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Defense Department Briefing

Presenter: Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Larry Di Rita
April 21, 2005
Defense Department Briefing

     Q     We're all warmed up now.

 

     MR. DIRITA:  You are?  Maybe I should leave.

 

     Good afternoon.

 

      Q     (Laughs.)  We were -- we were about to!

 

     MR. DIRITA:  I'm sorry.  Yeah, I got delayed doing some other things.  But I'm very happy to join you this afternoon.  It's been a few weeks.  We were traveling last week, so I just didn't have the opportunity.

 

     And I don't have any -- particularly opening comment.

 

     I would like to express condolences to the individuals who were -- to the families of the individuals who were involved in the helicopter crash that occurred in Iraq.  There's still a lot we don't know about what happened there.  But we do offer our condolences to those families involved.

 

     And with that, I'd be happy to just go to some questions.

 

     Sir?

 

     Q     Larry, could you tell us about the Americans on the helicopter, who they worked for, and whether the Pentagon had anything to do with employing those people on the helicopter.  I understand they -- did they work for Blackwater or --

 

     MR. DIRITA:  It's my understanding that that company has put out a statement to that effect.  We're still learning some details.  There's going to be an investigation by the Iraqi civil authorities -- civil aviation authorities that we will -- that the Multinational Force will assist with. 

 

     I'm not particularly -- I think the number was something on the order of six, but I would be careful with those reports just because I think they'll go in and investigate and learn more in the immediate future, and then learn as far as causes in the longer-term future.  But there will be an investigation by Iraqi civil authorities, and we'll assist in that investigation.  And there's no early indications as to what happened; how it crashed.

 

     Q     Well, because I understand the U.S. military is saying probably an RPG.  And the Bulgarian Defense minister is saying a missile, of course which could be anything.

 

     MR. DIRITA:  Apparently, the Bulgarian minister of Defense -- Ministry of Defense has made a comment to that effect.  I'm not aware that we -- we have not made any official assessments on that, and I don't believe that there's been any official statements to that effect coming out of the theater from U.S. military.

 

     Q     But by a missile, it could mean anything from an RPG to an actual missile.

 

     MR. DIRITA:  I wouldn't want to speculate.  I know - apparently the Iraqi -- the Bulgarian Defense Ministry has made a comment to the effect that they believed it was shot down.  But I think we just don't know that and we're not in a position to make an independent assessment of that yet, nor are Iraqi civil authorities, as I understand it.

 

     Q     Larry, can you sort out this discrepancy in figures that the Iraqi government is saying more than 50 people were found in the Tigris River, and most of the people we've talked to have numbers that are quite different from that, if any at all.  What happened, and why there's such a difference in the numbers?

 

     MR. DIRITA:  First of all, why there's a difference is -- I can't say why there's a difference, but I can say that those kinds of differences aren't surprising.  People are gathering their own information.  We now have an Iraqi government that has its own sources of information, that has its own ability to develop understanding of things that happen. 

 

     We have not made -- we don't have any indications that can corroborate the specific numbers involved.  Apparently there have been some number of individuals discovered in this stadium.  The causes of their death, the time of their death, the type of -- what they were doing, and whether they were security forces or not, remain in question.  There have been reports all across the map on that.  I don't believe MNFI has said anything yet because MNFI has no independent ability to validate what is coming out of the Iraqi government.  So --

 

     Q     Why not?  Why don't they have?

 

     MR. DIRITA:  Because it's a government that's doing its own investigation into what they know.  And we're working closely with them.  But it's -- we should start to expect this in the sense that we will not be, necessarily, the -- when I say "we"; the Multinational Force is not necessarily going to be the first or best source of information as we go forward in Iraq because there's now an Iraqi government with police, and with security forces, and with intelligence apparatus.  And we're going to, to some extent like we are in other countries, be dependent on information that we learn from the Iraqi government or in conjunction with the Iraqi government.

 

And at the moment, we just have not learned anything independent.

 

     Q     Wait, let's go back.  You said the stadium.  How about the ones who were found in the river?

