Secretary Cohen: I hope you enjoyed meeting our new Secretary of the Navy, number 71. We're here to take any questions you might have about the Navy.
Q: Mr. Secretary, are you going to maintain the buildup in the Gulf? Or are you going to send some of those planes back?
A: I'm talking now with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and we're meeting on a regular basis to see how much of the force that is on its way should be returned to the United States. We will keep the forces that are already deployed there for the time being. [For] Those forces that have not yet arrived we will in all probability decide to cycle them back so they can be ready to go on a moment's notice if we choose to do so.
Q: Does that include the F-117s?
A: That would include those forces which have yet to arrive will in all probability be recycled back within the next several days.
Q: Mr. Secretary, has Saddam Hussein won another round with the U.S.? And is there any way to permanently solve this Saddam Hussein problem?
A: He hasn't won another round. What has happened is that the international community is more united than ever. He has been completely isolated not only by all of the Gulf States, but everyone on the Security Council. So he took a look around and saw there was no one supporting him. He also saw there was a very strong military, an incredible threat on its way for all practical purposes. So I think that focused his mind wonderfully, as we say, and he decided that he had to comply.
I might indicate that it's not nearly as important as to whether the world or we believe Saddam Hussein's word. It is very important that the world believe our word. Our word was that if he agreed to comply and allow the inspectors to come back in then he would avert a military strike. So the President under these circumstances made the right call, and he received his advice from all of his advisers. He had to make a decision, and we support his decision.
Q: What is the trigger that could set off additional airstrikes? What is going to be your criteria?
A: President Clinton made it very clear yesterday that there were key points that we insist upon. Namely, when we talk about total compliance and unfettered access, it means precisely that. It means that Saddam will have to produce documentation; he will have to produce that which he has refused to produce to date. He will have to allow unfettered access without condition consistent with the memorandum of understanding and the resolution, but no more hiding and seeking and no more playing games.
I think we will see very quickly, over the next few weeks or perhaps even longer, but nonetheless within a short period of time, as to whether he is going to fully comply.
I think everyone understands that this is the last go-around as far as Saddam is concerned. He has had every opportunity to fully comply. Now he has committed his government through Tariq Aziz that he will fully comply. We'll see whether the deeds are going to match his words.
Q: Did you miss an opportunity that may not come again in order to launch a strike at a time when world opinion was behind the United States?
A: We had an opportunity to see the combination of diplomacy backed up by a strong military capability. That's what allowed us to succeed diplomatically.
Again, President Clinton made it very clear during his speech at the Arlington Cemetery during Veterans Day; I made a number of statements during the course of the week; Saddam simply had to say yes in order to avert a military response. He said yes. Now we'll put him to the test as to whether that's unqualified or whether we'll go back to the playing of games.
Q: Did you recommend to go ahead with the strike?
A: I won't get into any recommendations. We always have very good exchanges and the President gets advice from all sources. I am obligated to provide military options for the President's discussion. He will take into account diplomatic initiatives as well. Everyone I think is satisfied that this is the right result.
Q: But Mr. Secretary, Saddam Hussein is still there, he's still in power, still apparently has the ability to produce weapons of mass destruction. How do you solve this problem once and for all?
A: We have indicated that the best way to determine whether or not he's producing chemical or biological or indeed even nuclear weaponry is to have the UNSCOM inspectors on the ground being allowed to do what they are charged with doing and have a responsibility to do. That's the best guarantee that we have for keeping him measuring up to his obligations. They will be back on the ground; we will see whether their access has been fettered or not. In the event that it is, I think it's very clear what their response is going to be.
Q: Is this his last, last chance?
A: I think you could say that, yes.
Q: How close did it come?
A: Very close.
Q: How close is very close?
A: I won't discuss in terms of hours or minutes, but it was as close as it could possibly come.
Q: Was the United States prepared this time to endure more collateral damage because of the timing of the attack and because of the kind of targets that you felt you had to select this time?
A: We have always been concerned in any of our military planning operations that we minimize the damage and harm to innocent civilians. That was true in this case as well. We also are obviously concerned about the welfare and the safety of our forces, very concerned about it. All of that goes into the planning, the targets, the target selection, as well as the timing of any type of military attack. So we try to reduce casualties to innocent civilians, but our paramount concern is also with the welfare of our own forces.
Q: Do you believe the two carriers will be swapped out? One in the Gulf?
A: I would hope that we would have the normal rotation. It was part of the plan to have a normal rotation. We would continue that.
Q: What about the Army troops out of Fort Bliss or Fort Stewart? Will you tell them to stand down?
A: It would be my recommendation. We'll have to discuss it with the President, obviously, but it would be my recommendation that we allow those that were scheduled to be deployed to stand down for the moment. They will be at the ready and can be called back on a moment's notice. If we find that Saddam is breaching this agreement then I think that no one, anyone, anywhere could fault the United States and our allies for considering action at that time.
Q: Considering action. Is there the possibility that the U.S. could strike without warning if in fact --
A: I'm sorry?
Q: Isn't it a possibility that this time he has been sufficiently warned and the U.S. could strike without warning if he doesn't live up to these latest commitments?
A: I think he has had more than sufficient warning. I don't believe that any additional warning is required.
Q: Mr. Secretary, yesterday U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said that he could not guarantee that Iraq would not do this again. What is the U.S. doing to guarantee that he doesn't do it again?
A: I think Kofi Annan said it right. There is no guarantee that Saddam will finally agree to do that which he has been obligated to do ever since the end of the Gulf War. I think it's also clear from Secretary General Annan's statement that everyone has gone the last mile with Saddam Hussein, [and] that the Gulf states passed a resolution which is very important, this past week. They said he should fully comply with his obligation and a failure to do so means that he will bear the full burden of those consequences on his shoulders. That was a very strong message coming from all of the Gulf states. It came through the Security Council as well. I think the message is very clear now, and unambiguous.
Press: Thank you, sir.