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DoD News Briefing, February 12, 1998

Presenters: Captain Mike Doubleday, USN, DASD PA
February 12, 1998 2:00 PM EDT

Captain Doubleday: Good afternoon.

Let me start by welcoming a group of four journalists who are visiting from Germany. They're in Washington through the 15th on a program on U.S./European security issues, and I understand they're going to have an opportunity to go out to San Diego to visit the naval station there following their visit to Washington.

I also am pleased to announce today that in conjunction with AT&T there's been an agreement reached to reduce commercial telephone rates for U.S. service personnel who are deployed in Bosnia, Croatia, and Hungary for Operation JOINT ENDEAVOR [Formerly Operation JOINT ENDEAVOR, this Operation now goes by the name of Operation JOINT GUARD]. The rate reduction is nearly half the current rate for calls from Bosnia to the United States, and about a one-third reduction for calls from the Balkans to Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom. I think it may be just by happenstance, but these reductions come in time for Valentine's Day. We have a Blue Top that is available to provide some additional details on that.

Those are all the announcements, and I'd be pleased to try and answer some of your questions.

Q: Mike, while not giving any credence to the story, I'm sure you're familiar with, today in the Daily Telegraph, about the SEFDEF's new protocol chief. That's a job that's been hailed by military officers in recent years, in the recent past. Did the SECDEF ask the White House for a recommendation? How did it come about?

A: I'll tell you, Charlie, I am just getting into this. If you want to follow up on that I'll be glad to meet with you after the briefing and we'll go over that.

Q: What about reaction to Secretary Cohen's reception in Russia?

A: I think you know that the Secretary went to Russia from his visit in the Gulf region and he's had a number of meetings. He met this morning both with Defense Minister Sergeyev and Deputy Defense Minister Andre Kokoshin. They're still in Moscow. They'll remain overnight. There are some other important aspects to the visit. Tomorrow they're going to a nuclear weapons storage facility for a visit before they leave.

I think from the reports I received earlier today on this, the Secretary feels that he had some very good meetings while he was there, a particularly good meeting with Defense Minister Sergeyev. I know there's been reporting about a press encounter that started off that meeting, but the Secretary felt that they had a very good discussion on the subject of Iraq, but also on the whole range of security issues that are so important in our relationship with the Russians.

Q: So you're saying even though the Russian had publicly rebuked him before the meeting, later when they went into the meeting, he thinks it was a better meeting.

A: The Secretary discussed this after the meeting, and I think that a lot of the reporters who are there in Moscow covering this can give you a first-hand account of exactly what he said. But I think the important things are that the discussion that took place in front of the media before the formal meeting took place had to do with the subject of Iraq. The Secretary viewed it as a very good discussion. He had an opportunity to discuss his views; Defense Minister Sergeyev had an opportunity to put forward his views. The important thing is that both the United States and Russia agree that there must be total compliance with the UN Security Council resolutions, and that Saddam Hussein must stop his work on weapons of mass destruction. Where the Russians and the United States disagree has to do with the method that that goal is achieved.

Q: Was the Secretary able to modify the disagreement they have on the method?

A: Excuse me?

Q: Was Secretary Cohen able to modify the Russian position on what method should be used to make Iraq comply?

A: No. He was not able to modify their position. The Russians described it after the meeting and so did Secretary Cohen. But the important thing that I think that both described after the meeting was the number of issues that are so important to our relationship, and those include things like arms reduction, European security policy, Bosnia, Partnership for Peace, the safety and security of Europe. All of those kinds of things are very high on the agenda and are the real issues that took Secretary Cohen to Russia.

Q: Was he able to clarify any of the statements made recently by President Yeltsin that what happens in Iraq, if it's not handled correctly, could end up in another world war? Or that there could be a lot of fire in the country?

A: I'm not aware that there was any clarification on that particular point.

Q: In this discussion did the Secretary raise this reported sale of dual use...

