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Transcript : DoD News Briefing : Tuesday, January 16, 1996 - 1:30 p.m.

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD/PA
January 16, 1996 1:30 PM EDT

Tuesday, January 16, 1996 - 1:30 p.m.

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Welcome to our briefing.

First of all, I'd like to welcome Brigadier General Amos Gilad who is the Public Affairs Adviser to the Israeli Defense Force and is visiting Washington for a week, and will be taken around through the various service offices and the Joint Staff here. Welcome.

I have no statements, and I'm prepared to take your questions.

Q: India says they are going to deploy a new medium-range missile. What's the Department's reaction to that?

A: They were supposed to have the 15th test today of the Prithvi missile. I understand, however, that the test was canceled for technical reasons.

We are working very hard in the Indian subcontinent with both Pakistan and India to try to reduce tensions and to slow an arms buildup there. We think that deployment of this medium-range missile would go in the wrong direction and create new tensions rather than to reduce tensions in what is arguably one of the most dangerous, least stable areas of the world right now. So we would urge restraint on all sides, including India.

Q: On the subject of North Korea, could you comment on the press reports about Americans may still be held by North Korea? Can you comment on that?

A: Sure, I'd be glad to. I think it's important to go back in time to the Korean War and deal with a whole series of revelations or allegations, reports that have come out over the last couple of days.

First of all, there have been some reports in the South Korean press that there may be some American POWs from the Korean War still living in North Korea. There have been American intelligence reports conveying information to that effect. We have no evidence that these reports are correct. Intelligence reports convey all sorts of information. We have no confirmation whatsoever that there are living POWs from the Korean War in North Korea.

We do know there are some Americans who defected to North Korea in the 1960s who are alive there today. There were four defectors in the 1960s and there were two defectors later than that -- one in 1979 and 1982. We believe that the two later defectors are no longer alive. We believe that the four who defected in the 1960s are still alive. We don't know for a fact, but we believe that.

Some of these defectors from the 1960s, and we can give you their names afterwards. I have their names or you can get them from DDI. Some of these defectors were in a North Korean propaganda film called "Nameless Heroes," so we have seen them on film in the last several years. That is basically the situation.

I might add one other fact about North Korea. There are still 8,100 servicemen missing or unaccounted for from the Korean War. As you know, we held some talks in Honolulu recently with representatives of North Korea to explore questions of returning remains, identification of remains, etc. Those talks were inconclusive, and no further talks have been scheduled, although we're hopeful that we can continue a dialogue with North Korea over getting access to information about remains in North Korea.

Q: Inconclusive. Were they uncooperative?

A: They ended. We agreed to nothing.

As you know, we have a dialogue now with North Korea over their nuclear program, and our hope is we can also start a dialogue with them, a continuing dialogue with them, over the remains issue as well.

Q: During those talks in Honolulu, did the U.S. delegation raise the matter of the four defectors and what their status might be?

A: I'm not aware that that came up. These were fairly technical talks that dealt with the issue of remains.

Q: Have there been other U.S. Government inquiries to the North Koreans about the status of those Americans?

A: I'm not aware that there have been.

Q: Or any kind of communication with them?

A: I'm not aware that we have communicated with them recently on this, but I don't know.

Q: Do you believe they're teaching English, all of them, at this institute in North Korea?

A: Our reports are that they are teaching English there, yes.

Q: Do we know anything else about them?

A: We know very little about them.

Q: But you have seen two of them in this movie.

A: Right.

Q: And are there sightings of the others that lead you to believe they're alive?

A: I do not know on what basis we believe the others to be alive.

Q: How do you know that the two that defected in the '70s already died over there?

A: I do not know how we know that, but that's our belief, that they're no longer alive.

Q: Does the U.S. have any desire to speak to the four former Americans? Are they still considered Americans?

A: I don't know what they consider themselves to be. I don't know what they consider their citizenship to be.

Q: Is there a desire on the part of the U.S. Government to speak to them?

A: We're always anxious to speak to people who can give us more information about North Korea. It remains a closed, secretive society.

Q: Is there a de facto renunciation of citizenship when you take a step like that?

A: I don't know the answer to that question. Maybe Bev Baker does. We'll try to find out.

Q: Do you know the circumstances of their defection?

A: In the 1960s? No, I do not.

Q: Non-aligned diplomats in New York at the UN are reporting that Nizar Hamdun, the Iraqi ambassador, says that Iraq is now prepared to discuss limited sales of oil to gain money for humanitarian aid. Do you have any reaction to that?

A: You're talking about Resolution 986 which allows limited sales of oil...

