might say that Mike has clearly served the President very well, and I think he's served the press and the American public extremely well. He's also been, for those of us who have to stand up here and answer questions for a living, extremely helpful to people like me, and Jamie Rubin, and others, so we'll miss him when he leaves in October. I'm sure Joe Lockhart will do a terrific job, and we're all looking forward to working with him as well.

Frequently during these meetings, these briefings, I think you feel that they drift from light to darkness, so rather than dragging that out I thought we'd plunge you into darkness immediately and show you something before we move on with the rest of the briefing.

Captain Knotts: I know that all of you are anxious to begin your questions of Mr. Bacon and he's anxious to take them, so I'll make this short.

Most of you I hope, at least, recognize this as the face of DefenseLINK, the official DoD Website. As of this morning about 9:30, the site looks more like this. This is the result of a several month process with the Defense Technical Information Center and lots of the government and contractor folks down there working on this. Based on a lot of research.

A couple of things you see here is that the site downloads a lot quicker. We've added a lot of new information of particular interest to you in the press, as well as the folks listening to this live on the Internet today.

Some of the changes include our major sections, news, multimedia, publications, and questions. Right on the front of the site you have quick access to information about our key leaders to include the secretary, deputy secretary, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

The latest news for our military folks from the American Forces Information Service, you see here a deemphasis of the organization structure and more emphasis on news and current information, our news highlights and our sites of interest.

Throughout the site we've used a standard header at the top that gives you quick access to the major sections of content, and within those sections such as news, I'm showing here, you have subsections of different information. We've added here news articles from the American Forces Information Service, along with news releases and contracts and other information that you and the media typically use.

As I mentioned, today's briefing is being broadcast live over the Internet, as will all of our future briefings here in the press briefing room.

We also have added into the news area speeches by our key defense leaders and radio news from Armed Forces Radio and Television Service, as well as a way for people to be able to get our defense information in their e-mail, which we think is going to be hugely popular.

Another absolutely new section that we've created based on our research is the multimedia section. What people have said is they really like photos. They like to see soldiers out doing soldierly kinds of things. So we've added this section that includes not only photos from our Joint Combat Camera Center, but also graphics, sound clips, and video clips. These will change as often as we get information in from the field.

The information in our publications and questions section will remain virtually the same as it is now so you who depend on our latest publications and reports and those sorts of things will still be able to get them from there.

We welcome your feedback and comments. We want to make this a more useful resource for you in the press as well as the folks there at home.

Mr. Bacon: Thanks. That was Captain Jim Knotts who's primarily responsible for the redesign of DefenseLINK. He's been working with Rick Silva and Cliff Bernath.

We also, starting in a month or so, we're going to have a new version of the Early Bird which will be much more computer friendly, faster to download. We will not get rid of the old Early Bird, but there will be two versions. Sort of a fast text version and a slow text version. Your stories will run in both.

Before I start, let me just bring you up to date on what we're doing to help people in Papua, New Guinea. We are delivering a total of ten pallets of supplies to Port Moresby. They should have arrived very early this morning, 1:15 local time. These include five gallon water containers, tents, cots, clothing, tools, lanterns, and medical supplies. We've sent down some communications technicians and also some medical personnel to help with the disaster there.

Bill Gertz has brought a bunch of interns, probably all in the back -- welcome The Washington Times interns here. You all get to ask one question if you want to, as long as they're not all about missiles. (Laughter)

We've brought you up to date on the DefenseLINK redesign.

Let me just also note that tomorrow Secretary Cohen will make some remarks on the 50th anniversary of the integration of the Army. That's at 7:00 p.m. at Constitution Hall. This is an Army event actually hosted by the new secretary of the Army, Louis Caldera.

In addition, the deputy secretary, John Hamre, will make some remarks in Birmingham, Alabama on Sunday, which is actually the 50th anniversary of Truman's signing of the order to integrate the armed forces. That will be at 8:00 p.m. at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex in Birmingham, Alabama.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: What can you tell us about Iran's test of a medium range missile yesterday? Can you confirm that it took place, and do we know how successful it was?

