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

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
October 28, 1997 1:30 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.

I'd like to begin by welcoming 15 students from around the world who are here as part of the Joint Officer Public Affairs Course, which is designed to educate young, bright public affairs professionals about our operations in the Pentagon. They've been spending the week here getting filled in by people like Mike Doubleday on the fine points of public affairs.

With that, I'll take your questions on the JOPAC or anything else. (Laughter)

Q: Is Chi going to be with Jiang, the Defense Minister?

A: I don't have an answer to that question. We'll get it.

Q: What military agreements do you expect to come...

A: I think I'll let the White House talk about that. I don't want to steal their thunder. You'll have plenty of time to catch up on the details of the Summit from the White House.

I might point out that Secretary Albright is briefing on the Summit right now from her standpoint, but I'd just rather let the White House talk about the outcome.

Q: Even if Chi doesn't come, will there be a military delegation?

A: We'll get the answer to that question.

Q: Will you take it so...

A: Yes, absolutely.

Q: There has been a battery of tests that have been developed by the CDC that will enable military doctors on the battlefield in a relatively short amount of time to determine through blood and urine samples if a troop has been exposed to any type of chemical weapons or nerve gas. Do you have any reaction to this new scientific discovery at CDC? And is the Pentagon prepared to maybe provide some funding for them?

A: This is a very promising development. We met with officials in Atlanta last week to discuss this development, and we will continue to work with them to find out if we can work together in partnership -- the Department of Defense and the Center for Disease Control.

I think that we're always looking for ways to improve analysis of the health effects of the battlefield. As I say, this is promising, and we will work with them to see how far we can take it.

Q: What about funding?

A: So far this program seems to be funded. I don't have anything for you on the funding. But I assume that if the Department of Defense found that this program worked, we would figure out some way to help develop it very quickly and make it available to our troops.

My understanding is that, like much scientific research, this isn't quite complete yet and there's still testing going on. But as I say, it's very promising. It's something that would be very helpful if it lives up to its promise, and we are working with the CDC to see how quickly we can move forward on this.

Q: The PRC, the People's Republic of China, is coming to town tomorrow. This country is acting as a friend of China, offering nuclear reactors, nuclear reactor technology, I believe, when China is still proliferating weapons to the pariah Iran, to Pakistan; when China is still spying on the United States heavily and continues to attempt to influence politics in this country; continues to threaten Taiwan; and has an abysmal human rights record. Why doesn't the United States ask the Chinese to show friendship toward us and our allies before we show them such friendship and technology that is perhaps dangerous?

A: You've asked a sweeping question that contained a lot of allegations in the middle of it. Without addressing each one of your statements, let me say first, that China is the largest country in the world. We're the most powerful, most technologically advanced country in the world. For the world to be safe and secure, China and the United States have to learn to work together. We've made a lot of progress on that over the last 25 years since President Nixon... More than 25 years, actually, 30 years since President Nixon reestablished relations with China. We have a way to go. This Summit will be an important part of that progression.

We have a policy of engagement with China, and we think that policy of engagement has paid off in many ways. Let me just cite several.

First, China has moved from being an outlier on questions of proliferation to a participant in many of the most important non-proliferation regimes. One is the Non-Proliferation Treaty; another is the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; another is subscribing to the details of the Missile Technology Control Regime. These are all important steps that have been made in about the last five years. I think this is one benefit of engagement.

Does this mean we don't have to worry anymore? No. It does not. That's why we continue to be engaged with China. We both have benefits that we can get from this relationships and those benefits entail certain responsibilities. What we're trying to do in our dialogue with China is to point out that they share many of the same goals we do in terms of making the world safer, in terms of making it less easy for countries like Iran to develop weapons of mass destruction which can threaten China as well as other countries.

One of the things we've pointed out, for instance, is that China is importing more and more energy, and China will become a large energy importer from the Persian Gulf. So China therefore, has a real interest in the safety, security and stability of the Gulf. We think that's a relevant point to make to China when they're dealing with Iran, and we have made that point.

