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DoD News Briefing, Tuesday, November 17, 1998

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
November 17, 1998 1:35 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Welcome to the briefing.

Pat Sloyan noted that I'm almost on time, so here I am.

Let me start with a couple of announcements. The first is concerning our continuing support for the victims of Hurricane Mitch in Central America.

Yesterday Secretary Cohen signed a deployment order that will dispatch over the next few weeks about 4,000 additional troops down to Central America. They will be primarily engineers -- three engineering battalions, some heavy equipment, and also some medical personnel. These people will perform sort of the reconstruction and reconnection part of the job.

First we just had to concentrate on rescuing people, and we did rescue almost 600 people who were at risk of drowning in the very early days of the deluge.

The second part of the campaign has been to provide food and medicine; in other words to sustain and support people who have to stay there and deal with the devastation.

The third part is to help begin to rebuild roads and bridges, the absence of which have made it impossible to reach many of these towns. Once the bridges and the roads are rebuilt, we can begin to get aid in more easily. So there will be more engineers, heavy equipment going, more heavy lift helicopters will be going.

In the mean time, the flow of aid continues. We've delivered over 2.5 million pounds of supplies including food, water, fuel, blankets, plastic sheeting for shelter, etc. We've flown more than 447 missions to deliver these.

Q: Which services might be deploying the engineers?

A: Actually there are some SEABEES, I believe, already queued up, ready to go; there will be some Air Force engineers, the so-called Red Horse Unit; and there will be some Army engineers going as well. There will also be a headquarters unit going down to supervise the engineering activities.

Secondly, I'd like to note that Secretary Cohen has announced today the appointment of Thomas Irwin as the National Chairman for the National Committee of Employer Support for Guard and Reserve. This is a very important but little noticed organization that acts as a liaison between companies in the country that employ members of the Guard and Reserve and helps build up understanding and support for employing the 900,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who are in the Guard and Reserve forces. Mr. Irwin is currently a Vice President for Flight Operations of TWA, Trans World Airlines, and a former Navy aviator.

Speaking of aviators, there are a group of young Air Force public affairs officers in the back of the room. They're all future Miles Wiley's learning the ropes of public affairs, so you can go back and give them advice at the end of the briefing.

With that, I'll take your questions. Charlie?

Q: Ken, can we have a breakdown on aircraft in the Gulf region and those betwixt which will be brought back in the future?

A: Let me bring you up to date on the situation with those aircraft.

Since the Gulf War we've maintained a very ready and robust force in the Gulf. It includes an aircraft carrier and it's accompanying ships in the battle group. Sometimes it includes an Amphibious Ready Group. And it also includes the planes that fly in Operation SOUTHERN WATCH. That's the operation that patrols the Southern No Fly Zone over Iraq with the British and the French. And we also have a nearly continuous set of exercises by Army units with heavy equipment, armor equipment that we've pre-positioned in Kuwait and elsewhere.

In June when we drew down the buildup that had taken place late last year and early this year, we took several steps to enhance our force on a permanent basis. One, we decided to keep a carrier there all the time. Previously, a carriers had been there about 75 percent of the time. Second, we increased the amount of time that Marine Amphibious Ready Groups spend in the Gulf. Third, we doubled the number of cruise missiles that are kept in the Gulf and ready to strike at any time. Fourth, we designated specific air and ground forces in the U.S. for rapid deployment to the Gulf in times of crisis. The deployment of the force last week shows that this new identification and alert system we have works very well.

The units from the crisis response force, this is what Adm. Clark, the Chief of Operations for the Joint Staff, calls the CONUS or Continental U.S. Crisis Response Force, that we started moving last week to the Persian Gulf to give the President more flexibility and firepower if he needed it in the area.

About 148 total aircraft and 4,000 ground troops were in varying stages of deployment over the weekend. Seven B-52s and four B-1s deployed to the Gulf or to Diego Garcia, and they will remain there while we evaluate Iraqi compliance. So they will be there to reinforce what we already have there which is a Carrier Battle Group and an Amphibious Ready Group.

