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DoD News Briefing, Thursday, May 28, 1998

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
May 28, 1998 1:30 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Welcome to our briefing. Welcome back, Charlie and other travelers.

I have several announcements with which to start. The first is I'd like to welcome Ms. Marjo Ahonen who is the head of the foreign news department of Finland's TV-3. She's here as part of a USIA program.

Second, I'd like to call your attention to the fact that Secretary Cohen will give the graduation address at the United States Military Academy at West Point on Saturday. The ceremony begins at 9 a.m., and he will also then present diplomas to all the graduates who are going into the Army and getting commissioned.

Q: Can you give us the subject, if there is one?

A: He will talk about the challenges that cadets will face in the world. There may be a section on Iraq and its dealings with the UN Security Council under the inspection regime. I hope that we'll have copies of that before he gives the speech. That's open to all of you, but I know not all of you are planning to go to West Point on Saturday.

Finally, I'd like to say a few words about Operation CLOUDY OFFICE. If this were Operation Messy Office, it would apply to my office, but this is not. This is an exercise that will take place here on Saturday involving large numbers of police and rescue workers. It's an exercise designed to test our ability to deal with a hostage-taking scenario where the hostage takers have chemical weapons with them. So there will be a contamination/decontamination part of the exercise. It will begin Saturday morning at about 8:00 and run into the afternoon, maybe as late as 6:00.

It is open to media coverage, if you're interested. I only call this to your attention because I think it's important for people to be aware that there will be an exercise going on here. It will be quite visible. It could involve as many as 50 or 75 police, rescue, and fire vehicles, so it will be visible from nearby roads, and I want to make sure there's no confusion about the fact that this is an exercise, and nothing else.

You can get details on it from Glenn Flood in the Directorate of Defense Information.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: Fill us in on the monitoring of the Pak explosions. How many, power, yield.

A: First of all, let me just say that we monitored the preparations very, very closely and President Clinton was in contact, I think, five times with Prime Minister Sharif over the last two weeks or so about the tests. He talked to him last night and again this morning after the test occurred. There was no deception on the part of the Pakistanis here. We knew very much what they were up to.

I can't get into details now on the size of the test or the number of devices that were exploded. Our intelligence community is in the process of looking into that. It takes a while to pull together the seismic and other data and to get a clear picture of what went on. That has been ongoing this morning and it will continue this afternoon and probably for several days thereafter.

Q: It's been a couple of weeks now since India conducted its test. Have you had a chance to analyze any of that data, and can you tell us whether it indicates that essentially what India claims -- did India do essentially what it claimed it did?

A: I don't want to get into great detail there either. There is still analysis going on of the Indian tests. I think there will be reports to Congress next week on some of these matters and I think we should wait until those reports are made before scooping the reports to Congress.

Q: Can you say if there's been any U.S. military reaction in response to these tests? Any movement of forces or...

A: No, there has not.

Q: ...alert status, or anything at all...

A: I think it's very important to be clear about what the potential risks are here. What we're seeing is a possible arms race on the Indian subcontinent between India and Pakistan that poses primarily a threat to the people of those countries should this arms race get out of control or should miscalculations occur. This is not something that directly threatens our forces or interests. It clearly threatens our interests indirectly in that we have a real interest in stopping proliferation and stopping arms races which can be destabilizing in important areas such as the Indian subcontinent. We felt that this was an opportunity for Pakistan to show moderation and not escalation, but Pakistan for its own national security interests, chose to test as it did.

Our hope now is that both sides will be able to back down and see the threat of an escalating arms race on the Indian subcontinent and do their best to avoid that.

Q: If you won't go into details about the yield of these blasts or how many, can you at least tell us whether or not they were detected immediately?

A: Yes, they were.

Q: By...

A: As were the Indian blasts. They were detected by... There's a very extensive international network of seismic detectors.

As you know, and some of you have been out there to cover it, there is an organization that's in the process of gearing up to provide information necessary to monitor compliance with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. They have offices in suburban Virginia. This international network of seismic detectors does pick up seismic events including earthquakes and nuclear blasts very quickly.

Q: Can you tell us if there's been any assessment of any preparation to actually move ahead to deliver these weapons, to see beyond the tests that these two nations could be moving towards a nuclear exchange with each other?

A: We do not have evidence that they're moving toward a nuclear exchange. First of all, both countries had extensive nuclear programs before this recent round of tests, so the fact that they were working to develop nuclear weapons is nothing new. As those of you who read the proliferation threat and response report that came out last year, the bible of information on proliferation, will recall that that report said that we believed both India and Pakistan had the capability to assemble or produce nuclear weapons. They both are working on delivery vehicles for their weapons. They have missile programs underway, they also have air forces. But we have not seen specific signs that this arms race is focusing on very specific actions beyond the tests at this stage.

