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Updated: 14 Jan 2003

Background Briefing

Thursday, March 30, 2000 - 2:00 p.m. EST
Presenter: Senior Defense Officials

MR. BACON: Okay, welcome. We've flipped the order here, as you know. And we're going to lead with the background briefing on the secretary's trip to Africa and the Middle East, which starts tomorrow. And we'll get that out of the way, take a very short break to allow things to be reconfigured, and then I'll come back and do the normal briefing.

The briefers are on background. They are well known to you. He'll be backgrounding on Africa, and this is defense official number one. And defense official number two will be talking about the Middle East. And without any adieu, we'll have defense official number one come up, and I'll leave this sign here so he can remember who he is.

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I had asked to be official number two, but Mr. Bacon wouldn't let me.

As most, or some of you know, anyway, the Africa portion of this trip is Nigeria. And that is a re-do of the trip that failed. We had visibility problems, could not land last time through last month. And this is to make up for that.

The purpose of the mission is very simple. Nigeria is one of the key anchors in Africa. It is the key to, certainly, stability in the western part of that continent. And they are engaged in a pretty significant experiment in democracy, starting about the 29th of last May, when Mr. Obasanjo sat down as a democratically elected president.

We will see -- the secretary will see Mr. Obasanjo. He will see the national security adviser, Mr. Mohammed. I could say "General" to all of these. But he will see the minister of Defense, Mr. Danjuma, the service chiefs, and he will meet with the two parliamentary committees that deal with defense.

He will discuss our new relationship with them. We intend to cooperate with Nigeria in several categories of assistance. And "cooperate" is something I'd like to emphasize. Our theme is reprofessionalizing that military. It is a military that once was professional, a military that has suffered under abuse by a number of dictators in that country.

Our idea is we want to work with them to create an OSD, create a body that can conduct the form of civil oversight of the military that we enjoy in this country -- certainly not the same; they'll have to come up with their own solutions, but the basic principles are there.

A second piece of our program is a restructure or a refurbishment, I guess, of their C-130 force. They have eight C-130s. Through neglect and sanctions, they have fallen into disarray. They have proved their worth several times in moving peacekeepers in a region that sorely needs peacekeepers. And we'd like to help them refurbish that particular thing.

The last of the three legs of our tripod are training aids and equipment. These are very basic kind of training aids. We will get into a little bit of computer sophistication, but basic training assistance, classroom equipment more than anything else.

It's a short visit. It's an important one, and this time we'll make it work.

Unless there are questions, I am done.

Q: Are you going to discuss oil? Is he going to discuss oil?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: That's not really in his pile of things. If it comes up, he will be prepared to discuss it.

Q: Is there a dollar amount associated with the different kinds of things that you're offering?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: There is, but we're sort of in the final throes of negotiations with Capitol Hill, and until that dotted line is made a solid line, I think I'd rather let the secretary discuss that.

Q: You mentioned refurbishing their C-130s. Is there any hint of letting them buy new C-130s from Lockheed, any -- the J models, the new ones?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: They can't afford that stuff, and shouldn't afford that stuff. We were out there a couple of times and looked at these airplanes. What we have in mind -- they have not had access to the basic maintenance publications, the basic maintenance training. What we have in mind is getting them a publications library and some training, basic avionics maintenance training, basic flight- line maintenance, training, bringing them back up to a standard that will allow them to operate normally.

Q: Are they able to get their repair parts for the aircraft at this point?


Q: How recently is that?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Twenty-nine May.

Q: It is in May?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I mean, that's when sort of all restrictions were lifted because, in fact, Mr. Obasanjo sat down as a result of a free and fair election.

Q: And the aircraft are air-worthy, from our standards, or not?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No. They have need of a good day or two of work.

Q: I don't know much about this at all, and I'm just curious. When they were -- before they were -- when they were an unprofessional force, are there still folks that were in the military then that are in it now that you have any concerns about, or retraining that you want to do, or -- I don't know -- human rights considerations that you need to look at?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Certainly. To answer that question in a word.

But one of the very courageous things that I think Mr. Obasanjo did when he took office was -- I'll use the term "fire"; they use the term "early retire" -- several hundred senior officers that had become politicized in that military; people who are governors of states, Nigerian states; people who -- how shall I say this? -- had no visible means of support, but yet lived rather well.

So in fact, that military now is run by some service chiefs who are a number of hundreds of lines junior to some of the people who were there before.

