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DoD News Briefing August 18, 1998

Presenters: Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
August 18, 1998 1:30 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. What do you want to talk about today? What topics? All right, thanks.

Q: You need to stop reading the book.

A: What book? History and Philosophy? The Impact of Reuters on World News Coverage? What book? No questions? I've got no statement. If you have no questions, you can go back out. Yes?

Q: What can you tell us about the digging in Korea that's alleged to be, possibly, an underground nuclear site? Is there indication -- is there evidence that digging is going on? How concerned are you about it and what are you going to do about it?

A: Well first, as you know, Charlie, from your many years in this building, we don't comment on intelligence reports. And therefore, I have nothing to say about the specific report of what's going on in North Korea or may not be going on in North Korea. We watch very closely what's happening there and at the appropriate time, if there's something to say, we'll say it. But, this isn't the appropriate time.

Q: Without going into specifics, could you tell us if there is some indication that digging might be going on in Pyong-yang?

A: I've just said I don't want to comment on intelligence reports.

Q: So, do you have any indication that North Koreans might be doing anything of this type?

A: Right now, we are monitoring compliance very closely with the Framework Agreement and we will continue to do that. We will continue -- we will raise with them any signs we come across that there may not be compliance. And that's all I want to say at this stage.

Q: There's a meeting on Friday on this issue with North Korea. What message will the U.S. take to that meeting?

A: The U.S. will deliver several messages. One will be that we expect complete compliance with the Framework Agreement and two, we will meet our obligations under the agreement, which involves delivering a certain amount of fuel oil every year.

Q: Is it the opinion of the U.S. government that North Korea, as of now, is in compliance with the Framework Agreement?

A: Right now, I do not believe we have a firm basis to conclude that they are out of compliance.

Q: Basically, the North Korean side is complaining that the United States has been slow, at best, at fulfilling our side of the bargain. Is that correct? Is there a basis for it?

A: Well, they have claimed that we've been slow. We deliver every year, under the agreement, 500,000 metric tons of heavy fuel oil, and we have always met the deadline and I anticipate we'll meet the deadline this year as well.

Q: When's the deadline?

A: I believe it's on a fiscal year basis, so it would be -- I guess the -- no. The KEDO has its own year and the KEDO year ends on the 21st of October. We have delivered, so far, 218,000 metric tons of heavy fuel oil to North Korea out of the 500,000 we'll have to deliver by the 21st of October.

Q: Isn't the 18th of October (inaudible)?

A: 21st.

Q: And the money that's being sought from Congress is how much and would that be for this years to buy oil?

A: Let's see. This is a State Department issue. So far, Congress has agreed to provide $30 million for administrative expenses and purchase of heavy fuel oil. An additional $5 million has been reprogrammed for heavy fuel oil from other accounts, so that's 35 million. We have a contribution of $16 million from the European Union to help meet the cost of heavy fuel oil. I don't know how much more money is needed at this time. As I say this, the State Department handles this part of the account.

Q: But would it be possible to get that money from someplace else if Congress says no?

A: Well, I don't believe Congress will say no when it looks at the importance of continuing compliance with the agreement. This is an agreement that has caused North Korea to close down a nuclear reactor. They've canned the fuel from that reactor, the spent fuel, and we are trying to meet our end of the agreement by providing the heavy fuel oil and with the assumption that they will meet their end of the agreement as well.

Q: Is North Korea deemed to be, you know, years away from developing any kind of a, nuclear weapons capability if it were to go in that direction?

A: Well, we've said in the past that we believe they had, perhaps, generated enough fuel to create a small number, one or two -- a small number of nuclear devices. This is not what you would call a robust nuclear program. The goal of the Framework Agreement was to make sure that they didn't generate more plutonium so they could create more nuclear devices. As I say, our belief is that they are currently in compliance with that program -- with that agreement.

Q: When the program was frozen, how far away was the plant from being capable of producing enriched weapons grade material?

A: Well, we believe it may have produced some --

Q: So it's already done it?

A: -- a very small amount before it was frozen. That was why it was so crucial to get the plant frozen. Remember, they wanted to throw out the IAEA inspectors and break from that inspection regime. The IAEA inspectors have been at that closed plant since -- or they've been inspecting it regularly since it was closed down.

Q: Ken, the South Korean Foreign Ministry said that the United States had turned over -- they said publicly, on the record, the United States had turned over satellite photographs of this digging in South Korea now Pyong yang. While I understand your reluctance to comment on intelligence -- I mean, you can't at least confirm that there are indications that digging is going on by whatever method you've found out?

