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DoD News Briefing: Secretary Cohen

Presenter: Secretary Cohen
November 14, 1997

Secretary Cohen: Good afternoon.

Earlier today I signed an order instructing the aircraft carrier, the USS GEORGE WASHINGTON, to move from the Mediterranean Sea to the Arabian Gulf.

The United States is committed to achieving a diplomatic solution to the current standoff between Iraq and the United Nations. Iraq is refusing to comply with the UN resolutions that it allow inspections of its facilities to build weapons of mass destruction, including deadly nerve gas and biological toxins.

As President Clinton explained several hours ago, UN inspectors have been responsible for reducing Iraq's stockpiles of chemical and biological agents as well as his facilities to build much more. However, Iraq's decision to bar inspectors suggests that Iraq is determined to rebuild or expand its capacity to manufacture weapons of mass destruction.

Moving the USS GEORGE WASHINGTON is a precautionary measure. It will help ensure that we have adequate forces in the region to respond to any contingency as the international community works to make it clear that Iraq must adhere to the UN resolutions.

We maintain a substantial military presence in the Gulf on a day-to-day basis. There are currently some 18,500 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in the area. Their mission is to prevent a new outbreak of Iraqi aggression, and they perform this difficult mission extraordinarily well.

The presence of the USS GEORGE WASHINGTON gives our commanders more flexibility. The reinforcement will also give our commanders the opportunity to vary the operating tempo of the forces that are already in the region.

The 50 combat airplanes on the USS GEORGE WASHINGTON will augment approximately the 200 aircraft that we have in the area already.

The USS GEORGE WASHINGTON will also be accompanied by a submarine, the USS ANNAPOLIS; a cruiser, the USS NORMANDY; a destroyer, the USS CARNEY; and a replenishment ship, USS SEATTLE. We expect these ships to be in the Gulf in approximately a week.

I'd like to stress that the diplomatic efforts are going to continue to try to end this standoff. If Iraq agrees to obey the unanimous UN Security Council Resolution, the standoff would end immediately.

I will yield to General Shelton for a comment.

A: General Shelton: Thank you, Secretary Cohen, ladies and gentlemen.

First, to echo on what Secretary Cohen has said, I want to emphasize that we're all very hopeful that a diplomatic solution can be reached; that Saddam Hussein will realize that his policies of refusing to comply with the UN sanctions and the weapons inspection programs are bringing continued hardships -- hardships to the Iraqi people, while at the same time they're strengthening the resolve and the unity of the international community.

Weapons of mass destruction -- and by this I mean the deadly nerve gasses and the contagious diseases -- are a serious threat not only to the countries of the region, but to U.S. and coalition forces serving there today, and who likely will be there for some time to come given the U.S. national interests in the region.

Sending the GEORGE WASHINGTON and other Navy ships to the region is a prudent measure to demonstrate how seriously the U.S. takes both this challenge to the authority of the UN and also the continued pursuit of these dangerous weapons by the Iraqi government.

While we have a robust force already in the region, as Secretary Cohen has outlined, it is prudent to take some additional measures in light of the rhetoric, the threats, and the intransigence of the Iraqi regime.

Thank you.

Q: Mr. Secretary do some of those other steps include trying to place additional U.S. aircraft in Saudi Arabia and other countries? And if so, how far along are you as far as reaching some sort of agreement with those countries?

A: Secretary Cohen: We're reviewing all sorts of options that would allow us to have a very robust and flexible military capability. This deployment of the USS GEORGE WASHINGTON is simply one measure that we've undertaken. There may be others in the future.

Q: Mr. Secretary, are you looking specifically at perhaps the F-117s and an Air Expeditionary Force? And also could you say, what is it specifically about the GEORGE WASHINGTON and its ships that you feel is needed to add to the firepower in the Gulf?

A: Secretary Cohen: We're looking at a whole range of possibilities. We have not made a firm decision on any other than what I've announced today.

The USS GEORGE WASHINGTON will complement the NIMITZ. It will have, obviously, a carrier; it will also have a number of ships that will accompany it including submarines, including frigates, including destroyers; so it will add considerably to the firepower capability. But as I mentioned before, it also gives the commanders some flexibility as far as altering the operational tempo which has been quite high. So it will give them a good deal more flexibility in addition to the firepower, if it should become necessary.

