DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Welcome to the briefing.
I'd like to start by welcoming to the Pentagon a man who is the Mike McCurry of Poland, and that is Mr. Styrczula who is the spokesman for the President of Poland. He's visiting the United States as part of a USIA fellowship program. He was at the State Department, I think, yesterday. Is that correct? I think I saw a reference in the transcript yesterday. Welcome.
With that, I'll take your questions.
Q: Can you comment on the Washington Times report that the Saudis have agreed to buy up to 100 F-16s?
A: We do not have any formal request or proposal from the government of Saudi Arabia about purchasing F-16s, and therefore I can't go beyond that and give you any more details.
Q: Do you have informal indications that they're interested in buying F-16s?
A: They have a large fleet of F-5 fighters which they started buying in the early 1970s. They've bought from us 114 F- 5 fighters over a period of years. Those fighters are coming to the end of their lives, and they would like to replace them with more modern, more capable aircraft. We've known this for a number of years and we've been having discussions with them for a number of years, but we have no formal proposal from them. Therefore, I can't go into any details about what their plans are at this time.
Q: Have you been having talks about F-16s, and have they indicated they are at least interested in F-16s to replace the F- 5s?
A: They asked us some time ago for pricing information which we provided. They've also been discussing this with contractors, we know that. But as I say, we have no formal request from them and therefore, no details about what they're thinking of now.
Q: Have you any indication that Prince Sultan plans to bring a proposal next month?
A: I think you'd have to ask that question of the Saudis.
Q: Have you any indication?
A: I think that the Saudis can speak about the agenda for the visit. I'd rather not.
Q: In general, in dealing with F-16 sales to allied or friendly nations, what kind of aircraft are made available? Are they as up-to-date as those flown by U.S. pilots, or are they different?
A: We obviously fly our most modern planes and use our most up-to-date weapons before anybody else does, but we have had active military supply relationships with a number of countries in the world including Saudi Arabia, and the types of weapons we sell them, the armaments on those weapons and the avionics on those weapons are always subject to discussion and to the conditions at the time of sale.
Q: What you're saying is they're not as... outfitted with as much high tech avionics or whatever that the U.S. has, as a standard policy.
A: I'm not saying that. What I'm saying is that every sale is different.
Q: Isn't the F-15E the Saudis have less capable than the F- 15E the Air Force flies
A: I have not done a side-by-side comparison. If you want a full comparison, we can get somebody down here to discuss that. I don't think this is the time to do it, though.
Q: The discussions that have been held, however those might be, with the Saudis on replacing the F-5s, have they expressed any interest in ordering more F-15s versus the F-16s, or are they specifically looking at the F-16s? As was mentioned, they already ordered F-15s.
A: They already have F-15s. They've ordered 72, and I think 17 have been delivered. So you're right, they do have F- 15s. I guess they have a series of F-15s. They've got some Cs, they've got some Ds, and they've got some Ss as I understand it. In fact they do have more than 72. They have over 150 they've ordered.
Your question, again, was...
Q: Are they specifically, in terms of replacing their F- 5s, are they focused only on F-16s, or are there also discussions about ordering more F-15s?
A: We do not have a formal proposal from them. I don't want to talk about the details of the discussions. I don't think it's appropriate until we have a formal request or proposal.
Q: Keeping in mind what you just said, I did hear you, but I did want to see if you can clarify one thing you said a couple of seconds ago. You said "They've asked us for pricing information." Can you be any more specific as to which airframes they have asked the U.S. for pricing information about?
A: I'd rather not right now, no.
Q: Can I also ask you, you might have to take this one for the record, but can you tell us whether the Saudis are currently up to date on their FMS payments to the United States, or are they still in arrears?
A: We have an agreement with the Saudis for the payment of their FMS obligations and they are working in accordance with that agreement. They are making payments in accordance with that agreement.
Q: The next thing I just wanted to ask you. [Can] you say if, in fact, for the record, Secretary Cohen prepared to discuss arms sales with Prince Sultan when he comes in February?
A: As I said to you, we do not know what the Saudi agenda is at this stage, and I'd rather not get into that until the Saudis come or present their agenda to us.
Q: New subject?
Q: Khobar Towers. You announced yesterday that the release of the Air Force report on Khobar Towers has been postponed because it needs more work. Could you say what kind of work, how long the postponement might be, and what Secretary Cohen's involvement has been specifically? Has he been briefed on the Air Force report? Has he read the Air Force report? Or is what he knows what he got when he was up in his other life?
