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DoD News Briefing, Tuesday, June 16, 1998

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
June 16, 1998 1:35 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. I want to remind you that, following this briefing, General Gene Habiger, the commander-in-chief of the Strategic Command, will come and talk to you about his recent visit to Russia, where he reviewed the status of the Russian strategic forces, and some of the security aspects and command and control aspects of those forces. That will be at approximately 1400, 2 p.m.

With that, I will take your questions.

Q: According to reports, there is a possibility the United States and China might discuss the retargeting of their nuclear missiles as a symbolic gesture. What is involved in the process of retargeting, and how easy is it to retarget the retarget?

A: Well, first, detargeting is something we have discussed with the Chinese before. It was brought up by Secretary Perry in December of 1996 when he visited Beijing. It's been brought up in other meetings with the Chinese.

As you know, we reached an agreement with the Russians several years ago not to target our missiles at each other, and we have not been targeting our missiles at each other for some time. This was an agreement reached between President Clinton and President Yeltsin.

We are hoping to achieve a similar agreement with the Chinese. I think that this is part of the discussions that are leading up to the summit. I don't have -- I can't give you a clear prediction of what's going to happen, but clearly it's something that we've been discussing with the Chinese, as part of the preparations.

It is -- this is an important confidence building measure, because what it means is, if there were to be an accidental launch of some sort, and we believe the chances of an accidental launch are extremely minute, but if there were to be an accidental launch, the missile would not be targeted at a specific place. It would go off into the ocean or something like that.

The process of retargeting is relatively simple and quick. But the issue here is to find ways to reduce the hair-trigger aspect of the strategic nuclear arsenals, and that is why we think the agreement we have with Russia is significant, and that is why we think that a similar agreement with China would help stabilize the nuclear balance.

Q: Have the Chinese been proven, as some reports allege, to be retargeting on U.S. mainland targets, on U.S. cities?

A: Well, I can't really get into that, but I think we have to be grown up about these issues. People have nuclear arsenals for reasons.

We have a much larger nuclear arsenal than the Chinese have, many times larger than theirs. And it is a very important part of our deterrent strategy, that is, to deter anybody from attacking us, because they would know that they would receive an overwhelming and devastating response.

That remains a key to our strategy. You can ask General Habiger about it when he comes later. But, without getting into specifics, what we are trying to do is to make sure that we don't get into a situation where a mistake could increase the possibility of a nuclear strike.

Q: Is any consideration being given to the Chinese position, the request that the United States agree with no first use of nuclear weapons?

A: I wouldn't anticipate that we would change that policy. I don't anticipate a change in that policy.

Q: I know you talked about it being a confidence building measure in terms of preventing an accidental disaster. But isn't this largely a symbolic gesture?

A: Well, I don't think that anything that reduces the chance of nuclear error is symbolic. I think it's a real, tangible, confidence building measure that does reduce risk.

As I said, we have a very strict set of procedures to prevent accidental launch. The Russians do, and General Habiger will talk about that. You could ask him about the Chinese system, as well.

But anything that reduces risk, even a little bit, I think is important, and that's why President Clinton and President Yeltsin thought it was important not to target missiles at each other, and that is why it would be important with the Chinese, as well.

Q: One question on China, and then a different subject. Do you have any reaction or confirmation of the reports that China is now assisting Iran and Libya on their missile programs?

A: Well, as you know, we don't comment on alleged intelligence reports. What I can tell you is that we have been working very hard with China, and I think with some degree of success over the last couple of years, to reduce China's activities as a proliferator.

China has joined the NPT. It has subscribed to the comprehensive test ban treaty. It has subscribed to the principles of the Missile Technology Control Regime. So I think that we have made some progress.

In other areas, when Secretary Cohen went to Beijing in January, the Chinese stated that they were going to stop selling certain anti-ship cruise missiles to Iran and we believe that they are subscribing to that pledge, they are honoring the pledge. So we are making progress.

It is important, I think, to stay engaged with China and to continue discussing these important issues with them. I think, if we can do that, we will make more progress.

Q: Can you identify any areas of progress that you think still remain to be -- that are still open?

A: Well, I think there are a number of areas that I don't want to get into but, clearly, until China stops all sorts of activity that could encourage missile proliferation, we need to keep talking, and we need to keep convincing them, as I think they may be seeing already, that their support of missile or nuclear programs in other countries can destabilize areas close to their border.