But I want to repeat, we're trying to avoid that situation. We hope it will be solved diplomatically, but in the event that it is not, then we need to have the additional capability and flexibility.

Q: Does moving up the carrier mean, though, that you're not getting approval from nations in the region to launch potential attacks or even base aircraft...

A: Secretary Cohen: No, there should be no implication from that whatsoever.

Q: This is totally different from what we witnessed during the Persian Gulf War. We're not talking about getting somebody out of a country where he didn't belong; we're talking about weapons of mass destruction. You expressed concern about the nerve gasses that may be being produced.

As each day goes on, obviously, he has a chance to keep working in that direction. How long can a diplomatic effort be allowed to continue before serious concerns about what he has are taken care of?

A: Secretary Cohen: I think we have to exercise some caution here. Obviously each day that goes by gives him an opportunity to reconstitute the capability that we discovered after the war in the Gulf, back in the '90, '91 time frame. We found, for example, that he was developing the nerve agent VX. That started back in 1985. It continued without interruption up until December of 1990. That he has produced large amounts of precursors, sufficient to produce as much as 400 tons of VX per year. He was developing that capability.

We found, after his son-in-law had defected, for example, and disclosed that Saddam Hussein had concealed a number of biological/chemical weapons capabilities to us, that the inspectors on the ground had not discovered because they had been concealed. So we have to keep in mind that while quite a bit of his chemical and biological weaponry had been destroyed as a result of UNSCOM inspections, he has the indigenous capability to reconstitute that.

Over a period of time, and it varies depending upon what gas you're talking about, what nerve agent, what chemical weapon, it varies depending upon how long it would take him to reconstitute it. It would be difficult in a matter of days, but as days turn into weeks or weeks into months then obviously that gives him a much more robust capability.

We are seeking to resolve this as soon as it can be resolved diplomatically, but obviously we have to take this on a day-by-day basis.

Q: A question for General Shelton. General, if diplomatic efforts fail and it comes to a military option, are you confident that you have some sort of military option that can compel compliance on the part of Saddam Hussein?

A: General Shelton: First of all, Jamie, let me say that I'm delighted that you all are focusing on the crux of the problem, and the crux of the problem being weapons of mass destruction. This is not designed to be us against him. It is designed to get compliance with the resolution to stop the manufacturing, the production of these weapons of mass destruction, the proliferation, the delivery means, etcetera.

We were looking at a wide range of options, the extent of which I can't discuss here for operational reasons. But we're confident that we have the capability to carry out whatever we're asked to do in the region.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I'd like to follow that up and get your view of that. Clearly, sending a second carrier is increasing the pressure on Saddam that this is a serious effort. Do you believe that force, basically bombing Saddam into submission, will change his behavior and get him to allow inspections?

A: Secretary Cohen: Our purpose is not to bomb him into behavior modification, as such, but rather to seek to coerce compliance. That, as General Shelton has just mentioned, is our ultimate goal. What our goal is, is to allow the UN inspectors to go back on the ground.

We can, in fact, detect considerable things from space and from our U-2 flights in terms of monitoring what activities are, to make sure they are in compliance, but they can't see through the rooftops, so inspectors on the ground are ultimately what we want to get back in place. We are going to insist that that take place and insist upon compliance.

So bombing is an option that certainly... It's an option if he were ever to attack one of our aircraft, the U-2, that could invite a rather prompt response and it would be military in nature, but we haven't ruled anything else out beyond that. So we're not looking to bomb anyone back into either a stone age or into any sort of submission, but we're seeking to emphasize the fact that we expect compliance with these resolutions.

Q: How complex does it make it for you that in village after village Saddam Hussein now has people sleeping near some of the strategic sites -- sleeping near the factories, near the air defense facilities, near some of the missile batteries?

A: Secretary Cohen: Hopefully they won't be sleeping too near where they're manufacturing sarin gas and VX and other types of poisons.

Q: Mr. Secretary, will military action wait until the GW is in the Gulf, or are your options open even before that?