A: I can confirm that Iran did test a medium range ballistic missile yesterday. We believe it was based on a North Korean Nodong missile. The Iranian name for it is the Shahab 3. Shahab means meteor. It's a worrisome development because it does represent, by them, an effort to expand the range of their missiles. Previously, most of their ballistic missile force was SCUD Bs and Cs with ranges of 300 to 500 kilometers. The Nodong missile has a range up to about 1300 kilometers. We believe this was in about that range.

I can't tell you anything about the outcome of the test except it did occur. It's not particularly surprising that they did this. As you probably know, officials have been mentioning the fact that they've been developing a medium range ballistic missile for some time, and just last week the Rumsfeld Commission said that they expected a test of such a missile relatively soon. In fact they may have used the term imminent, which makes them look quite prescient or clairvoyant.

But at any rate, this was one test. It does not give them a capability at this stage. They're still in the testing stage. We expect that they will try to test again sometime and they may require several more tests before they are confident of the abilities of the missile. But the test is worrisome because it does represent an effort for them to expand the range of their missile force. This would allow them to strike many countries in the Middle East including Israel, parts of Turkey and parts of Russia as well.

Q: You said it doesn't represent a capability, but yet when the North Koreans, they only tested the Nodong once and the secretary recently said it's operational. Does this missile represent a threat now to U.S. forces in the region?

A: I don't believe the secretary said it was operational. I think what the secretary said, and I'd have to go back and check the record, but my recollection of what he said was that we believe that they have completed development. What we don't know, what we haven't talked about was deployment at this stage.

Q: He said operational capability. If you minced words...

A: They've completed the development. We'll have to wait and see what Iran does in the future with this.

Q: What about the reports that the missile did not complete its flight but blew up late in its flight? Was this intentional detonation or an accident? What can you tell us about that?

A: I can't comment on any of the dynamics or characteristics of the flight at this stage.

Q: I believe, and correct me if I'm wrong, that this medium range missile has a trajectory that takes it beyond the atmosphere and brings it down at a speed at which there is yet no operational anti-missile defense. Thus, no matter how many they might have, they still have a potential to hit quite a number of their neighbors, especially Israel, without any possible anti-missile defense, is this correct?

A: Bill, as you know, Israel is developing and buying the Arrow system to defend itself against attack. We are in the process of developing a theater missile defense system as well as a national missile defense system. You also know that our theater missile defense system right now consists of the Patriot 3. We are trying to improve its capability with new technology and new systems, and we're working quite aggressively on that. There was a briefing here a couple of weeks ago. We've had some problems with one of the systems, the THAAD system. But we're working on other systems as well.

Q: But is there a system that is now operational and could be fielded in Israel that could take out an IRBM with this kind of downward speed that this one has?

A: Two things. First, that's a question you should ask the Israelis. But second I caution you not 3 to leap from one test to an assumption that they, have right now, an ability to deploy these missiles.

Q: If they have one missile, though, can't they start a war with Israel?

A: The whole point of deterrence is to prevent this type of thing. We don't know what Iran's intentions are, except we know one thing. That they are aggressively developing longer range missiles. To what end, I'm not sure we know at this stage. But we work very hard to try to circumscribe that development, to stop it, to limit it. We've worked with Russia, we've worked with China and other countries as well, and we'll continue to work on that.

I think that what this incident shows is that the proliferation of ballistic missiles by Iran as well as other countries is a matter of concern, not just to the U.S., but to many countries in the world. Basically, other countries are threatened by this if they develop a capability, if they continue with this program.

Q: The U.S. troops that are based in Saudi Arabia at the Prince Sultan Air Base, are they protected by Patriot missile batteries? And what version of Patriot missiles are there? Are they effective against this kind of a missile?

A: We have the Patriot 3 missile, and I don't frankly know, and I'll have to find out. I just don't know its effectiveness against these missiles. But I hasten again to point out that one test does not mean a capability.