A number of aircraft were stopped en-route, on the way to the Gulf, and they will resume their ready-to-deploy status back in the States. In other words, they will come back to the States and get back into their alert status so, if needed, they can deploy very quickly back to the Gulf.

The aircraft and troops that had not deployed will not deploy. They will stay here. But again, they will remain in an alert status that makes it possible for them to deploy very quickly to the Gulf.

Q: You said seven B-52s and four B-1s; there was some support aircraft that went with those. Refueling planes. I'm trying to find out what the total number of combat planes and support planes are in the Gulf now, including Diego Garcia.

A: We have the four B-1s and the seven B-52s. In addition, I believe there are approximately, there are 11 KC-135s in the Gulf, and I believe some other tankers as well are there in the Gulf. They are on top of about 173 aircraft that were there before the crisis began. That includes the carrier air wing and planes in Operation SOUTHERN WATCH.

Q: So we have more than 190 there now.

A: Right.

Q: How many of those are combat? And how many support?

A: I'll get you a complete breakdown of those.

Q: But other than the 11 bombers, no combat aircraft in addition to the ones that were already there, no combat aircraft reached the Gulf in this buildup?

A: The bombers are the only combat aircraft that have been added.

Q: So given that this buildup was sort of halted before it all got there, is there any estimate on what this buildup will cost? Will it be significantly lower since it was stopped before most of the planes got there?

A: It will be significantly lower. We don't have firm estimates now, in fact we don't even have loose estimates let alone firm estimates. (Laughter) But the fact of the matter is, the impact of this is going to be measurably lower in two ways. One, the cost will be, of course, quite low because the planes were stopped and brought back as soon as possible. Two, they won't be spending a lot of time away from home.

Two, the impact is low in terms of the impact on personnel tempo and operating tempo. You know that this is an increasing concern to the military. People are in the military to deploy, but we don't want unnecessary deployments. This clearly was not an unnecessary deployment. I think it was the ready show of force that brought Saddam Hussein to the decision that he should capitulate and reverse course and allow the inspectors back in. But having achieved that, we feel that these planes can deploy just as quickly, in fact probably more quickly, from their home bases in the United States than they can from elsewhere.

Q: To follow up, you say you don't have even loose estimates, but there have been some estimates bandied around that this deployment could easily cost as much as a billion dollars. Is that a realistic number?

A: I think it's unrealistic. I think that would be way too high.

Some of it will depend, of course, on how long the bombers and supporting aircraft stay overseas. I don't anticipate they'll stay a particularly long while, but that is somewhat up to Saddam Hussein.

Q: There was one defense analyst quoted on the wire today suggesting that it's taking one-sixth of the entire Pentagon budget, about $50 billion, to maintain the U.S. forces in the Gulf and keep Saddam Hussein in check. Is that..

A: I saw that figure. I didn't see a very clear definition of how that figure was reached. But I think there was confusion there between what economists would say are fixed and marginal costs. That confusion would cause Newsday to say that it's costing them $200 or $300 to send Pat Sloyan to the Pentagon today. Because they would...

Q: More than that! (Laughter)

A: It would take what most people would regard as a fixed cost, which is his pay and benefits, and allocate all of those costs to his trip to the Pentagon. So if he spends three hours here and his pay and benefits amount to $75 an hour, then you would have $225 as the cost of sending him over here for three hours plus his metro fare.

Most people would say the cost of sending Pat Sloyan to the Pentagon would be his metro fare alone, and not the fixed cost of his pay and benefits.

Q: But even if you took this, if you took all the fixed costs into account, could this be realistic? If it's one-sixth of the budget, wouldn't it take one-sixth of the Air Force, one-sixth of the Army -- wouldn't it take one-sixth of our forces to be in there to cause...

A: It's not quite that simple a calculation because the operating tempo is much higher in the Gulf than it is in some other parts of our operations, outside of Korea, say.

But the fact of the matter is, I think that's too high a figure. I don't have a good figure, however, and I realize that you can't fight something with nothing. So what I should do is try to get a better figure.