Q: Is there any area that there is no progress, that it's kind of like beating your head against a wall?

A: Well, I think we have made fairly significant progress with them across the board. There is still room for more progress, and that is one of the reasons that President Clinton is going to Beijing to continue these discussions.

Q: If the Chinese were to agree to detargeting nuclear missiles, would the President then be able to say, as he had in the past, perhaps more correctly, that no nuclear missiles are aimed at the United States?

A: I think that the vast majority of times the President has made that statement it's been very clearly tied to Russia. There may be one time when he didn't mention Russia in particular. But I know that since all of you in the press are very fair and pay a lot of attention to context, that you realize that if he forgot to mention Russia, it was a mistake.

Q: Is it?

A: Yes.

Q: Now, are there any other specific areas, military-related areas, that you would be working on in advance of the President's visit to get some kind of agreement with the Chinese?

A: Well, I think that's probably a better question to direct to the National Security Council at the White House, but one of the areas in which we've been able to build a better foundation with the Chinese is in military exchanges. And I'm sure that that type of issue will come up again. There's been some talk about -- we've recently invited the Chinese to come and observe a major exercise we hold every year in the Pacific called RIMPAC.

And I believe they are sending some observers. This involves six countries. Not China as a participant, but six countries are participating in this. It's a major naval exercise. We did -- we have had search and rescue operations traditionally with Hong Kong. And when Hong Kong changed control to the People's Republic of China we continued that search and rescue exercise with the Hong Kong Navy [the Hong Kong Civil Aviation Department], now the PRC Navy. So we have had one joint exercise with the Chinese.

Q: Anything on the upcoming visit here at the Pentagon of the Greek Minister of Defense, Mr. Tsokhatzopoulos?

A: Nothing in particular. It's a -- I believe the meeting will be held next month -- July 7th, I believe he'll be here. Secretary Cohen will hold a dinner for him and for his staff and for others. And then there will be a series of meetings that I'm sure we'll continue talking about many of the topics that Secretary Cohen raised in Athens when he visited there earlier this year. And you were there, so you know what those meetings were about.

Unfortunately, I'm afraid that Secretary Cohen will not be able to reciprocate in one respect and that is to give him a tour of some magnificent relics such as the Parthenon, where he was led around by the defense minister. They'll discuss stability in the Aegean, they'll discuss relationships between Greece and Turkey, they'll discuss changes in NATO. Particularly, the new command structure that's being worked out and that could go into effect next year.

I'm sure they'll talk about the confidence-building measures that Secretary General Solana has been working on. They'll probably talk about Cyprus. There will be a wide range of topics that good allies talk about; certainly Kosovo and the Balkans will be one as well.

Q: Anything on the upcoming visit here of the general that took the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Ismail Karadayi?

A: That visit is also a reciprocal visit. He'll be meeting with General Shelton and I think it's relatively soon. And that will also discuss the same types of topics that the Secretary and the Greek Defense Minister will discuss.

Q: Mr. Bacon, did you find why the (inaudible) over the Aegean are not particularly the areas of responsibility of the air space and the sea between Greece and Turkey since Hebron believes that this arrangement was an ill-advised of the present Greek leadership of the (inaudible) government?

A: Well, first of all, as I said last week, we do not accept your characterization of partition of air space. This has been an issue between Greece and Turkey, and Greece and the United States, as a matter of fact. Particularly as it pertains to military aircraft. The confidence building measures do not deal with what you call partition. They deal with other issues. It's my understanding, and it might be better for you to have Secretary General Solana or officials in NATO talk about those because, as you know, this has been his initiative from the very beginning. It's not a U.S. initiative, it's a NATO initiative.

But my understanding of it is confidence building measures, which have to do with cessations of certain types of exercises and other things -- it does not deal with anything like partition.

Q: On Kosovo, were the DoD satisfied with their air operation over Albanian FYROM yesterday?

A: Yes. We thought that the operation went very smoothly. It involved 13 countries, as you know, about I think, 81 aircraft from 13 separate countries and we felt that it sent the message that NATO is ready to do anything it's called upon to do in the area.

Q: And can we follow up on that? What is the reaction of Secretary Cohen or anybody here to the statement from Milosevic in Russia today? Is the United States continuing the planning process within NATO?