A: He has not been briefed specifically on the work in progress by the Air Force. He knows generally what the situation is. He has seen nothing from the Air Force on this. This is all, from his standpoint, premature, because as we said yesterday, the Air Force has not completed work on the project. Once it does, then he will review it. He and the staff will review it.
Q: On the definition of work, does that mean more investigations in the field, more legal tinkering? What kind of work are we talking about?
A: I don't want to get into the details of that right now. The Secretary of the Air Force and the Deputy Secretary of Defense have both agreed that more work has to be done. The Air Force is in the process of figuring out exactly what that work is, how to do it, how long it will take, and I don't think they've come to a final plan yet. So rather than get into details, I think I'd just like to let the work proceed.
Q: The implication from that would seem to be, though, that in some fashion the Secretary of the Air Force and the Deputy Secretary are not satisfied with the report. Is that a fair conclusion?
A: I think the use of the term report may overstate it. This is a, as I said, a work in progress.
Q: The draft version of the report...
A: Drafts are not final, and they're subject to change until they're final. As I said, by mutual agreement, the Secretary of the Air Force and the Deputy Secretary of Defense decided there was more work to do, and that's being done.
Q: Will it be ready next month, by March?
A: I can't answer that question.
Q: No deadline?
A: There's no deadline. The goal here is to produce the best possible product in a reasonable period of time.
Q: Does the Secretary have any involvement in the delaying of the nomination of General Schwalier?
A: That decision was made by the Air Force alone, and it was reported to other officials in the building after the Air Force had made it.
Q: You keep calling this a work in progress. Air Force officials said privately last month that this report had been sent to the SecDef's office. Does that mean that Sheila Widnall had signed off on it and now it's been bounced back by the Deputy Secretary to Widnall? There must be some dissatisfaction to this.
Did not the Air Force send this report to the SecDef?
A: The Secretary of the Air Force has decided that more work needs to be done on the report, and that's being done.
Q: But the Secretary of the Air Force decided this after the Deputy Secretary said you'd better look at this thing again, is that the way it worked?
A: I think that after looking at the report in the Air Force and elsewhere, it was decided to go back and do more work, including some, perhaps more discussions with people who were involved at the time, and that's going to be done.
Q: So the report was never sent to the SecDef's office from the Air Force?
A: That's correct.
Q: But it went to the Deputy Secretary?
Q: Yesterday the German Defense Minister said that a new Franco-German defense agreement had established for the first time NATO's preeminence over the French nuclear arsenal. Have the French agreed to subordinate their nuclear arsenal to NATO?
A: I'm afraid I don't know the answer to that question. You should ask the French.
Q: Just to clarify Jamie's response there... The Air Force said their report has been in the office of the DoD since mid- December, is that correct?
A: As I said, it's not correct to think of this in terms of a final report.
Q: Their draft has been in your hands since December, is that correct?
A: We've been discussing, there have been discussions about this project for about the last month, yes.
Q: The pieces of paper were in your in-basket, right?
A: There have been discussions about this for some time.
Q: The Air Force at one point considered this final. Now it's back with the Air Force again. Who did it?
A: All I can tell you is the Air Force does not consider this a final piece of work. That was indicated by Secretary Widnall's decision to do further work on it.
Q: Another subject?
Q: What about the Iraqis now are saying that there's not dissension in Iraq, there's not a power struggle in Iraq. What do you have to say about that? And can you give us some details on the statement by a senior U.S. military official the other day that Saddam's wife is under house arrest, how you know that...[cellular phone rings]...
A: I hope that's not Saddam calling [Laughter].
Q: It's his wife.
A: From her house. Probably needs groceries. Send new videos. [More laughter].
It's been widely reported that there was an attack on Saddam Hussein's son Uday. That's a pretty clear indication that there is some dissatisfaction with some elements of the leadership in Iraq. I think that event speaks for itself.
I can't go into more details about reports that Saddam Hussein's wife is under house arrest, but it is, I think, pretty clear that when you have a President of a country who moves from place to place frequently, whose whereabouts is generally kept unknown, whose family is under attack, whose daughters and son-in- law defected to a neighboring country and then came back and were assassinated -- his sons-in-laws -- that things aren't calm. All of this is public, you don't have to be an intelligence analyst to know this. It's been widely reported.
Q: Is the level of exercising, the level of sorties by the Iraqi air force, is that a source of concern or is it something the Pentagon simply monitors as sort of a routine background noise in Iraq? There's no raised level of concern?