So we live in a world where I think we have no choice but to engage realistically and firmly with China, and we're doing that.

Q: My point was shouldn't we expect them to show good will, to show friendship up front in our relations...

A: I just pointed out that they have made significant progress in the last five years by joining various weapons control regimes. I think that's one sign of the benefits of engagement.

I think we've had dialogue with them on a number of topics including economic integration and certainly on human rights and we'll continue to engage with them and to discuss human rights issues with them.

One thing we've learned is that it's very difficult to influence China's policy in a positive way if we don't have a dialogue with them. Over the last 25 or more years that we've had a dialogue with China, I think China has moved into the community of nations and we have found that we can work well with China on some issues, not so well on other issues. The goal is to increase the number of issues on which we can cooperate and to decrease the area of issues on which we have disagreement, and that's what we're working to do.

We will never achieve complete confluence with China. We don't with the French. Sovereign states have disagreements and we will continue to have disagreements with China. But I think we can work together to narrow the area of disagreement.

Q: Regarding the proposed commercial nuclear power deal with China, one assumes in return for a promise by China that they're going to cut the technology transfers to Iran. Is the Pentagon going to insist that the United States have better monitoring, more secure monitoring of that situation, rather than just taking China's word for it?

A: Charlie, you're very persistent. President Clinton and President Jiang are going to meet on these and other issues, and there will be a press conference and announcements after the Summit. I'm going to leave it to the President to announce the results of the Summit. I'm not going to do it before the Summit even begins. You'll just have to wait. It's tough, but you'll have to do it. (Laughter)

Q: Would the Pentagon like to see better monitoring of the situation with Chinese and other transfers of, and Russian transfers of technology to Iran, Syria and other such countries?

A: We would like to see the transfers of technology of weapons of mass destruction technology stop. We've made that very clear, and we've worked hard with China, we're working hard with Russia now to achieve that goal. It's not something that can be done immediately. We've been working for a long period of time. We're making progress, but we're going to continue to work toward progress on that.

Q: Has the military-to-military relationship with China ever gone beyond some of the visits we've seen like with Secretary Perry and General Shalikashvili? Have they ever had students at any of the universities here? Or have we ever... Have there been any kind of activities involved?

A: There have been, of course, high-level exchanges. But I'm not sure that students have been exchanged yet. It's something, certainly, we could aim for, but I'll check to make sure. I don't know every detail of our cooperative arrangements with China.

Q: Do you have any reaction to Congressman Shay's draft report on his 18-month investigation into Gulf War Illness?

A: I just looked at the report before I came in here. It's voluminous. I have not had a chance to read it. I've read a summary of the report and of course I've read some news accounts of the report.

I guess I have a couple of comments. I was disappointed by some of the news accounts I read and the summary I read of the report in some of the remarks that the report made about our work over the last couple of years, particularly over the last year on Gulf War Illnesses, because I think the Pentagon did not handle the problem well in the early stages. I think in the last year we've made significant progress in trying to unwind some of these problems.

The report itself points out that there is no silver bullet to explain or cure a so-called Gulf War Syndrome. We agree with that. That's one of the frustrating aspects of dealing with Gulf War Illnesses, that we don't know what caused them yet and we don't know how to cure all of the symptoms that we see.

The fact of the matter is, though, that we have in the last year dramatically increased our efforts to try to get to the bottom of these problems. One sign is that Dr. Bernie Rostker has increased his staff from 16 to 180 people to carry out various facets of his work on Gulf War Illnesses. This has included not only much more energetic investigations into what actually happened in the Gulf during the war -- in other words, what types of toxics soldiers might have been exposed to during the war, and what happened at certain places like Khamisiyah. You've gotten some of those reports.

More investigative work, much more outreach to veterans organizations, much more outreach to veterans than we had before, and a much more aggressive distribution of information to the public -- through the Internet and through pamphlets, magazines, phone calls, 800 numbers, etc., than has happened before. So we are making an effort to communicate with veterans one, to find out what happened to them, to listen to their stories; and two, to tell them what we're doing.