Mr. Gertz made a remark about North Korea. We certainly have to pay attention to that. Obviously the North Koreans, I assume, when other countries such as Iran test missiles that have been largely developed in North Korea, learn more information about their own weaponry. So to a certain extent every time a Nodong variant is tested elsewhere, I assume the North Koreans learn a little bit more about their own systems that way.

But the fact of the matter is we have to concentrate on what has happened so far. That is they've had one test of this missile. We will watch very closely and work very hard to prevent them from developing this system quickly. But I think what this shows is that they are determined to go ahead and develop longer range missiles.

Q: How long does DoD estimate before there could be a second test shot or before a second missile could go operational?

A: I don't believe we have a good estimate of that right now.

Q: Is the assessment here that Iran essentially bought this missile off the shelf from North Korea, or is it believed that they have some indigenous capability along with technology they got from other countries to improve or do something to this missile?

A: Without commenting on this specific system, they clearly have been developing an indigenous capability to manufacture SCUDs. This is a variant of the SCUD missile which in itself is a variant of the old German V-2 missile. All of these missiles are in basically the same family.

They have been working to develop an indigenous capability, to build SCUD-type missiles. That's one of the reasons that we have worked so hard to try to stop the flow of technology into Iran.

We believe this is largely based on technology that they purchase from North Korea, but I'm not sure we know the full details on this yet.

Q: Does this development in combination with the Rumsfeld Report lead to new thinking in the Pentagon about national missile defense systems and the 3+3 program?

A: Not new thinking. It confirms our determination to make that program work. We will have a briefing on national missile defense here soon, possibly next week; Thursday. A week from today we'll have a briefing on our national missile defense program to bring you up to date on that.

But as you know, it's the 3+3 program. That's designed to complete development in 2000 and then position us to deploy a limited system by 2003. We are still working aggressively on that program.

Q: What do you say to congressional critics who say the threat isn't 2003 or 2006, the threat is now, today, and that's what this test demonstrates.

A: First of all, as I've said twice already, this is a test of one missile. It does not, at this stage, I believe, represent an operational capability.

The question that was raised by the Rumsfeld Report is how quickly can they get from where they are today to a threat, and that's a question clearly that is a serious question and one that we have to address.

But we do have the foundation of a theater missile defense system. We're working to improve that and we're working on a national missile defense system. But basically, I think we've made it very clear in statements over many administrations since the 1940s, that we retain a very strong nuclear and conventional force; that we are prepared to protect our interests if attacked; and that no one should doubt that. We made very strong representations about our ability to use devastating force if we faced weapons of mass destruction during the war with Iraq. Iraq, which clearly had weapons of mass destruction, chose not to use them. I think every country would have to think many, many times before using one of these weapons.

I think we'd have to assume, that given the history of weapons of mass destruction, that most of them are developed for deterrent purposes. That's been the history so far. I hope that remains the history. But every country has its own view of what an adequate deterrent is.

Q: You mentioned the Rumsfeld Report as being forward viewing on this, saying that a test was imminent. It also said that deployment would follow soon thereafter this test. How soon do you expect this missile to be deployed?

A: I was asked that question before, and I just don't have an answer to that.

Q: Does the Pentagon plan to take any steps to send any more Patriot missile batteries to the Middle East?

A: As you can appreciate, we just learned about this yesterday, we're still evaluating information from the test, we're still trying to assemble as much intelligence and political and diplomatic information as we can about this, and we will act appropriately when we determine what that action is. But right now we haven't...

Q: Any change in the disposition of U.S. forces or any additions or any aircraft that will be sent over?

A: No. There are none.

Q: Does this point to a failure on the part of the well publicized diplomatic efforts to persuade Russia not to proliferate to Iran, and also the efforts going on with North Korea in connection with the framework agreement, not to get involved in missile proliferation?

A: First, the framework agreement deals with nuclear facilities. We have had separate talks with North Korea on missile proliferation. I think there have been two sets of talks so far. Frankly, those talks have not been successful but we are continuing to work on those talks.