I do have some figures which were included in the article on what crisis buildups or contingency operations in the Gulf have cost us since the end of the Gulf War in 1991 and that is about $6.9 billion. Now this is where we have had to ramp up and send over additional planes, additional ships, and additional people in order to stare down Saddam Hussein and force him back into his box. Remember, our primary strategy in the Gulf is containment. And at times we have had to deploy extra forces in order to exercise that strategy.

Q: A related question. There are several reports in the media, reliable reports, that there was only 15 minutes left on Saturday morning, something like 8:45 before the orders were given to stand down. The President and Mr. Berger went through a very dramatic experience in the hour preceeding that.

First, can you confirm, what can you confirm about that? And what else can you tell us about the sequence of events this weekend? Can you help fill us in a little bit?

A: I don't think I have much to add to these reports. All I can do in terms of timing is repeat what Secretary Cohen has said, that we were very close.

It is the benefit of having a very strong, well rehearsed, and complete command and control system that allows us to communicate decisions like this extremely quickly to a widely diversified force. I think this is little understood by the general public. I know you understand this, but because we do have such a robust and well rehearsed command and control system we were able, in this case, to communicate a decision over a very short period of time. It was close.

Q:...$6.9 billion are the contingency costs above and beyond SOUTHERN WATCH and NORTHERN WATCH since the end of the Gulf War. What are the costs for NORTHERN WATCH and SOUTHERN WATCH over that period?

A: First of all, I think I said above and beyond normal operations, so I guess it would be above and beyond NORTHERN WATCH and SOUTHERN WATCH. I don't have those figures. We'll get them for you. {NORTHERN WATCH and SOUTHERN WATCH are included in the $ 6.9 billion}

Q: Will access to bases in the Gulf have to be renegotiated if there's, if say a couple of weeks from now or a couple of months from now there's a decision to send forces back. Or are agreements already in place that would make that possible to do that?

A: Without getting into specifics, I'm confident that we will have the support we need when we need it in the Gulf. We did this time, and I'm sure we will in the future. We did earlier this year as well.

The important thing to realize about this latest crisis, if you want to call it that, is that the world was very unified against Saddam Hussein. There was a clear sense on the part of the U.N. Security Council, on the part of the Arab world as expressed through the Gulf Cooperation Council, the message to Saddam Hussein that he was in the wrong, that he was in violation of international rules and order, and that he should comply. I think there is a clear sense now that the military aspect of this crisis has ended, at least temporarily, that Saddam has used up his last chance to comply. Now it's up to him to comply with the U.N. Security Council Resolutions, and to comply rapidly and fully with those resolutions.

I think that the world community has emerged from this very unified that all the responsibility now is on Saddam to comply.

Q: Wouldn't Secretary Cohen have to go through the motions again of...

A: I don't think his last trip, although it involved a lot of motion, was not just going through the motions. His last trip was an extremely productive and important trip.

I think we would have to play it by ear and see what the situations, what they required if we are brought to the brink of another military conflict.

Q: Can you bring us up to date on the thinking in this building about the program that President Clinton's now referred to on support for Iraqi dissidents, in the planning that may be being thought about for this $97 million drawdown program? Where does that all stand in this building right now?

A: First of all, the law, the Iraqi Liberation Act, was signed on October 31st which was less than three weeks ago.

Second, as I understand it, the law requires the Administration to come up with an evaluation of the state of the opposition to Saddam Hussein. I believe the law allows 75 days for that to occur. So we're talking about two and a half months from the signing of the law.

Now I'm not sure whether there have to be enacting regulations written before this law can take effect or not. It's been signed, but frequently there's a period of time between the enactment of a law and the enactment of regulations that have to be written to give people the legal authorities and the sort of standard operating procedures and rules of the road to go ahead.

So the short answer is that the first step is that the Administration, and I think that will be done by an interagency group; will have to evaluate the, sort of have to take a census of the opposition groups and decide if any of those groups meet the standards that are laid down in the law for winning support from the U.S. under this new law.

