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DoD News Briefing, Thursday, June 4, 1998

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
June 04, 1998 2:10 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Welcome to our briefing.

Let me start with several announcements. First, I'd like to welcome eight visiting journalists from the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland who are here as part of a United States Information Service program. They'll be here for two weeks. Welcome.

Second, I'd like to remind you of the fact that Secretary Cohen and Deputy Secretary Hamre will be at the Defense Logistics Agency Headquarters at Fort Belvoir tomorrow at 10:00 to open the Joint Electronic Commerce Program Office. Dr. Hamre will take some questions afterwards if you have anything to ask him about the Joint Electronic program office.

[On Monday, June 8] Prior to that, Secretary Cohen is going to appear at the Chamber of Commerce in downtown Washington on Lafayette Square as part of the ceremonies in honor of the employers' pledge for support of the National Guard and Reserve. That will be at 8 a.m., and that will be open to the press, although I don't think he's planning to take any questions.

We were going to, because of your interest in both these topics, Charlie, we're going to attempt to pipe these events back to the Pentagon so...

Q: To my house?

A: Directly to your house? [Laughter] Maybe there's some way you can call up and get a telephone feed...

This is an interesting human interest story coming up here. Tomorrow afternoon at 6:00 at the Navy Memorial, Secretary Dalton will announce the winner of a nationwide "name that ship" contest involving schools around the country. They invited students around the country to suggest names for a new oceanographic survey ship, and the winner will be announced tomorrow afternoon at 6:00 and I'm sure that you'll want to be there. The two finalists, just to let you know that this is a serious contest, are the Oak Lawn Elementary School in Cranston, Rhode Island; and St. Martin Luther's School in Annapolis, Maryland.

Q: The USS MICHAEL JORDAN or the USS GEORGE WASHINGTON?

A: There are two possibilities here. First of all, these are going to be [U.S. Navy Military Sealift Command-owned and operated, noncombatant] leased commercial ships so they have the term USNS before them, rather than USS. One is the BRUCE C. HAZEN, and the second is the CORIOLIS. Those are the two competing names. If you're interested in this, I have biographies of Bruce C. Hazen and also an explanation of the name Coriolis, if you'd like to pursue this further, which I hope you will.

Finally, on Tuesday I stated in response to a question from Mr. Sloyan that Dr. Gansler felt he had been misquoted in an article. Dr. Gansler does not feel that he was misquoted in the article, and I apologize for saying that he'd been misquoted.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: The Secretary was asked yesterday with the British Defense Minister about the possibility of U.S. and NATO forces being sent to Kosovo and he recited a litany of cautions like he has before. He mentioned difficulty in exit strategy. Is the Secretary as reluctant to become involved militarily in Kosovo as he was in Bosnia?

A: First, every time we consider the possible commitment of force, we have to look at a whole series of tough questions. One is, what's the mission? Can we accomplish the mission? What's the exit strategy? What sort of force protection measures would we need and challenges would we face if we deployed forces? So these are very standard questions that are asked every time the question of deploying forces comes up.

In the case of Kosovo, as you know, no one has made any decision to deploy forces into Kosovo or into Albania or Macedonia beyond the forces that are already there. What is happening is that NATO has sent an assessment team into the area, I believe it's in Macedonia today, and it will be in Albania in a day or two, to survey the situation and to recommend options back to NATO. What they're looking at are the possibility of deploying a preventive force into Albania or enhancing the preventive force that is already in Macedonia at this time. No decisions have been made and they probably won't be for some time.

We believe that the best solution to this problem is a diplomatic solution. The solution to Bosnia was a diplomatic solution. The Dayton Accord was an act of diplomacy which brought peace to that area. We believe that diplomacy can resolve this problem as well, and I understand that President Milosevic of Serbia and Mr. Rugova, the Kosovar/Albanian leader, are supposed to meet again on Friday.

Q: Is the Secretary himself personally reluctant to get involved in this as he was in Bosnia? Is he going to take a lot of convincing?

