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

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
November 06, 1997 2:20 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Welcome to our third event of the day.

I don't have any special graphics for you.

I'd like to start by welcoming some visitors. We have a lieutenant colonel here from Slovakia and two gentlemen from Albania who are here as part of a USIA sponsored visitor program. Welcome.

Second, I'd like to announce what most of you already know, that on Wednesday Secretary Cohen will be leaving for a 12-day trip to Asia that will take him to the Republic of Korea, China, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Japan between November 12th and November 23rd. Tomorrow in this room at 11:00 a.m., we will have a background briefing on the trip that will lay out not only a more precise itinerary, but talk to you about some of the themes of the trip as well.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: Do you expect -- without letting too much out of the bag -- when he's in China, that Secretary Cohen will come to any agreements on further military-to-military relations with the Chinese? Is that expected?

A: Four military-to-military agreements were discussed in Washington when President Jiang was here with President Clinton, and also Secretary Cohen met privately with President Jiang to follow up on some of these discussions.

During that summit meeting we came to a general agreement on the maritime rules of the road agreement, and that will be formally signed in China. And we hope to move closer together on some of the details of the other topics we discussed here last week. One of those deals with humanitarian relief and disaster assistance, how China and the U.S. can work together in those areas. We also have a schedule of exchanges for next year, 1998 military-to-military exchanges. I think that will be formalized.

So I would anticipate more work on these agreements, finalization of these agreements. I don't anticipate there will be other new agreements at this time, but that's something that will certainly come up tomorrow if you want to pursue it further.

Q: The Secretary this morning spoke of the possibility of both a potential for economic steps against Iraq, all but held out the option of military. On the economic side, what leverage does the UN have? Is it possible he's speaking of removing the "Oil for Food" program? What..

A: First of all, it's a decision for the UN to make, but clearly, the Oil for Food program was allowed recently by the UN and presumably it could be disallowed by the UN, but that's a decision that the Security Council will have to make.

When the current delegation comes back from Iraq and Iraqi officials speak to the UN on Monday, then the Security Council will sit down and look at all the facts. Obviously the most important fact is going to be whether Iraq has shown any sign that it intends to comply with the UN Security Council resolutions. After it looks at all the facts based on the visit and other information they can gather -- the behavior of the Iraqi officials in Iraq, whether they've ended the cavalier treatment that they're inflicting on the UNSCOM team now, they'll decide what to do next.

Q: Has the final decision been made on whether or not the NIMITZ will make its previously scheduled port call? And what, if any, message should Saddam Hussein draw from that regarding whether the possibility or probability of military action?

A: First of all, the NIMITZ had a planned port call in its long range schedule. That port call was scheduled for this weekend, and it has been delayed. Changes in operations take place from time to time. I don't think we're trying to send any signal right now to Saddam Hussein except he ought to comply with the UN mandates. It's the UN that is sending that signal through its team in Iraq and also through the statements that are coming out of New York.

Q: Doesn't this show that the United States wants to maintain the maximum fire power around Iraq at this time?

A: We have a significant force in the Gulf. As you know, about 18,000 people are there now -- 17 ships, I believe; about 205 combat airplanes. It's a significant force. It's a ready force. Saddam Hussein knows that. It's been operating in the Gulf for a good number of years.

Q: The taking away of UN sight by threatening the U-2 flights, by taking the cameras out, by basically trying to get the U.S. out of it, to what avail does this... What does this profit Mr. Saddam Hussein? And can the U.S. or UN cover the bases insofar as possible movements or tampering by Iraq of weapon sites?

A: I'm sorry. What was the second part of the question?

Q: The second part is can the U.S. or the UN... Is there a vision for finding other ways to see what he's doing?

A: I think it's pretty clear what Saddam Hussein is up to. He is trying to make it difficult or impossible for the UN to do its work. He's trying to make it impossible for the UN to enforce the Security Council resolutions that have been passed since the 1991 war.