Q: But from a military analytical point of view, do you think there is any way to realistically support any Iraqi opposition without the involvement of U.S. air power or U.S. ground troops?

A: I think we have to take the time allowed by the law to do the analysis the law requires before we can begin answering questions like that.

Q: Ken, it's been widely reported and widely believed that when President Clinton decided to delay the strikes by 24 hours that he was acting against the advice of the military and the Pentagon. Can you address that perception at all?

A: First, as Secretary Cohen said yesterday, his advice to the President is private. It always has been and I believe always should be.

He also said he believes the President made the right decision and that he and the President's team support the President's decision.

I think it's important to look at what the stakes were here. We had a situation up until Friday night, and in fact very early Saturday morning where the entire world was unified behind one proposition, and that is that Saddam Hussein was not in compliance with U.N. Security Council resolutions and he should be in compliance; that he was violating international rules and snubbing the U.N. Security Council and preventing the U.N. from doing its work, the U.N. inspectors from doing their work.

Had an attack been launched once a diplomatic initiative had been underway, it clearly would have changed the focus of the debate to whether Saddam was in compliance -- he was not; to whether the attack was appropriate in the face of diplomatic initiatives. In light of this, the President made the decisions that he did. It's his job to weigh diplomatic versus military forces. And he decided that we would best achieve our goal -- which was to get an effective inspection regime going again in Iraq -- that we could best achieve our goal by giving some time for the diplomatic process to work out. He gave 24 hours.

Q: If the Secretary and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs believe that the President made the right decision, and if he was acting on their advice and they supported his decision, why can't you say that? It would only seem that you're hesitant to say anything if their advice was something different.

A: I think the Secretary and the Chairman both spoke about this yesterday and there's not much to add.

Q: Can you unravel a bit further for us how far the forces that were being deployed actually got? You've told us how many weeks ago... But can you unravel, since they're all coming back there doesn't seem to be any operational secrecy involved. Can you unravel for us how far the other units got?

A: Twenty-four F-16s, actually 28 F-16s -- that is a group comprised of 16 F-16CJs and 12 F-16CGs, got to Europe where they hesitated, waiting to decide whether to go further or not. And 12 F-15s also stopped in Europe. As well as six F-117s. Those were the primary combat deployments that were halted in Europe awaiting further instructions.

Q: Was the plan for them all along to go to Europe and await further orders?

A: They have an option of stopping in Europe or going all the way, but given the way that the facts were unfolding at the time, they stopped in Europe.

Q: The preponderance of the warnings here to Iraq have been on cooperation with the inspectors. The Secretary has repeatedly stressed that Iraq must turn over documentation which it has on its chem/bio program, and in fact Richard Butler sent them a letter today asking for information on that.

Would refusal, aside from cooperation with the inspectors, would refusal to turn over those documents, on demand, trigger a U.S. attack?

A: We expect full compliance, and I think we'll operate on the assumption that that's the responsibility that Iraq faces. If they don't face that, they face the threat of military action again. I'm not going to get into specific triggers at this stage.

I think it's very clear to Iraq that we expect them to comply fully, and that involves turning over documents.

Q: Can you give us an idea of what kinds of targets, what kind of movement there was on the ground in the weeks leading up to this, and actually going all the way back to August 5th when UNSCOM really stopped doing their inspections? Can you give us an idea of what kinds of movements were on the ground indicating they were hiding and/or proceeding to build their weapons of mass destruction?

A: I can only give you a vague idea. Every time Iraq fears military action it takes certain defensive measures. These can involve the dispersion of some of their high value military units such as Republican Guards, and we saw some of that dispersion. It also frequently involves moving their air defense assets around, and we saw some of that as well.

Q: I'm particularly interested in the weapons of mass destruction, perhaps you saw them moving some of their assets around in this regard.

A: Basically, what we focus on are the conventional sources. I can't get into the weapons of mass destruction because that raises intelligence issues that I can't get into.

Q: With regard to using civilians, their assets, was there any sign that Iraq had civilians in place at potential targets? That's question one.

A: I'm not aware of that.