 

     MR. DIRITA:  It's not clear to me that there's -- we are -- there's more about this that we don't know than what we know.  And what we know is mostly what we're hearing from the Iraqi government.  So we have made no independent assessment of whether there's a difference between the reports that President Talibani made with respect to the river and what we understand is the presence of some corpses at the stadium.  So we'll let this sort itself out and we'll provide such information as we're able to, and mostly what we're providing will be coming from the theater.

 

     Q     What about --

 

     Q     Excuse me.  Just a second.  With all the intel stuff that you have, with all the ability to look down and see things, you're not seeing 50 bodies in the river?  You're not seeing any bodies in the river?

 

     MR. DIRITA:  We're seeing nothing at the moment.   What we're doing is reporting to the best of our understanding what the Iraqi government understands to be the situation.  And as that gets clarified, we'll offer additional information.  But at the moment this kind of uncertainty is something we should expect because, as I said, the Iraqi government is the lead on this kind of activity.  They're trying to understand it better themselves.  Obviously, there's going to be clarifications come out as they learn more, an we'll do our best to provide that information.

 

     Q     You don't want to say whether you believe they're accurate or not, though.

 

     MR. DIRITA:  I'm in no position to have a judgment on that.  I just simply cannot.

 

     Q     Larry, nonetheless, what does the Pentagon and the Defense Department make of the uptick in violence, in the number of attacks over the last week to two weeks or so?  What do you think is the cause of this?  And do you have any ability to quantify the rise in violence now compared to, perhaps, right after the election?

 

     MR. DIRITA:  A lot of questions there.  What we've seen throughout the period of really for the last two years is these attacks and the numbers of attacks fluctuate from one period to another.  And so it's difficult -- I wouldn't want to try and say that there's a trend as the result of a week or two of data. 

 

     What we do know is that we still, in terms of total weekly attacks, are below the number that occurred about a year from - in other words, from this point until the sovereignty transfer, to take one baseline.  So in terms of the total average weekly attacks now versus the period just prior to the transfer of sovereignty, we're below that level.  We're below the level that occurred just from the transfer of sovereignty to the elections.  We're below the level that occurred from the elections until, say, mid-February.

 

But it is a fact that in the last week or two, there's been an uptick.  So it's difficult to see whether that's a trend or whether it's -- nobody denies that there's been a slight increase in the violence in the last week or two.

 

     Q     Do you have any view at this point, or are you trying to figure out even what to attribute it to?  Do you have any --

 

     MR. DIRITA:  I don't know that our commanders have made any assessment.  I would say this:  the commanders -- we were there last week -- the secretary visited with some of the commanders.  There isn't a commander in Iraq that -- I would say this:  Every commander that we've talked to in Iraq -- during that trip and subsequent to that -- believes that, generally speaking, the development of the security forces, the Iraqi security forces, is proceeding in an effective and appropriate fashion.  Their understanding -- the commanders' understanding -- of the nature of the enemy is getting better all the time, because intelligence is getting better.  Their ability to interdict attacks is getting more refined as they get better intelligence. 

 

     So I would say that if you want to look at trends, I think the commanders feel that in terms of our ability to understand this enemy and interrupt the enemy, and the Iraqi security force's capacity against that enemy, is getting better all the time.

 

     Now, with that said, we know that this is an enemy that is running out of time with respect to an Iraqi government.  It will soon be attacks on an Iraqi government that Iraqis understand more than anything else.  I think we're at that point, actually, that they see this as attacks on Iraqis, not on the coalition.  There's enough indication, including the elections, but even subsequent to the elections, that suggests that Iraqis themselves are starting to take action against potential attacks by providing more information, by being willing to interrupt attacks.  We saw Iraqi security forces who did that on the day of the election, for example. 

 

     So there's a sense of -- there may be a sense that the attackers recognize that they are increasingly being identified as people who are against what most Iraqis want, and so there will be a desire to grab headlines with more spectacular attacks.  That's possible, and that's something that people think may be going on.  There's a growing number of Iraqi security forces, so that presents more targets for the attackers.