A: We're not anywhere near that stage. We're at the NATO assessment stage right now. The view of this government, and Secretary Cohen, is very much a part of this government, is that it's time to rely on diplomacy to solve this problem. That's what we're banking on now. We've put a lot of effort into making diplomacy work. As you know, Ambassador Holbrooke and Mr. Gelberd have been over there. We are prepared to look at other ways to jump start diplomacy.

Chris Hill, the Ambassador to Macedonia, has been placed in charge of trying to make diplomacy work. I believe he'll be in Pristina on Friday where Mr. Milosevic and Mr. Rugova are supposed to meet.

Q: The Kosovars on Friday told the press that President Clinton had promised them that there would not be another Bosnia in Kosovo. The wires yesterday, Ken, were very explicit about towns being leveled by tanks. One village or small town after another by the Serbs. There's over 200 dead so far. Isn't there some rush to get some kind of a solution in this matter?

A: There is. As I said, we've been working hard on diplomatic solutions which we think are the ultimate way to resolve this.

As you know, last week in Luxembourg, the NATO Foreign Ministers took several actions. They agreed to enhance the PFP exercises planned in Albania and Macedonia which are ways of increasing the military presence in those areas. We've agreed to provide some support to Albania in dealing with refugees, helping them to rebuild their armed forces and other actions that we think will strengthen forces along the border. And as I said, there's a NATO assessment team in the area today looking at future options. We have not foreclosed any option. We've not foreclosed any military option. We, the United States, nor has NATO foreclosed any military option. But we want to look at the situation, and that's what we're doing. In the meantime, we hope diplomacy will continue.

I think there have been very disturbing reports about a very violent, disproportionate, even vicious response by the Serb authorities involving police and army units which is a worrisome escalation if Serbian army units are involved in attacks against Kosovar Albanians. But, we don't have a good assessment of what's going on there. We take these reports very seriously. We're not denying the reports, but we don't have a clear assessment of what's going on because, contrary to an agreement that Milosevic has signed, he has not allowed monitors into that area to report on what's going on.

I think we are taking this very seriously. I think the fact that President Clinton met with Mr. Rugova shows that we're taking it seriously. I think the fact that Mr. Holbrooke and Mr. Gelberd have been to the area to meet with Milosevic and others shows that we're taking it seriously. I think the actions of the NATO officials in Brussels last week and the fact that a NATO assessment team is there now shows that we're taking it seriously.

Q: Does this appear to be ethnic cleansing that's in progress?

A: It's certainly a disproportionate -- it's, I think, a disproportionate and unnecessary and a very violent and vicious response to what is going on, yes.

Q: Given the reported increase of violence along, around the border villages in Kosovo, has there been any indication of any Albanian troop movements or strengthening of its forces along that area?

A: Along the border area?

Q: With Kosovo.

A: Are you asking if Albania is strengthening its force along its own border to... Is that what you're asking me?

Q: ...violence.

A: I'm not aware that there's been significant change in the border area, but there may have been and I may have just missed it, but I'm not aware of it.

Q: Are there any other Albanian military moves back from the border?

A: Not that I'm aware of. I mean the Albanian military lost a lot of ground when the previous government fell. One of the things they lost was many weapons, many of which we believe went into the Kosovo province, maybe as many as 800,000 small arms into the province of Kosovo. I mean they lost accountability of that many. They may not all have gone into Kosovo. Some may still be in Albania. I think it would be hard to parcel out how many went to Kosovo and how many remained in Albania.

Q: If there is a consensus or a decision by NATO on the need for a preventive force, would the United States be prepared to contribute ground troops?

A: I think we have to wait until NATO decides, until it makes a recommendation. Obviously, we're a very important part of NATO, and we've made a major investment in stability in that area and I anticipate that we'll continue to make an investment in stability in that area. But I, think it's premature now to talk about what our reaction will be to a report that hasn't even been made yet.

Q: What's the recommendation to NATO? Have we made one yet?

