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DoD News Briefing 5/7/96

Presenters: Kenneth Bacon, ASD (PA)
May 07, 1996 1:30 PM EDT

Tuesday, May 7, 1996, 1:30 p.m.

I've got a couple of announcements to begin with. Today, Secretary Perry's announcing that the President has nominated Lieutenant General David Bramlett of the Army for appointment to the grade of general and assignment as commanding general of the United States Army Forces Command. You can get more information on that from DDI.

Tomorrow, a representative of Forces Command will be in the building to talk about Army support for the Olympics. That will take place at 1:30 in the Army Public Affairs conference room 2D268 and you can call Army Public Affairs for more details on that. This is in response to a lot of questions that people have had about Army support for the Olympics.

Finally, Colonel General Leontiy Shevtsov, who is General Joulwan's deputy for Russian forces at SHAPE Headquarters in Mons, is in the United States this week and he will visit Fort Bragg on Thursday to participate in a ceremony honoring Russian and American soldiers who gave their lives during World War II. If you're interested in covering that or having people from your organizations cover it, you can check with the Public Affairs office of the 82nd Airborne Division. We can get you that information at DDI.

And with that, I'll be glad to take your questions. Charlie?

Q: Ken, I'd like to ask you to maybe clear up some confusion, perhaps anguish, on U.S. policy on the use of nuclear weapons. The SecDef told Congress that the United States wouldn't rule out anything in its arsenal to respond to a direct attack on the United State by nuclear, biological, chemical weapons. That seems to have raised some anguish among arms control advocates. The United States might use nuclear weapons in response to a chemical attack. And number two, the question that's been begged on whether or not the United States might use a nuclear weapon to destroy the Tarhunah facility given the fact that there's no conventional weapon yet to be able to do that. Could you address those two for me?

A: Yes, I'd be glad to. There has been some confusion about this in the press and I'm glad to be able to clear it up. The Secretary actually spoke about this very forthrightly at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama about ten days ago, April 26th, when he was down there giving a speech on nuclear non- proliferation issues. And I can give you a copy of what he said. But let me just walk you through it. The Tarhunah Plant being built in Libya is one that we oppose as a dangerous initiative, and we have launched a diplomatic effort to prevent that plant from being built. That involves talking to neighboring countries to bring it to the attention of our NATO allies, publicizing the fact that the plant's being built--you saw that in the proliferation report for instance--there was actually an artist rendering of the plant and a description of the plant. We think this plant is, as I said, a dangerous initiative and should not be built.

Our first line of defense against that plant is to prevent it from being built using diplomatic and economic means. We started to do that. We have several years before we, at least a year before we, believe that plant is in operation. So we have plenty of time to work on diplomatic and economic initiatives before we even consider using military options. Should military options be necessary, we can accomplish this with conventional means.

There is no consideration to using nuclear weapons and any implication that we would use nuclear weapons against this plant preemptively is just wrong. And that's what the Secretary said at Maxwell Air Force Base if I can just read his comment directly. He said that "preventive action to keep the Libya plant from coming on line is something that can be done first through diplomacy. We've made a -- we have a good period of time in which we can apply that diplomacy including coercive diplomacy. If that fails," the Secretary said, "then we can consider military actions. That would not need to be and I would never recommend nuclear weapons for that particular application. So any application that we would use, any implication that we would use nuclear weapons for that purpose is just wrong." So, you can get a copy of this on your way out.

Q: Can you give us an impression on that first, for that purpose, you mean not just Libya but any suggestion the United States would use nuclear weapons in order to keep someone from producing chemical or biological weapons is wrong in general?

A: We have, as the Secretary and Assistant Secretary Carter and General Hughes explained here a couple of weeks ago, a very robust counterproliferation program. One of the goals of the counterproliferation program is to develop methods -- diplomatic, economic, as well as military -- to prevent proliferation threats.

We have a wide range of options already. We're developing a wider range of options, conventional options to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. We are focusing on developing and enhancing our current conventional methods for preventing proliferation of the production of weapons of mass destruction if necessary.

Q: Is that a yes or no?

A: That's my answer.

Q: Just to be clear. Are you willing -- are you now ruling out the use of nuclear weapons to prevent the plant at Tarhuna from coming into operation?

A: The Secretary has said that this is not necessary. We do not believe that nuclear weapons would be necessary to be used in a preemptive way against a plant like this. We have a wide range of conventional weapons. But before we get there, we are using diplomatic and other methods to deal with that. Barbara?