 

      So there's a lot of factors.  I don't think that anybody could indicate what the basis for the uptick is, nor can they determine - I haven't heard any commanders try and give an assessment on whether they think it's a trend, or whether they're just -- it's something that they're focused on and paying attention to.

 

     Q     Larry, you talked about possibly more spectacular attacks.  There was a somewhat spectacular, although ineffective, attack against a Marine outpost on the Syrian border last week involving a fire truck laden with explosives.  Can you tell us anything about what happened in that incident, and what it says about --

 

     MR. DIRITA:  I don't have anything.  I believe MNFI put something out at the time as to what they knew.  We don't have anything beyond that in terms of the details of the incident.

 

     Q     Well, it appeared to be a very sophisticated attack that involved several suicide bombers trying to breach the perimeter.

 

     MR. DIRITA:  Right.

 

     Q     And, it was -- as I said, it was unsuccessful, but like the attack on the Abu Ghraib prison.  What did the prison attack, this one, what does that say about what's happening with the insurgency that we've seen those kinds of attacks?

 

     MR. DIRITA:  Well, one can speculate.  The commanders wonder whether there's a -- they're marshaling their dwindling capacity on being able to conduct these kinds of what appear to be better coordinated attacks, but more spectacular, and perhaps fewer more spectacular attacks.  That's speculation. 

 

     But the fact is that the security forces and coalition are developing some capacity to interrupt these things or to stop them before they cause real damage.  But again, that doesn't make anybody sanguine.  I mean, there's still -- the Iraqi government, as well as the commanders, are working very hard to make sure that they can truly understand is there something more here that we need. 

 

     But as I said, the impression one gets by talking to the commanders is that they generally feel that their trend is greater sense of desperation; to be sure, more spectacular capacity - and we've seen this -- we saw this in the car bombing in Hillah, for example, and other types of attacks that we've talked about, and the Abu Ghraib -- what appeared to be something of a coordinated attack.  We're keeping our eye on it, and the commanders are mindful of that.

 

     But as I said, there isn't a commander over there who doesn't think we're making progress and that the progress is generally positive, and that the Iraqi security forces, in particular, are getting better and better all the time.  So --

 

     Q     Larry, on that, there have been some recent instances where the Iraqi government -- different leaders came out and came to exaggerate some of the things that they're finding.  Do you feel like this is purposeful in some way to --

 

     MR. DIRITA:  The Iraqi government?

 

     Q     -- to increase the sectarian tension between the different sects, the Shi'ites and the Sunnis?  Do you think that this has increased, somehow, the tension between the different people?

 

     MR. DIRITA:  Here's what I -- here's my impression.  And again, we met with the Iraqi leaders last week.  My impression is that the Iraqi leadership across the board -- and we met with the prime minister, we met with the outgoing prime minister, we met with - the prime minister-designate, I should say, the outgoing prime minister, the president -- that the trends are towards unity and not dissension; that they understand the importance of pulling in disparate forces, disparate factions, minorities; that they find that a very important component of the next six or eight months as they do the constitutional development, the constitutional referendum and the election.

 

     So I don't -- I have no reason to see it the way that you've described it, and I have plenty of reason to see it as the Iraqi leadership trying to do what it's been doing very well so far, which is keep the forces pointed inward, keep the outreach active, and particularly toward minorities, bringing in the Shi'ite leadership, or I should say the Sunni; Sunni leaders themselves trying to become part of this, recognizing that they didn't participate in the election as well as they might have done, and wanting to catch up.

 

     Q     What role does the U.S. military play in the information -- you touched on it there, you're stepping back -- as far as the announcements of different events coming from the Iraqis and not MNF-I.

 

     MR. DIRITA:  Yeah.

 

     Q     But is there a clarification, is there a confirmation that we should be looking for - for the U.S. military in all of these different major announcements?