A: I don't think we can consider anything the Iraqi military does as routine background noise given what we've seen them do in the past. We monitor their training cycles very, very carefully. As was explained several days ago, there has been an usually large number of training sorties recently. There could be a number of reasons for this. Some of it could involve training of new military leaders or having new military leaders train their forces. As you know, Saddam Hussein changes his military leaders from time to time, and so there's always room for more training, always a need for more training.
We watch Iraq very carefully because the country has proven itself to be unpredictable and prone to violent actions. The best example, of course, is the attack against Kuwait in 1990, but again, in 1994, in October of 1994, we thought that they were planning another attack against Kuwait. We dramatically augmented our forces in the Gulf at that time, and I believe that that helped head off what we subsequently learned, in 1995 from his defecting son-in-laws, had been a plan, which was another planned attack against Kuwait.
Again, in the fall of 1996, we were worried that there might be new actions along the border, perhaps aimed at Kuwait, and we again, augmented our forces in the area.
Now this comes against a backdrop of a fairly major improvement in our ability to respond very, very quickly to actions by Saddam Hussein against his neighbors. We have prepositioned a fair amount of equipment in the area. As you know, we have about 90 combat aircraft flying in the area in Operation Southern Watch; we have the 5th Fleet in the Gulf. Currently the Kitty Hawk is there in the Gulf and it's conducting flight operations. We have cruise missile shooters in the area at all times, and we have soldiers frequently training in the area. Some Marines have just finished an exercise in the area. They're just coming back to their ships. There will probably be some Army troops going over relatively soon to fall in on their equipment in Kuwait as part of one of the standard exercises with the prepositioned equipment.
Q: Do you regard the current level of exercising as a threat to Iraq's...
A: The essence of deterrence and the essence of readiness is to be able to respond at the earliest possible moment, not the latest possible moment. So we watch what's happening very carefully. Right now it does appear to be training, but we want to make sure that it doesn't quickly change from training to something else.
Q: Back to Saddam's wife again, what started this whole thing was a statement by a senior U.S. military official that his wife was under house arrest. Was this just the opinion of the U.S. military official who had something whispered in his ear, or does the U.S. Government subscribe to this? Is the government saying that yes, his wife's under house arrest?
A: The senior military official reported on the information that's available to him.
Q: Is it available to the government? Do you know about it?
Q: Well, no. I'm asking that.
A: What's the distinction here between the government and the senior military official?
Q: You're on the record now for the government.
A: Yes, I'm a spokesman on the record. He said that the wife is under house arrest. I assume that Mrs. Saddam Hussein is under house arrest.
Q: Can you just say whether... Is it the Pentagon's position that right now there are sufficient forces in the Persian Gulf region to prevent Saddam Hussein from retaking Kuwait if he attempted to do that in some sort of sneak attack? Or would you be in a position of having to punish and then push Saddam back out if he were to launch some sort of attack?
A: I can't answer a hypothetical question like that. I think we proved in 1990 and 1991; we proved in 1994; and we proved again in 1996 that we are capable of moving large, capable, well-trained and well-led military forces into the area very quickly and that these forces are fully capable and prepared to deliver decisive blows to protect our friends and neighbors and to protect themselves.
Q: It's not a hypothetical question to ask if you feel that the current level of forces is sufficient to prevent Saddam Hussein from retaking Kuwait. That's not really a hypothetical.
A: That's the wrong question. The question is, are we capable of protecting our interests in the Gulf? The answer is yes, we are.
Q: Bosnia. What's the status of the [Gajevi] tape?
A: I have spoken about the Gajevi tapes with military officials and those tapes will not be released.
Q: On what basis?
A: They have decided that it would be, for operational reasons, better not to release them.
Q: What sort of message does that send to new democracies when NATO/U.S. suppresses bad news?
A: I don't think it's a question of suppressing bad news. I think the Gajevi incident will actually turn out to be a really classic case of how SFOR is working and how it's achieving its goals in connection with the authorities of the formerly warring parties.
This was a situation, as you know, that occurred last Sunday when some Serb troops interrupted some Muslims who were rebuilding houses in the town of Gajevi. SFOR troops -- American and Russian troops -- got there very quickly. They stopped the attack. The Serbs retreated. Since then there have been several meetings with the President of the Serb Republic, Mrs. Plavsic, and she has agreed one, to launch a full investigation of what happened; and two, to allow the resumption of joint patrols involving the members of the International Police Task Force on the one hand, and the Republic of Serbska Police on the other hand. This is what we asked for, it's what General Crouch and Carl Bildt asked for when they went to see her, and that's what we've gotten.
