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DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD PA

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD PA
February 24, 1995 1:30 PM EDT

Thursday, February 23, 1995 - 1:30 p.m

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.

Many of you have asked me about the base closure process, and so I'd like to start with a statement on BRAC. As you can see, this is not in columns.

The Secretary and his staff are continuing their review of recommendations from the services for base closure and realignment. They have not completed this work. Therefore, there is not a final list. When there is a final list early next week, the Secretary plans to announce it on the 28th of February.

I'd be glad to answer questions on this or any other topic.

Q: [inaudible]

A: It's tentatively scheduled for 11 a.m. on Tuesday, here. That could change, but that's the tentative schedule -- 11 a.m. We'll try to give you a firm time on Monday.

Q: This process has been continuing. Have there been any consultations between the White House and the Pentagon over the size and type of closings that are going to be recommended? Has this been a process where there's been consultation between the Pentagon and the White House all along?

A: We've kept the White House informed of the process as we've gone along, but this is something that is being worked out between the services and the Secretary.

Q: Has the President himself been briefed on these lists yet?

A: I know the President is aware of the process and where it stands. I cannot tell you how specifically he's been briefed on recommendations from the services, but he is aware of where the process stands.

Q: Have members of Congress been briefed about the potential impact in their districts, either pro or con?

A: There hasn't been systematic briefing on this, but a number of members of Congress have talked to people in the Department about it. This is... I know you think of it as a secretive process, and it is a secretive process up to a point, but it's also a very highly audited process from beginning to end. This process has been carried out exactly by the rules and will be up to the very end.

Q: Will this be the "mother of all base closings?"

A: You know the Secretary has addressed that, and you know what the answer is, I believe. But no, it will not be the "mother of all base closings." Or the "father of all base closings."

Q: When will it go to the Hill?

A: It will be known when the Secretary announces it on February 28th. But the legal date for sending the list to the Hill is March 1st, Wednesday.

Q: Is a request for a new BRAC going to go with that, or will that come later?

A: I don't believe it will go with it. As you know, the Secretary said, when he testified before the House National Security Committee, that he thought it would be helpful to have one more BRAC in, I think he said, '97 or '98. It's unclear if there is a robust political appetite for another round of BRAC right now.

Q: You said members of Congress had talked to the Pentagon. Is this them making their pitch to save bases, or have they been getting assurances one way or another about bases in their district?

A: It's the job of members of Congress to represent their constituents, and they have been doing it with great energy.

Q: How about Somalia? Can you give us anything new?

A: I can't really give you updates beyond the pool reports coming out of there -- out of the fleet. We're expecting something next week. The exact date hasn't been set yet. We hope this will proceed quickly and safely.

Q: On Bosnia, can you give us any idea about planning that is underway, the state of the planning for all the withdrawal stuff? It's sort of fallen off the face of the earth. Is there accelerated planning with what the Croatians are doing? Can you bring us up to date on that?

A: There are, basically, three balls in the air in terms of either withdrawing or changing the UNPROFOR mission. The first is, there is continuing talk about ways to strengthen UNPROFOR in Bosnia so it can do a better job of getting in aid and protecting exclusion zones, etc. There is also, on another track...

Q: That's just talk?

A: Well, there was a meeting in the Hague, as you know. I think you were in Brussels when the seeds were sewn for this meeting, and then...

Q: [inaudible]

A: Well, what's happened is that a number of countries have submitted lists of additions to people or additions to equipment that they're prepared to make to strengthen UNPROFOR. But there has not been a final UN decision on whether to do this or how UNPROFOR should be strengthened -- if UNPROFOR should be strengthened, and if so, how it should be strengthened. What should its new procedures be, what should its new goals be. That's something the UN will have to decide.

There has been an expression of willingness by the U.S. and other countries to add either equipment or people. Since we don't have people in UNPROFOR in Bosnia beyond a very few handful in headquarters capacities, we have been looking at equipment. But other people such as the Pakistanis have volunteered -- other countries such as Pakistan have volunteered people, as I understand it.

Q: For two months after this urgent meeting in the Hague to urgently find ways to strengthen and make UNPROFOR more effective, physically on the ground, zero has happened?