In terms of Russia, I think there is a fair amount of success we can claim right now. Russia has enacted or passed new export control laws. It announced recently that it was investigating activities by I think nine entities who have been possibly charged with cooperating with Iran. And last week we announced, the United States announced, that it was taking action against seven of those Russian entities. So I think Russia is trying to be cooperative on this.

We all know that this is a very difficult issue for Russia, but I think the Russian government clearly understands what the risk is and has made a commitment to try to stop the export of technology to Iran.

One other thing. Vice President Gore, I believe, is in Moscow now or on his way to Moscow, and I know he will bring this issue up with the Russians again. He's been discussing this with them for some time.

We will continue to work on this. I want to make one other point which is that this is not just a question of the United States versus proliferation by rogue nations. This is really an issue for the whole world to pay attention to.

The threat of medium range missiles in countries like Iran and Iraq and North Korea is primarily a threat to surrounding countries, to countries in those regions, not to us. But it's a potential threat because it's on these missiles which they will build, or we assume try to build, longer range missiles. We're talking about medium range ballistic missiles now, far below the range of longer range missiles. But presumably, everybody is looking to build even longer range missiles, and that was one of the concerns raised by the Rumsfeld Report.

Q: If you can follow on that, therefore, that stories and reports that refer to Russian technology that has gone to Iran, it would be incorrect to assume that all of that flow has been with the knowledge and support of the Russian government? Is that what you're saying? When you talk about Russian entities...

A: I think the Russian government has made a commitment to try and stop the flow of technology. They have indicated, I believe, and we agree, that there are some non-government entities that may be making these transfers, and they are trying to stop that. That was the point of the investigations they announced just recently.

Q: Does this incident cause the Pentagon to maybe reevaluate its whole approach to non-proliferation? Obviously it's not working.

A: I wouldn't say that at all. I would say that it is working. It's a difficult problem, and difficult problems take time to resolve. I think we've made progress with Russia and I think we've made progress with China. I think the results are clear in both those regards, and the President has talked about the progress we've made with China, both when he was in China and when President Jiang was here. They agreed to abide by the terms of the missile technology control regime several years ago and we believe they have abided by those terms. They've also agreed not to ship anti-ship cruise missiles to Iran, and we believe that they've met that obligation as well.

We believe also, as I said, that the Russian government is engaged in trying to solve this issue. They understand that it is a threat to the region, a region in which they live, and they're responding to that. But they don't have total control over all the entities in their country. They're trying to exert better control. That's one of the reasons they passed the new export control law.

Q: Did Iran notify any of its neighbors or anyone...

A: I can't answer that question. I don't know whether they did or they didn't.

Q: The CIA said in a report that was released this week that it's not working. That last year, and they covered the entire 1997, Russia, China, and North Korea continued to sell missile-related equipment and technology to these countries of concern. What's your response to that?

A: My response is that I believe that we are making progress, but we have not stopped the flow of technology. I think there's a difference between a program not being 100 percent successful and having some success. That's where we are. Would we like more success? Absolutely. Do we wish we could convince every country in the world not to sell dangerous technology to other countries? Absolutely. But we haven't done that. That doesn't mean we should give up. Is the alternative to say well, they're going to sell them, just let them sell them? I don't think so. I think this is a responsible course of action. And I think the only way we're going to make progress is to keep picking away at it and to keep trying to raise the issue and look for new ways to convince people that they endanger themselves by exporting technology.

Q: Absent a marriage of this missile with a weapon of mass destruction, how militarily useful would you say it is if it worked? And second, what do we know about their WMD capability? Iran's.

A: We have outlined that in our proliferation threat and response report. We believe that Iran is working on the full range of weapons of mass destruction -- chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. We believe that if they have to develop everything indigenously with their own technology, it's going to take quite a lot of time for them to achieve a nuclear capability. But the threat has always been, and we've been very clear about this, that they can leapfrog over domestic obstacles by purchasing technology from more advanced countries. That's what they've done, that's what they're trying to do, and that's what we're trying to stop.