A: Why would we make a recommendation until NATO gets the facts? We clearly voted in favor of taking these actions that I enumerated earlier in Luxembourg last week, and we supported sending an assessment team into the area. In fact we're supporting it with helicopters and communications technicians and equipment, so we're involved in this assessment team and we'll look at the results when they complete their work.

Q: The U.S. troops in Macedonia were originally put there to prevent sort of a wider Balkan war. If the incident in Kosovo does not fall into that, then I guess my question is why are they there?

A: They were there to do what they've done very successfully, which is to prevent fighting from spilling from Serbia into Macedonia. That has not happened, and that's what they're there to prevent, and they continue to prevent that.

Q: Any thought of a humanitarian mission to aid refugees that are in Albania? And when will that NATO assessment team be finished with its report?

A: I think the whole mission is about five days long, so they'll probably finish it by the end of this week or during the weekend.

In terms of humanitarian aid, there has been an increase of humanitarian aid in the area, and the State Department has some figures on increased aid from USAID. I'm sure they'd be glad to give you that. The United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees has a fairly coherent plan for dealing with refugees. They figured out how many they can deal with in current buildings they've got there, how many tents they have to bring into the area to deal with refugees. This is all based on the fact that there, I think, so far, have been about 4,000 refugees that have gone across the border into Albania, that we know of. There may be other refugees who have gone across and stayed with families and who have not reported to international authorities, so the number could be higher than 4,000. But the UN has been working on refugee resettlement and aid.

Q: No DoD involvement right now?

A: No, but one of the reasons we have international organizations is so we don't have to do all of these things. This is what the UN High Commissioner on Refugees does, and does very well.

Q: Will the military committee report to the Defense Ministers next week on...

A: Certainly Kosovo will be an important issue before the Defense Ministers in Brussels next week. Whether they'll be ready to make a decision, I don't know. I think it was very clear from Minister Robertson's remarks yesterday and I think very clear from Minister Ruehe's remarks a couple of weeks ago, that we're not alone in looking for a diplomatic solution to this problem. Many other NATO allies believe that diplomacy is the best way to settle the problem, and that's what we'll continue to work on.

Q: Does the United States military have enough forces sufficient to contribute to possible military presence in Kosovo...

A: Without a doubt. If we are called upon to do that, we could do that.

Q: You mentioned a report that army units may be involved in the latest violence in Kosovo. Would the use of army units, would that cross a line that would trigger a response?

A: The answer to that question is complex. The real issue is to stop the violence, whether it's the result of action by the special police, the so-called MUP, or whether it's the result of actions by the army. It's less important who perpetrates the violence. What's less important is who perpetrates it. What's more important is that the violence stop.

The army has been in the border area for some time. Much of the evidence suggests that what the army has been doing has been trying to create a sort of a smuggler-free zone along the border, maybe of two to five kilometers in width. That seems to be where most of the army activity has taken place.

There was an attack against the MUP and maybe against some army units in the interior a couple of days ago and the military did respond, I believe, with tanks to defend the targets of that attack. The attack was by the Kosovar/Albanian forces, or the so-called UCK.

So I think the degree of army involvement right now is not entirely clear, and one of the reasons for that is that we don't have the monitors on the ground, the international monitors on the ground that we should under previous agreements. By the way, the media also under these agreements should be allowed into Kosovo, and as you know, the Serbs, President Milosevic has kept the media out, so our reporting on this is not as accurate as we'd like.

Q: If there's a problem with the ground observers not getting in, is there any consideration being given to bring in overhead assets to do some surveillance?

A: As I said, we have not ruled out any options for future activities in the area, and I don't want to get into more detail than that.

Q: Realizing that without monitors we don't have that good a handle on this, some people have tossed around the ethnic cleansing word in connection with these recent operations. Is this counterinsurgency, or does this cross the line over into something else?