Q: And question two, is it true that cruise missiles would have been, naval cruise missiles, but cruise missiles generally would have been at the vanguard of our attack stopped 15 minutes before launch? Those missiles could not have been... Those which had been launched could not have been recalled, correct?

A: I think I'll just leave operational details off the table.

Q: You mentioned that the forces that are halfway to the Gulf will be turned around and sent home. I don't recall you saying when that is likely to happen.

A: I would expect that to happen relatively soon, in the next several days I would guess. Maybe the next day.

Q:...Do you have any numbers on support aircraft?

A: Some support aircraft got as far as Europe. My numbers on support aircraft don't seem to be as complete as on the combat aircraft.

Q: Is there any hint that the Pentagon has that the Iraqis might have been tipped off to just how imminent the strikes were when they began to contact Kofi Annan?

A: We do not have any information that they were tipped off.

Q: Can you get us the support aircraft number?

A: I'm not going to stand up here and add up a lot of numbers, perhaps incorrectly. You don't have a deadline until Saturday. We'll get you support aircraft. (Laughter)

Q: The ENTERPRISE is now scheduled to arrive in the region I believe on the 23rd and the total situation would switch out with the IKE a day or two after that. Is that still the schedule or might EISENHOWER be retained there a little longer?

A: Our current plan is to bring the EISENHOWER home on schedule. There could be some overlap, but we anticipate that the EISENHOWER will come home on schedule.

Q: Will it meet its six month deployment schedule? Or has it been deployed for more than six months?

A: I believe she'll meet her six month deployment schedule. That's certainly our goal. But I think that, if necessary, obviously, we can change that. But our goal has been to try to reduce the operational turmoil to a minimum and to try to make the deployments as predictable as possible. This isn't always easy, but we're making a strong commitment to do that. I hope we'll be able to do that and my expectation is we'll be able to do it, but obviously the 23rd is still more than a week away, and we'll be watching the situation over there very closely. But my anticipation is that the EISENHOWER will return on schedule.

Q: New subject?

A: Yes.

Q: The meteor showers... What have we done to protect our satellite assets? Have we repositioned them or...

A: First of all, the Air Force says that the threat to spacecraft from the meteor showers is elevated but not serious. That's the Space Command's description of the risk they believe the satellites face.

As I understand it, the most threatening part of this meteor shower will be today. I think between three and five o'clock today, as a matter of fact, so you might want to go out and stare into the sky starting at three o'clock.

But the military satellites are hardened in some respects against this type of space damage. They can take certain protective measures such as rotating solar panels, and they have -- protecting certain types of sensors or collectors like cameras. We have taken all those appropriate steps.

There was a much more severe meteor shower attached to the same comet, caused by the same comet, back in 1966, and there was very, very minimal, maybe no damage. But of course there were many fewer satellites in 1966 than there are today.

Q: Are you saying satellites of those days were not damaged?

A: That's my understanding, that there was not damage to the satellites back in 1966 when there was a stronger storm of meteors from this comet called Temple Tuttle than there will be this year.

Q: A quick update -- the Secretary and the Minister from Ukraine, readout? What was discussed?

A: They had a very good meeting. They'll meet again tonight at a dinner. They signed an agreement laying out military contacts over the next year, exercises that will have exchange visits, etc. There are a couple of issues that remain first and foremost on our bi-national agenda. One, of course, is training in ways that we can help Ukraine deal with its military reform, improving the quality of the NCO Corps, etc.

Another has to do with the exercises that we conduct as part of the Partnership for Peace. As you know, we have units that go over to a huge training area in Ukraine, Laviv, and do training from time to time, and participate in multinational exercises. Ukrainian troops participate in peacekeeping exercises in some parts of the world. I think they've been in Bosnia.

And we also have a continuing shared interest in disarmament.

Q: Greek General Manoyssos Paragioudakis was in the Pentagon today and he will be tomorrow too. Do you have anything on that visit?

A: Could you pronounce his name again please?

Q: General Manoyssos Paragioudakis.

