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DoD News Briefing with Geoff Morrell from the Pentagon Briefing Room, Arlington, Va.

Presenter: Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell
June 16, 2009

                MR. MORRELL:  Good afternoon.  Sorry we were a little late, I think with good reason. 

 

                I have nothing to start with, so I'll be happy to get to questions.  We are missing the wires.  They must be seriously writing already. 

 

                Al Pessin. 

 

                Q     Geoff, what's the status of the Farah incident report?  Why has it been delayed? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  As far as I know, Al, the report is still being worked, and in fact I think it's being worked as we speak.  And we hope to have some resolution to this very soon. 

 

                Q     But is it a matter of -- I mean, what sort of material is causing the delay?   

 

                Is it material that's critical of various military units, or is it material that would endanger troops, or what is it? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, you're assuming there is material that is causing a delay. 

 

                Q     The delay is in putting together the unclassified release, as I understand it. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  That's as you understand it.  I mean, clearly, there was -- the secretary, the chairman and others were briefed on a classified version, so that obviously cannot be the version that is released publicly.  So there is an unclassified version which is being prepared, and that is being worked as we speak. 

 

                But I don't know that there is -- contrary to some of the reporting I have seen, I don't know that there is any issue with regards to there being disagreements inside this building about what the contents of that report should have.  But it takes time to put together an unclassified version of a rather exhaustive classified report. 

 

                Q     And do you have a time frame when you expect it? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't.  I hope soon.  I mean, I think it was -- clearly, it was my expectation when I spoke to you last week that the release of that report was imminent.  And the fact that I'm sitting here -- or standing here talking to you a week later and it hasn't come out is a surprise to me, but I am assured that it is being worked, as I said, as we speak, and that hopefully we will have some resolution to this rather soon. 

 

                Q     Is there still a commitment to releasing it to the news media and the public? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  When you say a commitment, I don't know that I made a commitment, I don't know that the secretary made a commitment.  I think -- I've heard reports of there being commitments made by others. 

 

                You know the secretary and the chairman well now, Barbara, and both of those men are people who -- are people who believe in accountability, who believe in transparency.  And I think their default position is always to share more than less.  So I would suspect that there is support at the highest levels of this building  for sharing something with you all, but it is still being worked so I can't say definitively what the outcome of that will be yet. 

 

                Q     So we may or may not see something released? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, as I said, it's being worked, and we hope to have some resolution on it soon, and I will be the first to tell you when we do.  And hopefully, it can come in hours and not days, but we shall see. 

 

                Q     Can you say what's holding it up?  You, yourself, said you expected it last week. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I can say, as I did before, that there is work being done to convert a rather lengthy and exhaustive classified report into an unclassified report that is appropriate for the general public.  And that work is ongoing. 

 

                Q     What about the video?  Are we -- is that going to be released?  What's your understanding? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't -- I frankly don't know what the ultimate disposition of any video samples will be.  I think that is part of what is being worked at this time. 

 

                Yeah.  On this? 

 

                Q     No. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Let's finish this up.  Jeff. 

 

                Q     You had talked about the work is taking classified and turning it to unclassified.  Can you elaborate at all on what this work entails, what exactly are they looking at? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I can't. 

 

                Yeah. 

 

                Q     Can you fill in -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Not because I'm -- I'm forbidden from; I just am not privy to what exactly they're working on right now. 

 

                Yeah. 

 

                Q     Can you fill in any of the gaps about the connection between any mistakes that were made and the civilian casualties --  

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I can't. 

 

                Q     -- the cause of civilian casualties -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  No, I think one thing -- 

 

                Q     -- the number of civilian casualties? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I think -- no, I think that's the kind of thing that an unclassified version of this report would address.  And that's why I, for one, am supportive of seeing that shared with you sooner or later, so that we don't have to answer those questions and we can refer you to sort of the definitive source on this. 

 

                Still on this? 

 

                Q     I'm not on that. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Okay.  We done? 

 

                Q     I'm just curious what the feeling sort of is, since we haven't had a chance to -- opportunity to speak to the secretary about this for -- to speak to the secretary at all for quite a while, actually, in this briefing room -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I think many of your colleagues have spoken to him at length recently.  But yes? 

 

                Q     Right.  In this briefing room, as I said -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah. 

 

                Q     -- we have not had a chance to.   