A: He did, indeed. This has to do with a report that ran in a newspaper this morning. What I can tell you about that is that we can't independently confirm whether or not this report is accurate, but Secretary Cohen raised it with both Defense Minister Sergeyev and Deputy Defense Minister Andre Kokoshin. And the Russians indicated that they certainly had no intention of selling Iraq any dual-use technology. And the Secretary, that is to say Secretary Cohen, pointed out that this very issue was one of the reasons that we need to have UNSCOM in Iraq looking at their weapons of mass destruction program; also one of the reasons that we need to continue our policy of engagement with the Russians -- so we can discuss these kinds of issues.

Q: You said they have no intentions of selling dual use. Did they in fact acknowledge that the sales took place, and they're pleading ignorance about the dual-use capability?

A: I would leave it to the Russians to characterize exactly what they meant by that, but the feedback I got was that that was their position.

Q: ...detail of some sort of hardware...

A: That's not what they said. They said that they certainly had no intention of selling any dual-use technology to Iraq.

Q: They didn't deny it or confirm it, they just...

A: They just indicated that there was certainly no intention, right.

Q: Did the Secretary come away from it thinking that well, they did or did not do this?

A: As I say, the Secretary has the same information we do, which is that we don't have any information that would confirm that this report is true. That's one of the reasons we feel that UNSCOM plays such an important role in all of this.

Q: The same article indicated Russian espionage efforts against UNSCOM in New York and other things associated with the UN in New York. Does that not concern the Secretary at all?

A: I think the whole issue of UNSCOM is one for the people at UNSCOM to address. We don't have any independent confirmation of this report from this morning.

Q: Has there been any other evidence of the Russians providing other dual-use equipment or arms to the Iraqis...?

A: I am not... off the top of my head I can't cite any examples for you.

Q: But it's not... Is that something you've been looking at?

A: It's something that we certainly look at, but it also -- the important thing is to focus on UNSCOM. UNSCOM is the organization that really has the responsibility for looking at what is going on in Iraq, and they are the individuals that have information on this.

Q: Can I go to the issue of the missile threat that the Iraqis retain? Mr. Rubin yesterday at the State Department said he was concerned Iraq had hidden SCUD missiles from the UN inspectors. The UN inspectors have said that they're concerned that some of the warheads for these missiles have been loaded with weapons of mass destruction. I would ask, Mike, what is the Defense Department's assessment? Are there dozens, several dozens as Mr. Gertz reports here? Are these missiles available? And secondly, what is in place in the way of U.S. equipment in Saudi and in Israel to counter, to defend against...?

A: Well, to answer the first part of your question, we have a report which I will be glad to provide you a copy of, called "Proliferation - Threat and Response". It has an entire chapter on Iraq and it delineates in very clear terms not only the weapons but also the delivery systems that the Iraqis have been developing in the last several years. One of the delivery systems is SCUD missiles. What we know is what one of the previous UNSCOM leaders has said on this subject, and that is that UNSCOM believes that there are a number of missiles which have been hidden over the years, and which still remain in Iraq. And that the Iraqis have warheads for those weapons.

Again, I would just like to point out that this is yet another reason that we believe that UNSCOM must be provided unfettered access to Iraq so that these kinds of issues can be looked into thoroughly, and that we can come to a clear understanding of whether Iraq is complying with the UN Security Council resolutions on the issue.

Q: What about missile defense for Israel and Saudi? And U.S. troops as well?

A: I think you're aware that we have a number of assets that are available in the area which are designed to deal with those kinds of weapons. But I'm not going to go into any detail about exactly where those systems are located.

Q: You said that the Iraqis have missiles and they have their warheads...

A: What I said was that UNSCOM filed a report, and I believe it was back in 1996, which indicated that UNSCOM still believes that the Iraqis retain a number of SCUD missiles which could be used. It's certainly no secret that the Iraqis had and used SCUD missiles before. As our report points out, UNSCOM continues to believe that this is the case.

Q: Did I hear you say that UNSCOM and the Defense Department believe that the Iraqis have missiles mated with warheads that are loaded with weapons of mass destruction?