A: That's not entirely true, because you're overlooking the Cessation of Hostilities agreement. That, of course, was the biggest change and the most important breakthrough in the last couple of months. That, essentially, has given people more time to stand back and decide what to do next. So just to continue, we've got basically three balls in the air, and the first is discussions about strengthening UNPROFOR. The second is discussions about withdrawing UNPROFOR from Bosnia. The third is discussions about withdrawing UNPROFOR from Croatia; that's been provoked by Tudjman's assertion that UNPROFOR has to start withdrawing by the end of March.

So there's planning going on on all three of those things. What hasn't happened, yet, is firm decisions about what to do.

The United States believes very strongly and has said this many, many times, that we think withdrawal of UNPROFOR from Bosnia or from Croatia, would be a mistake, because whatever you think about this bad situation in the Balkans, the fact is that the UN presence there has helped contain the war, and it's helped limit the amount of suffering. In fact, it's helped -- over the last year -- dramatically reduce the amount of suffering.

If you go back a year, to early February when the mortar attack on the Sarajevo market occurred, that was sort of in the public's eye -- one of the worst moments. Since then, we have reduced the shelling in Sarajevo and other places, and we've increased the amount of aid going in there steadily. So there have been accomplishments. The accomplishments have been in a rather sad context, I understand. But still, we believe, that a removal of UNPROFOR would basically stop those good things from happening; that is, the supply of aid to places in Bosnia and also containing the war.

Q: What kind of strengthening are you talking about for UNPROFOR? From the very beginning, when this was first mentioned, it turned out that, essentially, what was being discussed was a retrenchment where these folks would shrink and go into places where they could better be protected. Even the meeting in the Hague where there was no suggestion that more tanks would be put in. What kind of strengthening is being discussed, and who's offering what kind of equipment?

A: That's one of the things there hasn't been a firm decision, as I said earlier, by the UN, on exactly what to do. One of the reasons is that the Cessation of Hostilities agreement has given people a little more time and made some of these decisions a little less urgent. But, obviously, decisions have to be made. The type of equipment we've volunteered to provide would be things like a few helicopters, some APCs, some engineering equipment, communications equipment, cargo trucks. We'd be providing equipment and not people to run this equipment in Bosnia. As I said, other people have offered to increase their forces. Some Europeans have done that; some South Asian countries have offered to increase their forces as well.

I cannot give you a firm program for how UNPROFOR would be improved, because I don't think that exists, yet.

Q: Do you see this as more blue helmets and back hoes and barricades than tanks? Are we talking about putting UNPROFOR in a position to shoot back, and when they're stopped from delivering these...

A: The type of thing people were talking about -- increasing the ability of UNPROFOR to defend itself, and other ways to enhance its effectiveness which could involve simple things like improving its ability to communicate with units of UNPROFOR in Bosnia. Another is improving its ability to escort aid convoys along a blue route, or something like that. That was one of the ideas that was discussed back in December. Another issue might involve a retrenchment back into a more secure area, and providing more support, or defense, in those areas. But these aren't questions that have been resolved yet. So I'm not giving you a list of decisions that have been made. I'm giving you a list of possibilities that have been discussed.

Q: On the withdrawal planning -- certainly, after the talk in December there is by now a fairly rigorous general plan, anyway, for withdrawing from Bosnia. Is the planning at a similarly advanced stage from the withdrawal from Croatia? Can you give us some feel for where that set of plans...

A: I don't believe it's as advanced, because the Croatian issue has broken later than the Bosnian issue. Some of what has to be done to get people out of Bosnia has to be done to get people out of Croatia. If we have to increase logistics support, if we have to increase communications, those things apply to both countries. So to the extent that we've done that planning for Bosnia, it's transportable over to Croatia as well.

There was actually completed, earlier this week, a major computerized exercise in Germany -- Einsiedlerhof, Germany -- at the U.S. Warrior Preparation Center.

Q: [inaudible]

A: No, this was an exercise to look at -- I don't know what the name of it was, but it was a computer-aided exercise to look at how we would withdraw from Bosnia. What are some of the problems we'd encounter and what we'd have to do to get over those problems. It ran from February 13th to February 21st. It was just a way to help NATO and UN commanders, and their staffs, sort of address some of these issues in a systematic way.

So there is planning going on. People aren't sitting on their hands. But if you ask for firm dates and goals... I want to stress that it's our hope that UNPROFOR doesn't have to be withdrawn from either place. We think it serves a valuable purpose. We're not urging UNPROFOR to get out.

Q: Is it the Pentagon view that the mission in Bosnia can continue if you are forced to withdraw from all or parts of Croatia?

