Wednesday, September 4, 1996 - 12:20 p.m. (EDT)
(Note: This event follows an Honors Cordon at the Pentagon River Entrance welcoming Minister Portillo.)
Secretary Perry: I am delighted to welcome my good friend Michael Portillo, Minister of Defense of the United Kingdom to the United States. This is a meeting we actually had planned several weeks ago to discuss issues of mutual interest relative to NATO. We are both going to the NATO Defense Ministers Meeting in Norway in just a few weeks, so this was preliminary discussions, preliminary planning relative to that meeting.
I also want to take the opportunity to thank Michael and his government for their strong and sturdy support of the U.S. response to Saddam Hussein's latest act of aggression. Our actions show that we are determined to protect our vital national security interests in that region. The United States and Great Britain share a commitment to maintaining stability in the Middle East.
I will give you a very brief status report on what is happening in Iraq today. We have completed, successfully completed the mission to attack the air defense facilities -- a total of 14 air defense facilities -- south of the 33rd Parallel. Today coalition forces began to resume their flying under OPERATION SOUTHERN WATCH.
We encountered two challenges on this first day of patrolling again. One of them, two MIGs approached our planes from the north, but both of them turned back before they got to 33 degrees north.
Secondly, a radar from a SA-8 air defense system illuminated one of our planes, and we fired a HARM missile at that radar. The radar stopped illuminating after we fired the HARM. I have no further information about the results of that operation except that the radar stopped illuminating.
These actions plus the cruise missile strikes demonstrate that we will take whatever actions are necessary to enforce this no-fly zone.
I might also say that we are observing very carefully the whole set of responses of Iraq. We have observed that more than half of the MIGs that were based at air bases south of 33 degrees today moved to air bases north of 33 degrees, and we also observe a general pull-back of Iraqi forces that are in the north. But I wanted to caution you that there are still over 40,000 forces in that region, and they're still in a very dangerous position.
With those opening comments, I'd like to turn to my friend Michael Portillo and ask him to make comments.
Minister Portillo: Thank you very much for your welcome today.
Let me begin by confirming that, indeed, this meeting was established some time ago in order to discuss a whole range of issues, but I find that the timing is a happy coincidence in the sense that I think it's a good idea that you and I can put our heads together today and discuss the situation in Iraq.
We were fully consulted by you and by the United States' Administration. We shared your analysis. We, in particular, share an understanding of Saddam's track record. We know about his murderous history, we know about the anti-humanitarian acts that he has committed within his own country in the past. We know about the threat to stability that he poses to the region and his proven propensity to invade the territory of his neighbors. We therefore, thought with you, that this major escalation, this intimidatory act in Northern Iraq to go without any response from the international community would pose a danger. It would encourage him to move to another dangerous stage in his remilitarization.
Since our expressions of support for your position and the provision of logistical support -- you asked us to enable U.S. bombers to use Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. We were pleased to accede to that request. Since then there has, of course, been the second wave. Let me make it clear that we regard the second wave as being merely the second, maybe the final part of the opening operation of the United States to eliminate certain targets that could pose a threat to allied aircraft, including British aircraft, in the extended no-fly zone. And of course that operation had to be continued until it produced the results that were intended at the beginning.
I emphasize, that since Britain participates in the no-fly zone exclusion area with British aircraft, then the threat that is being eliminated by the United States is a threat not only to American aircraft, but to coalition aircraft in general.
Secretary Perry: Thank you, Michael.
Q: Dr. Perry, I might ask, despite the strong statements by you gentlemen, if you would agree that the U.S. action has caused widespread public and private consternation within the coalition. Are you worried that the coalition is weakening? And are the French taking an active part in policing the southern no- fly zone now, including the expanded part of it, and have they told you whether or not they will continue to do so?
Secretary Perry: I don't want to get into specifics on all the questions you asked, Charlie. I will say that I am confident that the coalition is not weakened. If anything, I think the coalition is strengthened, and that I fully expect the French to continue participation in the coalition.
Michael, do you want to add anything to that?
Minister Portillo: I think I would only add that every country has to make its public statements in the way that it regards as best. But I think there is the most widespread joint understanding of the sort of man that we're dealing with in Saddam Hussein. I think it is well understood that he has this long record of violations of human rights, that he is a destabilizing force, that he has the potential to invade other countries. I don't believe any of our partners or any of our friends through the Middle East would defend from that analysis the sort of person that we're dealing with.
Q: May I ask a question to Defense Minister Portillo? You said in your remarks, sir, that, you used the word opening phase or gambit or something else. Do you have reason to believe that this is, in fact, an opening? That more will follow? And secondly, would Great Britain have been happier if the attack had occurred say perhaps in the north against the offending troops, rather than in the southern region?
Minister Portillo: On your first question, I have no reason to anticipate any future operation, but I know that the United States has rightly not been able to exclude the possibility of something in the future. I think that largely depends upon Saddam Hussein's actions and reactions.