A: We know they've got a weapons of mass destruction program. We know they have certainly worked on warheads that have this capability. I can't tell you that they are mated and ready to launch, that sort of thing.

Q: Maybe sustaining two carriers in the Gulf, at least for almost a month now, and it looks like they're going to extend... How long can you sustain that presence, and what does it do to the rest of the national interest places where carriers normally go?

A: First of all, I can't tell you at this point how long we can sustain that. Actually, if the requirement exists, we can sustain two carriers or even more than that in locations for as long as the requirement exists. But there are impacts. The impacts have to do with the personnel tempo.

We know from experience that there is an impact in such important issues as morale, retention, those kinds of things, if we go beyond the normal deployments that we have established in the Navy, for that matter in the other services, too.

So I can't give you an estimate of when PERSTEMPO is going to be affected. But I can tell you that if there's a requirement from the National Command Authority to maintain two or more carriers someplace, we'll be able to meet that requirement.

Q: What about other national requirements. We normally cover three spots in the world...

A: There have been some adjustments that have been made as a result of INDEPENDENCE deployment to the Gulf Region. That includes moving a squadron of aircraft into the region from the United States. It also involves putting on notice an aircraft carrier that the possibility might arise that the carrier would have to deploy early if events dictate. But this is all kind of in the overall direction that the Department follows, and that is that we're able and flexible enough to cover a wide variety of fronts as requirements pop up.

Q: What's the status of the 2500 to 3,000 Army troops...

A: There is still some preparation that is underway on that. We have not received the formal deployment request, to my knowledge. But we still have to anticipate that the deployment will be authorized within the next several days.

Q: By deployment request, you mean from Zinni?

A: From General Zinni, correct.

Q: Do you also have any equipment that may be moving toward the region today?

A: The equipment moving toward the region today includes six F-16 CJs from Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina; six B-52 aircraft from Barksdale Air Force Base in California, excuse me, Louisiana; and one B-1 from Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota. We would anticipate that there would be deployments from Holloman Air Force base in New Mexico of the F-117s, probably tomorrow.

Q: Is the total still going to be 42?

A: Yes, and on Tuesday you asked for a rundown of some of the support aircraft. I have some of those that I'll read off now. I'm going to give you types, and in some cases numbers, too.

There are MC-130s, MH-53J helicopters, MH-47E helicopters; HH-60G helicopters. Those are the Black Hawks. JSTARS, AWACS, RIVET JOINT, and some KC-10 refuelers and also a couple of HC-130 CSAR aircraft.

Q: Can you confirm that some of the AWACS will be operating out of Saudi Arabia?

A: I can't. There may come a time when we can talk about where the aircraft will be operating from, but right now I'm not in a position to do that.

Q: ...any aircraft out of Saudi?

A: To my knowledge...

Q: ...where in the region?

A: No.

Q: These aircraft you just listed for us...

A: Those are all support aircraft that...

Q: They're already there or they're going?

A: They're in the process of deploying or will soon deploy.

Q: Has there been any change in the types or number of aircraft at Incirlik?

A: No. There have been no changes to my knowledge of any of the types or numbers of aircraft at Incirlik.

Q: Can you talk about numbers a little bit? One Joint Stars, two Joints Stars?

A: One.

Q: And (inaudible)?

A: Two. Now AWACS are already over there. This is just two additional.

Q: ...Rivet Joint?

A: One of those.

Q: Do you provide any kind of shelter that Turkish military operation, in Northern Iraq, for the creation of the so-called buffer zone?

A: Do we provide...?

Q: ...Any kind of shelter to the Turkish military operation in Northern Iraq that is going on right now for the buffer zone?

A: First of all, what operation are you talking about?

Q: About the military operation.

A: In what country?

Q: In Northern Iraq.

A: First of all, I just want to clarify one thing. We have absolutely no information that would indicate there is any Turkish military activity in Northern Iraq.

Q: Right now.