 

     MR. DIRITA:  No.  And that's a good question, by the way.  And I don't know.  I mean, we're going to kind of find our way as we move forward.  There's a very good relationship between the Iraqi government, as there has been, and the coalition commanders.  There's a strong desire, both in the country as well as in the region, to let the Iraqi government determine what is being said publicly, to step back, if you will, when it involves U.S. or coalition forces. Obviously, we're going to try and be more upfront and open and - in front, I should say, with providing the information because we're going to be more capable of providing that information.  But when it comes to such incidents as what we saw or what may be occurring in the stadium, we're going to necessarily be at a bit of a disadvantage on information because it's the Iraqi government that we're deferring to, as it should be.

 

     Q     Let's go back to the violence issue in Iraq.  You said that the number of attacks is below the level.  Could you tell me which -- what level are you talking about, the U.S. level or the Iraqi level?

 

     MR. DIRITA:  Well, we maintain a database, the commanders do, on the number of attacks in the country.

 

     Q     The U.S. level or the Iraqi level?

 

     MR. DIRITA:  You mean attacks against U.S. versus attacks against Iraqis?

 

     Q     The level --

 

      MR. DIRITA:  They're doing their best to maintain --

 

     Q     What level are you talking about?  What is this level?

 

     MR. DIRITA:  The commanders there maintain their best assessment of the numbers of attacks inside the country.  They don't discriminate, to the best of my understanding, between attacks against Iraqis versus attacks against the United States or coalition forces when it comes to just tallying up the weekly number.

 

     Q     Yes, but don't you think that the number of Iraqis killed is going up?

 

     MR. DIRITA:  That appears to be the case.  And that's been the case for a little while.

 

     Q     It's going up day after day.

 

     MR. DIRITA:  I don't know about day after day, but it does appear to be the case that, relatively speaking, more Iraqis are being killed than coalition forces.  And I think that's with purpose by the - by the -- by the insurgency.  I mean, they are trying to attack Iraqi elements of progress.  I mean, that's their objective.  In fact, that's their stated objective.  If you go back to the Zarqawi letter and since then, comments that we've heard or our understanding, they are trying to disrupt the progress of democracy in that country.  That's their stated policy.

 

     Q     You said you have statistics.  How many attacks a day are you seeing now?

 

     MR. DIRITA:  We will give you the statistics we have.  The one I'm looking at right now happens to be on a classified document.  I don't believe the number is classified, but I'm not at the moment at liberty to --

 

     Q     (Off mike.)

 

     MR. DIRITA:  I don't.  We'll try and provide something.  I think last week General Casey or somebody when we were there said publicly it was 40 to 50 a week -- a day, I should say.  And so if people are generally accepting that it's a slightly higher number, then it's slightly higher than that, but I couldn't say that on a daily basis.

 

     Q     Larry?

 

     MR. DIRITA:  I'll come back to you.

 

     Q     Sure.

 

     Q     A non-Iraq question?

 

     MR. DIRITA:  Why don't I finish up on Iraq if there's any more.  And let's try and get to some other stuff.

 

     Q     The helicopter.  It's our understanding that the helicopter that went down did not have chaff.  Independent of what brought it down --

 

      MR. DIRITA:  Did not have what?  Chaff?

 

     Q     Chaff and any sort of countermeasures.

 

     MR. DIRITA:  Countermeasures.

 

     Q     The Department of Defense is contracting these folks.  Are there any sort of restrictions that you have to force these contractors to make sure that the private individuals who are doing work on behalf of DOD have the same sort of protections that uniformed service members are getting?  And shouldn't somebody who is doing the work of the Department of Defense, same mission, just because they're getting their paycheck from somewhere else, have the same -- enjoy the same protections that somebody in a uniform would be?

 

     MR. DIRITA:  I'm not sure that that premise is the basis on which people operate over there.   In other words, there are contractors who assume a certain amount of risk.  Everybody over there is -- no, I don't say everybody -- there are a number of contractors to the U.S. military, to the Department of Defense, some to the Department of State, and they assume a certain risk by being over there.