Q: Typically, this building never always sends the questions like this. "We never rule anything in. We never rule anything out." And you have always, as a military policy, kept all your options open as far as I know. So, I'm curious to what has caused the Department to change this very public position? What is the motivating factor behind making these statements?

A: The motivating factor behind making these statements is there's been confusion in the press over this. We're talking about -- we are talking about a very limited situation here. The possibility of preemptive action against a chemical weapons plant. We are not suggesting that nuclear weapons would be used in that case. We think we have plenty of conventional options for dealing with that. But our first line of defense, our first line of preventive defense, is diplomacy. Diplomacy has worked in this connection before. We believe it will work again. We're not trying to saber-rattle in this. We want to be very clear. We are not talking about using nuclear weapons against the Tarhunah Plant. I don't know how to say it more clearly than that.

Q: What about the larger question. Secretary Perry has clearly on several occasions said that the United States while not specify what its reaction would be--would not rule out the use of nuclear weapons if the United States came under a direct attack from chemical or weapons of mass destruction. Does that statement prima-facie or undercut the agreement that the United States has made in the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in promising no first use of nuclear weapons?

A: The statement that President Bush has made, Secretary Cheney has made, Secretary Perry has made, is that we would respond to the use of weapons of mass destruction against us or our forces with overwhelming and devastating force. I think that phrase speaks for itself and doesn't need further explanation. However, the Secretary has also spoke about that at Maxwell Air Force Base where he said, "in every situation that I have seen so far, nuclear weapons would not be required for response. That is, we could have a devastating response without the use of nuclear weapons, but we would not forswear that possibility." This is also in the same statement that you can get on the way out.

Q: I understand the development issue of conventional weapons against that plant, as you addressed at the podium, is we don't have conventional weapons right now that could destroy that plant. I understand there are weapons under development as you've spoken of before. I presume then from your statement this afternoon those developmental weapons will be finished before this plant is open.

A: The goal is not to have to use weapons against the plant. The goal is to stop the plant through diplomatic and other means short of using weapons. That's what we're striving to do. We've launched that effort. We will continue the effort. Steve?

Q: But that's not-- excuse me. But if that's not successful, your backup is conventional weaponry.

A: We have a wide and growing range of conventional weapons. As I said earlier, the key to effective counterproliferation is not to be backed into a situation where you have only one weapon, one and only weapon, one and only one weapon that you can use against such a challenge. And that's why we are developing a range of weapons. We have talked about those. I've talked about those from up here before. Ash Carter has talked about them. You know basically what they involve. We're constantly evolving new weapons for new purposes. But here, the point to make is we're looking to deal with this diplomatically. Steve?

Q: Libya has used chemical weapons before. Do they currently have any manufacturing capacity for chemical weapons?

A: I'm just -- I do not believe they do, but I'm not certain about that. We'll try to get an answer to that.

Q: Ken?

A: Yes.

Q: Has there been any indication recently, particularly since Secretary Perry has discussed the Tarhunah plant, any indication of any decline of activity there or change in the face of activity?

A: Not that I'm aware of.

Q: I just want to come back to something you said and this is not talking about the Tarhunah Plant, but just in response to what the U.S. position is should the U.S. come under attack from weapons of mass destruction. You said, and quoted Secretary Perry as saying, the U.S. does not forswear this possibility, the use of nuclear weapons. What does that say to the countries who signed the NPT with the understanding that the United States was forswearing the use of nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state that the signatory to that agreement?

A: I think the important thing to realize is we have always -- we have always had the -- always maintained the ability to respond in such situations with overwhelming and devastating force. I think that statement speaks for itself.

Q: But it doesn't answer the question of whether the United States should swear off the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states that are signatories to the NPT? Didn't the United States agree to that in that treaty?

A: Well, you can read the NPT. I'm not an expert. I'm not a lawyer. What our position is consistent with what we said all the way along that we reserve the right to respond with overwhelming and devastating force in response to an attack by weapons of mass destruction against us or our forces. Other questions?

Q: A new topic?

A: Sure.

Q: This comes out of sort of left field. So, I'll give you that warning right off the bat. I understand there has been a change in the procedures for dealing with media staying with units in Bosnia for more than 24 hours. And I'd just like to find out why the change was made. I have the guidance here with me. And it basically says any reporter staying with the unit for more than 24 hours should consider most information received as background information not to be attributed to an individual by name, which sort of reverses how we usually go about things. Usually, you assume everything is on the record unless you start out on the record and work backwards as you know. Do you know what prompted this change or what happened here?