 

                So I'm just curious what his thoughts are on this.  I mean, by not releasing this last week, as most of us in here thought it would be, it -- this is drawn out.  It continues to be in the press every single day.  I mean, is this something -- is he starting to get -- is he frustrated?  Is he saying, let's get this report out?  I mean, what are his feelings on all this? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't know that I've seen it in the press every single day.  I saw a couple of stories today, people trying to make hay of -- well, there was a wire report yesterday and there was a newspaper report today -- of people trying to make -- to draw divisions where there are none, as far as I am aware, inside this building about this report.   

 

                Getting to the heart, though, of your question is what the secretary's attitude is about it.  Frankly, I've had only a passing conversation with him about this -- this particular issue.  I think it's something that he was going to look further into. 

 

                But, as I said to Barbara and Al, you all know him.  You all know that he is an advocate, when possible, for accountability and transparency. The president has been very clear about that.  The chairman has been clear about that.  I think that that is where we would all like to be. And hopefully that's where we end up on this case, and hopefully it happens sooner than later. 

 

                Yeah, (Nancy ?). 

 

                Q     You've said twice now that there are no objections within the building.  Are there objections coming from the State Department or from the White House about whether to release this report or what details to put in the unclassified version of the report? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't know that there are objections at any level.  I think that there is a great interest throughout the government about all matters Afghanistan these days, particularly civilian casualties.  And so it's -- this report, in its draft form, or in its pre-dissemination form, has been shared with a small number of relevant people in the interagency.  And so it is being read by others.   

 

                But I don't know that there is any sense of objection or disagreement.  I think it just takes time for everybody to feel comfortable before something can be released.  That's my sense. Hopefully that'll be the case. 

 

                Q     I guess where some of the confusion is -- since there was such certainty last week that it would be released, it seems to me that the process of working through it, it would have been clear last week how long it would have taken for it to -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Sometimes these things -- oftentimes these take -- these things take longer than -- would expect.  It just -- and that's part of what happens when working with a -- through a big government.   

 

                I mean, it's one thing if you do things internal to this building.  But when you -- oftentimes, when you reach out and include others, it takes longer than you anticipated.  But I think you're looking for sinister motives or problems or divisions where I have yet to see any.  I think this just -- is just taking time, and I think it will ultimately come to the resolution that you all are seeking, and that you will ultimately see a product that will give you a pretty good understanding, I believe, of what happened on that day. 

 

                Q     One more thing.  Has General McChrystal expressed any reservations about releasing this material? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Not that I've heard, no. 

 

                Okay?  Let's go on to something else.  (Gordon ?). 

 

                Q     North Korea.   

 

                Can you amplify some of what we know coming out of the White House on Friday about the action that U.S. Navy would take, working with other partners in -- against naval -- North Korean ships?  When -- what other vessels might need to be sent there, when will this begin, some of that stuff? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't know that I'm going to get into those kind of operational details.  I mean, I don't know that it requires, frankly, additional ships to be sent to -- to the region.   

 

                I think that we have a host of assets in the Pacific, in and around the waters that North Korean ships would -- would traverse. And -- but I think, fundamentally, Gordon -- I think our authorities and responsibilities under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1874 are clear.  And we have the resources and assets in the region to -- that would allow us to perform our duties under that -- under the UNSCR. 

 

                And so we can continue to, as we have for quite some time, to monitor North Korean shipments.  And should -- as the Security Council Resolution calls for, should reasonable grounds -- should there be reasonable grounds to believe that one of those ships is carrying banned cargo, we have the authorities under the Security Council resolution to take action. 

 

                Q     But can you amplify that?  I mean, from a practical standpoint, if a ship's in port, it's refusing anybody to allow it to be inspected, then what? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, it depends on what port it's in.  But I -- I don't know that it's appropriate at this time to go through each of the details.  But you guys can read the 1874.  I mean, it lays it out, you know, in -- sentence by sentence, what actions would be taken, under what circumstances.   

 

                And obviously, it would begin with us making a determination about whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that a North Korean ship is indeed carrying banned cargo.  And once that determination has been made, it calls on a number of subsequent actions to take place, including trying to do a compliant boarding, calling upon not the ship, but the state, for permission for a compliant boarding so that there could be an inspection of the cargo. 