A: Well, we are. First of all -- I think, all we've seen right now are -- we've seen wire service reports and I believe there's been a -- there have been some conversations between -- I think there was a brief conversation this morning between President Clinton and President Yeltsin during which President Yeltsin reported on the substance of the meeting.

Clearly it's an important step forward, President Yeltsin trying to convince President Milosevic not to continue violence and to begin a dialogue. It moves us in the right direction but I don't think it ends the journey. One of the things that has to be worked out is how to respond to -- is how to break the sort of chain reaction of military violence to activities by the Kosovar Albanian forces. We don't think that there should be any linkage between an immediate withdrawal of forces by the Yugoslavs on the one hand and stopping terrorist activities on the other. We think this is what should be left to negotiation and that there ought to be complete withdrawal of military forces so that negotiations can begin in order to reach a cease fire and we hope a lasting peace agreement in Kosovo.

Q: When you said we would go the military course and that's on the VJ side, right, that's you're talking about?

A: We think that the -- that Yugoslavia should immediately withdraw its security units that have been involved in civilian repression. This can be both VJ or the special police, the MUP. But units that are involved in civilian repression should be withdrawn. There should not be a linkage to so-called stopping of terrorist activities. That's what they -- that was in the statement out of Moscow. The campaign of violence by the Serb security forces, whether they're the VJ, the military or whether they're the special police should stop. Then we should be able to start negotiations.

Q: Is there anything you want to see the Kosovar Albanians do on their side?

A: We've said repeatedly that they should stop provocative activity that incites violent responses by the Yugoslav forces, whether they're the police forces or whether they're military forces. This is clearly something that requires both sides to work on. They have to stop the provocation on the one hand and have to stop the brutal response on the other.

Q: Just one last quick question. What evidence have you seen of the movement of either surface-to-air missile batteries or anti-aircraft batteries or guns into Kosovo?

A: Very little. First of all --

Q: (Inaudible)?

ANo, none. They already had -- they already had some SA-6 batteries in the area. We have seen no change in the disposition of their air defense forces over the last several days.

Q: Can I just be very clear that they had SA-6s in Kosovo?

AI believe so, yes.

Q: Do you know how many?

A: No.

Q: Ken, can I follow up on Kosovo? All NATO planes have -- I take it have finished their demonstration in Macedonia and Albania. All NATO planes now will just stand down until we -- until NATO sees what happens out of Moscow, et cetera. Is that correct that NATO is finished with its aerial demonstration? Is that correct?

A: For the time being, yes. They obviously can have more demonstrations if they want but I think they've sent the message.

Q: Okay. And that's -- and then about the Kosovar Albanian fighters, rebels or whatever you want to call them, will they be asked to not only stand down and cease fire but stay in place? Would they be -- would they be required to hold their positions?

A: Well, I don't think those details have been worked out but we've made it very clear from this podium and from other podia across Washington that the provocation by the UCK has to stop. One of the upshots of the meeting between President Milosevic and President Yeltsin is that there's supposed to be new meetings between Rugova of the Kosovar Albanian side, President Rugova and President Milosevic.

We hope those meetings will start up again. There were several that ended I guess a week or 10 days ago. Before they ended there were several meetings and we hope they'll start again and they can start negotiations that will lead to a settlement.

Q: When you talked about the civilian repression by the Yugoslav Army and security units, does any of that civilian repression qualify as ethnic cleansing in the U.S. opinion?

A: I'm not sure we know enough about what's happened to answer that question definitively at this time, but what we have observed -- and, remember, there was a period of time in there when we did not see, we did not have observers on the ground. What we've observed would not qualify as ethnic cleansing. But I think that one of the lessons we learned in Bosnia was that you need people on the ground and you need people looking around and we haven't had that. Therefore, I think we need to reserve judgment until we have a full idea of what's happened there. So far, I don't believe that what's happened would qualify as ethnic cleansing.

Q: Are you concerned at all or is the United States concerned that the NATO show of force might end up giving some false hope to the Albanian separatists in Kosovo in terms of that they may think they enjoy more world support for their independence movement and, therefore, might be less willing to negotiate?

A: I think that they would be dramatically misreading what's been coming out of NATO countries and the Contact Group if they were to see it that way. I think we've made it very clear that they have to stop the provocation if they expect the reprisals to end and that both sides will have to enter into a cease fire in order to begin negotiations that will lead to a settlement.