A: Thank you. He was here at the request of the Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Reimer, as part of an exchange visit. In the course of that visit, Gen. Reimer arranged for him to have a brief get-acquainted meeting with Gen. Shelton, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. So they had a brief meeting today.

Q: Congressman Lee Hamilton strongly rejects the idea for the F-15 sale to Greece according to the last issue of Defense News. Any comment on that?

A: I don't think it's appropriate for me to comment on that. Obviously there are 435 Members of Congress and they all are entitled to their votes.

We have very clear standards for evaluating arms sales and we will go ahead and evaluate any proposals under those standards.

Q: Ambassador Nicholas Burns assured local officials of Greek Aegean islands of Rhodes, Kos, Samos and Levos that U.S. naval vessels from the Sixth Fleet will be visiting them very soon. Do you have any idea what this is about, since it is happening for the first time in history?

A: I don't know about the first time in history. Greek history is very long, although American history is very short. (Laughter) But...

Q: I'm saying for the islands from the east and part of the Aegean, the Sixth Fleet is...

A: I believe that the carrier USS EISENHOWER was in Rhodes about a month ago for a port call, so we do visit Rhodes from time to time. I'm not aware that there are scheduled port calls to these other islands you mentioned, but we do make periodic port calls to islands in the Aegean, and I assume we'll be working with the Greek government on what's appropriate.

Q: And the last one. Any comment on the Top Dollar exercise which is taking place in Florida? And I'd like to know if Greece was involved, too.

A: This is a very interesting question. I've been waiting for somebody to ask about Top Dollar exercise. (Laughter)

Q: Why is it an interesting question?

A: Top Dollar exercise is an exercise involving comptrollers and people who deal with -- comptrollers and contracting officers. They're people who move money around. And it's an exercise that is held, I think annually, to test the skills of contracting officers and comptrollers. The latest one was held at Eglin Air Force Base. It's a biennial event. It's held every two years. The latest one was held at Eglin Air Force Base, testing job and warfighting knowledge and the skills of comptroller and contracting personnel from throughout the Air Force. And I'm proud to announce -- I haven't had a chance to announce this before today -- that the prize was won by the Air Force Space Command. They had the best comptroller and contracting skills...

Q: Was Greece involved in this exercise?

A: No. This is only an exercise involving the U.S. Air Force. It doesn't involve any representatives from foreign countries.

Q: Did you have anything on the newly elected governor of Okinawa? Specifically his openness to moving a helicopter floating base to northern Okinawa?

A: We generally don't comment on internal elections in countries. We will continue to work aggressively with the government of Japan to implement the terms of the Special Action Committee in Okinawa final report. As you know, that report commits the United States to reducing the size of our footprint in Okinawa. We have made some specific commitments. One is to take an air base, an airfield out of Futenma and move it someplace else. The Japanese have agreed to do that. We've agreed to move it. But it will be moved after the Japanese come up with an alternative location for that air base.

There are several ideas that have been considered. The one that's generated the most news coverage is an off-shore facility or base.

We would like to move forward on that as soon as the Japanese government completes its arrangements and we will continue to work with them in order to do that as soon as possible.

Q: Is there any openness to the northern Okinawa...

A: I think this is something for the Japanese government to sort out first, and then we would work with them to find an acceptable alternative to Futenma.

Q: Can I take you back to Iraq a second? You didn't want to specify the triggers that might prompt U.S. attacks. But is it fair to say the Pentagon has a checklist or a menu of issues they're watching to see if compliance is full and open?

A: The government certainly has a number of issues we're looking at. If you go back and re-read the President's speech from Sunday when he laid out the five key points in the speech, that will give you a sense of the type of thing we're looking at.

Q: Who would make the recommendation? Would that be Gen. Zinni or the Joint Chiefs in terms of whether the strikes should continue. Excuse me, should be launched?

A: These are all done on an interagency basis. There are, of course, certain triggers for the use of force that allow an instant use of force. Certain rules of engagement in situations that would allow force to be used right away, but in a case like this, I think there would be a government review on what constituted a compliance and what doesn't constitute compliance. But I think the President has laid out pretty clearly what he considers the standards to be.

