Tuesday, September 17, 1996 - 1:30 p.m.
[Also participating: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)]
Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Thank you for coming.
Before we start, I just want to point out that there's a background briefing on the Secretary's trip to Europe at 2:30 this afternoon; and tomorrow, General Joulwan will give a briefing on the Bosnian elections at two o'clock, here.
Secretary Perry wanted to come down and talk to you directly about his recent trip to the Middle East. Unfortunately, the President asked him to go several hours before he left, and we didn't have time to organize press on the trip, so this is your opportunity to get his account of what happened and ask a few questions.
His time is limited, he's got about 15 minutes.
Secretary Perry: You should be glad there wasn't time for the press to go on this trip. It was five countries and 14,000 miles in two and a half days. It was quite a trip.
On Friday evening, the President held a meeting of his senior national security advisers to discuss the policy in Iraq. At the conclusion of that meeting, the President reaffirmed the vital national security interests of the United States in containing Iraq, and a key to that containment is the U.S. military presence in the region. In particular, the linchpin of that is what we call Operation SOUTHERN WATCH, which is enforcing the no-fly zone over southern Iraq, which we had enforced up to 32 degrees north, and then just recently raised that up to 33 degrees north, almost to the southern suburbs of Baghdad.
Because Iraq was taking actions, which we thought were threatening our airplanes and our air crews, the President decided to send a warning to Iraq not to take actions which threatened our air crews; and he asked me to prepare military actions that we would take if they did not comply with this warning.
He then directed me to make the necessary preparations so that, if it were necessary to take military action, we would be ready; and at the same time -- recognizing the importance of enforcing the no-fly zone and our overall containment strategy, and recognizing that this Operation SOUTHERN WATCH is a coalition operation -- he directed me to fly immediately to the Middle East to consult with our allies who participate in this operation.
So, later that evening, I left, and arrived in Saudi Arabia Saturday evening. I visited the Prince Sultan Air Base, of which I will say more later, and I had my first meeting late in the night -- in fact, it was a midnight to 2 a.m. meeting with Saudi officials.
On Sunday morning, I flew to Kuwait. I met with the Emir, the Crown Prince, and the Minister of Defense. In the afternoon, I flew to Bahrain, met with the Emir, the Crown Prince and the Chief of General Staff. Then, in the evening, I flew back to Saudi Arabia to Jeddah, and there met with King Fahd, the Crown Prince, the Minister of Defense, and other officials in the Saudi Government. That meeting went on until about 2 a.m. Monday morning, and then we left and flew to Ankara.
In Ankara, I met with the President, the Foreign Minister, the Minister of Defense, and the Chief of General Staff; and in the afternoon flew to London, and at a military airport in London had a three-way meeting between the British, French, and American Ministers of Defense -- the Ministers of Defense of the three countries who actually fly the aircraft in Operation SOUTHERN WATCH.
The report that I gave to the President last night was, therefore, both authoritative in that it included consultations with all of the key leading officials involved with this operation, and it was current. The bottom line of my letter to the President is that the coalition is alive and well: they offered complete agreement on the containment policy which I described to them; they offered support of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH; and they said they will continue to support Operation SOUTHERN WATCH in its expanded form -- expanded in the sense that we've moved it farther north, and also expanded in that we have substantially increased the number of daily flights that we conduct. We're now conducting well over 100 sorties a day.
In the past few days, in fact, they have agreed to all of the requests that we have made of them for additional support. Let me describe to you some of the requests we've made and the responses. I'll start off with Kuwait.
On Wednesday morning, we requested of Kuwait permission to base F-117s there; and at the same time we made this request, I alerted our crews at Holloman to be prepared for a possible deployment. This is not a deployment order, this is an alert.
On Thursday, the next day, we received permission from Kuwait, and at that time I ordered the deployment. On Friday, the F-117s and the crews arrived in Kuwait.
The reason that rapid response was possible, first of all, was ordering the alert at the same time we requested permission; secondly, it reflected a very high level of readiness in that air squadron; and, finally, we made that trip non-stop -- flying a fighter airplane from Holloman Air Base, in New Mexico, to Saudi Arabia non-stop is a substantial feat. It required 15 in-flight refuelings.
On Saturday morning, I visited our F-117 air crews at the Al Jaber Air Base in Kuwait. I can tell you, they are fully operational and ready for any mission which we might assign them.
Let me give you another example from Kuwait. At the meeting with the President, Friday evening, I recommended to him, and he agreed, to move an armored brigade into Kuwait. As many of you know, we keep a brigade of heavy armored, pre-positioned equipment in Kuwait. We have one battalion of soldiers with that equipment. The plan was to move the other two battalions and the headquarters equipment to round out the brigade.
With the President's agreement then, on Saturday morning, we put the soldiers at Fort Hood on alert. On Sunday morning, while I was in Kuwait, I requested permission of the Emir to send those forces into his country. He indicated a positive response and said he would take it up in the very near future with his Defense Council. That was Sunday morning. Yesterday morning, Monday morning, the Defense Council met, approved it, and the Defense Minister immediately called me -- I was in my airplane at that time, en-route -- and informed me of this. I immediately called and ordered the deployment. That full armored brigade will be in Kuwait with their equipment, in the desert, conducting training exercises later this week.