Q: Can you give us a bit of an update or a status report on the missile delivery, the means of delivery that each side has at this point? They're both working on ballistic missiles. Where do those programs stand at the moment?

A: They're working on these missiles and they're basically both trying to move to longer range missiles from the relatively short range missiles they have in their inventory now. India, as has been reported, is working on some ship-launched missiles as well. India has the Prithvi, which is relatively short range, 150 kilometers, and the 250 kilometer range, two versions. It's working on a longer range Agni missile which is, I believe, in the testing stage. It's about 2,000 kilometers so it's somewhat more threatening than the shorter range missiles.

And Pakistan has some short range missiles, under 300 kilometers, about 300 kilometers, but it is also working on a longer range missile and in fact tested one recently. My recollection is it's about a 1,000 kilometer range.

So both sides are working on longer range missiles, and that is worrisome. It's part of the pattern of proliferation that we think is destabilizing to the people on the Indian subcontinent. It does increase the risk of miscalculation or overstepping as they work on these programs.

Q: What's the distance between completion of the test in India and Pakistan and deliverable weapons by both countries?

A: That's an interesting question that I can't really answer.

Q: It's very brief, isn't it? Very short, isn't it? Now that they've tested, Pakistan has tested as well. What's to hold back putting this on an airplane and dropping it over Delhi?

A: I'm not going to get into speculation about that. I think that we've realized for a long while that both countries had the capability to put together a nuclear weapon very quickly.

Q: Is there any evidence that either Pakistani or Indian forces are on higher alert? Have there been any troop movements that the Pentagon has monitored... A: There's been some increased skirmishing in the Jammu and Kashmir area, and yes, I don't want to get into it, but I think it's not surprising that the countries are nervous about one another now. That's been shown in some of their force dispositions.

Q: The President imposed sanctions today under the Glenn Amendment legislation on Pakistan. Can you give us a sense of the military relationship that the U.S. has had with Pakistan over the last seven or eight years in terms of foreign military sales and aid and assistance?

A: The military relationship with Pakistan has been extremely limited by the Pressler Amendment, and we do not have an IMET program, an International Military Education and Training program with Pakistan. We do not have foreign military financed sales, officially financed sales to Pakistan. We have had a very few numbers of foreign military sales where they have used their own money to buy some goods from the United States and the most notable was when they bought some equipment that was irrelevant to their F-16 purchases.

As you know, they had initially planned to buy 111 F-16s from the United States. They ended up, I think, getting 40, and 28 they were about to buy, but they were stopped by the Pressler Amendment, and those were the planes that they paid for but never got that have been the subject of so much negotiation.

Beyond that -- let me just complete. There have been very limited exercises involving U.S. and Pakistani troops -- two or three naval exercises a year; a biennial special operations field training exercise, a biennial ground force training exercise, and there has been one JCET, Joint Combined Exchange Training program, which I talked about last time. These programs involve our special forces and really are designed to increase our knowledge of how other militaries operate and improve the language training of our special forces.

Q: Are these automatically canceled as of now?

A: Well, the Glenn Amendment specifically deals with foreign military assistance and we would have to look over the next days and weeks at exactly the scope of the sanctions. We have not had traditional foreign military assistance to Pakistan. Many of these exchanges, including some individual exchanges where American military people have gone to Pakistan to study or train and the Pakistanis have come to U.S. institutions to study, have been financed individually by services rather than by the Foreign Military Assistance Act.

So we will look at these programs over the next couple of weeks in the context of the sanctions to decide what can continue and what can't.

Q: Wouldn't it send the wrong signal if the United States continued any joint military exercises that weren't covered by the sanctions?

A: Well all of these will be looked at. What I want to say is that very specifically the sanctions deal with the Foreign Assistance Act. We did not have activities with Pakistan under that act, largely because of the Pressler Amendment. So we've had very minimal direct military-to-military relationships with Pakistan over the last several years. We will evaluate where we stand when we look at the overall geometry of the sanctions program that the President announced this morning.

Q: The Pentagon was trying to get Pakistan's money back for those 28F-16s. Will that activity now cease because of the tests?

A: That would require, I believe, some congressional action and I think that Congress will be very reluctant to go down that route after these tests. I think it's one of the things Pakistan sacrificed in making this test. So my guess is, no, that it will be very difficult for Pakistan to get that money back now.

Q: Will you continue to recommend, though, that the money...

A: The test just occurred several hours ago. As I said, the Administration is going to be meeting and reviewing the sanctions and also overall relations with India and Pakistan. This will be a topic of discussion over the next days and weeks and all of that will have to be sorted out.

