Tuesday, February 21, 1995 - 1:30 p.m.
Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.
I'd like to start by noting that yesterday the U.S. forces in the Southern Command completed the relocation of 7,291 Cuban migrants from Panama to Guantanamo Bay. This was done without incident. A highly successful operation for which the U.S. military and the Southern Command deserve a lot of credit but also the migrants themselves because they were partners throughout this. The leaders were taken to Guantanamo Bay and leaders from the Guantanamo Bay community were taken to Panama, and they worked this out along with advice from human rights organizations from the very beginning, and now it's over, and they're all on Guantanamo Bay.
I'd be glad to take your questions on this or anything else.
Q: On the Kokoshin visit, were any assurances, I realize this was on the Defense Conversion Commission, were any assurances given to him and his Russian colleagues on the sale of this offensive weapon (inaudible), given Russia's concern about (inaudible)?
A: Not that I'm aware of, but I'll check.
Q: Do you have anything to say about how that event went this morning? What issues were discussed?
A: At the Defense Conversion Committee meeting?
A: Well, as you know, this committee was set up several years ago to help Russia and the former Soviet republics convert their defense industries to civilian use. It is our belief that this can only be done by bringing in as much private investment as possible into the former Soviet states. In December when the Secretary went to Moscow as part of the Gore/Chernomyrdin Commission, the U.S. announced a $500 million package of loan guarantees and other types of support from OPIC, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation which guarantees investments by American corporations. In fact some of you went to a factory, the Nauka Hamilton Standard Factory which used to make environmental control systems for Soviet military aircraft, basically heating and cooling systems, and is now going to be converted to a factory that makes them for civilian aircraft. That's an example of the type of thing we're doing here.
They discussed a number of issues I can't report to you because I don't know exactly what issues they discussed today and what new projects will come out of this, but there have been a whole slew of projects. I think the Energy Department alone has participated in 149 defense conversion projects in the former Soviet Union.
Q: Could you comment on the status of the enforcement of the no-fly zone over Bosnia given the recent reports that there may have been some violation by fixed wing aircraft?
A: I think there are two points to make about that. The first point is that the no-fly zone continues to be policed and patrolled. Secondly, the specific incidents that were mentioned in the papers today are being investigated by Admiral Smith, and that investigation isn't over yet, but we anticipate that it will be completed soon.
Q: What about the constant reports of violations of the no-fly zone by helicopters in the no-fly zone?
A: First of all, the no-fly zone rules initially did apply to helicopters, but in fact they have not been enforced as to helicopters almost from the beginning. That's because many helicopters carry civilian passengers in them. It's one of the things that's being investigated. Helicopters do fly in and out. These particular reports are being investigated, along with the reports of violations by fixed wing aircraft.
Q: Can you give us the latest [inaudible] on Marines in Mogadishu, what's happening over there? Whatever you can tell us.
A: As you know, there are about 2,600 Marines on the task force over there with the Essex. They have sent various planning parties ashore, but the operation hasn't begun yet. Right now they're waiting for it to begin.
A lot has happened over there. There were a total, at one time, of 28,000 UNOSOM forces in Somalia. That number was down to about, a month ago, had been brought down to 12,500. As of today there are about 4,000 UNOSOM forces. They're continuing to come out by commercial aircraft, I think at the rate of 400 or 500 a day, and will continue to come out until the final contingent has left. Those are the ones that will be escorted out by the Marines.
Q: Aren't you getting awfully close to that point, didn't a senior defense official tell us I believe between 3,000 and 3,500 would be the point at which the final move would begin?
Q: Do you have any estimate on when that...
A: No. We, as you know, have avoided being nailed down on the actual date, and we will continue to avoid being nailed down on the actual date.
Q: Is equipment now coming out too, along with the UNOSOM troops? Or has equipment not started to move yet?
A: Some equipment I believe has come out, but the heaviest equipment, the tanks and armored personnel carriers, will come out last. They have not begun to come out yet.
Q: There were reports over the weekend that the Administration is considering a policy change regarding Guantanamo Bay where those Cubans who departed last summer from the mainland of Cuba, assuming that they would be sent to Miami when picked up at sea and instead were brought to GTMO, that those people would be allowed to trickle into the United States. Are you aware of any such policy review underway? What is the Pentagon doing planning-wise to support efforts by the Administration to let family visits occur in Guantanamo Bay?
A: On the second point, as you know, the Cuban migrants who were taken to Panama were allowed to have family visits. It was easy to do there because they could fly there commercially from the United States or from other countries where their family members might be living, to visit them. We have said that we will try to duplicate the same visiting arrangements in Guantanamo Bay. So far we haven't done that, because the final people just ended up there yesterday. I think you can understand that most of our attention has been focused on the safe passage of these people from Panama to Guantanamo Bay.
We are now preparing to work with a variety of agencies to arrange the same types of visits at Guantanamo Bay, but it will be more difficult because there isn't regular commercial air traffic to Guantanamo Bay. But we are working to bring this about. I can't give you any details on when this will happen.
Q: What about the first part of the question?
A: I'm not aware that there has been a change, but you'd probably be better off checking with the immigration service or the State Department on that.
Q: Of those Cubans that have gone from Panama to Guantanamo Bay, over 350 of those have tried, just this month, have tried to repatriate themselves. Is there anything you're doing to prevent that, or to make it safer or to observe it better?
