Mr. Bacon: After Secretary Cohen completes his statement he'll take a question or two, and then Jeff Star is here from the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program and he will brief on background and answer additional questions.
Secretary Cohen: It gives me a great deal of pleasure to announce another successful milestone in our Cooperative Threat Reduction Program.
As a result of an Accord that the United States signed with the Republic of Moldova in June of this year, we recently purchased 21 advanced nuclear capable MiG-29 fighters from Moldova. Over the last two weeks we've been transporting these MiGs in C-17 transport aircraft from Moldova to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. This is a joint effort by both governments to ensure that these dual-use military weapons do not fall into the hands of countries that might use them against us, our friends or allies.
We have credible information that a number of rogue states, including Iran, are attempting to buy available Russian high tech equipment and weapons in the aftermath of the breakup of the Soviet Union. These MiG aircraft were on their shopping list.
This is another growing list of achievements of the Department's Cooperative Threat Reduction Program which was initiated by Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar.
Among these achievements are the denuclearization of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine; the removal from Kazakhstan and the safe storage in the United States of some 600 kilograms of weapons grade highly enriched uranium; and the enhanced security, control, and accounting of nuclear weapons and fissile materials in Russia.
The CTR program has made remarkable progress in reducing, controlling, and eliminating the greatest potential security threat to Americans, and that is the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction from the former Soviet Union.
Leaders in the Republic of Moldova took a visionary approach in this effort. The agreement regarding these MiGs contributes to the enhanced climate of trust in relations between Moldova and the United States, and I want to personally extend my thanks to President Lucinski and Minister of Defense Pasad. Their leadership and cooperation is another positive step in the development of a greatly enhanced relationship between the United States and Moldova.
I also want to thank the Congress for its sustained support for this enormously important program of the Cooperative Threat Reduction in general, and to this MiG operation specifically. We look forward to working closely with Congress in many other projects to reduce the threat of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
With that, I'll entertain your questions.
Q: Mr. Secretary, could you tell us, are these the first MiG-29s that the U.S. will obtain? And are they C models?
A: The model I think Jeff would tell you. The answer is yes, these are the first that we have obtained.
Q: What are the consequences if this sort of plane did get into the inventory of the Iranians?
A: Well, as you know, Iran is seeking to develop weapons of mass destruction. They have programs seeking to develop chemical, biological, and have been seeking to develop a nuclear capability. So to have this kind of aircraft with a nuclear capability of deploying a weapon of mass destruction, it seems to me it's in our overall interest to see to it that it doesn't fall into their hands if we can prevent it if at all possible.
Q: How much are we paying for these?
A: The agreement was that we would not disclose the cost of the aircraft. That was part of the agreement that we did strike with the government. Nonetheless, we are going to be in a position to assist Moldova with humanitarian assistance and also with EDA equipment, as such -- Excess Defense Articles -- because of their participation in the PfP program. But the agreement did call for us to not disclose the price for them. I can assure you, it was quite reasonable.
Q: Do you know what we're going to do with them?
A: We're taking them out of the hands of those who otherwise might acquire them, for openers. Number two, we will obviously study the capability of the aircraft for our own national security purposes, because these aircraft may very well fall into, this type of aircraft could very well end up in the hands of other rogue nations.
Q: Have you and General Shelton talked to the President about Iraq today?
Q: Do you plan on any discussions at the White House?
A: There will be discussion this afternoon with a number of congressional leaders. I will have an opportunity, I think, prior to that to meet with the President on other matters. But this issue of Iraq, obviously, is very much on the mind of the President, on all of the national security team, and we will continue to follow it on a day-by-day basis.
Q: Have you advised the Russians of this purchase? Has there been any concern on their part that we're inspecting the weapons?
A: The Russians had prior notification. They knew about the acquisition of the MiGs.
Q: The Russians are still making MiG-29s, and they're still marketing them. How does this take the MiG-29 off the international market?
A: We are still conducting our own CTR programs with the Russians directly. This is with a separate country, of course. So we will still continue to deal with the CTR program with the Russians on a variety of programs. But obviously, they can continue to manufacture their aircraft as we continue to manufacture ours. Our goal is to take this aircraft out of the hands of potentially rogue nations, from countries that otherwise might be inclined to sell them for their value.
Q: How many other nuclear-capable MiG-29s are in the inventory of the former Soviet states? Isn't this a potentially large pool of aircraft we might eventually have to buy down the road?
A: I can't give you right now... Perhaps on background you can get that information, but I don't have that figure right now.
Q: Had the Iranians actually approached the government of Moldova to buy these...
A: Our understanding is that such an approach was made. It was on their shopping list. And we are very happy to have them in our hands rather than the Iranians'.
Q: Any other countries besides Iran?
A: I think you can get that on background.
Q: Had the Iranis made a cash offer? Do you know how much they were willing to pay?
A: I don't have any idea how much they were willing to pay.
Q: Did Moldova come to us or did we find out about it and then approach them with a counter-offer?
A: I think you'll get that in a subsequent briefing?
Q: What is the U.S. going to do with these MiG fighters?
A: We're going to study them. We're going to analyze them. I'm sure the Air Force may come up with some utilitarian use of them.
Q: You said they came over on C-17s. Can they be flown? Will our pilots...
A: They had to be partially dismantled in order to fly them here. Obviously, one can reestablish their capability. But our purpose is not to do that, but rather to make an analysis of the capabilities, to study what kind of technology is involved so that we can, should we ever in the future have to come into contact with another country having this capability, would know what protections we would need and how to counter some of their capability.
Q: When you said this was the first such purchase, you meant of the C models? The United States has other MiG-29s.
Q: You said the Russians were notified ahead. Did they object at all to the transaction?
A: Not to my knowledge. I don't have any information. They were aware of it. I believe they were aware that the Moldovan government wanted to sell and dispose of the MiGs. Obviously, it may have been an economical decision on their part, that they have plenty of their own and didn't want to acquire other inventory at this time.
Q: Can you say if the Iranians are seeking other aircraft of this type from other sources at this time? Do we know that?
A: I think that's a fair assumption. They are seeking to acquire a capability of delivering weapons of mass destruction. This is one avenue of doing it. There will be others that they will pursue.
Q: If that U-2 pilot flies, aren't you putting him in harm's way?
A: We have pilots who fly in harm's way every day. Whenever our aircraft are flying over Northern Watch or Southern Watch, they're certainly in harm's way.
We believe that this mission will be carried out safely. That is the purpose of the UN team that is traveling to Iraq, to impress upon the Iraqis the importance of maintaining the security of those who are engaged in inspecting Iraq's programs, and so we would expect that they would abide by their prior pledge, and we would hope they would not take what we would see as a very dangerous step to in any way threaten this aircraft.
Q: Has any Iraqi troop movement that you've been briefed on caused you any concern?
A: I really don't care to comment on any operational or intelligence matters.
Q: Have you given the President a recommendation on whether or not he should veto the Defense Authorization Bill?
A: Whatever recommendations I have given to the President remain a matter between me and the President.
Mr. Bacon: We've got now a background briefer who can walk you through how we got into this.
Q: Mr. Secretary, just one item of late news. Out of Baghdad we've heard that the government in Iraq has agreed to postpone any expulsion of American inspectors until after this mission arrives. Have you heard about that and do you have any reaction? Is that a positive development?
A: We always turn to you, Jamie, to get the latest... (Laughter) You're the first that has disclosed that to me.
Press: Thank you very much.