Q: Setting aside for a second when and whether they'll test again, is it the assessment of the Pentagon that they have at the current state another or several other missiles ready, or full up missiles?

A: I can't comment on that.

Q: Did we take this through a DSD satellite readout, or how did we learn of this test?

A: Nice try. (Laughter)

Q: Back to the subject of the mentor. The primary mentor being the North Koreans. You said that they had a successful test five years ago. Isn't it at least a concern or even possibly likely that that intermediate range missile, the Nodong, could be available in some quantities? Could be deployed and operational and capable of reaching Japan and South Korea both?

A: Of course it's a concern.

Q: That it's already a threat and there's nothing...

A: What is of concern to us is the proliferation of missile and weapons of mass destruction technology.

Q: And once again, is there anything on the ground, I don't believe so from what General Lyles said, anything on the ground in Japan that can protect U.S. bases there from a fast IRBM?

A: I think we've discussed many times the status of our missile defenses. We are trying to improve them.

Q: Can you say whether the Secretary still intends to announce tomorrow the rules on adultery in the armed services?

A: He does not.

Q: Why is that delayed?

A: Just consultation, basically, with the Hill and others. We are going to wait until he comes back from his Asian trip so it will be, I guess, sometime during the week after next.

Q: Is Iran considered by the United States a rogue state at this point? And is it because - is it beyond just general proliferation? Is it because Iran in particular now has conducted this test, that it's worrisome? Is there a feeling that Iran is an irresponsible possessor of this kind of weapon?

A: We've said many times that we believe that Iran sponsors terrorism and we believe they're trying to develop weapons of mass destruction. We think those are both irresponsible and dangerous policies. They endanger our interests in the Middle East and they, most of all, endanger other countries in the Middle East. I have to assume that, given the fact that Iran has had a lengthy war with Iraq, that one of their primary concerns is Iraq, but obviously they don't need a medium range ballistic missile to deal with Iraq. They have shorter range ballistic missiles they could use if they were worried about Iraq. So they clearly, for whatever reason, have longer range aspirations, and that is worrisome to us, but I believe it should also be worrisome to Russia and it should be worrisome to Saudi Arabia; it should be worrisome to Turkey, and it definitely is very worrisome to Israel.

Q: Anything on the accuracy of...

A: No.

Q: What kind of warheads do you think they could use on this? It's a longer range missile...

A: First of all, I'll say again for the fourth time, this is a test. We don't believe that this represents deployment or anything close to deployment. We would expect there are likely to be other tests, and I think it's premature to talk about warheads.

Q: Can you give us an order of magnitude of time between this test and the earliest that they could go operational?

A: I cannot. I think that a lot of that depends on how much help the get from other people and I think a lot of it depends on how successful they've been in developing indigenous capability. And frankly, some of it depends on what they gauge to be the success of this test they've just held.

Q: On the diplomatic front, can you tell us whether the Secretary has been in contact with some allies regarding this incident in particular, and if there's been any sort of message sent to Iran to warn them not to do more tests?

A: I'm not aware that the -- certainly the Secretary has not talked to Iran, and I'm not aware that he's been talking to allies about this in the last day.

Q: Was the test shot over land or did it go over the Gulf?

A: I'm not going to get into any more details.

Q: It was a mobile missile, right?

A: Yes.

Q: The AP quoted the housing, Department of the Army civilian housing manager at Fort Carson, Colorado as being frustrated over the decline in quality of the housing, this inability to repair. He was quoted as saying that it was "ghetto-like housing", he was running a ghetto for Army enlisted people.

Since then we've heard that he's going to be fired. Did Secretary Cohen decide to have this man removed?

A: This is the first I've heard he's going to be fired, and I can assure you that Secretary Cohen has made no such decision. In fact, Secretary Cohen has been very concerned about these stories about substandard housing. He obviously was aware that housing was a problem, and he wants to do something about it. We think this program we have to use private money, to leverage private money to help us solve the housing problem, is a step in the right direction. We think it's going to make a major difference.

As I said to you in considerable detail last week, we also are frustrated at the slowness of this program and how long it's taken it to get off the ground, but we're convinced that it's the right way to go.