A: I'm shocked that the South Korean Foreign Minister didn't get our guidance, which was not to comment on intelligence reports.(Laughter)

Q: On the photographs, you mean?

A: I said that he apparently didn't get our guidance, but I got it and I'm not commenting.

Q: Change of subject?

A: Sure.

Q: How about the Medal of Honor for Michael Blassie? Has any decision been made on that, on the family's request that the Medal of Honor be given to him when it was originally going to Unknown Soldier?

A: I don't think that a final decision has been sent to the family yet. We have -- the Air Force has looked into that. I think we've made it pretty clear that our view is that the Medal of Honor was symbolic. It went to the tomb as a symbol for all those missing in action. But the Air Force is looking into this and I suspect that we will convey the final decision, when that's made, relatively soon, to the Blassie family.

Q: It's not the Air Force's decision to make is it on whether or not --

A: But the Air Force was assigned the job of coming up with an answer. They're in the process of doing that. And when the decision is made, it will go through the proper channels and be conveyed to the Blassie family.

Q: On another subject -- on Albania. Can you explain what the reason was for reducing U.S. participation in that exercise in Albania? And isn't there a risk that in doing so that will send a message to Milosevic of sort of a shaky resolve there?

A: Well, my understanding is that the SAIPAN was supposed to participate in the exercise. But the SAIPAN was diverted to Africa, to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since then she's been called back. But the SAIPAN and one other ship was diverted down there. And as a result, those Marines were pulled out of the exercise.

My understanding is that there are 650 Americans participating in the exercise, which is a pretty robust participation. And those participants include a Marine rifle company, 200 people ashore, as part of a Marine rifle company. There's also an engineering platoon working on a school and some other humanitarian repairs that are being done as part of the exercise. So I think there's adequate -- even robust -- U.S. participation in this exercise. And the only change of signals, I understand, came about because the Saipan was diverted.

Q: But we are going to now participate?

A: No.

Q: Or is just --

A: Well, there is one ship from the Amphibious Ready Group[ARG} that's participating, but the Saipan won't make it back into the exercise. She never got to Africa. As you know she was pulled back after the Americans left on commercial air. But she won't make it back to Albania in time to participate in the exercise. The exercise started yesterday -- the 17th -- and it will run through the 22nd.

Q: Is there a concern though about threat of terrorist attacks against those troops there?

A: We're always concerned about possible terrorism, but force protection is an important part of this exercise. It's an important part of all our deployments. And I'm sure that the troops in Albania have taken precautions against possible attacks.

Q: But you think that had nothing to do with cutting the number of troops? Fear of possible retaliation --

A: Right, I told you that the number of troops was cut because the --

Q: Understand.

A: -- ship was diverted to a possible neo-operation in Africa, but the neo-operation never took place because the people got out. Despite that, the Saipan won't be able to make it to Albania in time for the exercise.

So actually there's -- no, this exercise, COOPERATIVE ASSEMBLY, has its own web page. And if you want to read the details of the exercise, I commend the Web page to your attention. You can bone up on all of the details, including a map. They've run a map here that we've downloaded for you if you want to look it from the web page. And here is a copy of the front page of the web page for COOPERATIVE ASSEMBLY '98.

Q: Yes. ADM Daniel Murphy stated in Washington Post that the Sixth Fleet (inaudible) will intervene (inaudible) Albania in Cyprus prepare for intervention, but hoping that presence of U.S. cruisers and destroyers will be sufficient to the (inaudible). And he said specifically, we basically tell these people that we are watching you and (inaudible) responsible for starting any conflict and can have a very certain effect just to have the U.S. standing by on the scene as an inter-(inaudible) to prevent this situation from spinning out of control. And for the Aegean -- says that in the Aegean Sea, Turkey and Greece are fighting over the sovereignty of several islands, including Cyprus.

Do these statements represent Department of Defense policy vis-a-vis to Cyprus and the Aegean Sea?

A: Well, first of all, let me be clear what our policy is. Our policy for both Cyprus and the Aegean Sea is that any disputes there will be resolved peacefully. And we've been in the forefront of trying to work for peaceful resolution of those disputes and we hope that Greece and Turkey will work with us for peaceful resolution of those disputes.

I think that ADM Murphy was talking about a naval presence and the calming effect that it can have in various areas of the world. But our policy is very clear. We're looking for peaceful resolution of both the Cyprus dispute and of any disputes that might involve the Aegean.

Q: And why the admiral wants to know who is responsible for starting any conflict based on -- based on what his plan to do actually? Because he -- he (inaudible) Washington Post (inaudible) that's why I'm --

A: Well, as I said earlier, we are in favor of peaceful resolution of these disputes. The Sixth Fleet patrols throughout the Mediterranean to provide naval presence, and we believe that naval presence can advance peace and stability in the area. I don't think that I want to go beyond that.