I might say that between the Sunday request of the Emir and the Monday approval -- it was about 20 hours between our request and approval -- there was a blizzard of stories about the Kuwaitis rejecting our demands, or delaying or ... I think the Kuwaiti response was very responsive, and I am thankful to them for it.
On Bahrain. Last Thursday, we requested permission to base F-16s in Bahrain -- a squadron of F-16Cs, and in addition to that, six F-16Js, which is an anti-radiation missile-equipped F- 16. That was on Thursday. On Friday, they approved it and I ordered the deployment. On Saturday, they were in Bahrain and fully operational.
On Saturday evening, in a meeting with Prince Bandar, I described to him our plans and asked him to alert the King, prior to our meeting on Sunday. Sunday evening, as I told you, we met with the King, the Crown Prince, the Minister of Defense. The King fully supported the President's assessment of the threat and the need for the containment policy. He fully supported the warning that we had sent to Iraq. And he fully supported the continuation of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH in its expanded mode.
Monday morning, in my meeting with the Turks ... they are not participants in Operation SOUTHERN WATCH, they participate in a different no-fly zone called Operation PROVIDE COMFORT, so our discussion there had more to do with Operation PROVIDE COMFORT. They offered support for the containment policy that I described, and for our continuation of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH. But in particular, they reaffirmed they would continue to support Operation PROVIDE COMFORT.
That meeting was with President Demirel, Foreign Minister Ciller, Minister of Defense Tayan, and the Chief of the General Staff Karadayi. Prime Minister Erbakan was out of town when I was there on Monday morning. He requested a meeting with me Monday afternoon at one o'clock. I had to leave at 12:30, so I was not able to stay for that meeting. I regret that, because I would like to have discussed this issue with him, but unfortunately, we have rules on crew rest which did not allow our plane to stay any longer in Turkey.
The meeting Monday afternoon with the British and the French ... The British joined the United States in the warning which I've described to you and said they were prepared to do whatever was necessary to execute that warning. The French supported the continuation of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH, but they do not agree with the extension of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH to the 33rd degree parallel, so therefore, they are not joining in the particular warning. But they said they would invoke their own diplomatic actions to try to achieve the objectives of the warning that we were sending.
All in all, the meetings were with, as I indicated, top officials that influenced this operation. We got full support, and I expect that this linchpin of our strategy and containment of Iraq -- namely Operation SOUTHERN WATCH -- will continue, will continue in its full expanded form, and will continue with the full participation of all of the allies involved in it.
I mentioned to you earlier that I took advantage of the trip to stop off at both the Al Jaber Air Base in Kuwait and the Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia. I was particularly interested in going to the Prince Sultan Air Base, because just six weeks ago I'd visited Saudi Arabia, and at that time received the approval of the Saudi Government to move all of our flight operations in Saudi Arabia, which had been in Dhahran and in Riyadh, to the new location at the Prince Sultan Air Base.
Upon that approval, I instructed General Peay to move expeditiously forward so that we could get all of the air crews and all of the operations moved down to Prince Sultan.
Now, you have to appreciate that Prince Sultan was essentially unused and unoccupied at that time. It had been used extensively during DESERT STORM, but it had not been used for flight operations for a good many years. So we were starting, essentially, from scratch to rebuild the flight operations. They have excellent runways, an excellent air traffic control tower, an excellent headquarters and maintenance building. They have no living quarters of any significance. Therefore, we were moving into pretty much of a bare base operation.
In six weeks, General Peay and the CENTCOM team have performed what I consider to be a logistics miracle. They have moved all of the aircraft to the base -- the last aircraft got there the day I was there for my visit. All the while they were doing this moving, they have maintained over 100 sorties a day without missing a beat in support of this expanded no-fly zone. None of this would have been possible without the magnificent cooperation of Prince Sultan, the Saudi Minister of Defense, and, of course, the Saudi Air Force.
This new base provides perhaps the best protection for our forces of any base that I have ever seen. It includes a 1,200- foot security perimeter all around the base, a single access road which has very tight, very extensive controls at several points along the way.
Now, this is the report that I wanted to make to you of the trip. It was a very productive trip, a very worthwhile trip, a very tiring trip.
I'm happy to take a few questions.
Q: Dr. Perry, I'd ask you about Republican charges that the Administration's policy on Iraq is, at best, poorly stated and, perhaps, at worst, in disarray, and that the coalition is falling part. Did either the Turks or the Saudis agree that the United States could launch what you called "disproportionate" raids on Iraq if those were warranted? And what of those charges that -- after what Saddam has done to the Kurds in the north -- that the United States was simply shaking its fist at a bank robber who's gone with the money?