A: Yes, this decision was made by me and by Colonel Brzozowski who is in Tuzla as you know. There was a situation where a -- we were facing some resistance to embedding reporters in units. This deals with what's called embedding where a reporter goes and lives with the unit for several days or a week and then writes a story about it. it was the feeling on my part, and also on Colonel Brzozowski's part -- but I took the initiative here and I'll take the credit or blame for it -- that it was not reasonable to expect sergeants, privates, colonels, majors, anybody in this unit, to be on guard and talking on the record 24 hours a day in all situations. What was reasonable was to give reporters an opportunity to go and live with the unit and get a feel and a taste for how that unit operates and the problems they're dealing with. And if that reporter wanted to report comments, observations and analysis on the record that it was reasonable to ask that reporter to go to the person and say I would like to sit down and interview you on the record just as when you sit down with a source, you clear the ground rules.

This is similar for instance to the rules that have long applied to reporters flying on government planes with government officials. It's actually much more reasonable to apply this type of rule to a combat unit where people aren't skilled and trained in dealing with the press than it would be to apply it to a plane of government officials who deal with the press all the time. But that's the analogy essentially.

 

I am not aware that there had been problems because of this, but has certainly made it easier for Army commanders in Bosnia to accept reporters to come and embed with their units.

Q: But just to follow up. One more question on this was - - the 24 hours? If I or anybody here were just to go out with the unit during the day, then all of that would be on the record.

A: Yes, I would think that you would have the courtesy to inform the people you were talking to that you were talking to them for a quotation

Q: Right. But this sets out anything more than 24 hours consider that on background. Don't you see it as possibly deterring reporters from wanting to stay with units?

A: It hasn't deterred reporters from wanting to fly on planes with government officials. I don't see why it would deter reporters. They have the opportunity to go and sit down with a person and say I'd like to -- we had a good conversation last night. I'd like to get some of that on the record. Could I ask you about it and would you be willing to talk for a quotation. I think it's just a matter of fundamental courtesy that people be given a right to decide whether they're going to talk for a quotation or not. The way it was set up before, it was very difficult for a soldier particularly a soldier unschooled in dealing with the media to, make that decision. He didn't know enough about it or she didn't know enough about it. This is I think a clearer set of standards for both the reporters and for people in the military.

Q: Did that complaint come from the soldiers themselves or the commanders who didn't like reporters being there?

A: It came primarily from the commanders. I don't know whether -- I haven't talked to soldiers about this. All I've talked to is commanders and the people who represent the commanders.

Q: But, is it their view that reporters shouldn't be able to quote soldiers at will --

A: I can't answer that question. But my assumption is that most soldiers assume that if they were going to be quoted by name in an article people would give them the courtesy of telling them that they're going to be quoted by name in an article just as you would if you were to talk to an Assistant Secretary here or a General or an Admiral. You would let that person know.

Q: Why is this different? Why now when it's not a wartime operation?

A: Well, as I told you, that we were facing some resistance to embedding reporters in units. It seemed to me that this was a worthwhile practice to maintain and that there was a way to balance the needs of the news media with the needs of the military and this seemed to be the most sensible way to do it. Charlie?

Q: I have a change of subject. Keeping on Bosnia. What about the report that General Lopez may replace [Admiral] Snuffy Smith as head of NATO forces?

A: I can't comment on that now.

Q: Well, you're not necessarily denying it.

A: I'm not commenting.

Q: But if he did it, you don't think this will be a strange time to do it, as mid-way through the exercise?

A: Well since I'm not commenting, I guess I shouldn't answer anymore questions about it, should I? Time will tell.

Q: I think you should. [Laughter]

A: Well, Charlie, I very much respect your view but I'm going to stick with my position here and not comment. There may be a time when I can tell you more about this, but it's not today.

Q: Just to follow up on that. Excuse me. Is there a set time that Admiral Smith was to leave?

A: Yes, and it's passed. Mark?

Q: Do you have any information on this rather large Iranian ground maneuvers going on, involving 20,000 to 30,000 Iranian troops?

A: I'm aware that there's some training exercises going on but I'm not aware of the size of those exercises.

Q: Can you take the question and see what you can find out?

A: We will take the question to see what we can find out. Yes, Bob?

Q: Can you fill us in on what if anything happened in the talks with the North Koreans in New York?

A: I cannot. The talks are continuing and until they're over, I think it would be premature to discuss them.

Q: How long will they continue?

A: It's unclear at this stage. Yes, John?