Q: Does the Pentagon see the presence of U.N. inspectors and U.N. humanitarian workers as being an impediment to the rapid use of force in a future circumstance?

A: First of all, our commitment to protecting U.N. and U.S. personnel is well known. We anticipate that, we hope that Saddam Hussein will live up to these terms, and we will take whatever action we have to take to protect our interests.

Q: Just a fact check on another couple of widely reported and generally believed things. (Laughter)

One of them is the perception that there were airplanes in the air preparing to strike Iraq when the President made the decision to postpone the attack. Is that true?

A: I'm just not going to get into operational details.

I think two things ought to be clear from what happened over the weekend. The first is that Saddam Hussein backed down when faced with the clear and credible threat of force from the U.S. and the United Kingdom.

The second is that we reserve the right to invoke force in the future if we have to. Given that, I don't think it profits anybody to talk about what our operational plans were this time around or what they might be the next time around.

Q: What about the...

A: So you're going to come back with another question after that? (Laughter)

Q: I'm just, the reason I mention it is that columnists, general people in the public are picking these up as if they're facts, and I just wanted to know if you were in a position to either confirm or set the record straight. If you're not, you're not.

The other one I wanted to ask you about was this: the reporting that there's a Pentagon estimate that an attack would have resulted in 10,000 Iraqi casualties.

A: I'm not going to discuss that either. I'm not going to discuss anything that has to do with targeting or impact of strikes that might have occurred but did not.

Q: Have you been clear that a renewal of the use of force could come at any time if it's ever seen that Saddam Hussein is not meeting his obligations?

A: I think the Secretary spoke to that yesterday. And certainly Prime Minister Blair has spoken to that as well. I don't have much to add to those very clear statements.

Q: If the aircraft in Europe are coming back in the next couple of days, does the Pentagon have a date on which they want them to be back and back ready, on alert?

A: Yes. As soon as possible. I would expect the aircraft will begin moving tomorrow or the next day, and it doesn't take them too long to get back. And they should be ready to go quite soon after that.

Q: Russia's Atomic Energy Minister is going to Iran to talk about completing the plant at Bushir. Does the Pentagon have any concerns about that?

A: We certainly have concerns about any activities by Russia or other countries that may give Iran a leg up in developing nuclear weapons. In this particular case I know there have been extensive discussions between government officials and Russian officials over what they're doing.

Q: Our government?

A: Our government and Russian government officials. There is a contract, I believe, between Iran and Russia for the Russians to provide some services on a nuclear power reactor, and we have basically said that some of that work can be completed, as I understand it. I would have to go back and check the details. It's probably much more a State Department issue than a Defense issue.

Our views are clear, though, that it is destabilizing and dangerous for countries to be working with Iran to assist their weapons of mass destruction program.

Q: Would it put at risk any of the funds we're giving the Russians now?

A: I'd have to know more details about what the talks are going to be. As I said, there are legitimate programs that deal with nuclear power generation, as I understand it. It would be better for some other agency to describe that than this one because we don't deal with commercial projects like that.

Q: To clarify the question about the U.N. inspectors, does the military have mechanisms in place that allow you to know exactly where these inspection teams are within Iraq at a particular moment so that if a team was denied access that the U.S. would know within a matter of minutes or hours that there had been that kind of a problem?

A: I think UNSCOM does have a very good communications network and they have ways to communicate with the U.N. or other people.

Q: Has that network been enhanced for the inspectors' return to Iraq?

A: I'm not aware. It's something you'll have to ask UNSCOM.

Q: Did the party that went to North Korea, were they allowed to go inspect the site at Pyongyang, or has that been resolved yet?

A: That is a State Department party run by Mr. Cartman. I don't know the answer to that question. I think you should ask my colleague, Jamie Rubin, about that. My understanding, however, is that they were not going over there with the expectation of visiting the site themselves, they were going over to negotiate access to the site by a bunch of experts who could evaluate exactly what's going on there.

Press: Thank you.

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