A: I think that's not entirely clear. I think what my colleague Jamie Rubin said yesterday was that it looks like a replay of ethnic cleansing. We don't have firm details yet on what's happening. It does appear that whatever has been happening has slowed down a little today compared to yesterday and the day before, and we hope that trend continues, but I can't say whether it will become more calm than it was over the last couple of days.

Q: I know the subcommittee hearing on the set-aside heard testimony on biological/chemical attacks here in the United States. I know recently you held, this weekend, some drills on the possibility of these kinds of attacks here in the United States. But what is the Pentagon or the Department of Defense doing to prepare for such an attack? Would it be possible? What are you doing to prevent such an attack?

A: We have actually a very extensive program and that program is getting more robust all the time. Obviously our first concern is force protection and making sure that our forces are able to do their job in any type of battle environment. So we have been putting more money into detection.

We've been putting more money into protective clothing, better protective clothing, more protective clothing.

We, of course, have made a decision to vaccinate everybody in the active duty and reserve force against anthrax, and that has started. More than 40,000 people in the Gulf have already been vaccinated.

We have signed a contract to buy a large variety of vaccines and to stockpile those vaccines to protect our troops against other types of biological toxins beyond anthrax. For instance, plague is the type of thing we'd be looking at.

Here, in the country itself, we are not primarily responsible for dealing with terrorism or dealing with the types of villainous people who may use biological or chemical weapons, but we are working with FEMA and other agencies to train indigenous law enforcement forces in 120 cities, so-called first responders, to help them deal with chemical and biological and other types of terrorism.

In addition, Secretary Cohen announced in March that we are setting up a Guard/Reserve program to help them have teams, rapid reaction teams that will be able to deploy in support of domestic law enforcement agencies should they be needed, and I think we will set up the first ten of these teams in 1999, fiscal 1999 which begins October 1st. We actually had a fairly extensive briefing on that and can get you a copy of the transcript.

In the building itself, we did have an Exercise, CLOUDY OFFICE, last weekend. Chemicals were part of the exercise. It involved a group of insurgents who broke into the Secretary of Defense's office, and in the course of taking hostages some chemicals were inadvertently released. This exercise was designed to test our ability to deal with casualties, to decontaminate people very quickly, and to hold the health impact to a minimum. I think it was a very successful exercise in showing where we're strong and where we need to be stronger.

We've been taking a number of other steps which I probably shouldn't get into right now, to deal with the possibility of chemical or biological attack close to the Pentagon, and will continue to pay attention to that.

Q: Health care officials yesterday said that while you are working with FEMA and local law enforcement agents to prevent civilians from being harmed, that not enough is being done, and health care officials from Mississippi to Virginia are saying these people are not even prepared, and the 120 cities you mentioned that you guys are working with to prevent this from happening, the committee hearing yesterday came out with the conclusion that none of these people are prepared, or not even between now and a year from now, to be prepared to prevent such attacks on civilians.

A: First, of course we can always do more. This is a problem that has only emerged recently on the national consciousness. It's one that the President has become personally involved with, and the Secretary of Defense as well. We are beginning to take actions, I think, at an accelerating pace.

Second, I want to point out that the United States military is not responsible for protecting people in the United States against domestic criminality. That's the job of police forces. And we cannot, just as we cannot make the entire world safe, the U.S. military cannot train doctors in every town in the country. We are working aggressively and appropriately with all sorts of agencies to make sure that we all learn the same lessons and work together to deal with these problems. But ultimately, communities themselves and states are going to have to begin to figure out how to deal with these problems on their own.

Yes, there's a lot more to do, and yes, we're doing our best to address these problems, but remember, what the military does is strictly limited by a series of laws that restrict what we do domestically. We only provide support to domestic law enforcement and health care agencies.

Q: What's the status of the IG investigation into the Linda Tripp...

A: I do not know what the status is. I know that it's ongoing and I don't know how far it is from completion.

Q: I have a couple of questions about the Loral caper. Is it Mr. Tarbel's organization that recommended that there was a violation of national security in the Loral review of the Chinese analysis of the long march explosion? Is it just him or did it go up through the chain of command? I don't want content so much as I want procedure.