Q: Can I ask you a question about the current policy by this building to sell off weapons that are no longer needed, particularly rifles and small arms to the civilian sector. When it started there was a program not only of selling weapons but of loaning weapons to help people improve marksmanship for future conflicts. Do you think the time has come where that program should be terminated and not simply turned over to a board, as will happen later this year?

A: Well, it's not relevant what I think because the law is mandated that it be turned over to a board, and it will be according to law turned over to a new National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice.

Q: There's things before that the building hasn't liked and you will certainly go to lawmakers and discuss it with them.

A: The Army has long wanted to get rid of this program. It has long advocated that the so-called civilian marksmanship program be either terminated or transferred to another agency. And Congress has transferred it now to another agency called the National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice, and I think this transfer is to take place sometime in the fall. It's to be completed by the 30th of September. In other words, the end of this fiscal year.

Q: Is it not true however that the Secretary of the Army will be appointing members of this board?

A: I'm not aware of the details. That could well be true. But as I say, what we're dealing with here is the law. This is something that Congress has passed and it's been enacted. I believe it was part of a broader piece of legislation. But, that's the law and the Army is following the law.

Q: I understand and I'll try one more time. It is part of the Defense Authorization Bill. But in the past, if you've not been happy with something you certainly have gone to lawmakers to seek a change. Do you have any plans to seek a change in this law in the future?

A: No.

Q: A new subject. Can you tell us how close the United States is getting to a policy about banning land mines or anti- personnel land mines? Is there something imminent on that?

A: No.

Q: No, you can't tell us or no, we're not close.

A: I cannot tell you how close we are. That remains a topic, a very active discussion. The President spoke about it with the CINC's when they were here last week. There will be another meeting probably this week on the topic. It is being actively discussed, but it's a very complex issue.

Q: Has the Pentagon already given its recommendation to the White House for what the policy ought to be?

A: The Pentagon has not yet released, as of last night, has not made a formal recommendation and I don't think it's been made today either. Steve?

Q: In the discussion of land mines. Korea is always cited as the prime example. The Canadians as a possible avenue of some compromises. We're talking about a western hemisphere ban on land mines. Would we have any trouble at Guantanamo Bay if we had no land mines there?

A: We would be able to adjust.

Q: Can you give us an update on the situation in Liberia?

A: Well, it's very unsettled. We've continued to evacuate people from Liberia. The Marines are still on station. The ships are still there and there have been no particular incidents today to which I'm aware. Just to bring you up to date on the continuing evacuation. In the last five days, 90 people have been evacuated including 16 Americans. So, to date, the U.S. has evacuated 2,200 people out of Monrovia and 460 of those are Americans. Those are round numbers.

Q: How many Americans are left?

A: Well, I don't know exactly but probably there are 18 in the embassy and there may be a dozen or two more. It could be a few more than that, but...

 

Q: All these 16 were from outside the embassy?

A: Yes. The embassy still remains at 18 in the embassy compound. Jamie?

Q: I know that you said that we would be briefed tomorrow by some Army officials about the U.S. military support for the Olympics. But even before this briefing takes place, some in Congress have criticized, particularly Senator McCain has suggested -- that in a time of scarce resources that the money spent for the troops supporting the Olympics maybe shouldn't be spent, or at the very least maybe ought to be reimbursed if the Olympics turns a profit. Can you comment on the political question of whether or not in a time of scare resources that's a wide expenditure of Defense Department funds?

A: Congress has made the decision that it is. Congress has twice voted that these services should be provided without reimbursement and the votes have been rather overwhelming. I think the last vote in the Senate was 77 to 21. So, it's not an issue for me to decide. It's an issue that Congress has decided. As you know, Congress disposes. And it's disposed this question in this case.

Q: Does the expenditure for this funds in any way hurt readiness or perhaps help readiness or is it a neutral question?

A: These are military people doing military jobs and I don't think it will have any impact on readiness whatsoever. It's a relatively -- it will be a relatively small amount of money compared to the total defense budget. But many of what these know -- There will be ordnance disposal people there for instance. They will be doing the same type of thing on station, do the same type of thing if necessary for the Olympics that they would be doing otherwise.

Other people will be providing the same types of services or jobs they provide ordinarily in the military. There will be drivers for instance. There will be security agents, presumably providing the same type of security services to the Olympics that they provide on military bases. So, I think that we will be able to absorb this. We've been working very hard to connect with local authorities and provide a very strong set of services and I think we'll succeed in doing that.

Press: Thanks.