Housing is a problem. It's a concern to Secretary Cohen, and I don't think he's in the business of firing people who highlight problems.

Q: That's what it sounds like. The guy spoke out, and now he's been told to find a new job.

A: This is the first I've heard about it, and I will look into the details.

Q: This is a program that's got a five year sunset clause. Has the DoD made a decision... You just said you're frustrated but you think it's still a good program. Has DoD made the decision it's going to ask Congress to extend that program beyond its five year sunset...

A: I assume we will because there's been a considerable amount of spadework done to get this program off the ground, designing new financial instruments, mortgage documents, lease documents, working with mortgage bankers, investment bankers and others to make sure that the paper issued as part of this program gets a AAA or very high credit rating rather than a junk bond credit rating.

We've done a lot of work on this, and I think that work is something we want to build on in the future. Obviously, we think we'll have some more successes to show for this program as it goes on, and I think we'll be well positioned to convince Congress that this is a program that should continue and perhaps be expanded. I think the question we have to ask, and the Secretary is asking, is whether this program is going to be enough to deal with the problem; whether more will have to be done. That's the type of question that will be asked in the course of this budget cycle and the next budget cycle.

Q: Does the Secretary consider this problem of enough importance that he would be willing to bust the top line for it or, the Secretary of the Navy suggested yesterday, to provide more compensation to military people.

A: Compensation is also one of the things we'll be looking at. I think I said a couple of weeks ago that it is the Secretary of Defense's responsibility to make sure that he and the military have the resources necessary to do the job, and the job involves maintaining readiness; it involves developing and procuring new weapons to meet future threats; and it also involves maintaining an adequate quality of life. Quality of life includes things like housing, it includes pay, and it also includes medicine and it includes retirement benefits.

You can be sure that the Secretary takes his obligation very seriously, and he will request whatever budget he thinks is necessary to meet these needs.

Q: Does he plan any kind of study in particular of these problems and what might be done about them?

A: I think he will spend much more time in the next year traveling around looking at living conditions, meeting with troops, and surveying quality of life for himself. This is something he wanted to do when he first took over the job. He has not been able to do it immediately. He concentrated on other things such as reviewing basic training. He had to make a number of foreign trips, but I think you'll find him devoting more time to this.

Q: One last question on the Patriot capability. I didn't understand your earlier answer but does the Patriots that are now deployed...

A: My earlier answer was I don't know and we'll have to check on the Patriot capability against these issues.

Q: The House and Senate have started conference on the defense authorization bill. Has the Secretary conveyed a heartburn list, or what your priorities are?

A: Yes, and I'd be happy to give you a copy of that letter.

Q: I wanted to know if there's a response from the Department with regard to accusations and specific cases that the School of the Americas has trained a number of individuals that specifically related to Colombia have been accused of various human rights abuses?

A: I haven't looked into those specific allegations. In general, I can tell you that the School of Americas, I believe, has played a very important role in helping to educate military officers from South and Latin America in the way that militaries should operate in democracies, in respect for human rights. And I think this has played an important part in the democratization that has taken place in Latin America.

There have been many stories in the past about problem graduates from the School of the Americas -- the overwhelming number of graduates have not been problem graduates, and the school now has, I think, a very good curriculum in human rights and democracy-type topics.

Q: This incident I'm referring to is a recent incident. Is the school looking at its curriculum?

A: The school has revised its curriculum fairly dramatically over the last five or eight years, I believe, and they would be glad to talk to you about that. I, frankly, have not looked at the School of the Americas in some time, but I would refer you down there, and I'm sure they'd be glad to talk to you about that.

Q: What can we expect tomorrow on the adultery policy front?

A: Nothing. I just said that it's not going to take place tomorrow. It's going to take place after Secretary Cohen returns from Asia, so it will probably be about ten days or so. I think it will be early the week after next.

Q: I apologize.

A: That's all right. I'm sure you were thinking about one of my riveting answers on Iranian missiles.

Press: Thank you.

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