Q: It's been several weeks since Linda Tripp's work with Ken Starr was completed? When will she be coming back to work at the Pentagon?

A: I don't have anything to add to what CPT Doubleday said about that several weeks ago.

Q: Does CPT Doubleday have anything to add?

A: I don't think so. He seems to be smiling cherubically over there, glad that he's not up here.

Q: What can you tell us about the Secretary's meeting on Friday evening with Foreign Minister Koroto (?) of Japan?

A: They discussed a range of issues. One of the issues that's of primary importance to the United States, of course, is continuing to work on the SACO (?) process to resolve issues in Okinawa. Second, we want to encourage full implementation of the defense guidelines that have been worked out with Japan, and we think are a very important description of our defense relationship with Japan.

Those were among the issues that were discussed. The President and other members of the government have made it very clear -- Secretary Albright has made it very clear -- that we support economic reform in Japan, particularly reform of the banking system. And that was also among the issues that were discussed.

Q: Has the military in the 10 days since the bombing in Africa had to curtail any of its activities anywhere in the world as a result of concern or feedback from that situation?

A: Not that I'm aware of. But there could have been things that have happened that I'm not aware of. But I'm not aware of anything major that has been curtailed after that.

Q: Has there been an increase in the number of threats against American installations that you're aware of in the intervening days?

A: We receive reports of threats every day. And, of course, those reports have continued. I'm not aware that there's been a particular increase in threats against military installations around the world after the tragic bombings in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi.

Q: But you are aware of an increased threat to some of our diplomatic installations where there are Marine guards?

A: Yes, but I have to assume those threats aren't targeted at the Marine guards who are usually a very small part of the diplomatic component. Yes, there have been some publicized threats against embassies around the world. And we've taken -- the State Department has taken action.

Q: Has there been a request from the State Department to increase Marine guard security at facilities in the last week or so?

A: I don't think so. The State Department has its own security operation. What there has been and will be continuing is security reviews of embassies around the world. And they will be done primarily by the State Department. But I anticipate there will be some Defense Department participation in those reviews. But embassy security is a State Department responsibility. It's one that they take very, very seriously, just as we, the military, take force protection very seriously.

Q: Has any general order gone out to U.S. military forces in the Middle East, for instance, not to wear uniforms when they're off duty, not to wear uniforms in downtown areas? Anything since the bombings?

A: Well, not that I'm aware of. The only message that I'm aware of is the one that I mentioned here last week. Right after the bombing, General Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, sent a message out to all the CINCs urging them to review their security posture and force protection posture. And I think that we've made that public to people who have asked and we would be glad to make it public to the rest of you if you haven't asked.

Q: Change of subject?

A: Sure.

Q: Iraq -- are there any indications of any troop movements in Iraq? For instance in northern Iraq against -- possible buildups against the Kurds?

A: There don't seem to have been any notable troop movements or changes in their air defense system recently-- since I spoke last week when there weren't any particular movements then.

Q: Since the United States has generally -- apparently changed its posture on Iraq, how does the Pentagon square what your boss, Secretary Cohen, said during the period where he held up the famous five-pound bag of sugar saying that every week that there are not inspections it is a threat to the United States and the rest of the world? Do we no longer feel that as urgently as this building apparently felt it and the government felt it?

A: Well, first of all, I don't think there's been a change of posture by the United States. We have supported robust and vigorous inspections since the inspection process began. We still support that. The U.N. Security Council, I believe, supports that as well, and it has been discussing ways to get the inspections back on track.

There's a representative now of Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the U.N., in Baghdad. I think he's due back in the next day or two-- Mr. Shaw. And he has been discussing this with the Iraqis. He'll come back and report to the Secretary General, and I assume also to the Security Council, and the Security Council will decide what to do next.

But we stand foursquare in favor of complete and rigorous inspections in Iraq.

Q: But it can happen, a change in posture, because before the United States told Iraq that unless inspections were able to be carried out freely at virtually anyplace, they could be attacked and, in fact, probably would be attacked militarily.

Now, Iraq is not being told that. In fact, the United States has made very clear that what might incite an attack against Iraq now would be any additional threats to Iraq's neighbors, but not its failure to comply with inspections, which is what he was talking about.

A: First of all, I don't think we have ruled in or out any options at this stage, and I think Secretary Albright has made that very clear.

Second, the U.N. is currently considering how to respond to what Iraq is doing, and they are in the process of figuring out their response at this stage.

