Transcript : DoD News Briefing : Secretary of Defense William J. Perry
Friday, February 9, 1996
[Also participating in this media availability at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.: General J.H. Binford Peay III, commander-in-chief, United States Central Command (USCENTCOM)]
Dr. Perry: Thank you, General Peay. I am delighted to be in Tampa. I have had, I'm very pleased with the weather we've received here, particularly, after the miserable weather that we left behind us in Washington, which we will be going back to this afternoon. We're delighted with the very warm welcome we received both by the military here and by the civil leaders in Tampa and St. Petersburg. I had very productive discussions both with General Downing, yesterday, and General Peay, today.
The Central Command, which General Peay is in charge of, covers 20 countries, from Sudan in the west to Pakistan in the east and the focal point of CENTCOM is the Middle East, which is the critical and volatile area that provides the majority of the oil imported by the United States and allied nations. Therefore, it is of extreme importance to the United States and its area which has been a continuing site of crisis and problems.
We reviewed this morning, with General Peay, the developments in Iraq and Iran, which are the two biggest threats to regional stability. CENTCOM is working to boost the U.S. strength in the area and to reduce the time that it takes for us to respond to threats to regional stability.
I reviewed, today, the critical steps being taken, first of all, to improve U.S. forward presence. Secondly, to improve prepositioning. Third, to improve the access to the area. Fourth, our ability to rapidly build up forces. And, finally, cooperation of the joint exercises with our coalition partners. We have made significant progress in all of these areas and I was very pleased with the reports that I got from General Peay, today.
Yesterday, I visited the Special Operations Command with General Downing. Our Special Operations Forces operate all around the world providing training, liaison services to deploy militaries and bringing quite unique capabilities to our military forces. These special forces are performing a particularly important role in Bosnia today where they work closely with the forces from countries in the NATO coalition.
Let me just add a few words about the ongoing operations in Bosnia. I believe that the U.S.,and indeed, the NATO troops, are doing a truly magnificent job there. They have overcome natural problems -- mud, snow, ice, floods. They have dealt effectively with manmade obstacles, such as mines. And, they have been accepted by the former warring parties as responsible and quite capable peacekeeping force. They are well trained and strong and now, forces are laying a foundation for peace in Bosnia after four years of war in that tragic country.
Now, with those opening comments, I would be entertain questions.
Q: Dr. Perry, is the peace accord in jeopardy in Bosnia?
A: We expect, and expected from the beginning -- and continue to expect -- that nothing will be easy in Bosnia. We will continually have to work to ensure compliance with the Dayton Accord. I believe that the Dayton Accord will stand and that this peace accord will be successful.
I think the fundamental point is that all three of the parties agreed to the Dayton Accord. And, they agreed to it for a good reason, because they saw it as in their best interest. Each of the three is working in various ways to try to get the best advantage to them in the months ahead, but all three of them must comply with the agreement. And, we come to potholes in the road as we've come in the last day or two, we will ride over those potholes and overcome those problems. Other questions? Yes?
Q: Secretary, how would you assess the [inaudible] of Iraq [inaudible]?
A: We spent considerable time discussing that today. In my opinion, there is no near-term threat from Iraq. That is, Iraq does not have the capability today to provide a serious threat to the coalition forces. They do have an ongoing capability to provide a terrorist threat or to provide a threat of a military -- localized military action which can be damaging to the neighbors even though not successful for them.
I think what I'm most concerned about is the potential of their capability increasing in the years ahead. In particular, I'm concerned about the capability that it might develop and make further and successful developments of their weapons of mass destruction -- the nuclear, biological, chemical, and ballistic missiles that [inaudible].
So, a very great amount of our attention focus is directed to keeping that from happening. That's why we are so strongly in support from the United Nations inspection operation and insistent on maintaining the sanctions on Iraq as long as there's any question about compliance. Other questions?
Q: Just a follow up. [Inaudible] step up the presence in the area?
A: We discussed today, a number of alternatives for doing just that. General Peay gave me a rich menu of alternatives, of ways in which we can increase our capability in the area and be able then to more effectively and more quickly respond to any threats which we might get. At least some of those proposals are -- will be acted on. That is, when I go back to Washington, I expect to follow up and take the actions which I need to take which involve primarily reallocation of resources so that we can conduct some of those -- carry out some of those recommendations.
I don't want to strike a note that I think there is an immediate danger from Iraq, or that we have a crisis facing us there. And, indeed, General Peay's briefings to me were focused really on the long-term, immediate to long term. But, we need to take some of these actions which he's recommending will require several years to implement. The sooner we start them the sooner we will get to that capability.
Let me ask General Peay if he would like to add any additional points relative to the follow on building up capability with respect to Iraq or Iran. General Peay?
General Peay: I think you know that one of the vital interest to our nation are the very strong oil reserves that reside in that region. Some of our experts estimate the known oil reserves approximately 68 percent in the region alone. So, we're trying to work very closely with our coalition friends there. Our message is one of resolution and stability for the long term, so you have a number of actors in the area. Certainly, Iraq and Iran today have certain strengths that's important for our nation to address in the mid to long term. That's what the Secretary and I discussed.