Does that mean that all the bad guys are gone? Probably not. But again, this new president is taking, I think, a number of courageous steps to reprofessionalize a military that, because of corruption, became very unprofessional.

Q: When was the last time that a Defense secretary went to Nigeria?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: As far as I know, this is the first time ever. Last month a Defense secretary flew closely by Nigeria. (Laughter.)

Q: Thank you.

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: As Defense Official No. 2, I'll step in and pick up from the -- our next stop after Nigeria will be going into the Middle East. We're going to the three key non-Gulf partners in the Middle East -- Israel, Egypt, Jordan -- and then on to the six GCC states. Israel is the first stop, then we move on to Cairo, go on to Jordan, then on to Qatar, Bahrain for two nights, where we'll basically be on the weekend and also the Islamic New Year, on to Kuwait, to Saudi Arabia, UAE, and then our final stop will be Oman.

In each of these countries, the secretary will be seeing the head of state, head of the government, his counterpart in the defense ministries, and, in many cases, the crown princes in the Gulf region. And in certain places, he'll also have the opportunity to see foreign ministers and as well as the chiefs of staff of the military establishments in these countries.

The purpose of this trip, which I believe is about the sixth to the region by Secretary Cohen, is to continue the practice of non-crisis consultations that he's established over the past year or so and to visit our U.S. forces deployed in the region. And then a special emphasis he will have this time will be to boost the development of multilateral military cooperation among the regional states and between them and the U.S. allies outside of the region. The last focus of his trip was to sort of look at our bilateral relationships in the region; this time we are going to spend a little bit more time looking at the multilateral kinds of activities that we can encourage in the region to build a broader security network, a broader coalition partnership in the region.

So the last trip he went out to visit the Bright Star exercise in Egypt, which has a huge multilateral component to it, and this time we will be going through and talking about some of the other multilateral activities we would want to be part of and we want to encourage as well that are being undertaken by the countries in the region. And --

Q: (Off mike.)

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Sure. I think in the trip -- for example, the Cooperative Defense Initiative against weapons of mass destruction, which the secretary rolled out in his March trip about a year ago, is something that actually, over the past year, has really taken on quite a level of interest out in the region, particularly among the Gulf states. We started out, I would say, in the last year by focusing on the bilateral aspects of it. Things like shared early warning, how do you do passive -- how do you undertake passive defense measures if you are faced with an attack by weapons of mass destruction under a whole host of forms?

How do you do consequence management? How do you manage an incident, biological or chemical incident, depending how it happens. It could be terrorism, it could be a missile attack, it could be, you know, some other form. So we've been working with our partners in the region to just sort of engage with them in how do we cope together as coalition partners in dealing with this threat.

What we would like to do is now expand it so we can build sort of multilateral cooperation so we can begin to work -- and the region understands that some countries have probably are better configured for certain kind of responses, have certain capabilities, because they meet more of their national interests -- and try to build sort of a sense of camaraderie of jointness and of cooperation in this area.

We have a number of interoperability issues, communication, information sharing initiatives out that we'd like to begin to look at seriously on a multilateral level -- the use of the Internet, computers, for example, for supporting some of the things we want to do.

There are a number of exercises we do out in the region; we'd like to add more of a multilateral component, expand that to include certain countries where we feel the capabilities are, you know, are more compatible and we could actually all benefit from working together. So those are some of the things that we'd like to begin exploring with them.

Q: Which countries would you like in that aren't right now?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, it's difficult for me to sort of say which ones are in and which ones are not, because it depends on their capabilities. Some things are more conducive if you have some of the Gulf states. Some of the things we want to do would include everybody. Some of the things are more easily energized initially with, say, Jordan and some of the smaller Gulf states like UAE or Bahrain. So -- and that's not because we want to exclude anybody, but because we want to build on a very natural process that is already going on out there in terms of the countries also beginning to look themselves at how they build their collective security framework.

Q: Has the WMD initiative taken on greater urgency in view of the fact that no U.N. inspectors are in Iraq, and that it's been, what, over, what, nearly 18 months now?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I don't want to peg it to that, to put it entirely in that context, because that would be somewhat misleading, I think.