Q: And on that point, you suggested that Milosevic and the Kosovar leaders should meet.

A: I believe that President Yeltsin said in the statement that was issued in Moscow today that they will meet, that Milosevic and Rugova will meet.

Q: I thought that Rugova's response was that he wants a pull out of the Serb forces first.

A: I haven't seen Rugova's response.

Q: Are you asking to meet whether or not there's a pullout of Milosevic's forces?

A: We think they should start discussions leading to a cease fire and a settlement and they should do that soon.

Q: So a cease fire must be discussed. It cannot be -- was that asked for in Moscow immediately?

A: I don't have the terms of what was asked for here in front of me, but my recollection from reading them before I came out here was that they started by saying that there should be a political settlement, that the problems should be resolved politically, not militarily. We agree with that. In order to do that, the sides have to start meeting and work out arrangements. I think if they can do that, they will have considerable support from the international community not just from us but from Russia and, certainly, from the other European powers.

Q: One question on North Korea.

A: Yes.

Q: North Korea's official news agency has admitted their missile exports to other countries and also this report says they demanded the U.S. to lift sanctions in terms of the missile exports. Do you have any comment?

A: I'm sorry. Who said this?

Q: North Korea's official news agency.

A: And tell me again what they've said.

Q: Well, they said they have admitted their missile export.

A: We know that they are exporting missile technology. In fact, we've been engaged with the North Korean government in trying to stop the proliferation of missile technology. We have had a series of talks with the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea on this issue. We have not made as much progress as we would like to make, but we are continuing to work with them on that.

Q: According to this report they have demanded the U.S. to lift some of the sanctions with replies that they're stopping missile exports to other countries.

A: Well, they have asked or demanded that we lift sanctions in the past. We continue talking with them on a variety of topics, one of which is the return of the remains from the Korean War, another is stopping missile proliferation.

We are continuing to talk to them about -- in the context of the framework agreement which they seem to be honoring -- and we have also, of course, launched four-party talks involving China, North Korea, South Korea and the United States to try to reach a peace agreement on the Korean Peninsula, so we are having a series of talks. But, right now, the sanctions remain in place. If we were to begin to make progress in some of these areas we're discussing with the North Koreans, we might be able to consider lifting sanctions, but I don't think the time has arrived yet.

Q: So, do you have anything on the resumption of the missile talks or the four-party talks?

A: I don't know what the schedule is. These are handled, actually, by the State Department and you should direct your question to them.

Q: Just to follow up on that question, could you confirm exactly which countries have received missiles from North Korea?

A: No, I don't think so at this time, no.

Q: There was a hearing on the Hill this morning for nominees for the Secretary of the Air Force and the Secretary of the Army. Can you tell us when the administration may be making a nomination for Secretary of the Navy?

A: Well -- I think that -- we have a Secretary of the Navy right now and I don't know when the nomination will be made, but I assume relatively, relatively quickly. Don't ask me what relatively quickly means, but we would like to get -- as Secretary Cohen and Secretary Dalton both said -- we would like to get somebody nominated and confirmed by the end of the year. And given the short schedule for Congress this year, that would mean we would have to move relatively quickly.

Q: Back to Albania just for a moment. Is there any evidence that the Kosovo Liberation Army, the rebels, are getting any support from outside -- a third country in terms of heavier, more sophisticated weaponry? Things like antiaircraft, hand-held antiaircraft missiles or antitank weapons, that sort of thing?

A: The last time I checked, the answer was no.

Q: On Kosovo, so (inaudible) to understand the mentality, as in the case of Kosovo, I'm wondering why the Department of Defense does not take a similar position, an action to protect more than 15 million Kurdish people of who were (inaudible) for their own dependence in Southeast, but they have been exterminated by the Turkish forces for more than 13 years now. What is the difference between the Albanians and the Kurds? They have been oppressed.

A: Well, first of all, we have taken a variety of actions to protect the Kurdish people, but there are -- among the Kurdish people -- there are Kurdish terrorist organizations that have been systematically attacking Turkish interests.

And, as you know, we have singled out these groups as terrorist groups and we think that it's appropriate for the Turks to be able to protect their interests against terrorists.

Q: Despite the low statistical probability of risk, a number of eminent astrophysicists are still speaking to committees and having news conferences around this town.