Q: Has the INDEPENDENCE battle group gotten around the tip of the [Indian] subcontinent yet, and, if not, is there any consideration being given to ask them to linger there?

A: I believe they got around the tip of India yesterday and they're now in the Pacific Command area of responsibility steaming back to Japan. I think they're supposed to reach Japan on June 7th, I believe. So no, they aren't lingering in the area.

Q: When India tested it did two different days of testing. You mentioned that Pakistan wasn't engaged in a lot of deception and you had a pretty good idea of what was going on. Can you give us an indication of whether you expect there will be any additional nuclear tests in Pakistan?

A: I can't right now. It's certainly one of the things we'll be looking at very closely. We were looking at a number of possible sites to monitor what was going on there but I can't get into any greater detail at this stage.

Q: Pakistan also yesterday charged that it had credible information that India was preparing a preemptive strike against its nuclear facilities and it complained to the United Nations about that. Are you aware of any evidence that would lend credence to that charge?

A: I'm not. I'm not aware of any evidence that would support that.

Q: When you say there was no deception, in all the communications that went on between the U.S. and Pakistan, did they actually specify what they were going to do or do you only know by national technical means what they did?

A: We certainly monitored their preparations very closely, but beyond that I think the Prime Minister of Pakistan was very clear in discussing with President Clinton what he saw to be the costs and benefits of this decision. He weighed very carefully with President Clinton what was pushing him towards testing and what was pushing him away from testing. So I think President Clinton felt that he had a series of very good discussions with the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Unfortunately, he made the decision to test.

Q: Would you say that tensions have increased now between the two countries, and it's only been manifested in the skirmishing in Kashmir?

A: Between India and Pakistan? I think clearly the tensions are higher today than they were a month ago.

Q: But the only manifestation of that besides the testing is Kashmir?

A: Those are both very big manifestations. The two countries have gone to war twice over Kashmir since they became independent a little more than 50 years ago. Two out of the three wars they fought have been over Kashmir. So I think it's difficult to dismiss Kashmir as the only evidence of tension.

Q: Are there further back preparations for a more all-out conflict?

A: I was asked that earlier and I don't see that there are at this stage.

Q: You limit it just in the Kashmir area?

A: We've had, in Pakistan, missile tests and nuclear tests in the last four to six weeks; in India we've had two sets of nuclear tests and we've had rising tensions between the two countries in a very sensitive trigger spot, Jammu and Kashmir.

Q: No mobilization of ground forces.

A: I'm not aware that there has been a mobilization.

Q: You were asked earlier about the timeframe between actually testing a device and weaponizing it or whatever. Does the Pentagon feel it has adequate monitoring techniques so it can clearly get a sense of the pace of weaponization?

A: Let me be very clear about weaponization. We reported publicly last fall in the proliferation threat and response report, this, about India and Pakistan. Both possess adequate fissile material and components to assemble a limited number of nuclear weapons. Both have substantial nuclear infrastructures. Neither has signed a nuclear non-proliferation treaty or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

We pointed out that we felt that they did have the ability to put together a limited number of nuclear weapons. So, without getting into specifics of weaponization, I think you can read from this that we felt they've had that ability for some time.

Q: They've had weapons for some time?

A: Both possess adequate fissile material and components to assemble a limited number of nuclear weapons.

Q: Are you saying that they've had the capability of deploying or weaponizing those...

A: I'm saying read the proliferation threat and response report and draw your own conclusion.

Q: Pakistan has publicly said that they plan on arming their (inaudible) missile with a nuclear warhead. Have we seen any evidence that they have so far done that?

A: If we had, I doubt if I'd be able to discuss it in any great detail.

Q: How significant an escalation would it be if they did in fact go ahead with those plans?

A: Obviously in this tense climate, any action like that would, I think, trigger a reaction by India and it would be inflammatory in terms of creating pressure for more proliferation. What we want is less proliferation.

Q: One of the other countries in the region (inaudible) scenario is obviously China. Given the Pentagon's improved military ties with the Chinese, can you tell us whether or not there's been some back and forth between the building and military sales in China over the situation, some consultations?

A: There clearly have been some consultations with China. I don't want to get in great detail on that.

Q: Those are military-to-military consultations.

A: We have ongoing talks with them, but I don't want to get into great detail on that.

Q: India when it did its nuclear test claimed to have tested a thermonuclear device. Is there any evidence that Pakistan conducted that kind of test or do these tests appear to be pure fission?

A: We haven't seen any evidence of a fusion device or thermonuclear device. We're going to be spending a lot of time evaluating the evidence.

Q: However, is there any evidence suggesting India did in fact have some sort of fusion or (inaudible) fission?

A: As I said earlier, we are still looking into the Indian situation.

Q: Have you seen any indication that the Indians are (inaudible) testing program?