The world is unified in the feeling, or the world as expressed through the UN, is unified in the feeling that it will be dangerous to stability in the region if Saddam Hussein rekindles his programs to build weapons of mass destruction.

We believe that most of the nuclear weapons infrastructure, the machinery to build nuclear weapons that he was trying to put together, has been dismantled and eliminated. UN organizations have checked that, the IAEA. That's their conclusion.

UNSCOM, the UN Special Commission, has been looking at three other areas -- missiles, chemical weapons, and biological weapons -- and has concluded it has accounted for the overwhelming percentage of Iraq's imported SCUD missiles. UNSCOM believes that it knows what that capability is and that it has been taken care of.

There is some evidence that Iraq is trying to maintain the ability to start up an indigenous SCUD production line should sanctions be lifted and it's able to acquire machinery, equipment and parts on the world market, which of course it isn't now. So these sanctions are valuable in that they do prevent Iraq from developing its weapons of mass destruction programs, the UN sanctions.

In terms of chemical weapons, UNSCOM believes that Iraq probably has, may have a very small stockpile of chemical agents or munitions or production facilities left over from the Gulf War. You know that Iraq has used chemical weapons in the past, and we have to assume would be willing under certain circumstances to use them in the future.

Iraq may have an indigenous capability to manufacture some nerve gas, some gasses such as mustard, maybe sarin. This could start up if there weren't proper monitoring of Iraq's production facilities. A lot of the facilities are dual-use facilities now.

In the biological area, before the war Iraq produced huge quantities of botulinum toxin as well as anthrax. They claim to have loaded these toxins onto SCUD missiles and into bombs before the war. They have also admitted conducting research on microtoxins and infectious viruses after the war. They admitted this after the war. They claimed two years ago to have destroyed all of these agents from the Gulf War, but have not yet produced any evidence to back up this claim. One of the things that UNSCOM is trying to do is to look at the scope of their biological weapons capability. That, again, is one of the things that's being blocked by the obstructionist approach that Iraq is taking now.

So this is serious business.

Q: How impacted is the UN's mission to monitor by not having inspectors, 24-hour cameras, and U-2 flights?

A: It is badly impacted. It's a real setback to the forces in the world community that want to prevent Iraq from developing new weapons of mass destruction, or who want to follow through with full compliance to the UN mandates that they eliminate all of their weapons of mass destruction capability. We cannot be certain without the types of inspections and other monitoring that UNSCOM has been doing very diligently until now.

Q: Can I ask two questions on news reports out of Turkey? There was one that said that, according to a Turkish government official, said the U.S. has requested the use of Incirlik to stage possible air raids if that should be approved. Can you comment on that?

A: I don't believe that's true.

Q: The other one was, news reports quoted unnamed U.S. officials as saying that ten more fighter aircraft have been moved to Incirlik, but not in response to the Iraq situation.

A: That's not entirely true either, but let me explain what's happened there, because something has happened.

Back in October when Iraq started violating the southern and the northern no-fly zones, we, in the south, changed our operations to fly further north inside the no-fly zone. We started flying more robust patrols as part of Southern Watch. And of course the NIMITZ arrived in the area. So we heavied up our patrols and our operations in the area.

In response to that, Iraq ceased violations in the southern no-fly zone.

In the northern no-fly zone we have a more restrained operation because there are fewer numbers of U.S. planes up in the north and the flights are made by the U.S. in rotation with Turkish operations so there's a deconfliction and we don't fly every day and when we do fly we are not in the so-called box, the no-fly zone, from dawn to dusk as we are now in the south. One of the things we started doing in the south in early October, was flying pretty much from dawn to dusk.

Now the Iraqi air force is largely a daylight air force. We can fly 24-hours-a- day. It does not pay us to do that because the Iraqi air force largely flies only during daylight hours.

One of the things we started looking at in the north was how can we achieve a more robust operation in the north similar to what we've done in the south? One of the things we've done is to add some additional fighters, F-16s. Four additional fighters have recently arrived. They're flying out of Incirlik. One additional tanker has also arrived to support them.