Q: ...over six months.

A: And the proceeds of which are to be used to help the Iraqi people.

Q: Non-aligned diplomats say that Hamdun said they are now ready to discuss it, without any preconditions.

A: I think that would be an important step forward, but we should not see this as a concession. Resolution 986 was enacted by the UN to help the Iraqi people, and Saddam Hussein has steadfastly refused to sell any oil under 986, reportedly because he doesn't want the monitoring that goes with the imposition of the resolution. He has chosen to spend money on new palaces; he's chosen to spend money on military improvements and a number of other investments that have not helped his people, have not bettered people, have not rebuilt civilian infrastructure. So if he is now willing to allow this resolution to take effect for the benefit of the people of Iraq, that's good news.

Q: Can you tell us now, five years after the Gulf War, whether the Pentagon believes that Iraq still possesses any chemical or biological weapons capability?

A: This is something we're watching all the time. As you know, UNSCOM investigators are in Iraq, in and out of Iraq. As you know, the UN resolutions require them to get rid of all weapons of mass destruction, and that's what we're monitoring.

Q: But you don't know whether that bill has been passed yet?

A: I don't want to comment on the exact state of their armaments now.

Q: Could you give a brief assessment of what the Iraq military strength is now compared to following the Gulf War? Have they been able to rebuild...

A: I don't think that's the proper baseline for comparison. The proper baseline for comparison is what their strength was before the war, and it's dramatically down from what it was before the war. There have been some efforts to rebuild their military and focusing on the Republican Guard forces. We believe that the military is still a worrisome force, and the effort they put into maintaining a military force is particularly worrisome in light of the civilian demands within Iraq. The choices that they choose to make in favor of the military or in favor of new palaces for Saddam Hussein over helping the people of Iraq are very worrisome, and I think they show a state of mind that we have to take very seriously, and we have taken very seriously.

As you know, we have a very substantial military force in and around the Gulf. We monitor the movements of the Iraqi force very carefully. We have set up a no fly/no drive zone south of the 32nd Parallel which we monitor very carefully.

Q: Looking back at the Gulf War, President Bush said that we miscalculated. Do you see that from a military point of view there was any miscalculation or any major problem with how the war had been conducted?

A: I think I should leave all comments on the execution of the Gulf War to those who actually made the decisions. No good will be served from my commenting on their comments on what happened five years ago.

Q: Can we get for the record, if you don't have it on top of your head, just a rough estimate of the current strength of the Iraqi forces? Perhaps a rough estimate of tanks or aircraft...

A: You can get that from the IASS, but if you want, we will give you afterwards a rough estimate of the strength of the Iraqi forces.

Q: The Mujahadeen operating in Bosnia, believed to still be operating in Bosnia. How does the U.S. or the Pentagon see that? Is that a problem? Is that something that's being dealt with?

A: All foreign forces were, the foreign forces who were in Bosnia when the agreement took effect, were supposed to be out on January 13th. The IFOR commanders are currently assessing the compliance with that rule. When they complete their assessment, we'll let you know what they've found.

We do know there has been a very significant reduction in foreign forces in Bosnia. We're talking about Croatians in Bosnia as well as the Mujahadeen. It's being assessed now. We believe there has been very significant compliance. We're not in a position right now to tell you there's been total compliance, and we may not be because it's a very difficult issue to monitor. For instance, some of the Mujahadeen may have decided to become Bosnian citizens or to marry, and there are certain provisions that allow them to stay.

But we believe there has been a very significant and important reduction in foreign forces in Bosnia.

Q: All foreign forces, not specifically Mujahadeen.

A: Mujahadeen as well. We think there's been a very significant reduction. What we can't tell you is whether it's been complete and what the status is now.

Q: Can you quantify that in terms other than "a significant reduction"? Percentages, round figures?

A: No. One of the problems here is getting precise numbers in any part of the scenario in terms of these forces.

Q: Does IFOR have the authority to do anything about it if they don't leave or refuse to leave?

A: It's the job of the parties to compel compliance with the agreement. What we would do first is talk to the various governments to make sure they've done everything they can do to achieve compliance with the agreement.

Since you've brought up the issue of compliance, the next major deadline is January 19th, on Friday. That's when the forces are supposed to withdraw behind zones of separation. That's already going on, and we have every evidence right now that that will be successful and that the forces will, in fact, meet that deadline of January 19th.

Q: Can you help us a little bit with human rights abuses, what IFOR will or will not do, since there seems to be sort of an evolving position on the part of the U.S. Government on that issue?