When we started this, I think the reaction initially to our proposal was one of, oh, you know, here come the Americans, they want to sell us stuff. And they want to hype the threat. So we had to spend a good deal in sort of an education process on this and sort of understanding what the threat is and say, well, this is not just, you know, another way of, you know, selling U.S. stuff out there, because that's not what it was. This is how do you operate together, for example, in an NBC environment. And I think what we have seen through this education process is a much greater understanding that this is not a hyped thing, phenomenon. This is a real thing, and you have to -- we plan for it in our own forces, and they need to begin to plan for it, and we need to begin to plan for it as a coalition. And so I don't want --

Clearly the fact that the inspectors are not there, you know, make it -- is a visible example of what you would want to do that, because the situation is not, you know, getting any better in the region, it's probably getting worse over time. But it's not exclusively because of that.

Q: On WMD, where would you put Iran in relation to Iraq in terms of this threat?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: In terms of the threat, I mean, both countries have the capability, both are interested in developing and advancing their capability. Iran clearly has in some respects better means to do it. The sanctions on Iraq are essentially designed to try and prevent Saddam from reconstituting his force to the extent that we can say that much of it was dismantled.

I would hesitate to say which one is more capable or less capable at this point.

I think they both pose the same level of threat. The question is whether it's a near-term or a long-term threat. Iranians, I would say, is much more long term, the Iraqis are much more short term because of the fact that the crisis is still very much there.

Q: Does ballistic missile defense fit into this trip?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: It is part of the Cooperative Defense Initiative, missile defense. You've got active defense, passive defense measures, you have the whole gamut of how you deal with the ballistic missile threat and chemical and bio threats. So it's still very much part -- a very active part of our dialogue.

Q: Excuse me. You mentioned weapons earlier. I know the last time we were here, last year, he offered AMRAAMs to several countries. And the UAE has now bought the F-16s. Does he plan on carrying offers of weapons to these states or will this trip kind of avoid that?

And also, the PAC-2s -- the PAC-2s have been replaced. Have Saudi Arabia's been replaced? Will he be discussing that problem when he's out there?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I don't foresee any weapon announcements on this trip at this time.

On the PAC-2, I think we are -- pretty well have that one under control and have worked through that with the military. So I expect if it comes up as a -- it's just as a point of -- not of major discussion, but simply a point of -- you know -- "We've worked with you on this one." And it's not going to be, I don't think, a major issue, actually.

Q: Is that because the states that had the PAC-2s didn't have them "hot" as U.S. forces did, so that you don't have the same issue of burning them out?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I don't want to go into the details of the operational status of these things out there. But we did take care of the situation in that region, and so I think it will just simply be a "thank you for helping us/we were glad we could be there."

Q: You mean their situation as well as the U.S. weapons?


Q: If I could just follow up very briefly on the weapons question, you don't foresee any announcements, but is it on the agenda to discuss questions of -- or to encourage these states to buy American weapons or weapons that are compatible with U.S. forces, that sort of thing?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, in this context of building a good coalition and multilateral security, it is very important that we achieve interoperability in the region. And so therefore, in the context of your question, interoperability is very important. So when countries decide they want to go off and provide really different systems, it's not really contributing to building -- you know -- our security and -- or their security, for that matter. So interoperability is a key issue in this.

Q: But I guess my fundamental question is what the position of the United States is here. I mean, are you eager to encourage your allies -- our allies, I should say, to purchase more weapons of any kind, particularly U.S. compatible weapons, or is there a different attitude there? Is there any concern about weapon sales to that part of the country?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: There are always concerns of weapons sales to that part of the world. But if they are going -- if these countries are going to go ahead and pursue modernizing their forces and looking for systems that are going to contribute to their own defense, clearly we would like them to buy American systems because it supports interoperability.

That should not be a news bulletin. That is quite obvious.

But on the other hand, they are also free to make their own decisions. Our argument is based on one on interoperability and how it helps.

Q: In Israel, there's always been a laundry list of issues. Three years ago we were going to bring -- develop the THEL radar -- the laser to help knock out FROGs, I guess, over the northern part --


Q: Katyushas over the Kiryat Shimona. And then there is the whole -- the issue of the laundry list of Golan Heights withdrawal, arms issues that came up about a month or two ago, before the talks fell apart. What's the status of, A, the laser, in terms of discussions that you might have with them. And B, is that laundry list that was leaked -- is that almost an OBE issue now, or will the secretary be discussing some of the items on it that -- like the Tomahawk missile that Israel says that they don't want?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: On the THEL, this is a cooperative program that is actually quite well advanced in terms of our cooperation from, I think -- I think your point was, several years ago we started talking -- about three years ago, yeah. And we have pretty much a -- you know, some -- a model or a system that we actually can begin to test and look at.