So our hope is that we'll be able to spend more time flying in the northern no-fly zone in order to make our patrols more thorough.

This has nothing to do with the current dispute between Iraq and the UN. This plan was made prior to this dispute over inspections. It just, it took us awhile to get the planes there, but it is really a separate issue from the dispute between the UN and Iraq.

Q: Do you happen to know if, were they deployed out of Europe, those additional aircraft? Do you know?

A: Out of Europe.

Q: To follow-up on the aircraft carrier. There was a port call by the GEORGE WASHINGTON in the Med. Did that go according to schedule? Continue? Any changes there?

A: It is currently in port in Haifa. That port call is scheduled to end in several days. The USS GEORGE WASHINGTON is scheduled to return to operations in the Central Mediterranean Sea.

Q: Just to clarify the question about permission to use Incirlik for possible offensive strikes. You're saying that no such request was made?

A: That's my understanding.

Q: Was the Turkish Prime Minister mistaken then, when he was quoted as saying that they had received such a request?

A: I will check further on this. It's my understanding, based on what I was told, that there has not been such a request.

Q: Richard Butler up at the UN said that he has requested a Monday U-2 flight. Have you begun any of your notification process or planning for such a mission?

A: I'm not aware that we have, but that doesn't mean we haven't. I just haven't checked on that. I know the President said two days ago that we plan to resume flights, so I have to assume that we'll take all steps necessary to do that.

As you know, or maybe you don't, but the fact is that when we notify, when UNSCOM notifies Iraq that a U-2 is going to fly over central Iraq, it gives them a 48-hour window, so there's some flexibility as to when the plane actually flies.

Q: The U.S. said the United States can protect that plane in case it is, in case Saddam follows through on his threat?

A: I'm confident that these planes are well suited to... They have all the latest technology that they can have to protect themselves.

Q: Can the U-2 work, photograph at an altitude that is above range of surface-to-air capability?

A: Of course there are all types of surface-to-air missiles. Some can go higher than the U-2. Most go lower than the U-2 flies.

Q: I don't know what Iraq has.

A: Without getting into operational details, one can never be certain when it comes to military operations, but what we try to do is reduce risk as much as possible. That's how we've designed the U-2.

Q: Would there be any sort of extra protection for the plane in terms of...

A: I don't think it profits me to talk about future operations.

Q: With that in mind, can you say if any extra measures will be taken to ensure the safety of planes?

A: I've tried to tell you that the plane has the latest technology for self protection, and I think I'll leave it at that.

Q: Given the threat, are you rethinking the notification of Iraq?

A: Of course this is done under arrangements worked out between the UN and Iraq. Actually the notification is designed to protect the plane in order to let them know when it's okay for a plane to fly over their territory, when they can expect a plane to fly over. So I think the notification is the self-protective measure, to a large extent.

Q: That may have been before they threatened to start shooting them down. Now given that threat, you're going to tell them when a U-2 is going to fly over the country?

A: As I said, it's a window. This is not the type of operational detail I want to talk about. But I'm not aware that there has been any thought by the UN, but you should ask them, to changing the negotiation procedures.

Q: Regarding Jamie's earlier question on the NIMITZ, you said you weren't trying to send any special message to Iraq. You're not saying that this delay is not connected to the current situation, are you?

A: The Commander-in-Chief of the Central Command, General Zinni, like any CINC, always has to evaluate the deployment of his assets in light of current situations. The NIMITZ has been steaming around in the Gulf for about a month. It will continue to be in the Gulf along with a number of other U.S. ships for the next several months.

I'm not reading a lot into this. If you or other people want to draw conclusions, you're free to do that. I'm not going to characterize it in any way.

Q: Is this in light of the current situation or not?

A: I'm saying that he didn't think it was appropriate at this time for the USS NIMITZ to make a port call, and I don't choose to say anything more about General Zinni's decision.