A: The U.S. Government position has been very clear from the beginning and is spelled out in the Dayton Agreement. There has not been an expansion of the IFOR mission.

Q: The President has sort of indicated that he might take a little more active role in making sure that under certain circumstances -- the Secretary of Defense has as well -- that we'll be more actively involved in the mass grave part of the...

A: The place you should look in the agreement is pages 11 and 12. That's the language that specifies what IFOR can and can't do. The agreement requires IFOR to maintain freedom of movement for its own troops, and it gives IFOR commanders -- this is on pages 11 and 12 -- the authority to provide freedom of movement of others. If they are requested to do so and they have the resources to do so, they can guarantee freedom of movement for human rights investigators for the War Crimes Tribunal, for humanitarian workers, etc.

What the President has said and the Secretary has said is that once IFOR is in place and monitoring the zones of separation, and feels that it is able to carry out its job, then the commanders will provide freedom of movement for War Crimes Tribunal investigators if requested to do so.

Q: Last week I believe you said the U.S., without being asked, really, has repositioned some intelligence capabilities to look at the area where the mines, where allegedly evidence was being destroyed by having bodies dumped down mines. Has that taken place? Have new assets been focused on that?

A: I assume that it has taken place, but I don't know for sure. Let me say that this fits into a pattern of cooperation with the War Crimes Tribunal. This is not a new initiative on our part to cooperate and to help them get information on alleged mass grave sites. We've been providing information for a long period of time. What we decided to do was to focus assets on this particular site.

Q: Has there been, to your knowledge, any feedback on that site? The activeness of it since the story...

A: I don't know. I can't answer that question.

Q: General Shali and the Secretary said on the way to Bosnia that well over half of the combat troops would be in Bosnia by the 19th. How many of the 20,000 are now in Bosnia?

A: In Bosnia as of yesterday, there were 9,664 American troops. They're coming in at the rate of 500 to 600 a day, so we'll clearly be up to 11,000, 11,500... We'll be up to 11,000 by January 19th, which is more than half.

Q: Last week you mentioned that the plan was to put off work on the second bridge over the Sava River to concentrate more on improving the living conditions for the troops around there. Is that still the case?

A: Yes. We estimate that the... It is still the case, and there are two reasons for that. One, General Crouch decided that the resources would be better spent improving quality of life for the troops, particularly around the Sava River. Secondly, the single bridge has adequate capacity to bring in the rolling stock we need now.

Q: On more or less the same subject, there have been some complaints percolating to the service as to the one year length of deployment. A question as to why there isn't a shorter deployment as there has been in recent history, at least, for this engagement. Is there some reason why this is a full one-year deployment for the forces there?

A: It was a decision made by the European Command, and based on the requirements they saw for the mission. As you know, there was very extensive training provided for people going into Bosnia, and a lot of the training dealt with mine awareness and mine removal, but it was much broader than that. The commanders felt that in order to make the mission as safe and as secure as possible, it's important to send only highly trained people down there. They believe that by keeping the people for the whole length of the mission -- a year -- that would maximize the security of the force.

Secretary Perry has said, I want to point out one thing, that although we plan to be out of there in a year, he has suggested that some of the troops may start coming out before a year is up. So I don't think that the one year means that every single soldier will be there for a year. First of all, as you can tell, it's now almost a month after the agreement took effect, and we have only about 10,000 soldiers there. So many of the soldiers will end up spending less than a year in Bosnia.

Q: Are you saying you don't have enough highly trained troops to provide a six-month rotation?

A: That's not what I said. That is a mischief-making suggestion that that's what I said, but I don't know what happened to your ears. I didn't say that. I said that EUCOM decided that they would send, for the sake of the integrity of the mission, it would be better to leave people there for the entire mission. For some people, that will turn out to be less than a year.

Q: Doesn't that put a bit of a hardship on the families, particularly who won't be seeing their loved ones for a year? In Haiti, didn't they have six-month rotations in Haiti?

A: All military deployments impose some sort of inconvenience on families. This is a volunteer army. The people are well trained, they know what they're getting into, their morale is high, they're enthusiastic about their job, and they're doing it extremely well.

Q: How many troops are in Croatia and Hungary?

A: In Croatia there are 4,589 as of yesterday. In Hungary, there are 7,382 as of yesterday. In Italy there are 1,212. For a total -- I know you're going to ask me -- of 22,847 troops in the theater.

Q: Regarding the equipping and training, the training aspect, has the Pentagon let any contracts or any other agencies, or any other non-governmental agencies, to go in and train the Bosnian Muslims?

A: No.