 

And I wouldn't want to characterize exactly what status this particular -- obviously we mourn the loss of life, and I'm sure that the contractor would have taken all of the appropriate precautions.  I mean, I think that's what -- they have the same regard for their employees as we do for our forces.  But I can't say that that necessarily means they're going to be on the same status.  I just don't think that's the case.

 

     Q     They have the same countermeasures.  Shouldn't they have the same protective gear, shouldn't they have the same kind of ballistic gear, shouldn't they have the same --

 

     MR. DIRITA:  As I said, I think contractors recognize the environment that they're operating in.  It's like they're around the world, and they make appropriate adjustments on their own determination.

 

     Jim.

 

     Q     Yeah.  You said that the commanders, or some commanders believe that what the insurgents are doing are marshaling dwindling capabilities, right, on certain spectacular --

 

     MR. DIRITA:  And there's a lot of assumptions in that statement, to be sure.

 

     Q     Exactly.  Now, the dwindling capabilities:  why do they think that the insurgents' capabilities are dwindling?

 

     MR. DIRITA:  Well, I don't know that they think that.  I think that they assume that, as a result of better intelligence, as a result of having captured an awful lot of these guys, or killed a lot of them, and as a result of the -- such indicators as the successful election, as the successful transition to the transitional Iraqi government, that there's a -- it's a bit of a subjective evaluation. I mean, there's a growing sense of the ability for ordinary Iraqis to go about their lives, recognizing that it's still a very dangerous country, that there are still the possibility for very spectacular, dangerous attacks that will kill Iraqis, that there's a general perception that they're interrupting a lot of attacks, they're interrupting a lot of planning, they're apprehending a lot of people on the basis of better intelligence.  And I think that there's a number of assumptions as to whether or not they feel, relatively speaking, the insurgents are more or less capable.  And so, there's some -- there are some thoughts that there may be a desire to grab headlines, as progress in Iraq overwhelms the ability for the insurgents to give the impression that they are in control, which they are certainly not.  It's subjective.  There's no easy way to measure it.

 

     How about we come back?  Go ahead.

 

     Q     Report today that the Pentagon is recommending that Congress change some of the statutes in the Uniform Code of Military Justice regarding certain sexual activity.  I'm wondering if you can

--

 

     Q     Iraq?  Let's go back to Iraq.  I'm sorry.  I was just --

 

     MR. DIRITA:  Why don't we take one more question on Iraq --

 

     Q     One more on Iraq.

 

     MR. DIRITA:  -- because I think we probably talked a lot about it today, and we'll get on to some other things, because I don't have forever.  (Laughter.) 

 

     Go ahead, Charlie.

 

     Q     Larry, you mentioned the fraternity and unity that the -- the promises that the secretary received last week from the president and the prime minister.  And yet Talabani said yesterday there might be a delay in forming the new cabinet, apparently because of political infighting.

Does that spark any concern here about the secretary's warnings last week against any delay in the political process?  And, since you've returned, have there been any indications to you-all that there might be some attempt to sweep out Ba'athist bureaucrats and do the kind of thing --

 

     MR. DIRITA:  I don't think I mentioned any promises that the Iraqis made.  What I mentioned was an impression.  And the impression that the Iraqis gave -- the Iraqi leaders that we met with gave, was uniformly one that they want to be inclusive, they want to pull as many people into the process as possible.  They understand the importance of meeting timelines, they understand the importance in competence in the selection of officials and military officers. 

 

     Now, within that, they're going to be making decisions every day about their own future, understanding what we think would be the most advantageous with respect to the coalition activities in that country, and what we think would be what I described, which is:  stick to the timelines, make sure that we have a sense of competence as a criteria for people that are being selected for these positions, and remain on the track they're on, which is inclusive. 

 

     On any given day, week or month there's going to be comments coming out of the Iraqi government, and we'll assess those as they come.  I have not seen the comments that President Talabani may have made, and I don't know to what extent his comments affect the overall process, or some sort of "we need a little more time here, but we'll catch up there."  So far, they've been -- they've done what they said they were going to do.  They formed a government.  They've more or less come together on general agreements about the nature of the -- you know, who's involved in what, that sort of thing. 