Dr. Perry: And, just to sum up to that point, General Peay made recommendations to me for concrete actions for us to take to strengthen those capabilities. I expect to act on a good many of those recommendations. Other questions? Yes?
A: Pardon me?
Q: Would you mind sharing any of those with us.?
A: I cannot -- I'm not prepared to share them with you in detail. I will share with you the nature of the recommendations that were made. We are looking at ways of increasing for example the prepositioning posture we have in that area. That's a very important part of our deterrence. General Peay made several concrete recommendations on those. I expect to follow up on those recommendations.
We looked at ways of -- he recommended ways of improving the forward presence of U.S. forces and some of those, I think we will be able to act on as well. We also -- he also recommended ways of improving cooperation with the regional nations and conducting a more vigorous program of joint exercises with them. I think we will act on those. But, I don't want to be specific about particular exercises or about particular prepositioning proposals until we have final judgment made.
Q: So, do you think that the strengths that Iraq and Iran possess that you're being are being asked to act upon [inaudible]...So what are they?
A: In the case of Iran, which we have not been -- which has not been commented on yet. We are seeing actions that country is taking. For example, to build up their capability to Iraq shipping in the Gulf particularly as it goes through the Strait of Hormuz. They have based military forces on islands in the strait. They have bought submarines from Russia which they now are putting into the force -- diesel submarines. They have bought ship-to ship missiles and shore to ship missiles.
All of those, as they add them to their force, give them a -- and I should mention also and other patrol boats that they bought -- all of these give them the -- increase their capability to harass and interdict shipping in the Gulf. So, that's one area of concern.
A second... more broadly, we see them working over the long term to build up a nuclear weapons program. We think that will take them many years to do that. But, the time to stop that is not after they get the capability but while they are trying to build it up. So, it's very important part of our objective is to try -- is to stop that program before it actually becomes -- leads to operational nuclear weapons.
So, two various areas. The two particular areas, one of them is the very specific concrete conventional military action directed against shipping in the Gulf and that's near term and of immediate and direct concern to us. And, the other, much longer term, are the programs they have underway to try to build up nuclear, biological, chemical weapons and ballistic missiles.
I have time for one more question.
Q: Yes, sir. Coming a little closer to home. Can you recap the role CENTCOM has played in the Haitian operation and tell us now that we've had a orderly sense of power down there, what remains to be done and how much of that will U.S. forces play a role in?
A: My, that's a very good question. I'm really happy I got it because I went down to Haiti just a week or two after our forces were deployed there. Went down again a month or so later and down again shortly after that; including spending Thanksgiving a year ago in Haiti.
And, one of the most impressive things that I have seen in Haiti, and the least reported, actually, was the role played by our Special Operations Forces there. These were small teams of eight or ten people who would go to a city, say, of 50,000 people, perhaps. In the early days after we entered Haiti and here was a city with basically no government, no law enforcement capabilities at all -- and, provided that capability -- helped that city rebuild its governmental infrastructure. This is a civil-military affairs function which the Special Operations Forces performed so well. And, they did an absolutely outstanding job.
I visited three or four of those units at different locations down in Haiti and I was just amazed of how a small team like that could go into a large city and just by their capabilities and their skills organize the whole city. They developed a leadership in that city and, basically, worked that city through its transition to where they were able to develop its own capabilities.
That has been done and those Special Operations Forces are leaving the country now. They are almost all out. Our plan after the middle of March when all of our peacekeeping forces will be out of there is to continue to deal with Haiti like we deal with many of our Central American countries.
In other words, deal with them in a more normal military relationship and one particular program we expect to pursue with them comparable to programs we've had underway for some years in Central America is send down, on a rotational basis, engineering troops who will work with the local government officials on civic work projects -- road repair, bridge building, improving utilities.
This will be good training, good experience for our engineering troops, and it will be very, very useful in terms of the product that comes out of it for the Haitian government and it will also give the Haitians an opportunity to train with the American engineers so that they will be able to perform these functions themselves more effectively in the future. Yes?
Q: [Inaudible] China [inaudible]?
A: I can only give you a partial answer to that question at this time. This question is under review by the U.S. Government very intensively, right now. We have reports which we take seriously of the sale of the Chinese of components that would be used in a commercial nuclear facility, commercial nuclear power facility. We're concerned that these -- this is dual use which could also be used in a nuclear weapon facility and to the extent that's true, then it could involve the export of technology that could be used for a nuclear weapon program.
This raises in question not only the judgment of the Chinese government allowing these to be transported -- exported -- but also, raises in question whether we will have to invoke sanctions that are called for in certain of our laws.
So, that question is under consideration now. We are concerned with it, but we do not have a final judgment, final report on how that's going to be finally resolved.
Thank you very much. It was good to talk to you.
Press: Thank you very much.