With respect to the laundry list of items that the Israelis put on the table for -- with respect to a peace treaty with Syria, we always talk to the Israelis about their security needs. It's very much part of our commitment to Israel's security and to the commitment of their qualitative edge. This trip to Israel is not going to be any different than what we normally would be talking about. A lot of the things that the Israelis talked about are directly relevant to what would happen in the event that there would be peace between Israel and Syria. So some of those things would be naturally not really a topic of discussion, since it doesn't look like, you know, the discussions are ripe for that.

But in terms of other long-term and short-term security needs that the Israelis have, they're very much part of our day-to-day conversation with the Israelis, and that's not going to change on this trip.

Q: Can I ask you a specific question? There was a report out of Israel about two weeks ago that the U.S. has denied any sales of Tomahawks to Israel. Can you confirm that even in this forum?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I'm not going to talk about that.

Q: There was some concern about an Israeli -- possible Israeli sale of a sort of their version of the AWACS to China, something like that. And I've read recently that perhaps they were, at U.S. urging, were sort of reconsidering that and maybe weren't going to do that. Is there some encouraging news on that?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: What I will say about that is that we do have a dialogue and have for some time about Israel's sales to China, and that will be part of the discussion topic that we'll have in Israel.

Q: What U.S. forces is he going to visit in the area?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: He will be visiting the troops in Kuwait, going out to see the battle group, the USS Stennis, that's out there, and some of our forces, also, I believe, in Bahrain. And I -- if I've missed any others I'll get back to you on that one.

STAFF: Can we take one more, please?

Q: Will he talk about oil? Is he going to discuss oil when he visits the Gulf?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Oil is going to be -- will be a part of the topic only because it's very much a current issue in the press, but that is not the purpose of this trip. Others, like Secretary Richardson, are very much involved in the discussion. It is part of the economic stability in the region, it's a topic that, you know, we're not going to be able to avoid, so it will be a discussion, but is by no means the purpose of this trip.

Q: What will he say? I mean, what is his --

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I can't tell you what he's going to say -- (Laughs.)

Q: To what extent then will this be an arm-twisting --

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, first of all, the Saudis have been very responsive to what Secretary Richardson and others have talked about. The president also made a very clear statement yesterday. So I think that in terms of the responsiveness of Saudis in particular, they've been very good on that. So I think by the time, in many respects, the secretary gets there, it will be an issue that I think we'll have to talk about in the context of how -- you know, higher oil prices just are not -- just contribute to destable economy and problems in the world. But I mean, it's not as if this issue -- we were traveling two weeks ago when this issue was really, I would say, in a state of nonresolution. I mean, basically, we look like we're making some progress on --

Q: So he's not going to hammer on this message, is what you're saying?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I don't know if he'll hammer on the message; it's one -- it's a message he's going to take to them, but we have a lot of other messages we're going to take to them. So this will be one of many, I believe.

Q: Will he tie oil to any other issue?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: You tie oil to global --

Q: But I mean in terms of any further cooperation in the region. In other words, is he going to hold a hammer over their heads?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No. That's not a terribly constructive linkage, I don't believe, to be perfectly honest. (Laughter.) I mean, we have a lot -- I mean, we're there to ensure the free flow of oil there, and we have an obligation to protect that. So I'm not sure if you -- even if you wanted to make that linkage, that doesn't really -- you know, that doesn't help a lot in what we're trying to achieve there anyway.

Q: Can I ask you one question? General Zinni complained last week, I think it was, up on the Hill that the U.S. is essentially going it alone in enforcing the no-fly zones at either end and is pretty much acting on their own against Iraq. Is that going to be a subject, encouraging them to take a more active role other than just providing bases for U.S. troops to do the work?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We -- first of all, Iraq has always been, probably, one of the key subjects that we're out there talking about. We and our partners in the Gulf have a very comfortable understanding of how we are supporting each other in enforcing the no-fly zones and in seeking the U.N. resolutions. So I think we are very comfortable with the kind of support that we're getting from our Gulf partners out there.

Q: Thank you.

This transcript was prepared by the Federal News Service, Inc., Washington, DC. Federal News Service is a private company. For other defense related transcripts not available through this site, contact Federal News Service at (202) 347-1400.

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