A: Right now. And we are not providing any support to this non-activity that is going on. (Laughter)

Q: ...Are they going to marry up with the assets in theater, or will they be independently based?

A: I'm not going to get into that. I think I will stand on my comment of Tuesday, on being able to extrapolate.

Q: Getting back to the carrier issue. There's been some criticism that while the U.S. has been building up its rhetoric, threatening military strikes, that it was unwise to pull the NIMITZ out at the same time. Can you tell us what was sort of the primary reasoning for returning the NIMITZ back to the States?

A: Well, we said some time ago that we were going to maintain two aircraft carriers in the Gulf region. When INDEPENDENCE arrived, NIMITZ departed, and that was in accordance with our thinking and certainly in accordance with the planning that had been done by the Central Command commander.

Q: Doesn't that send a message, sort of business as usual?

A: I don't think two carriers plus an ARG en-route, these additional aircraft carriers, the British carrier. I don't think that that is business as usual.

Q: What's the latest on the investigation of the Marine Lieutenant Colonel Watters from Cherry Point?

A: The Marines are carrying out that inquiry. I think I will just refer you to the Marines for any detail on how that investigation is going.

Q: Is the Secretary disappointed that the Congress is not going to vote on a resolution before they recess, and may not vote even after they come back?

A: I don't think that I've heard the Secretary express a personal view on that except to say that he is satisfied that we have the kind of support that we need on this issue. He was encouraged by the voices of support that had been given so far by those on the Hill. I would point out, however, that he has traveling with him on this trip two Senators -- Senator Levin [from Michigan] and Senator Warner [from Virginia] -- who have been participants in many of the activities that he's had during the course of the visit.

Q: Today Senator Clay Gordon has joined Senators Leahy and Hollings to say they are withdrawing their support. Senator Gordon is particularly stronger saying that he's now convinced that any military action will be inadequate so he's withdrawing his support.

A: And? (Laughter)

Q: He's pleased with the report he's heard on the Hill (inaudible) and listening to some of the lawmakers who will (inaudible). Some of them are becoming less enamored with the military plans they see.

A: Clearly we're maintaining a dialogue with people on the Hill and that will continue for the days and weeks ahead.

Q: Any reaction to their criticism?

A: Frankly, that's the first I've heard of their reaction and I'm not aware that the Secretary has heard of that at this point.

Q: You touched briefly on a question that just came up. Marines, in the handling of Lieutenant Colonel Watters. Is there anything new that you're aware of as far as the incident and the investigation itself is concerned?

A: No, that's also being conducted over in Europe. They have a public affairs operation that can provide you with details. We can give you a number on that one, too.

Q: Dr. Hamre meets with the Bulgarian President. What's on the agenda? He meets shortly...

A: Let me see if I can give you a readout on that, but it clearly, as you know we have very close relationships with many of the Central and Eastern European countries that are interested in making reforms to their military; and hearing from us some of our experiences in dealing with military issues. We have, for several years now, maintained various programs with the Bulgarians to provide them with experts from our own armed forces who can brief them on the kinds of programs that we have that might be applicable to some of their programs. I know when I was in Europe I made a trip to Sofia myself to talk to some of their public affairs people about how we operate. And this kind of thing has been going on for a very long time. It takes place not only at fairly low levels, but also at the highest levels with Dr. Hamre and Secretary Cohen.

Q: Does the Pentagon consider Saddam Hussein to be a legitimate military target? If not, why?

A: I think we've gone through all of this before and I'm not going to talk about targets.

Q: Let me go back to Mr. Rubin's comments yesterday on the missile threat from Iraq. He said any use of chemical/biological missile attacks by Iraq on its neighbors would lead to a swift and forceful U.S. response. I would ask you, can you define that in some way that Saddam could get the message that the price will be how high? What deterrent is the U.S. willing to ante up to keep him from firing missiles?

A: I think that summarizes it very well -- swift and forceful. That's about as far as I want to go.

Press: Thank you.

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