A: Well, we've done a lot to improve facilities at Guantanamo Bay over the last few days. We've spent over $30 million improving facilities there. As you know, it's a dangerous attempt, a dangerous passage from Guantanamo Bay back to Cuba. We are trying to patrol those borders, but people sometimes try to get back. We're trying to prevent that because it's not safe. If they go by land they might have to go through a minefield established by the Cubans; if they go by sea, it's a risky swim.
Q: Do you have the numbers on what the total population is there now?
A: At Guantanamo Bay? I'm sure I do. While I'm looking that up, can I take questions on other issues?
Q: Ecuador and Peru. What is the status of U.S. plans to support military observers (inaudible)?
A: We're permitted to do that as part of the Rio Pact. Right now we're discussing the size of the observer force and the other arrangements such as financing and exactly where the observer force will be. I believe today a reconnaissance group went down there to take a look at the border area. This was done in connection with our Rio Pact allies -- Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. They'll come back and make the report, and we'll decide what to do.
The size of the force we're considering with our other Rio Pact members is very small. It will range from 16 to 40 -- that's what the current thinking is -- with four members from each country. So we'll either produce four people or we'll produce ten people to go into that force.
There will be other requirements such as logistics, et cetera, to support the people who are actually in the observer force.
Q: Would those be Army?
A: I assume they'll be Army, but I don't know for sure.
Q: Back to Bosnia, for a moment. The other part of the Washington Post report indicated there was some sort of disagreement between NATO and the United Nations over the enforcement of the no-fly zone. Can you comment on that aspect of it, whether there's any attention there or any disagreement about how this is being handled?
Q: You can't comment or there's no decision?
A: No, I can't comment. That's what you asked me, to comment. I'm not going to comment.
Q: What's the current U.S. policy regarding sales to the former Eastern Bloc nations?
A: As you know, last week we announced the policy of considering sales to a number of foreign Eastern European countries, and what this means is that discussions can begin. It doesn't necessarily mean that sales will be made. This is actually something that's in step with a whole variety of changes that have taken place with our relationship with countries like Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, et cetera. These countries are now working with us in the Partnership for Peace. Some of them are aspiring to NATO membership. Before they can be firmly considered for NATO membership, they have to meet a number of requirements. One is they have to be democracies; two, they have to be free market economies; three, they have to have civilian control of the military; four, they have to have adequate and compatible command and control structures that would fit into the NATO model. Trying to find ways to harmonize their armed forces with ours will make it easier for them to become members of NATO if they meet the other requirements. Purchasing American or other allied weapons would be one step towards that harmonization. But this isn't something that's going to happen immediately. It's something that I expect we'll see discussions about for some time.
Q: Are we willing to sell F-16s to the Poles?
A: The Secretary commented on that Friday. I think he's the best authority on that. We're going to discuss F-16s with the Poles. I think a decision to sell them is some time off.
Q: Do you have any idea how many we're talking about, and which models?
Q: Do you have any comment on Korean Prosecutor to take action against U.S. soldiers who have committed crimes in their country?
A: I'm afraid I'm not up to speed on that issue. I'll have to get some information on that.
Q: Concerning this matter reported in the New York Times February 18th of PRC Foreign Minister criticizing, in fact condemning plans on the part of the United States to protect its forces in far Western Asia, especially in Korea and Japan, with some kind of theater anti-missile defense. The first question would be, is the U.S. indeed contemplating a theater ballistic missile defense in that area? Second, what would be your reaction to the comment of this Foreign Minister? It said at one point the official raised his voice and accused the United States and the news media of falsely portraying China as a threat to international peace.
A: The answer to the first question is yes, we are contemplating the construction of a theater ballistic missile defense system there and elsewhere where our forces may be at risk. Secondly, this is not directed at China.
Q: This would not defend against missiles launched from China into that theater?
A: We're talking about a defensive system, first of all. It shouldn't be confused with an offensive system, they're entirely different. Secondly, this is not a system that's being erected specifically with China in mind.
Q: China says that we would have a theater [anti-shield] and that would be unfair and unsatisfactory, unacceptable for them.
A: I don't think we should think of defensive weapons as dangerous.
Q: Secretary Deutch sent a memo out to all hands in the Department last month just before the budget cycle started that basically says the White House requires them to pre-screen all congressional testimony. There's a little heartburn on the Hill that (inaudible), the submission of testimony so that they don't get the testimony in time to give it to their Members; and also they're concerned that the White House is trying to sanitize the Department's statements, particularly the commanders from the field, and prevent them from commenting upon readiness problems or other problems that may not be in sync with the Administration's policy.
One, do you know whether this policy applies to other departments as well as to the Defense Department? And is there a concern about trying to diffuse the message that comes from the field commanders?
A: First, that's a question you should more appropriately ask the White House because you're asking about a White House policy. Second, it's my understanding that for years and years many Administrations have had a requirement that testimony from departments be screened through OMB. In fact there's an office in OMB that's specifically set up to screen testimony given by people in the Administration. Three, I have heard personally no indication or fear that this was done to sanitize the message coming out of this building.
Q: Did you get the GTMO number?
A: Yes. In Guantanamo Bay there are 25,715 Cuban refugees; and there are 656 Haitian refugees still there -- 328 of whom are children.
Q: We are enjoying this briefing today in a newly refurbished Pentagon briefing room. With risking biting the hand that feeds us, can you give us what the cost estimate was for the renovation, and any assurance that the U.S. taxpayer is getting its money's worth?
A: I do not know how much this magnificent briefing room cost, but I can tell you that this is the first upgrade in this facility since 1962, which I believe was almost 20 years before CNN was created. Isn't that right? (Laughter)
Press: Thank you.