Q: Have any other ships scheduled been affected, any other Tomahawk shooters being sortied into the Gulf, into General Zinni's command?

A: We have, I don't believe, directed any new assets recently into the Gulf. We have maintained a substantial naval presence in the Gulf with a considerable range of capabilities on a day-to-day basis.

Q: Can you clarify, on the U-2 flight, are you confirming that in fact there was a U-2 flight scheduled for Monday?

A: I'm not confirming it. I'm telling you that there's a notification procedure that sets...

The question I was asked referred to a statement by Mr. Butler. I responded by talking about a notification procedure and something the President has said. I don't think I repeated the idea that the flight was going to occur on Monday.

Q: I just wanted to clarify that...

A: I'm glad you did. I thought that had been sufficient opaque to sort of wipe out clarity in this case, but you've helped me clarify the opacity of the statement.

Q: Can you describe for us any military actions on the ground in observing Iraqi forces in any way? Are they doing anything unusual during this period? Like dispersing...

A: We have some evidence of dispersal by some Iraqi units in the last few days.

Q: What does that mean to the Defense Department? Does that mean they're getting ready to go to war and do a big strike? Does that mean they're anticipating...

A: There's always debate over how to evaluate movements by foreign troops, but I think most analysts would say that dispersing is a defensive measure.

Q: Are we talking ground forces here? Are we talking about them hiding parts of their air force in different parts of the country?

A: Primarily ground forces, but it's applied to other forces as well.

Q: Have they painted any U.S. aircraft or done anything like that with their ground-based radars?

A: Not that I'm aware of.

Q: Have any units beyond the ones that are in the region already been put on alert or told to stand by for possible...

A: Not that I'm aware of.

Q: Could you go further into the dispersal of forces?

A: No.

Q: Would you call these large numbers of troops?

A: I think I've said enough.

Q: Iraq said that dispersal is because it's preparing for an attack by the United States. Is the United States preparing to attack?

A: Gee, Jamie, I would really like to be able to give you details on future plans, but I just don't think I'll do it today. [Laughter]

This is a diplomatic dispute between Iraq and the UN, and we're trying to solve this as a member of the Security Council, diplomatically. We think that Saddam's actions make it very clear to the world that he is not interested in playing by the rules of the road. We think it makes it very clear to the world that he wants to increase tensions when the rest of the world wants to decrease tensions. We hope he will listen to the UN team that's currently over there talking to them about the need to comply with UN resolutions.

Q: On the Floor of the Senate, Senator Thurmond evidently said today that there seems to be an agreement that the President will not veto the defense bill. Has Secretary Cohen given the Senator some assurance that there's an agreement worked out on the depot issue, for example?

A: The Secretary talks to Senators on a regular basis, and what he's been telling them is that the President and the Administration continue to look at the bill, study the bill, and we're, as an Administration, continuing efforts to get a bill that will satisfy the Administration. I think we're still trying to work to get the best possible bill

Q: It isn't entirely satisfactory yet, is what you're saying?

A: No bill is 100-percent satisfactory. That's part of the democratic system. They're all built on compromises. This one could be characterized as containing some compromises. The question is, are the compromises the best possible compromises for the country and do they advance the Administration's goals? The Administration is still looking at that.

Q: ...whether it's acceptable.

A: No, as I said, no decision has been made on that yet.

Q: Back to China for a second. Are you saying there's no agreement to sign a military technical cooperation agreement? One of those four, like the old [Peace Pearl] program where we helped them modernize fighter aircraft and...

A: I'm saying there is no such agreement. That was not brought up during the summit, to the best of my knowledge, and I don't believe it will discussed during Secretary Cohen's visit, either.

Q: Back to the authorization bill. Has there been any kind of written exchange, anything the Secretary may have sent to Senator Thurmond indicating what the Administration would find acceptable?

A: I don't know exactly what Senator Thurmond said. I think that the Secretary and Senator Thurmond and the White House are all united in hoping that we can get a bill everybody can agree to. But I think I'll just leave it at that. The bill is still under consideration.