We are making an effort to increase research. We have over 90 projects going on today to find out what caused some of these illnesses that afflict veterans of the Gulf War. And we are working very closely with other government agencies to try to improve the care that veterans are getting.

So my response to the report is that it appears to be a very thorough report on what's happened. I have not seen in the coverage of the report so far or the summary of the report much commentary on what we've done here in the last year to try to improve our abilities to get to the bottom of what happened.

Q: Are you disappointed with the reporting on the report or...

A: I'm disappointed so far in... I have only seen the summary of the report -- two-and-a-half page summary; and I have seen some news accounts of the report.

Q: What specifically disappoints you about the summary?

A: I don't think the summary goes very far in acknowledging what we have done over the last year to improve our investigation into the causes of Gulf War Illnesses and to improve the type of outreach we're making to veterans and to try to find better ways to care for veterans who are ill.

Q: If you take a look at this more aggressive effort the Pentagon has done, especially over the last year, and you add, if you total the research projects, the increased staff, all of this more aggressive effort, what is that costing? Do you have any sort of a...

A: We'll get you an estimate. It's a very good question and I don't have the... You want us to basically consolidate what we're spending on research, what we're spending on outreach, what we're spending on fact finding, and give you...

Q: You outlined many more aggressive steps, increasing the staff... All of this, obviously, costs money. I was just curious what the bill...

A: We will do our best to get that information.

Q: Can you provide a time line with that, like where it's come since all this became an issue?

A: Where the money has come from?

Q: No, no. What the trend line has been as far as expenditures on the part of the DoD budget to get to the bottom of Gulf War Illnesses. In '92 did you spend a million and then in '93 you spent $5 million and now...

A: We'll do our best. I think this may be more difficult than you think because the money's been spent in various accounts. But what I would expect the information to show is that there has been a dramatic increase in the last year.

Q: Has Secretary Cohen considered yet or decided yet whether he will resist the recommendation that the lead role be taken away from the DoD on the investigation?

A: We believe that we should continue to conduct the investigation with appropriate oversight. We have accepted oversight in the past, we're prepared to accept oversight in the future.

This is a decision that will be made by other people. But we believe that we are responsible for all that happened to veterans during the war -- both good and bad. It's our responsibility to follow up on this; it's our responsibility to work to minimize similar health problems in future deployments; and we can best do that if we're running the investigation.

Ultimately, people will have to look at the facts and decide whether we're doing an adequate job, but I think when they do look at the facts they have to not look at the slow start we got off to several years ago alone. They also have to combine that with what we've done in the last year. I think that if you look at that you'll see that there's been a dramatic increase in the amount of time and energy that's been put into this project.

Q: Notwithstanding this dramatic increase, can you say today that you're any closer to solving the mystery of Gulf War illnesses?

A: No. We cannot say that we have yet a clear understanding of what caused what's called Gulf War Illnesses. And I might point out that if you've read the interim report by the Presidential Advisory Committee, they have not been able to come up with a clear view of that either. They thought that many of these might be stress related. But they also pointed out that there were a number of other factors ranging from the possibility of low-level chemical exposure to exposure to depleted uranium to exposure to pesticides to oil, fire, smoke, etc. And some of the medicines that soldiers took when they were in the Gulf.

Q: What's the status of the special report they were supposed to release this month? Has that gone to the White House yet?

A: You're talking about the Presidential Advisory?

Q: Presidential Advisory report.

A: I expect that to come out in the next few weeks, but that's something that the PAC and the White House will control.

Q: The FY98 Defense Authorization Bill has been completed on the Hill. They're about to vote on it. Is the Pentagon recommending a veto of this, or is Secretary Cohen? I know there are some concerns, some disagreements.

A: We're still examining the bill and discussing the bill with the White House. Ultimately the White House will make a decision on that, and I think I should let them talk about the bill.

Q: The Secretary's Defense Reform Task Force. Can you give us an update on whether or not he's been briefed on the recommendations, if he's taken any action, or when that might happen?