 

                If that is not possible, if that is refused by the state, then there are subsequent actions which can be taken, which includes, I  think, first and foremost, notifying the Security Council that the request for compliant bordering was refused.  There will then be a request made, according to the UNSCR, for the state to direct its ship into a convenient port, at which time we would then work with that -- the state that is the owner of such a port, to begin inspections of that -- of the North Korean ship.   

 

                But we're getting way ahead of ourselves at this point.  We have these authorities.  We have the resources in the region to execute them, should that be necessary. 

 

                But at this point, all we are doing is monitoring North Korean shipments.  And hopefully it does not become necessary.  Hopefully the north will be fully compliant with the Security Council resolution, which bans their shipments of a number of goods, including arms.   

 

                Yeah.   

 

                Q     Just to follow up, I mean, what's the point?  You say, can we board?  The North Koreans say, no, you may not.  You let it go to port.  What is the ultimate point of that?   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  The ultimate point is to work, with our friends and allies, to prevent the North Koreans from proliferating weapons of mass destruction or other arms, for that matter.   

 

                This has been a main source of revenue, for the north, for quite some time.  And we want to put a stop to it, not only so it doesn't -- so that it does not continue to sustain the regime and afford it the ability to pursue its nuclear and ballistic missile programs but also prevent that kind of technology from being spread to other countries and other non-state actors, where it could pose a threat to us and our allies.   

 

                But fundamentally the point is, and this is what was evident by the unanimous passage of 1874, is that the world is in agreement that we need to work together, to stop the north from developing and proliferating weapons of mass destruction.  And we will do so collectively.   

 

                We will do so, in the first stage, in trying to compliantly board a ship at sea, if we believe there is banned cargo on board.  And if that's not possible, we will then work to direct it into a port and work with that nation, to see if we can inspect it, once it's in port.  

 

                But there are several steps.  And it shows that we are committed to dealing with this at all levels.  And we'll take the -- go to the lengths necessary, to ensure that there is not proliferation of these -- of these banned items.   

 

                Q     To me, it shows a desire to stop it but nothing really concrete that -- what in there will stop it?   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I think, if the world is in agreement that we are all going to monitor and then attempt to compliantly board and  attempt to then direct those ships into a port, where they can then be inspected, that is real progress.   

 

                That is more than what we were doing before.  And we hope it will prevent the North Koreans from being able to spread and sell these weapons of mass destruction.  And hopefully it will prevent them -- it will deter them from even pursuing that.  But if necessary, we will hopefully be able to intercept and prevent those sales and that dissemination down the line.   

 

                Yeah, let me mix it up on this.   

 

                Yeah, go ahead.   

 

                Yeah. 

 

                Q     On -- (off mike) -- are -- so are you contradicting the New York Times story that says we're -- said the U.S. would not be boarding these ships, it would only be stopping them and asking?  And I ask because Senator McCain, in response to the report this morning, has -- came out saying this was a half-measure, that those ships should be stopped and searched if there is a probable cause.  So do you -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, that's not what the -- that's not what the United Nations has authorized us or anyone else to do.  The United Nations has not authorized forcible boarding of any of -- of any North Korean ships.   

 

                The United Nations has, though, come a lot farther than it was, in authorizing us and other countries to try to persuade the North Koreans to allow a compliant boarding and inspection in the high seas. If that's not possible, we will work to try to persuade the North to bring those ships -- that ship into a convenient port, a nearby port, so that we can then work with that government to see if we can get an inspection there.   

 

                But I think that what it shows is that there is a commitment on the part of a host of nations around the world to work together to try to -- to try to deter the North from proliferating these weapons of mass destruction and, if need be, stopping them from ultimately selling them to anyone to gain the money that they need to sustain these programs to begin with. 

 

                Yeah, Joe. 

 

                Q     Geoff, on Friday we have seen a story quoting a senior DOD official saying that al Qaeda elements have moved from Pakistan to Yemen and to the horn of Africa.  Do you have any information on that? Could you elaborate more? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I'm -- I think I'm not going to get into what our intelligence is showing us.   

 

                But clearly, as we have increased our operational tempo in Afghanistan, and as there are additional U.S. and coalition forces flowing into Afghanistan, there is increased pressure put on the Taliban and al Qaeda.  And historically what that has led to is them running across the border into Pakistan and seeking refuge in the safe haven there.   

 

                But because we are now seeing an increased operational tempo from the Pakistani military as well, there is now pressure on both sides, from the east and the west, on those militants in that former safe haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.  And it would not at all be surprising if the pressure was such that some of those terrorists thought it wiser to leave that area if they could, and go to another ungoverned or less-than-optimally governed space.   