A: First of all, what I can say on this is somewhat limited because this whole issue is the subject to an ongoing criminal investigation which has been initiated by this Administration, by this government, following the launch failure in 1996 in the post failure review.

The job of the Defense Technology Security Agency is to make sure that important defense technology is not improperly conveyed to other countries, so it provides advice on the licensing of technology transfers, and it also has a capability of working with other elements of the military to evaluate when transfers do take place and what might be the impact created by those transfers. That's what the DTSA did in this case. It evaluated what happened and sent a report about that to the State Department, and that report was then forwarded to the Justice Department which launched an investigation, and that investigation is ongoing.

Q: Did that report go through Mr. Warner, Mr. Slocombe, the Department of Defense, the State Department? Or did it go directly, or did it go directly from Mr. Tarbel's shop to the State Department?

A: I think it went through normal licensing channels. That's my impression.

Q: Just his...

A: I believe that it went through normal licensing channels, so it went through his shop over to the State Department.

Q: I've seen news accounts saying the Air Force intelligence supported the view that there was a violation of national security. Is this the DIA, an Air Force guy in DIA, or is this specifically Air Force intelligence operations supporting Mr...

A: They relied on some work by a specific office within the Air Force in reaching their conclusion, which is...

Q: But not the DIA...

A: No.

Q: I have a question about the Gulf. This morning General Hawley said that he would like to see U.S. air forces in the Gulf reduced to below the November pre-crisis level. I was wondering if that's an option that's being... that's under consideration, and whether that would be a goal that Secretary Cohen would share?

A: I don't know the answer to that question. I'll try to find it out.

Q: Today is sadly the ninth anniversary of the massacre at Tiananmen. I would like to ask specifically about India. The Indian government has said that their primary concern is China as far as their nuclear development is concerned. Their Defense Minister said this. Then today, the South China Morning Post says Mr. Jiang, the President of China, has said about India, "They have aspired for a long period of time to be the main power of South Asia." Then Mr. Jiang said he was surprised by the tests which clearly show "India is targeting China and Pakistan."

So apparently China and India think that they are each other's rivals in this nuclear matter. Does the United States see it that way? And why is this country so silent about China's role in the nuclear matters in the Indian subcontinent?

A: First of all, in answer to your first question, I think I'll let the Chinese and Indian officials you quoted speak for themselves. I think they are probably better able to assess their own security concerns than I am.

This government's position is very clear. We think that an arms race in South Asia is dangerous and destabilizing. Secretary Albright is in Geneva today working to try to stop that arms race. I think it's significant that the chairman of this meeting is the Chinese Foreign Minister. This is the P-5, the permanent five nuclear power group, the P-5 on the UN Security Council. I believe that China itself would like to stop an arms race in South Asia. We will have to see what comes out of those meetings. There's a second meeting in London I think over the weekend, the so-called G-8 meeting, which is a broader group. That will also be important.

Q: You guys have now gotten a response from Lockheed to your notice and I'm wondering what the Pentagon plans to do? Fire them?

A: I don't know the answer to that question. I haven't seen the response. We are looking at other contracting possibilities, having a second contractor involved in the program. We're looking, also, looking at two things. One, how to get the current contractor to solve the problems and try to get the program back on track; and two, looking at a second contractor for the program, but I'm not aware that decisions have been made yet.

Q: What are this building's concerns over the Chinese (inaudible) merchant ship?

A: Well, I can't comment, obviously, on specific intelligence matters. The story pointed out, after the first paragraph, that this seemed to be bearing anti-tank missiles, and we know that China has had a long supply relationship with Pakistan, supplying anti-tank missiles. We don't regard that as a dangerous act of proliferation. These are designed to help Pakistan protect its own forces against tank attack. In fact, in the past, the United States has sold anti-tank missiles to Pakistan as well.

Press: Thank you.

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