I think we have made it very clear that we believe that UNSCOM inspectors and IAEA inspectors should be back on the ground doing their job, and that's what the U.N. Security Council is trying to work out with Iraq now.

Q: I wonder if you could bring us up to date on Secretary Cohen's trip to Moody and what the results of that were in terms of readiness.

A: Well, he went to Moody at the invitation of General Ryan, the Air Force Chief of Staff. It is part of a series of visits he plans to make to bases with the chiefs of services. His next visit will be on September 2nd to Fort Drum, New York, with General Reimer, the Army Chief of Staff.

He spent the day at Moody mainly talking with airmen and their officers. He talked to pilots, he talked to the security forces that deploy from Moody, he talked to maintenance people and he talked to senior enlisted people there. He also had a chance to review housing.

Moody Air Force Base houses the 347th Wing, which is a composite wing of F-16s and A-10s, HH-60 helicopters and HC-130 planes. The helicopters and the HC-130s are used for rescue of downed pilots.

The people at Moody are among the most actively deployed in the entire Air Force. They have a very high operations tempo, which is one of the reasons that General Ryan invited Secretary Cohen to go down there.

And he heard a variety of concerns from the people at Moody, but primarily what he heard was what the 347th Wing has demonstrated time after time, that they are ready to deploy when called upon. They deployed within 48 hours last year when they went to Bahrain, when they sent an air expeditionary force to Bahrain. They are well trained, and they are ready.

He also heard that the high operating tempo is causing some strains. It's causing strains in -- it's causing strains for maintenance because the equipment is under heavy wear and tear, and it's causing some retention problems.

These are true throughout the Air Force, but they were particularly true of Moody. So we had a chance to discuss this with the leaders of the base, but particularly with the airmen there.

And both he and General Ryan talked fairly extensively about General Ryan's new plan to reorganize the Air Force into 10 air expeditionary forces, to try to give more predictability and regularity to deployments. Under that plan, units would deploy essentially every 15 months for 90 days, as I understand it. That seemed to be reassuring to a number of the people there. They would like to see it in operation.

There were a lot of questions about health care. Tri-Care is the name of the new military health system. People are suspicious of it, I think that has been clear for some time, and they have a lot of questions about it and some concerns about it.

The Secretary listened and responded when he could to the concerns that were brought to his attention.

Q: Did General Ryan or Secretary Cohen bring up any additional ideas beyond AEF in terms of keeping the readiness at a high level?

A: Well, the Air Force operations and maintenance budget has been increased by $1 billion in fiscal 1999 for spare parts, and he said that he would see if some of that money could be diverted to meet some of the very specific needs that were brought to his attention at Moody. One was equipment for some of the air rescue crews, for instance.

He noted that we have worked hard to put more money into operations and maintenance. That started with the Quadrennial Defense Review last year, and it is continued in the current fiscal year and will continue beyond, I'm sure.

Unfortunately, some of the problems the Air Force faces, such as a shortage of spare parts, particularly for some engines, takes a while to cure. They can't be cured instantly. It's not like going down to Radio Shack and buying a bunch of parts and using them. The parts have to be built. And so there is some lead time. But we are working on that.

The other question, of course, has to do with the operations tempo. That is the primary concern of both officers and enlisted people in the Air Force, is the high pace of operations. And that came up time and again in his discussions. That is what Gen. Ryan is already working to deal with this new AEF concept, to provide more predictability.

So the Secretary talked about that with Gen. Ryan. They also both talked about steps that the Joint Staff has taken to try to deconflict exercises, deconflict service exercises with CINC exercises, try to hold exercises to as reasonable a level as possible, so that after people return from deployment they have some time to spend with their families and they have some time to work on courses they have to take for advancement, et cetera.

These were among the many topics that were discussed during the meeting there.

Q: Describe for us how the Secretary's opinion on this readiness issue has changed, if at all, since he came into office. I mean, is he a great deal more concerned about it now than he was at the beginning of last year or is he about at -- in the same place that he was back then?

A: Well, first of all, every Secretary of Defense is very alert to readiness issues, and every Secretary of Defense knows that there's no absolute state of readiness. You can never say the force is 100 percent ready.

Secretary Cohen has been very concerned that the forces are ready to do their job and that the forward deployed forces in Korea and Bosnia have all the resources they need to do their jobs, and that the first to deploy forces who would fill in for them or would be deployed in an emergency are ready to do their job, and I think he's convinced that they are.