A: It is the view of people in the Pentagon that the mission in Bosnia would be complicated, dramatically, if we had to withdraw from Croatia. For that reason, a withdrawal from Croatia would be a mistake, we believe.

Q: So it may force you to go all of the way in withdrawing?

A: It may, but that still has to be worked out. There are, clearly, very important, worthwhile reasons for staying in Bosnia. We would like to, through UNPROFOR and the UN, contain this war, as well as possible. That's been our hope from the beginning. Our ultimate hope is to settle it with a peace agreement, but barring that, we'd just like to continue to be able to contain the fighting.

It is sort of remarkable when you think that this rather vicious war has been going on for some time and it hasn't spilled over into other Balkan countries. We hope that continues.

Q: At the last briefing, you said that there was an investigation underway into these reports of possible violations of the no-fly zone by fixed wing aircraft and you expected it to be completed rather quickly. Can you give us anything on the results?

A: That was only two days ago. It is not yet completed.

Q: You have nothing on that yet?

A: Right.

Q: The Navy apparently is planning a port call in China, sometime this spring. Have the Chinese agreed to this? And, meanwhile, are they still threatening to shoot to kill the next time there's a confrontation like the one with the KITTY HAWK and the submarine?

A: First of all, I can't give you anything specific on the port call, but I may be able to give you something specific soon. Not today, maybe not this week, but clearly discussions are going on and this is a possibility. This is a type of confidence-building measure -- or type of interaction that would flow logically from the Secretary's visit to China last fall. We're looking for ways to get to know each other's military establishments better. The focal point of that is the exchange of visits between our officials and their officials. As you know, Ted Warner, Assistant Secretary for Strategy and Requirements, went to China in December to lay out our military plans, budget, the six-year defense plan, etc. A Chinese delegation is coming here, I think, in March to reciprocate and give us a briefing on how they see the strategic threat in their area, how their military plans address that threat, what their spending proposals are, etc. This is all part of an effort to try to sort of demystify our military establishments to one another.

Q: Are there ongoing talks with the PRC, the PLA, but specifically with the PRC and the Pentagon at this time? Or will that take place in March, when this delegation comes?

A: I don't think there are any talks going on this minute, but basically, "Yes." The next round of talks will take place when their delegation comes here, which, I believe, will be in March. We have a military attaché in Beijing and they have one here, so to that extent, there are ongoing discussions all the time, on a range of issues.

Q: [inaudible]

A: I said, exactly, what I meant. We have well established procedures for handling issues. The discussion about their strategic posture is not handled ordinarily in that setup, so we're having this special meeting which reciprocates the meeting that Dr. Warner made to China in December, and that will be, I think, in March.

Q: One more question on Russia. The talks between DoD officials and Mr. Mamedov and Mr. Kokoshin as reported by Mr. Deutch in today's Times... Specifically, regarding the Iranian nuclear project -- reports that the Russians have stated that they're going to go ahead with that. Are we going to continue to talk to them about that particular problem? And what about this linkage of aid to the Russian Federation and their behavior with regard to the Iranian nuclear commitment they've made?

A: To address the second point first, the Secretary has said, recently, and other officials have said, that we hope the aid for Nunn/Lugar and the dismantlement of the former Soviet arsenal will continue, because we think that's a very important program. So far over 2,000 warheads formerly held in the Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia have been dismantled. We would like to continue that program. And we would also like to continue the program of converting defense industries -- former defense industries -- into civilian factories and industries because we think that's an important step towards peace. So we hope that the programs do not become linked.

On the Iranian issue, we have said repeatedly -- starting in June of 1992 and again at the Clinton/Yeltsin Summit in April of 1993 and since -- that we are opposed to their nuclear cooperation with Iran. We are continuing to make that point. We are carrying on discussions with them during these meetings and in other forums, and will continue to carry on those discussions, and hope we can resolve this issue.

I noticed recently there was a report in [Itar Tass] out of Moscow quoting a Russian official of the Russian Atomic Energy Commission as saying that the reactors that they're delivering to Iran can't produce weapons-grade plutonium and they are, in fact, light-water reactors that are much less susceptible to problems of proliferation than other reactors are, certainly than graphite reactors, for instance. But we don't want this to happen. We are against the development of a nuclear capability in Iran as something that could be destabilizing, and we're continuing to deal with the Russians on that and make that point.

Press: Thank you.