A: There's a lot of questions thrown into one there, Charlie. Let me say that in terms of the U.S. policy and the congressional response to that, we met this morning with the congressional leadership -- the President, Secretary of State, myself, General Shali -- described to them what we are doing. The President described his policy in Iraq. I described what we are doing to sustain coalition solidarity. I offered them my confidence that the coalition has good solidarity relative to the objectives we agreed to, which is this most important task of maintaining Operation SOUTHERN WATCH. We have not requested of the Turkish Government or the Saudi Government conducting strikes from their bases. We do not need that authority. We don't need to do that. If that becomes necessary, if the conditions warrant that and we do ask them, I am confident that we would get that permission.
Q: What about charges that you're putting oil ahead of the Kurds? That Saddam has, in effect, gotten away with destroying the Kurdish opposition in the north, despite warnings from the United States and others not to do so?
A: I would suggest you not come to premature judgments about what is going to happen with the Kurds in the north and what ongoing influence Saddam Hussein will have in there. But the more fundamental part of your question is where our interests lie. As I have testified before, our strategic vital national interests lie in two principal actions which Saddam Hussein might take. One of them is in the development of weapons of mass destruction; we strongly support the UN actions, the UN inspection teams over there to prevent him from reconstituting his program for weapons of mass destruction. Second, is the danger that he will move to the south and either coerce or attack his neighbors in the south; in both of those areas we have vital national security interests, and our actions are directed, our military actions are directed where our vital national security interests are.
We have humanitarian interests in what he is doing with the Kurds in the north, and we will act on those humanitarian interests, but that is not the same as taking military action.
Q: Mr. Secretary, could you tell us exactly how many soldiers will be sent to Kuwait? There have been several numbers bandied about. And also, could you give us a sense of your reasoning for sending them? Is this a symbolic move? Isn't Saddam supposed to keep his armored troops away from Kuwait?
A: The reason there are two numbers floating around -- one is 3,000 and one is 5,000 -- is the confusion between how many are being sent and how many will be there total when it's done. The brigade is just under 5,000 people. After the soldiers are sent over there, we will have the brigade and we'll have just under 5,000 people. But in order to round out the battalion we already have there, we have to send two more battalions and headquarters troops -- that amounts to just over 3,000 people. We can get you the exact numbers, but I think 3,500 is the number that's being sent; I think 1,200 is the number that's there. And that means a total of about 4,700. Those numbers are correct within about a hundred.
Q: Then why are you sending them? What is the reason that they're there?
A: Two reasons that we're sending them, Susanne. First of all, the whole concept of having heavy armored, pre-positioned equipment in Kuwait is so that, if we have a crisis, we can within a few days have this heavy armored brigade operational and ready to go. Whereas if we had to ship the equipment over, it would take us a month to ship that kind of heavy equipment over by ship. Therefore, in order for that to be a real operational reality, we have to train and exercise with that equipment. So, even when we're not in a crisis mode, we rotate battalions through there to join up with the equipment, to take them out in the desert, and train with them.
We already have, as I indicated, one battalion over there. What we're doing is sending two other battalions -- they will marry up with their equipment, take it out into the desert, conduct exercises and training. So that's one reason, and it's a perfectly good reason for doing it.
Why are we doing it this particular week? We're doing it because the Kuwaiti government feels threatened. The reason they feel threatened is because the Iraqi government, namely Tariq Aziz, made very aggressive, and I think outrageous statements to them when they received the F-117s. He called their actions an act of war, and they have every reason, I think, to be concerned about that. Therefore, we took this action. We also took, at the same time we took that action, we also sent a Patriot battery into Kuwait for the same reason.
Q: Could you give us an update on the military situation in Iraq? What are you seeing? Do you feel better today than you did a week ago?
A: Yes, I do. I've told you the actions we have taken to prepare for military action if that becomes necessary. I hope that is not necessary. We do not want to take that action. And, in the last few days, the Iraqis have been backing off the threatening moves they were making against our air crews, and therefore, there's some reason for that hope.
Our bottom line, though, is that they ... We will not tolerate any threatening actions against our air crews, and any that they take we will respond very sharply.
Q: Mr. Secretary, is it your assessment that the crisis has eased somewhat, then? And what else would Saddam Hussein have to do to make sure that the crisis does ease?
A: He cannot threaten our air crews or he will have very strong response from the United States. So, there are a whole set of things he might do to threaten our air crews -- some of which he was doing, last week. He was firing missiles at our airplanes. To be sure, they were all wild misses. But nevertheless, he was firing them. That is clearly unacceptable. That is clearly actions we cannot accept. We cannot accept even turning on his radars and illuminating our aircraft.
I do not want to list all of the actions we're concerned with, but he has been taking actions in the last week which are completely unacceptable to us. The firings that he made, those six firings that, as I said, were wild missiles -- the Iraqi air defense crews have developed a new way of using guided missiles: they're using them without guiding them. [Laughter] They have learned that if they turn on their radars they are inviting an anti-radiation missile, and therefore they try to fire these missiles without turning on their radars. They don't work very well, fortunately, in that case. Nevertheless, the intent is threatening, and we will not tolerate that.
Thank you very much.