On your second point, we were pleased that the United States targeting was evidently designed to minimize the risk of collateral damage and civilian loss of life. It would be for Secretary Perry to comment, but I guess one of the factors in mind would be that it would have been much more difficult with Iraqi troops operating within villages and towns within the north, to have acquired targets that carried a similarly low risk of collateral damage.
Q: The Administration, including Dr. Perry and the President, have said that we sent a strong message to Saddam Hussein. And yet the message doesn't seem to have anything to do with the incursion in the north. What kind of a message do you feel was sent?
Minister Portillo: Just because it isn't in the north does not prevent it from being a message. It is a message. The extension of the no-fly zone underlies our concern for anti- humanitarian acts. The no-fly zones were established north and south in order to give the allies the potential to monitor Iraqi activity on the ground, and one would have to be fearful about activities in the south as well as the north. So I don't think there's any doubt at all that this has provided a message, and I don't think there's any doubt, either, about a connection between U.S. action in the south and [the incursion in the north].
Secretary Perry: I would just add one other point to that. I would not characterize the actions we've taken as being in the south instead of the north. The actions we took were at the strategic center of Iraq, dealing with their air defense systems, one of their key military systems, and creating no-fly zones almost to the southern suburbs of Baghdad. So this is a central strategic interest of Iraq which we are directing.
Q: Can I ask you about the radar that illuminated the plane today? Was it from an air defense site that was among those targeted by the cruise missiles? If not, does that not suggest that the cruise missile effort was incomplete?
Secretary Perry: If the answer to the first question had been yes then the answer to the second question would be yes also. But the answer to the first question is no.
The SA-8 was from... First of all, this is an SA-8 which is a tactical mobile SAM system. We were targeting SA-2s and SA-3s which are in fixed locations. But in particular, this SA-8 was north of 33 degrees.
Our rules of engagement, which I will not describe in detail, but our rules of engagement permit us to attack any radar which is illuminating us in a threatening way, even though it is north of the no-fly zone.
Q: Mr. Secretary, how seriously do you take these challenges to the enforcement of this new expanded no-fly zone? Is Saddam Hussein, in your opinion, just giving a little bit of a test, or do you think he's going to plan to seriously challenge this enforcement as he says he will?
Secretary Perry: I don't want to forecast what he is going to do. I can tell you that our operational forces, the coalition pilots in particular, are prepared for serious challenges and are confident and I'm confident, that they can meet any serious challenges that may arise in the future. The challenges that occurred today I would not characterize as serious challenges.
Q: Mr. Secretary, I understand that a large percentage, almost a dozen of the cruise missiles, missed their target. Is that true? Are you concerned about the accuracy of these weapons?
Secretary Perry: No, that's not true. I have reviewed as carefully as can be reviewed with the data we have, which in one case is about 12 hours after the mission; in the other case about 36 hours. The cruise missiles performed as we expected them to perform. They have a probable error of between 10 to 15 meters, which is to say that if they were aimed at the center of this room, there's a better than even chance they will land somewhere in the room.
One of these classes of cruise missiles has a 2,000 pound warhead and the other class has a 1,000 pound warhead. It's very, very substantial damage in ranges of 10 to 15 meters from warheads of that size. They performed according to those specifications.
When you say that it's a 10 to 15 meter CEP [Circular Error Probable], that doesn't mean that every missile lands right on the target, or even within 10 meters of it, but if you look at the statistical scattering that we are observing on these ranges, they did perform within specifications.
More to the point, they have, in our assessment, they have effected serious degradation on all of the sites in the area that are of greatest concern to us which were surface-to-air missile sites.
Q: What is the ultimate objective of the United States action? Is it the removal of Saddam Hussein?
Secretary Perry: Our objective remains the same as it has been from the beginning, to deter Saddam Hussein from taking actions which commit atrocities to his own people, which attack his neighbors, and which upset the security and stability of the region. All of our various responses to him through the years have been intended either to deter him from taking those actions or to punish him or stop him from taking those actions.
Q: If it is not the objective to oust Saddam Hussein, isn't the United States likely to have to revisit this every time we turn around in order to try to resolve it? And isn't that an expensive and degradating way to...
Secretary Perry: I think maintaining security and stability in Southwest Asia is apt to be a long time problem for which there's no single solution. Maybe Minister Portillo would like to comment further on that.
Minister Portillo: Well I would comment by saying that the Western allies have had to deal, indeed, with a long-running problem. and I think we've dealt with it in moderation and proportionately. We expelled him from Kuwait. We did not feel at that time that it was within our mandate to change the government of Iraq. Subsequently we've had to go back to try to improve the humanitarian condition of Iraq, to try and put some impediments in the way of his repression of his own people. This last action by the United States is best characterized as being within that series.
But there are limits to what we have felt collectively we can do, but we do what we can in order to reverse his aggressions against other nations to improve the security of the region, to protect our interests, and to do what we can to end the repression of his people.
Press: Thank you.