So back to the issue of asteroids. Does the Defense Department favor some kind of funding for those people who would chart, categorize and track such risks?

A: This is primarily a space issue, and NASA is our main asteroid police agency in the United States. They are the people who are following this.

We participate in something called the Near Earth Asteroid Tracking Project, NEAT, and we are working with NASA to deal with asteroids.

Obviously, as you point out, the risk is extremely small, but the devastation of being hit by a large asteroid could be great. We have all read accounts of the creation of the Gulf of Mexico and other Earth-changing events that have occurred when asteroids have hit the Earth.

So this is something that NASA is working on. We're working with them. And obviously, there is some degree of funding being provided through NASA's budget. I don't know what that is, and I'm sure NASA would be glad to tell you what they are spending on their asteroid tracking projects.

Q: Does the Defense Department feel that the early warning, whatever comes as an early warning through NEAT is adequate to keep from being caught by surprise?

A: Well, I can't answer that question directly. There are competing theories on asteroid early warning and the utility of it.

There are some people who claim that we'll have significant warning, because we'll be able to monitor the paths or orbits of asteroids. And there are other people who claim that we won't have very significant warning.

Then the question is, even if we had significant warning, what could we do in response to a collision with an asteroid? That's the type of stuff that NASA is looking at, and I'm sure they would be glad to sit down and discuss that with you.

Q: I just wanted to ask you if you had any reaction to the follow-up report by CNN this past Sunday night about the Operation TAILWIND. Specifically, there were additional soldiers interviewed who said it was their belief that sarin nerve gas was used in the operations. Do you have any reaction to that report?

A: Well, it was a -- it reminded me of the old adage, "Give me a one-handed economist, because he can't say `On the one hand, on the other hand.'"

But the Secretary has asked the Navy -- I'm sorry -- has asked the Army and the Air Force and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs to review these allegations made by CNN 10 days ago, and that review has been underway for about a week. I'm going to a meeting on it this afternoon. It has about three weeks to go in order to meet the 30-day deadline, and I think I would just like to withhold comment until that review is complete.

But I have not seen, and I'm not sure anybody in the building has seen, any information that would change our view that we have no evidence that either sarin was used in Laos or that Operation TAILWIND was designed to track down and kill U.S. defectors.

Having said all that, the review has been launched precisely to go back and talk to people, to look at documents, and to do as thorough an analysis as possible on this question, and we hope to have a clear answer in the next few weeks or so.

Q: Maybe you can just correct something for me. With sarin, isn't it also absorbed by the skin?

A: Yes.

Q: And what would be -- I know it's a very theoretical question -- what would be the time, like, before let's say a drop of sarin would dissipate, under normal, not particularly windy conditions?

A: I don't know. I'm not an expert on nerve gas. I can tell you that experts have told me that sarin does not perform very well in very hot, humid, jungle-like conditions, the type of conditions that exist in Laos and certainly existed in Laos in September of 1970.

Sarin kills relatively quickly, in a matter of minutes, actually, if the drop lands on the skin or if it's inhaled. That doesn't seem to be the case of what happened here, because we do have contemporaneous accounts of people surviving without their masks or with defective gas masks, and people talking about walking through a cloud of gas as they were beginning to feel the effects, either tearing or vomiting or the other effects that they felt from the gas.

Those effects all sound very much like either tear gas CS, or vomit gas, CN.

But this is exactly the type of thing the reviewers are going to be looking at. They're going to find -- they will go back and look at the manifests of what was -- what weaponry was used at the time. They will talk to pilots. They will talk to commanders. They will talk to people who participated in the missions, as well as looking at all of the statistical and documentary evidence that we have from 1970.

Q: Do you know if any attempt will be made to locate the actual personnel who would have loaded the weapons on airplanes?

A: Well, I don't know the full scope of the investigation at this time. I think what we will do is as much as we need to to satisfy ourselves that the conclusion we've reached is the accurate and proper conclusion.

How much work that is going to involve remains to be seen. Whether it can be done in the next three weeks remains to be seen, but we're hopeful that we will be able to complete this relatively quickly.

We don't think it serves anybody's interest to have this question open and unresolved.

Okay. Thanks. Why don't we come back at 2:15 p.m.? Is that okay -- with General Habiger? Thanks.

Press: Thank you.

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