 

                And sadly, I think Somalia would fit that bill.  Obviously, Yemen is having problems right now with terrorists in its midst and its ability to confront that problem.  So it would not be surprising.  But I wouldn't speak to you as it seemed as though somebody in the paper did about what the intelligence is showing regarding that. 

 

                Yeah, Donna. 

 

                Q     This goes back to the Korea question.  In the -- something in the backdrop of all this going on, not only the testing but this issue with the WMD, is, we're working toward normalizing tours in Korea.  Is that still proceeding at -- is -- the current pace?  Are we going forward with those plans?  Has there been anything put on hold? Are we re-looking at -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  No.  I think the effort is to try to normalize tours in the South, in the Republic of Korea, and that has been and continues to be the direction we are heading.  It's certainly the direction that the South would like us to pursue, the Republic of Korea would like us to pursue.  And I think it's something the secretary is interested in as well.  So I don't -- 

 

                Q     (Off mike) -- the heating-up to the north? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't -- not that I know of has there been -- has that at all impacted those desires to continue to try to normalize tours in the Republic of Korea. 

 

                Yeah. 

 

                Q     Back to the -- North Korea and the proliferation issues. Even before the Security Council resolution, presumably you could have challenged and asked to board another vessel, right, North Korean or otherwise, in such a situation?  So what -- in practical terms, what does the resolution allow you to do that -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I think everybody -- I think -- Viola, I think everybody here is focused on what it allows us to do. 

 

                And I think the more important thing is what it authorizes and empowers everyone to do.  So the Chinese, the Russians, everybody signed on to this.  It passed the Security Council unanimously.   

 

                So this is not just about what we can or have been able to do or will be able to do.  This is about a commitment, on the part of all of our allies, to deal with this problem collectively.   

 

                So presumably this would not just be us, should we find reasonable grounds to presume that one of these ships is carrying banned goods.  But similarly if the Russian navy were to see that or the Chinese navy were to see that or the Republic of Korea navy or the Japanese Navy, other navies are also empowered by this resolution to deal with this problem.   

 

                And that is a step in the right direction.  And their commitment by voting unanimously for it suggests that they will follow through, as we are prepared to do so.   

 

                Q     So it's more the political support and the commitment to cooperate, rather than any -  

 

                MR. MORRELL:  But this resolution also is much tighter, in terms of the banned goods that they are not allowed to ship anymore.  I mean, the only thing that they -- they are allowed to ship some small arms.  But everything more than that is now prohibited from being exported.   

 

                And I'm sorry, everything -- even small arms are prohibited from being exported.  Some small arms can come into North Korea, under the Security Council resolution.   

 

                Q     Just one more on that subject.   

 

                When is the last time this ever -- the U.S. forcibly boarded another nation's ship?  And what would have been -- what kind of stipulation --  

 

                MR. MORRELL:  We can certainly talk to the Navy about it and figure out the last time they were engaged in something of that nature.   

 

                I mean, you know, except for, one of these pirate incidents lately would probably be the most recent example of that.  Of course,  those were not ships under their control at that point.  They were under the -- illegally under the control of pirates.   

                But before that, I'd refer you to them.  I'm not familiar with the most recent, before this spate of pirate attacks.   

 

                Yeah.   

 

                Q     Deputy Secretary Lynn and General Cartwright indicated today that the missile defense and radar system, in the Czech Republic and Poland, is now seen as an alternative rather than a firm deal.   

 

                If agreements were signed last year, with these countries, why is there now a change in policy, regarding this European --  

 

                MR. MORRELL:  An alternative to what?   

 

                Q     An alternative plan for missile defense, as opposed to a firm deal, as it appeared it was last year, when they signed agreements.   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, last year -- first of all, we signed agreements last year under a previous administration.  Those agreements have not yet been ratified by those countries.  So they are not a firm deal.   

 

                Q     On our end, it's firm.   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, we can't do anything on our end, pardon me, until those agreements are ratified by the legislative bodies, in both the Czech Republic and Poland.   

 

                So even if we were prepared to, from a policy or budgetary perspective, proceed with breaking ground on the interceptor site or the radar site, we cannot do so until they first vote to ratify it.   