Q: You were quoted in the Post today as saying that Secretary Cohen now believes that U.S. troops will have to stay in Bosnia after June of '98. Were you accurately quoted?

A: I think the Secretary spoke very clearly on that earlier today when he talked about what's going on, and that is there is a developing consensus that there will be a continuing international military presence in Bosnia after June of 1998 to build on the progress that we've achieved in the last 23-24 months. The President has not yet decided what form the U.S. participation will take, and he's begun active consultations with Congress and with the allies to reach that decision, but there has been no decision on the President's part yet.

Q: Just one more briefly, on the hearing yesterday with General Lyles and Curt Weldon. Mr. Weldon says there's a window of vulnerability in Israel for their missile defense, and also probably would be applied to Korea. There was also an unfortunate exchange, Ken. Can you respond to the window of vulnerability? Not having an anti-missile defense and Iran coming on strong with a missile offense.

A: First of all, we do have missile defense systems. The issue is what are we going to develop in the future to improve our missile defenses and how quickly can we do that? We have a fairly aggressive program to improve our theater missile defenses, precisely because we're worried about development programs in countries such as Iran. Unfortunately, some of these programs basically involve developing technology where one bullet hits another bullet, both of which are going at extremely fast rates of speed. It's a daunting technological challenge. We've had some problems in the THAAD program, the Theater High Altitude program that's being worked on now.

We continue to work on that and hope that we have considerable experience in solving difficult technological problems. One of the things we've learned from that experience is they sometimes take time and they take money. We're spending the money, and we're spending it as rapidly as we think we effectively can at this stage without wasting it.

In terms of the threat, we do know that Iran is working aggressively to develop longer range missiles. We are very concerned about this. We've made our concerns clear. We've discussed this with a number of other countries including Russia and China and our European allies. We certainly discussed it during the recent visit here by Defense Minister Mordechai of Israel. Secretary Cohen and Minister Mordechai discussed it. And we are continuing to work basically on two tracks to deal with these emerging potential threats.

The first is to develop more robust theater ballistic missile defense systems. The second is to try to slow down or stop rogue countries such as Iran from increasing their ballistic missile capability.

Q: Was Weldon correct in quoting an intelligence report that said Iran could field one of these missiles capable of striking anywhere in the Gulf within the next 24 months?

A: I don't feel comfortable about discussing intelligence reports even if they've been discussed by members of Congress.

Q: He said, basically... I think both he and the General agreed that two months ago they learned of this increased threat by Iran of a medium range missile. Does that ring a bell?

A: We are aware that Iran is working on programs to develop longer range missiles and we're doing our best to try to slow or halt those questions.

Q: One last question on Iraq. You say there's some evidence of troops dispersion. Has there also been evidence of heightened activity around their missile batteries and sites?

A: First of all, Iraq itself has said that they're dispersing troops. So that's one piece of evidence we have is Iraq's own statement about what they're doing with their own military. Frequently... Let me just talk about patterns, past patterns.

In the past when Iraq has dispersed its forces because it is fearful of some action against it, it's dispersed more than its ground forces. It's dispersed its missile forces as well. It tends to move them around on a fairly regular basis. It's surface-to-air missile sites are sometimes moved around.

Q: Doesn't the United States share or at least have the capability of sharing with the UN, satellite data that would preclude the effectiveness of what Saddam has done about taking the eyes away, the sight away from the UN?

A: We certainly watch very closely what UNSCOM picks up in its efforts, and I don't think there's any replacement for on-the-ground inspections that allows the UN and the civilized world interested in stopping the growth of weapons of mass destruction. There's no substitute for actually getting into buildings where they may be actually working on biological or chemical warfare projects. You can do a lot with airplanes and you can do a lot with cameras, but you need real eyeball-to-eyeball studies in some cases, and that's why it's absolutely crucial that the UNSCOM inspectors be allowed to continue with their work.

Press: Thank you.