Tuesday, March 21, 1995 - 1:30 p.m.
Mr. Boxx: Good afternoon.
I have no news to commit in terms of an announcement. I'll be happy to take your questions.
Q: Do the Republicans plan to spend $270 billion a year -- House Republicans?
A: We've seen a lot of proposals in terms of alternative budget plans. The Secretary of Defense and the President of the United States have submitted their budget to the Congress. The Secretary has been to the Hill, as you well know, repeatedly in the last few weeks to explain, discuss, and defend that proposal. We think the proposal that we've put forward is the right dollar amount for the right amount of defense, and we continue to try to pursue that.
Q: The Secretaries of Defense -- as far back as we can remember -- always used to say that if they could get some certainty in their budget, it would make their lives a lot easier. Whether the number was as high as they would like it, or not, they would like to have long-term certainty in the amount of the budget.
The House seems to be offering you that kind of certainty. The Pentagon is going to reject a five-year fixed budget, or at least the promise of one?
A: There are advantages and disadvantages to the proposal. There's an obvious disadvantage in that I don't believe it counts inflation into the planning. So I think we need to let this process work its way through. This will obviously be something discussed in the conference. We'll continue to make the case for the budget we think is the right budget, and we'll see how it works out.
Q: Are American aircraft flying in the northern sector of Iraq today? How long will that suspension continue?
A: No. The aircraft in Operation PROVIDE COMFORT are not flying today. They did not fly yesterday. We'll just wait and see what the duration of the activity in Northern Iraq is before we make any decisions.
One of the comments that the President made to Prime Minister Ciller was that he emphasized the importance of the PROVIDE COMFORT mission and that we would like to be able to get on with that as soon as possible. So he did express his desire to see this come quickly to an end.
Q: Is it as cut and dried as saying that Operation PROVIDE COMFORT will not resume until the offensive is over? Until they withdraw from Iraq?
A: I think, obviously, the theater commander there needs to make decisions about to what degree he wants to put his personnel at risk. I think the view at this point is it's simply better to not put those people at risk until this situation is resolved.
Q: What do we know about that operation in that zone? Number of troops, activity, casualties?
A: On the Turkish side? I don't have much, Jack. We've seen probably the same thing you've seen in terms of press reports and some Turkish statements. They're approximately 40 kilometers into Iraq; in the area of 20,000 troops probably or so that are in Iraq. The operation continues. I don't really have a whole lot that I can expand on with that.
Q: Doesn't this operation put the Pentagon in an uncomfortable position when these are the same people that we've been trying to protect from Iraq for a number of years, and now an ally is beating up on them.
A: These are not the same people. I think you need to make a distinction between who the PKK -- the Kurdistan Workers Party -- represents. These are people certainly viewed by Turkey and much of the world as a terrorist organization, and the activity by Turkey is an effort to try and protect their borders and protect their security.
Not all the Kurds in Northern Iraq are PKK elements, but some are. Those are the ones that the efforts by Turkey are being directed at.
Q: Couldn't Saddam Hussein make a similar argument, Dennis, that there are elements in that Kurdish population that would like to overthrow his government and that threaten his government? And wouldn't he then be justified in going after them?
A: Perhaps. But I think the realities of the way that Saddam Hussein's government has conducted itself in terms of human rights and human rights efforts, that would not sustain their argument very well.
Q: Can you tell us of any activity on the part of the Iraqi military to move...
A: There appears to be a rather low level of activity from the Iraqi military.
Q: Can we return to the budget issue for just a second? Senator Grassley is delivering a series of speeches this week. At one point, he said... He refers to financial chaos in the Pentagon. "We have meaningless accounting numbers, we have meaningless budget numbers, and we have meaningless cost estimates. The numbers are not just meaningless, they are also misleading and deceptive."
A: I haven't seen the particular comments from the Senator, but I would say and I think you all will recall -- that John Hamre [DoD Comptroller] has been down here on different occasions discussing with you the problems that we have identified in the financial accounting side of things. There is a significant effort underway by his office to try and correct some of the previous ills that we've seen in the financial accounting system. So I'm not going to stand here and tell you that our financial accounting system is perfect. Nor would I agree completely with the assessment of Senator Grassley on it.