A: Secretary Cohen: We are not setting any deadlines. This is something we're seeking to achieve diplomatically. We have a robust capability as it is, and we've indicated that the U-2 flights should go forward, as the President indicated before. Now more than ever we need the U-2 flights to at least try to monitor what activities are taking place on the ground since the UN is no longer on the ground, but there is no deadline, there should not be any countdown. This should be taken in the context of building international community support for forcing Saddam Hussein to comply with that.

Let me come back to John McWethy's question because I want to take it seriously and not give you any kind of a non-serious answer.

We are always concerned about impacts upon innocent people. We've always taken that into account and we always will. We're also concerned about risks to our own pilots and to our servicemen and women. That is all part of a calculation of analysis of risk. So there is not a day or a moment that goes by that the military officials who look at these matters don't take those kind of factors into account. Beyond that, obviously it would not serve anyone's purpose to say what is focused upon and what is not.

My point only was this -- that I hope he doesn't invite his citizens, for whom he's shown very little concern, I might add, into facilities that could possibly injure them while they're there, without any activity on the part of the United States.

Q: If he paints the U-2, I'm under the impression that we're going to do more than just attack the radar sites. We've got a big reply aimed toward Baghdad if he interferes with that U-2 flight? Is that correct?

And two, will U.S. Air Force planes in Saudi Arabia be able to participate in that reply?

A: Secretary Cohen: We have indicated through a variety of channels that should Saddam Hussein threaten to attack the aircraft or attack the aircraft that it will be met with a rather prompt response. We would not and do not intend and have no intention of going beyond such a statement.

Q: How about Saudi-based Air Force planes? Will they be able to participate in any reply?

A: Secretary Cohen: We expect to have the support of our allies in such a mission.

Q: How can you hope to coerce compliance through the use of airpower when the four star Army general beside you will tell you the airpower in DESERT STORM didn't coerce compliance. It took a ground campaign to do it.

A: Secretary Cohen: Saddam Hussein may recalculate. He has been, perhaps, a master of deception in the past, but a master of miscalculation as well. Perhaps he will recalculate and find that the international community is solidly on the side of insisting upon compliance. Hopefully that will be the message that will come out of a unified confirmation of what he has done and the resolve that the United States and its allies is now showing.

Q: Mr. Secretary, your decision today to boost the forces in the region, is that in any way a direct result of some new intelligence, some new information that Saddam may be planning something?

A: Secretary Cohen: This is simply, as we've indicated, a prudent measure taken to give a greater capability and greater flexibility. Nothing beyond that.

Q: Can you just say -- without disclosing the time of the U-2 flight -- can you just tell us if it's still planned to go as scheduled? There was some speculation that it might be canceled?

A: Secretary Cohen: It's my understanding that the flight is still scheduled to fly and should fly.

Q: Do we actually need U-2s? Don't we have other national technical means that can perform adequate...

A: Secretary Cohen: The U-2 gives the UN specific capabilities that other assets do not. It's complementary, much as you combine other assets -- U-2, on the ground inspectors in the form of UNSCOM inspectors. So it's a combination of things that give us the assurance as reasonable as we can be assured, that these activities are not taking place.

Q: Have you accepted the resignation of Ms. Lister, and what's your reaction to this row between the Army and the Marine Corps?

A: Secretary Cohen: Her resignation was submitted, accepted, and I think the matter is over.

Q: Was it asked for?

A: Secretary Cohen: She submitted it, I believe, voluntarily.

Q: Mr. Secretary, a jury has apparently come back with a recommendation for a death penalty for Mir Aimal Kasi. I'm just wondering what your reaction is here at the Pentagon?

A: Secretary Cohen: I'm sorry, what was your question?

Q: The jury has apparently come back with the recommendation that Mir Aimal Kasi receive the death penalty. I'm just wondering what your reaction is.

A: Secretary Cohen: I don't have any reaction to that.

Q: Are we going to move any ground troops into the region as a result of this crisis?

A: Secretary Cohen: We have, as I indicated before, almost 18,500 forces in the region. We think that plus what we're adding will be sufficient for the time being.

Q: Have any ground forces in the United States been placed on alert for possible transport over?

A: Secretary Cohen: That's not something I'd care to comment on.

A: General Shelton: Our first-to-deploy forces maintain a very high state of readiness at all times, and therefore, additional alerting at this time would not be necessary.

Press: Thank you.

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