 

                Q     Understood.  But we're the ones who are changing our minds now, and I want you to explain to us why. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I'm not so sure, Justin, that's the case.  I mean, we have repeatedly said to the Czechs and the Poles that we cannot proceed with this until it is ratified by your governments.  That said, we have also made it clear that we are reviewing missile defense within this government.  And that is an ongoing process.   

 

                But I think you saw when the president actually visited the Czech Republic and spoke in the square there in Prague -- in fact, it was just on the heels of another provocative act by the North -- that he provided a desire to go forward with a third site in Europe, but it -- we are working now with -- we are trying to work with our friends in Russia, to bring them into this, so we can do this in a cooperative, non-threatening manner, so that we can have buy-in from the Russians and ultimately develop a system that is -- that provides more coverage to Europe and does so without -- you know, without sparking any sort of mistrust on the part of the Russians. 

 

                Q     Okay.  And given -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  And I'm going to just take two more, because -- and then we're going to get out of here. 

 

                Q     Just to follow up, given the provocative acts of North Korea and the instability in Iran and their nuclear efforts, is the secretary still confident about the overall budget cuts he's proposed for 2010 regarding missile defense? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Absolutely.  I mean, he's been asked this time and time again.  And in fact, when we were up visiting Fort Greely and he was looking at the ground-based interceptors that are deployed there, he made it clear that he thinks, based upon the military advice that he's been given, that the threat now posed by the North's long-range ballistic missile program -- and their two most recent tests have been failures -- that the threat posed by them at this point can be more than adequately dealt with with the GBIs we have in place or will soon have in place, and that his recommendations are for fiscal year '10.   

 

                It says nothing about what our posture will be in FY '11 or beyond.   

 

                So that if the North were to proceed and develop its long-range capacity -- ballistic missile capacity at a pace faster than anybody in this building believes they will or are capable of, we can certainly adjust our budget request for next year and go to the Congress and say:  You know what?  In light of developments in the North, we believe we need more than the 30 ground-based interceptors that we have, and that we may want to go back up to the 44 that had been originally planned.   

 

                But at this point, the secretary believes that the $1.2 billion in cuts to missile defense overall -- which mostly deals with experimental things at the boost phase -- are prudent cuts in light of the threat posed by not just North Korea but other rogue regimes out there -- by Iran and by others.  They simply are not developed to the point that it would require anything more than the assets which we already have in place. 

 

                Last one.  Who hasn't gone?  Louie Martinez. 

 

                Q     Actually, Jeff -- 

 

                Q     I already -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Jeff's gone three times.   

 

                Q     I only had one, and it was a brief one. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  You want to give it to Jeff? 

 

                Q     Here is my question.  (Laughter.)  Last week the secretary said that he was seven to 10 days away from deciding on an acquisition authority for the tanker -- refueling tanker.  Has there been progress on that? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't think he's -- I don't -- you know, since then he hasn't -- he was back in the office yesterday for the first time, I think, since then.  So, no, I don't believe he has yet, but I'll check on it. 

 

                All right, that was short. 

 

                Jeff. 

 

                Q     If the U.S. and its partners can't board ships, how can they compel them to go to a certain port? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, this is all about working with -- you know, working with our allies to try to persuade the government of North Korea to do the right thing.  And -- now, there are sort of limitations on the ability of North Korean ships to navigate great distances at sea.  They are not equivalent to our naval vessels, which have the ability to go -- have great range on open waters.  And the North's ships, as far as we know, do not have that capacity, and often rely -- well, do rely on much more frequent port calls to refuel.  So we have that working for us.   

 

                And luckily, there are many regimes -- or many countries in the region that we believe would be cooperative with us in trying to persuade the North Koreans to allow us to inspect their cargo once they were to take a port call for refueling. 

 

                And, frankly, if they're not shipping any banned goods, I don't know what their reluctance would be to have us to inspect their ships and to verify that they are not violating the Security Council resolution. 

 

                Yeah.  Last one. 

 

                Q     In Israel, Haaretz reported today that the head of the Mossad said that they believe Iran will have a nuclear weapon by 2014, which is far later than most feared -- anticipated it -- closer to 2010.  Is there anything that suggests that they're not as far along in the development of their weapons as we had once thought? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  You prefaced that question, which gives me two outs.  You quoted an Israeli paper and an intelligence service.  So I think I'm going to beg off that one. 

 

                Thank you all.

 

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