 

     Go ahead.

 

     Q     Proposed changes to the UCMJ to decriminalize certain sexual activity.  Can you, A, provide the rationale for that; why the Pentagon is asking Congress to do that.

 

     MR. DIRITA:  I'll do my best.

 

     Q     And also, will this in any way affect "don't ask, don't tell"?

 

     MR. DIRITA:  No.

 

     Q     And does the Pentagon have a position on "don't ask, don't tell" this piece of legislation to --

 

     MR. DIRITA:  The "don't ask, don't tell" policy is the policy.  It's not going to change.  There's nobody here contemplating changing it.

 

     With respect to what you asked about, I think we have a letter that may have even been put out; it's a letter that we sent to the committee.  And as I understand it, it has to do with the crime of sodomy.  We're trying to harmonize the Uniform Code of Military Justice with some recent case law and some recent decisions in other federal statutes so that that crime can be properly referred to in the Uniform Code of Military Justice.  And it gets to the question of consensual versus forcible.  But the fact is that that particular act will continue to be a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice; it's just got to do with how it's identified in the code.  It's more of a legal harmonization with case law than it is anything else.

 

     Q     That act will continue to be a crime --

 

     MR. DIRITA:  Mm-hmm.  (Affirmative response.)

 

     Q     -- if its forcible?

 

     MR. DIRITA:  No, both.

 

     Q     I'm sorry?

 

     MR. DIRITA:  Consensual and forcible.  It's just a question of where it fits in the Uniform Code of Military Justice.  The fact that -- the act will continue to be a crime in the United States military; that's not changing.

 

     Q     Consensual will?

 

     Q     Consensual will continue to be a crime?

 

     MR. DIRITA:  Yeah.  And we'll provide --

 

     Q     I've seen the letter.  It doesn't say that --

 

     Q     The letter doesn't --

 

     MR. DIRITA:  I'm clarifying it so that you can understand what the intent of that letter is.

 

     Q     So you're not decriminalizing --

 

     Q     So you're not decriminalizing consensual sodomy?

 

     MR. DIRITA:  No  No, we're not.

 

     Q     Well, what's --

 

     MR. DIRITA:  I'm describing exactly what the intent of that letter is.

 

     Q     Well, what is the change, then, if you're not decriminalizing it?

 

     MR. DIRITA:  The change is what you'll read in the letter, which is what part of the Uniform Code it's identified in.  And it has to do with the question of identifying the crime by name as opposed to identifying it in the context of "good order and discipline," and there's a difference in terms of forcible versus consensual.

 

     And why don't you get the letter, take a look at the comments I just gave you.  The fact is, it will continue to be a crime in the United States military.

 

     Q     A question on Iran.  This morning, the media -- the Iranian media -- showed that hundreds of Iranians, they are ready to make suicide attacks against American targets.  What could you comment on this?

 

     MR. DIRITA:  I have -- I have no idea.  I haven't seen the reference.  And, obviously we're engaged in a global war on terror and -- what are you telling me, what you heard?

 

     Q     Yes --

 

     MR. DIRITA:  We're in a global war on terror, and there are terrorists in many countries in the world, including here in the United States.  And we're doing our best to engage terrorists across the globe so that we don't have to engage them here in the United States. 

 

     With respect to specific comments that individuals have made, I just don't have any -- I've not seen the comments and I don't have any particular reaction to it.

 

     Q     Larry, Secretary Rumsfeld has voiced concern from time to time about the level of congressional oversight; that people in the department are constantly having to go to the Hill to answer questions, to complete reports, that it cuts into their ability to do their jobs.  Yesterday the Senate voted to tell the department that it couldn't retire aircraft carriers.  The Senate has voted in the last week or so to dictate a procedure by which you acquire warships.  Is there any concern here that the Congress -- I guess in particular the Senate -- is moving beyond oversight into micromanagement of the department, and is there any worry about that?