He's been hearing more and more anecdotal reports about readiness problems in the later deploying forces, and he has done several things to address those reports. One, he's asked the military and the civilian advisers to make sure that the readiness reporting system accurately captures these anecdotal reports. He wants to make sure that there's no -- that we're not hearing one thing from the anecdotal -- hearing bad news from the anecdotal reports and good news from the official reports.

Two, he has made it clear to the services that he wants them to seek more money for readiness if they need it, and they have. That's one of the reasons QDR put more money into readiness. That's one of the reasons that a billion dollars was put in for Air Force spare parts in fiscal 1999.

Three, he's decided to go out and look for himself, not just -- he wants to see the faces behind the figures he gets in Washington. So he's decided to go around and talk to soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines about what their perceptions are about readiness.

What he did in his trip to Moody was ask the Air Force to arrange a trip to a base where he could talk to airmen about their concerns and look at readiness issues himself, and the Air Force just turned it over to Moody and said, "Organize a day for the Secretary and for the Chief of Staff."

And so that's what -- we didn't tell them what to do. They organized this day themselves. Now, when he goes to Fort Drum, the same thing will happen, and I assume that the people at Fort Drum will be just as forthcoming as the people were at Moody Air Force Base.

Q: Has the reporting system that he had put in place, is that showing that the problem is more severe than the Secretary believed?

A: Well, it's clear that there are some problems developing around the edges, and that the Air Force has reported that fewer of its planes are combat ready. The planes that have to be deployed, that go to the Gulf, when we send them to the Gulf or go to Korea or go to Aviano are ready, they're well-maintained. But some of the -- that's at the cost of some of the planes that are left behind.

And I think that the figures show that that's happening. The figures also show that retention is becoming a bigger problem, certainly among pilots in the Air Force and the Navy. That's largely because they find the high operating tempo a strain, and because the competition from civilian employers, airlines, et cetera, is very hot now because the economy's hot.

There are also other problems in the Air Force. Some of the maintenance people are leaving for -- mainly enlisted people--are leaving for jobs in the private sector because the jobs are more predictable and they pay more.

So there are issues of retention, and these lead to issues of -- not only of the pace of operations, but they lead to issues about pay and benefits.

One of the things he's particularly worried about is whether changes in the pension system back in 1986 are now having a corrosive effect on retention today. He wants to go out and talk to people and find out in their own words how they are making these decisions to stay or not to stay in the service and what the factors are that are pushing them one way or the other right now. And so that's what he started doing yesterday.

Q: Housekeeping. The Secretary is on vacation this week.

A: Right.

Q: He is going to Maine?

A: Well, he's here in town now. I don't know what his exact plans are. I think he will spend a fair amount of time in town.

Q: Is he just going to take a week or is he going --

A: Well, my understanding is he may take more than a week. He may stay primarily in town. He may travel. But he is going to take probably a week or two off.

Q: And no briefings next week or the following week?

A: That's the current plan, absent some sort of exciting event, that there will be no briefings for the last two weeks before Labor Day.

Q: There are reports last week from Tokyo that the governor of Guam proposed transformation on the part of Okinawa-Marine bases to Guam. Have you discussed this proposal (inaudible)?

A: We are not planning such a change.

Q: Are you aware of this proposal?

A: Oh, yes, we read about the proposal, and the Marines are not planning to move from Okinawa to Guam.

Q: Thank you.

Q: Concerning South Korea, now that the joint exercises are underway in South Korea, it appears to be North Korean (inaudible), are there any updates, are there any plans to change some of the exercises?

A: You're talking about Ulchi Focus Lens, which is a mobilization exercise that takes place every year at about this time. We've been doing it for a long period of time. There are 13,000 U.S. troops involved in this exercise, which is about a third of our troops in Korea.

There are no plans to change the exercise. We're going to go ahead and do the exercise as we do year in and year out to keep our forces and the South Korean forces well prepared.

Q: Different subject. F-22, Jacques Gansler last month received a memo warning that the cost on the program is virtually certain to go up between 400 million and 1.2 billion over the next five years.

What was Gansler's reaction upon receiving the memo?

A: Well, I don't know about his reaction to that specific memo. What I can tell you is that he's been watching the F-22 program very carefully. Cost is one thing he's been watching. Another thing he's been watching is schedule. The third thing he's been watching is performance.

And there's a lot of attention by the Department of Defense, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, by the Air Force, and by the contractor to try to keep the costs within the current parameters, which I think the cost cap is $18.9 million for the development phase and $40.9 million for production, I think, is correct. There's a lot of efforts to meet those caps, but it remains under very intense scrutiny.

I can't talk specifically about his response to that memo, but in general he's watching the program carefully.

Thank you.

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