Right now, Muslims, in fact today as a matter of fact, Muslim builders returned to the town and started rebuilding their houses. So I think we have succeeded in showing that when a group of Muslims follow all the rules that have been set up by the military and the civilian authorities for notifying the authorities that they're coming in to return to an area to which they have a legitimate claim, and build houses there in accordance with the rules, that they will be allowed to do that.
Q: What does this tape show, since we're not going to see it? And was it shot by U.S. military?
A: While we were there, during this incident, we were able to take some pictures of the incident.
Q: What is the operational fear? I don't think I understand it. It sounds pretty heavily like censorship. The description of these tapes is that they simply show what happened. Why is that so horrible to see? What's the fear?
A: The commanders have decided that they need to preserve... They have decided it would be better for the safety of their troops not to release these tapes.
Q: Because it reveals something about their tactics, or because it might inflame the local situation?
A: No. I think there's a variety of reasons why they made this decision.
Q: Are the tapes classified?
A: These are SFOR pictures that were taken.
Q: They're American taxpayer pictures that were taken. It's very arbitrary. Field officers shouldn't be making that kind of decision about public documents. That's your decision, Ken.
A: I've had a discussion with the officers involved and decided that this is the appropriate decision now.
Q: Does that mean that they may be released later?
A: I don't think so.
Q: How does this affect the safety of the troops?
A: Without getting into details that would in fact compromise the safety of the troops, I can't answer that question.
Q: Does it identify individuals, or could their faces be blacked out?
A: I don't think faces are the issue here.
Q: Is it because it's too bloody? Is there shock value to these things?
A: The fact of the matter is that because the incident occurred the way it did and ended as quickly and as effectively as it did, these would be wonderful pictures to show from the standpoint of the effectiveness of the United States military and the Russian military, which was also involved. This was a joint U.S./Russian patrol involved in quieting down very quickly what could have turned into a messy situation. So no, it's not because they're bloody.
Q: Was any part of the decision made because the Russians objected to having film distributed of their troops in Bosnia engaged in an action? Was that a factor in the U.S. decisionmaking?
Q: Do we know everything that isn't [Laughter]?
A: That's right.
Q: There's a report today that the upcoming budget will contain additional troop, force structure reductions. Are there remaining reductions still to occur in the forces from the Bottom- Up Review? Or doesn't a Perry/Cohen budget look towards taking hunks out of the troop levels?
A: The Perry/Cohen budget is really the Perry budget because Secretary Cohen got here too late to have any impact on the budget. The Bottom-Up Review figure for total military I believe was 1.44 million and we're close to that now. We're about 1.50, maybe a little less than that. So there's still a few reductions to be made, I believe, but you can get the exact numbers from DDI on that. Is that essentially right, that we're close but not quite there? So there are still a few reductions that we made in line with the Bottom-Up Review.
Q: Does the budget anticipate going below 1.44?
A: I'm not aware that it does.
Q: At a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee yesterday, Senator Arlen Specter singled you out by title, although not by name, in saying that he took umbrage at your comment that the effort to pursue the Schwarzkopf logs was a "wild goose chase." I wondered if you had any comment. The Senator objected to your characterization.
A: No, I have no comment.
Q: The budget doesn't go below 1.44. Will the revised FYDP go below 1.44?
A: One of the great things about covering the Pentagon is that there are always stories to cover next week. The budget is next week's story. (Laughter)
Q: You can answer that and it will still be for next week.
Q: What time is the briefing going to be next week?
A: There are two briefings next week. First there will be a background briefing on Wednesday, the 5th; and that is currently scheduled for 2:30 here. Then Secretary Cohen will actually release the budget, describe it, answer some questions about it, and that will probably be some time in the afternoon of the 6th, but we don't have a firm time for that yet.
Q: That Wednesday briefing will be embargoed?
A: Yes. The Wednesday briefing will be embargoed, as always, until the budget's officially released, and I think that will be early in the morning, maybe at 9 o'clock on the 6th, Thursday. But you should ask OMB about that.
While we're on the budget I should also point out that after the background briefing here by the Comptroller, there will be a series of background sessions by the services as we do every year, so if you're particularly interested in Navy programs you can get the Navy briefing, etc.
Press: Thank you.