 

     MR. DIRITA:  Well, I certainly wouldn't characterize the actions of the United States Senate as you have.  But I would just say that we -- the president submitted a budget, the budget had certain proposals with respect to shipbuilding, and it's our desire that the budget that the president submitted be the budget that the Congress passes.

 

     And then in the course of the Congress doing its work, there will be amendments, and those amendments will be discussed in conference when the two houses get together, and we'll continue to make the case for what we said we wanted -- what the president's budget reflects -- and we'll see how it comes out.  I mean, as the old saying goes, and you've all heard it, the  president proposes and the Congress disposes.

 

     Q     If I could ask a follow-up.  During the course of the debate yesterday, Senator Warner then suggested -- and he had earlier -- that the department had, in effect, tried to go around the QDR process, to make a major force structure decision outside the QDR process.  Could you just respond to that?

 

     MR. DIRITA:  I would say that that's not the -- I don't believe that that was the intent of proposals that we made in the budget with respect to shipbuilding.  We will certainly be continuing to look at the array of capabilities in the QDR.  But that's certainly the chairman's interpretation and he's entitled to his interpretation.  It was not the intent of the budget that we put together.  In fact, there were specific things that we said when we submitted the budget that we would defer to discussion in the QDR; strike capability, for example, was one of them. 

 

     So it was certainly not the intent of anybody here to go around the process.  That process happens every four years, and in the meantime we do have to make decisions on long-term budgets and programs.  And this decision with respect to shipbuilding, and the ship program generally, was a decision that the secretary of the Navy and, ultimately, the secretary of Defense and the president thought was the right decision.

 

     So -- but the chairman has his views.  The amendment is what it is.  We'll continue to work with the committees in both houses as they go into conference.  And as I said, the president's budget is the budget that we hope comes out at the other end.

 

     Q     I had a couple of international arms-related questions on two separate subjects.  What's the latest decision on whether the Pentagon will support the Paris Air Show in June?  I ask this because two years ago the Pentagon's less than full participation was seen as a snub at the French.  Has the secretary made a decision to support the show this year?

 

     MR. DIRITA:  Well, I don't know what "full" is and therefore whether somebody's definition of "full" will be what we end up doing.  I just simply don't know.  I mean, I'm not sure -- is -- do you?  I mean, what's full versus --

 

     Q     Levels of airplane -- I'm not going to get into all of it

--

 

     MR. DIRITA:  Okay. 

 

     Q     -- but the levels of aircraft --

 

     MR. DIRITA:  Well, then maybe I'm not going to be able to get into the answer if I don't understand the question.

 

     Q     Okay.  Well, has --

 

     MR. DIRITA:  There's been no -- I mean, first of all, we're at war.  We're -- we have a -- there is stress on the force, and so we're always looking for ways to minimize the stress on the force.  And there's indeed a number of initiatives going on to minimize stress on the force, including -- we're looking at exercises and things like that.  Do we want to keep doing these things? 

 

     So it's possible that people will make a decision to do things that affect -- that may affect that.  But there's been no general guidance on the Paris Air Show, and I would imagine that the people that choose to participate in that will participate at some level in which it seems appropriate.  There's been no -- the secretary hasn't issued any guidance one way or the other.

 

     Q     Is that in the works, though --

 

     MR. DIRITA:  Is what in the works?

 

     Q      Is some kind of guidance in the works?

 

     MR. DIRITA:  I don't think so.  I think it'll be something -- that people will be expected to use their best judgment, and if there's representation that takes place, wonderful.  And people will do their best to make sure that they do that in a way that doesn't affect ongoing operations, et cetera -- kind of the way we operate.

 

     Q     A second, unrelated but international security airplane issue.  To what extent has Israel been frozen out temporarily of the Joint Strike Fighter program?  There were reports last week citing unnamed officials using all sorts of verbs -- that they've been restricted, suspended --

 

     MR. DIRITA:  Yeah, I don't know.  And I couldn't use -- I don't know anything about the words you're using, but the fact is that Israel is a security cooperation partner in the Joint Strike Fighter program.  That's unchanged.  And our commitment to sell the Joint Strike Fighter to Israel is unchanged as well.