A: The Defense Reform Task Force has submitted its recommendations to the Secretary and he has been briefed on those recommendations. They're extensive recommendations covering a wide range of issues that deal with such things as improving business practices, streamlining the operations and the organization of the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

That work is done. It's been well done, and now Dr. Hamre and Secretary Cohen and others are reviewing the recommendations made by the Task Force and working, combining those recommendations with other proposals they have of their own. It will take several more weeks to complete this work, but they're hard at it right now.

Q: I've seen some of the recommendations and there's been some news reports about some of them. I guess you could say they are -- some at least are controversial -- and have also been talked about before -- if not once before, twice before, maybe five times before. Can you give us an idea as to whether or not this Task Force report will be any different from the countless, almost mind-numbing reports that have come in the past? (Laughter) What's the difference here?

A: First of all, the report, as aggressive and as thorough as it was, was only part of a broader effort to achieve some ideas for reforming the operation of the Office of the Secretary of Defense -- for streamlining the operation, for eliminating some jobs that may not be as necessary as they were before or may overlap tasks that are performed elsewhere in the Department. So it's only part of a broader initiative. I think that I'll just have to wait and you'll have to wait and see the entire initiative -- it's still some time off -- before you judge.

But Secretary Cohen is determined to accelerate what he calls the "Revolution in Business Affairs" that started back in the '80s with the Packard Commission report and has already led to very significant reforms in the way the Pentagon does its business. He would like to see more progress made and he's determined to do his best on that and will have something, I would say, in several weeks.

Q: On arms sales to Latin America, has the Administration decided to sell F-16s to Venezuela, or to allow those sales to go forward?

A: I'll have to check on that. I don't have any information for you on that.

Q: I just wanted to add to your long list of "taken" questions today, a couple of weeks ago you gave us some preliminary statistics on military aviation safety for the end of the fiscal year, but you said they still need to be finalized. I wonder, can we get someone to just give us the final, what the final, final statistics were?

A: The first week in November we'll have that -- which is just next week.

Q: Two Persian Gulf questions, not directly related. Does the Defense Department accept the Israeli intelligence assessment of the missile proliferation to Iran that would then threaten Israel as far as the missiles having the range to reach Israel? And is the Pentagon going to lobby the White House strongly to ask that Russia shut down all sources of missile parts and alloys and such that are going to the Iranians?

A: To take the second question first, it's not a question of the Pentagon having to lobby the White House. This Administration, from the Commander-in-Chief on down, is committed to trying to stop the proliferation of missiles and weapons of mass destruction in Iran and Iraq. We've made that very clear to the Russians over a period of years. In the last several months, Ambassador Wisner has made several trips to Moscow to talk to the Russians about this. He'll be going back again soon for more talks. The Russians have made some public statements about their desire to stop proliferation as well. I think we're making progress, but it's a complex issue. One of the reasons it's complex, of course, is changes taking place in the business structure in Russia today. So we're trying to work with the Russian authorities to address those problems.

There is no doubt that Iran is working to improve its military capability in a variety of areas, and one of those areas is to build longer range missiles. It does have SCUD missiles now that are relatively short range. They're working to develop medium range missiles which could go more than 1,000 kilometers. We are trying to stop them from doing that. We don't see any defensive need for Iran to do that. We will continue to work with... We don't think they're there yet, we don't think they have tested missiles.... We know they have not tested missiles of that range. It could be several years off. But the time to prevent this type of proliferation is in the early stages, not in the later stages, and that's what we're trying to do -- start in the early stages to prevent it.

Q: The second issue that I wanted to raise, Iraq is threatening to forbid the UN any more inspections. What is the United States Department of Defense reaction to that attitude by Saddam Hussein?

A: Well, it's clearly... Saddam Hussein has not been a good citizen in good standing in the international community for a number of years, and this type of threat on his part shows that he's not getting any closer to being a citizen of good standing.

The UN is clear on what it requires from Iraq, and the U.S. fully supports complete compliance by Iraq with the UN resolutions. This is one other sign that Saddam Hussein is determined not to comply with international norms of good behavior.

Press: Thank you.

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