Q: Since you've been flying over Northern Iraq, did you notice any PKK activity in the area because according to the information the Turkish operation is targeting Barzani's forces.
A: I have nothing specific on who they're targeting. I know that we have, again, with the President in his conversation with Prime Minister Ciller... We have expressed our interest in making sure that these efforts steer away from civilian population areas and try to employ safeguards to civilian areas.
Q: Did you notice, since you've been flying over Northern Iraq, that there is PKK activity in the area, that's what my question is?
A: I'm not sure. I'm not aware that there's any PKK activity -- flying. I don't know that there is or isn't.
Q: Will the U.S. use its assets to go in after some of these small villages have been bombed to try to provide humanitarian relief and... The villages that are being attacked do have civilian populations. They may have big PKK signs outside them, I don't know. The last time they went in, the estimate was 18,000 people...
A: Jack, I think we need to wait and see what the final outcome is. There may well be that there will be some need to provide some assistance, but I just don't know that at this point we can make any predictions about what might be required.
Q: Are there any indications that the Iraqis are taking advantage of this to use their own air assets in what would formerly be the no-fly zone?
A: Absolutely not.
Q: Are all U.S. aircraft stood down, or are AWACS flying?
A: I'm not sure if everything is stood down. I know the direct support provided under this PROVIDE COMFORT activity [has stood down]. But whether we're doing other aircraft -- AWACS flying -- I'm not sure.
Q: How would you deal with that if they decide to put aircraft up -- the Iraqis -- in the zone when you're stood down?
A: We have significant capabilities in the region. I'm not suggesting that, by standing down, we are not still vigilant and prepared and watching. Again, we have seen very little activity. There's low levels of military activity in Iraq generally, so we don't view it as a particular issue at this point.
Q: How do you assess the situation since Turkey is violating the no-fly zone according to the UN resolution?
A: Who is violating it?
A: The no-fly zone applies to Iraqi aircraft. [That] is my understanding.
Q: Also on the Secretary's visit to the Middle East -- especially with regard to Iraq -- he said the day before yesterday that Iraq was rebuilding its weapons, its munitions plants. Do you have any comment with regard to what the Iraqi intentions or capabilities might be that he was speaking about? Do we have anybody else that will take in the equipment for a third brigade yet?
A: We've talked often about our view of the threat from both Iraq and Iran. The Secretary, as you well know, is in the Gulf region now talking with allies and GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] partners regarding threats from both of those countries. I can't really go beyond what is being reported that he said.
At this point, though, we have no additional information that I can give you on pre-positioning of the third brigade. That's an issue that we'll continue to look at and work.
Q: In the Gulf region -- the American ships that are there and the oil tankers that float through -- are the American ships assigned to protect them by gentlemen's agreement? By agreement not at all?
A: I'd have to take the question, Todd. I'm not sure what our security arrangements are. I think what we signed up to essentially in the Gulf is to assure that the straits are safe and passable. How far that goes and how we would employ it, I'd have to look into it. I don't know off the top of my head.
Q: Bosnia. Today's Early Bird, an article. Basically the ceasefire has been violated. The Bosnian leaders, the Bosnians who were here last week, went home and the offensive began around Tuzla. The Bosnian forces are taking to the offensive. Fighting has increased around Sarajevo and continues around Bihac. What is the reaction of the Defense Department with regard to this breaking of the truce six weeks before it was due?
A: Obviously we're not pleased to see it. There have been violations of the ceasefire on again and off again since it was begun. That doesn't come as a surprise, although it is a disappointment.
We continue to believe that the best solution, the only solution here for stopping the conflict is a negotiated settlement. We continue to pursue that through the diplomatic efforts of the Contact Group and working with the Security Council. We've made our position known, and we hope that we can reach some accord.
Fighting to a solution here will not do anything. It will not end the war, it will simply increase the killing. I can only encourage all parties to recognize that and come to a settlement.
Q: Are you saying that the Defense Department -- the U.S. Government -- is disappointed that the Bosnian government has permitted this offensive to begin? Would that be a fair statement?
A: No, I don't think it would. I think what I'm saying is that we're disappointed that there's fighting -- be it on one side or the other -- and killing on one side or the other. We would encourage both sides to reach a negotiated settlement.
Press: Thank you.