Q: Who's going to fund that?

A: That is being worked out. It will probably be funded by other countries.

Q: Can you tell us what is being done to prepare for this training that the Bosnian Muslims are...

A: The person who is in charge of our aspect of equipping and training is Jim Pardew, who's now moved over to the State Department. He recently returned from the area where he met with officials in Sarajevo, in Zagreb, and Belgrade, to explain what we were doing, in order to provide complete transparency for this mission.

You've read the agreement so you know what some of the time lines are in this. The primary emphasis is on arms control and trying to reduce the size of arsenals, particularly in heavy weapons. There is an arms control regime associated, included in the Dayton Agreement. Arms control talks have begun, first in Germany. There was a second round in Vienna, and they'll continue.

The arms control agreement is supposed to be reached within six months. We know that arms control will not be enough to provide stability in the area. What we're talking about is a defensive capability by the Federation Forces. So there will be some training of the Federation Forces, and perhaps some arming as well.

In the agreement, there is a three-month prohibition on shipments of any weapons into Bosnia, including small weapons. That expires three months after signing the agreement; then there's a six-month moratorium on shipment of heavy weapons into Bosnia. We will honor those moratoriums scrupulously. The training can begin before that, and that's what we've been discussing with the Federation.

Q: I guess what's unclear is to what extent that training would be done by the U.S. military or by U.S....

A: There will be no training done by the U.S. military; no training done by IFOR. That's been very clear from the beginning. It's clear in the agreement. It's been clear in the congressional testimony by Secretary Christopher, Secretary Perry, and others. So any training that takes place will be done by people who are outside of the U.S. military and outside of the implementation force in Bosnia.

Q: That would include contract employees? Retired U.S....

A: One of the points that was made on Mr. Pardew's visit was the suggestion that the Federation hire an overall firm to manage the operation, to manage the contracting, manage the equipment and training. Sort of an overall contractor. I'm sure we have a contractor organizing the pounding in this building that we hear during all the briefings. That's where the stories came out over the weekend, that private contractors had been brought on board. They have not yet been brought on board. There are no contracts signed.

These would be contracts between the Bosnian Federation and private companies, not between the U.S. Government and private companies.

Q: But the U.S. would facilitate it.

A: The U.S. has made it very clear that we would help organize and equip and train operations. That's been clear from the beginning.

Q: If the U.S. Government is not likely to pay for this and does not have forces involved in the training, how do you maintain control, that the training will only go to certain levels as perceived, as you try to create a balance in the fighting force? Is it possible that this would get out of control and you could end up building a much bigger and stronger army than perhaps is desirable within the balance of the region?

A: I think it's very clear that our goal is to build a stable defensive force and not an offensive force that will make the situation worse in Bosnia. That's why arms control is the primary method for doing that. We anticipate there will be an arms control treaty or regime that will be very clear about what sort of weapons can be shipped into Bosnia. That will have, I think will play a big role in limiting exactly what happens.

Q: If you're not paying for it and your forces are not doing the training, then you lose some measure of control, don't you?

A: Behind your question is the suggestion that people are lining up with billions of dollars to shower on the Bosnian effort, and so far we haven't found that to be the case.

Q: The arrest of Juan Garcia Abredo yesterday in Mexico, can you tell me anything about the U.S. role in that?

A: I cannot. I do know there will be a press conference later today involving the FBI and other Justice Department officials, and I think that's the best place to get answers to those questions.

Q: In meetings on the Hill last week, Dr. Perry acknowledged to members of the Senate that slippage is being considered in the timing of the new attack submarine development. Can you tell us whether any decisions have been made on that, and also whether there are any other procurement programs that are being considered to be slipped because of budget crunches?

A: I'll try to get an answer for you on that. I just don't know.

Q: Can you tell us if the United States is willing to deploy troops to the Golan Heights in the event of a future peace agreement between Israel and Syria?

A: Our position on that is very well known. First, if there is a peace agreement between Syria and Israel, and if the two parties request that we send troops to monitor the Golan Heights, then after consultation with Congress we would be willing to do that, or we'd be willing to consider doing it. I'm quite sure we would find a way to do that, but the decision is very much contingent on two things. One, there has to be a peace agreement; and two, both parties have to request it.

Q: Is there contingency planning going on for such a possible deployment?

A: I think that our primary role right now is working for a lasting comprehensive peace in the Middle East. Secretary Christopher recently came back from the Middle East and will continue to work on that.

That's the first thing we have to do is secure a peace agreement. After that, we'll consider ways to make sure the peace holds.

Press: Thank you.