 

     But there are some types of technology and information that at the moment we're not comfortable sharing while some issues can be worked out.  And those issues are being worked out in a bilateral fashion.

 

     Q     (Off mike) -- share between Israel and the United States on the Joint Strike Fighter?  (Off mike) -- issues.

 

     MR. DIRITA:  As I understand it, yes.  While we work out the understanding between us and Israel, they remain a partner in the program.  But as we develop this program, there are some types of technology information that we're not comfortable sharing until we can resolve some of these issues.  But there's an expectation that they can be resolved.

 

     (Cross talk.)

 

     Q     And who Israel in turn might share that with?

 

     MR. DIRITA:  That's the concern.  The question is, what can we share with Israel?  And there's some technology and information that we're not, while we work this out. 

 

     Q     But specifically, on a day-to-day relationship right now on the Join Strike Fighter program, are there restrictions on what the Israelis are receiving?

 

     MR. DIRITA:  I'm not sure I can say any -- I'm not equipped to say any more than what I've just told you, which is that there is some -- there are some technology and information that we're not comfortable sharing until we can work out some of these issues.

 

     (Cross talk.)  Do we have any -- if there's any more that we can say to the --

 

     Q     (Off mike) -- China concerns.  Is that correct, Larry?

 

     MR. DIRITA:  I'm not -- I don't have anything more for you than what I just gave you.  Okay.

 

     Q     Is Israel unique in this case, as a JSF partner?

 

     MR. DIRITA:  I don't know, and I'll try and find out.  They -- they're not unique in the sense that they are a security cooperation partner in the Joint Strike Fighter.  There are other countries in that category.

 

     Q     (Off mike) -- these issues, do you mean issues of who, in fact, Israel might share technology with?  Is that the issues --

 

     MR. DIRITA:  I think that's the nature of the issues.

 

     Q     Thanks.

 

     MR. DIRITA:  In the back.

 

     Q     May I ask a question on Spain?  I'm a Spanish correspondent.  My name is -- (inaudible).  The Spanish defense minister is coming to Washington in a few days to speak to Secretary Rumsfeld.  Obviously, there were tensions between the two countries because of the withdrawal of the troops from Iraq.  There seem to be some problems now with sales of weapons to Venezuela.  How would you define the military relationship right now?

 

     MR. DIRITA:  Well, there are a range of bilateral relationships that we have with Spain.  Spain is a NATO ally.  And I don't have anything more to add to comments that we've made about decisions that the Spanish government has made over the last year or so.  But Spain remains a NATO ally.  They remain a country in which the United States has a lot of bilateral interests and relationships, and we take these things kind of as they come.  And there will be -- there is a meeting coming up, so.

 

     Okay. 

 

     Q     One more?

 

     MR. DIRITA:  I'll take one more question.  Sure.

 

     Q    Can you clarify?  You said the capability of the insurgency seems to be declining and they're focusing on bigger headline-grabbing effects.

 

     MR. DIRITA:  But I didn't say that with certainty.  I said there are some people that believe that that may be the case but we're going to continue to evaluate it on a day-to-day basis.

 

     Q     But how does it square with an uptick in the number of attacks?  They seem to be doing the big attacks as well as a lot of small ones.

 

     MR. DIRITA:  It's difficult to tell if that's a trend or if that's just what's happened in the last week or two, but we'll - you know, there are people that pay attention to this on a daily basis and change techniques and procedures accordingly.  So as I said, we are fully into this.  The Iraqi security forces, at about 155,000 or so, are getting better all the time.  And I would say if you look at the grand sweep of the last two years, both in terms of the capability of the Iraqi security forces and the effectiveness of the insurgency, both of those is going in a direction that commanders -- for the most part, looking at time and not day-to-day basis -- are comfortable with.

 

     Q     All right.  What about the Pace nomination? 

 

     (Off-mike response.)

 

     Q     Thank you.

 

 

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