A: I can't answer that question. I don't know the answer to it.

Q: Real briefly to go back to the F-16 issue. I guess it was last week, I know the Secretary made the comment that he was in favor of resolving that whole issue. He didn't really get into specifics. Does he still feel that way?

A: He said in Argentina that he didn't think that the Pakistanis had been fairly treated by this arrangement, and the Administration had been working hard to try to resolve this and get their money back, over $600 million, as I recall.

The point I made earlier was that to do this would have required congressional action, certainly an appropriation, and I think the chance of getting any congressional support for that is very limited. Can this happen some time in the future? Perhaps. But now the environment doesn't seem right.

Q: The Pressler Amendment and the sanctions that go with it, are they a failure?

A: I think that both countries had been working on nuclear weapons for some time. What they've done is made a relatively small technical step from developing weapons to testing. It's a very large political step but it's a small technical step.

Clearly, the efforts of countries who are trying to stop proliferation have not succeeded in this area. There have been other successes around the world. South Africa has renounced its program. We've denuclearized, helped denuclearize the Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. The framework agreement in North Korea has been successful so far in stopping North Korea's nuclear program as far as we know. That's continuing at pace. So I think there have been notable successes -- successes in stopping proliferation. Also, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the nuclear non-proliferation treaty extension -- there have been successes. This is clearly a setback.

I think the issue that the world faces right now, the challenge the world faces is how to stop this situation from getting worse. How do you take a potentially risky situation and try to control it in a way that will improve security in a region rather than make the security situation less stable. That's the challenge that not only we face, but China will face, and principally India and Pakistan will face as we try to work through this.

Q: Since, as you said, it's obviously no surprise that they have nuclear materials, we've known that for some time, if the two countries opt to sign a treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, is all forgiven?

A: Well, I don't think it's that easy because, to a certain extent, the genie is out of the bottle. But obviously, this is among the type of issues that will be discussed in the U.S. government and many other governments over the next couple of months.

Q: Three years ago, then Secretary Perry said the Pressler Amendment not only had not worked, it had actually pushed Pakistan toward a nuclear weapon by sort of emasculating them on the conventional side. Do you agree with that assessment?

A: I think there's a lot of evidence that that's the case. Since they were unable to develop conventional forces the way they wanted to, to modernize their air forces, that they had little choice. They saw that they had little choice but to move ahead with a nuclear capability. And it did have the effect of shortening their options, of eliminating some of their military options. I think the Pakistani officials could talk about that better than I, but clearly a country has a number of military options and to the extent that you shut down some of them it forces them to pay more attention to the fewer remaining options. I do think that's what happened in Pakistan's case.

Q: Doesn't the imposition of additional sanctions combined with the impact already imposed on them by Pressler make that disparity even more acute, and it would make it more difficult for Pakistan to maintain its conventional forces and thereby some measure of stability and will force them even further into the nuclear...

A: Clearly one of the factors Pakistan had to weigh was whether it would be more disadvantaged by sanctions than India would be. To the extent that its economy is less robust, less flexible than India, growing less rapidly than India's, they will be disadvantaged by the sanctions. The sanctions will probably have a proportionately greater impact on Pakistan than on India.

But this Administration has no choice but to put the sanctions in place. They're required by law.

Q: The question here is not whether you have a choice or not, but the impact of what it is the United States is going to lead the charge in doing may, in fact, have an even more disastrous impact on the situation on the ground.

A: We're not trying to make matters worse than they are. We like to try to make matters better by improving security in the Indian subcontinent, and that's what we'll be working on. That's what this Administration will be working on. But, I think you're right, to the extent that the sanctions will affect the two economies and the two countries which are of dramatically different size and dramatically different economic organization, to the extent that they're affected differently by the sanctions, Pakistan could come out worse. But Pakistan had to weigh these factors, and I think they did weigh them in making the decision they made. They decided what they thought was the best response to protect their own security. We think it was a mistake.

Q: Kosovo. The NATO 16 are meeting in Luxembourg at this hour, they met today. They're going to talk about Kosovo and possible deployment of NATO troops in Albania as an adjunct to stemming the conflict there in Kosovo. Have you heard anything yet with regard to this matter? And some say it's just not going to fly because Germany's against it and France I think is also, and it will take somewhere between 6,000 and 20,000 troops to do it. Do you have any comments on any of that reporting?

A: I think we should wait for the Foreign Ministers to talk about what they did at their meeting. I haven't gotten a report back from what they're doing there.

Q: Who's representing the Secretary of Defense there?

A: We generally have an officer from the Joint Staff who travels with the Secretary of State, and I'm sure there are also some of our people from NATO there as well. We're well represented in all of these discussions.

Press: Thank you.