ADM. MULLEN: Good afternoon. Thanks for being here. Just a couple comments before we start.
First of all, there's, I know, a great deal of interest in what's happened in Basra, and in particular, obviously, we all watch that operation very closely. We were informed about it, but in fact it was Iraqi-led. The strategic intent was Iraqi-originated. We did perform -- provide support in some logistics areas, some air support, some ISR, some planners. Also those training team members that are embedded with the Iraqi security forces were also there.
And I applaud the strategic intent here by the prime minister, who -- you know, we've been looking forward to when -- a time when the Iraqi security forces would in fact take the lead and be aggressive in terms of providing for their own security, and so from that standpoint that strategic intent, I think, was very positive.
Secondly, the second point is, the week before last, I think, we had the president here to discuss with him the way forward in Iraq. We had a good meeting with him of about an hour and a half, wide-ranging discussion. It wasn't just about Iraq. We focused also on the global challenges that we have, the regional challenges that we have. The Joint Chiefs, in particular, worked very hard with respect to our recommendations to approach it from the strategic level and stay out of the tactical level with respect to all those issues.
It was -- as I indicated, it was a very thorough discussion and the president, in my view, was given very frank advice in that meeting. And I appreciate him coming over here for that time frame.
And then lastly, I just came back after a couple of days, spent a day at Fort Bragg, a day at Camp Lejeune.
And what I came away from with respect to that was morale up in both places. And that was an interaction both directly with the soldiers and Marines, as well as taking lots of questions and answers in various meetings that I had down there with the leaders as well as the soldiers.
The questions: They ask a lot of questions. But sort of the themes are: Are the deployments going to be reduced in time; the pressure that they're under in terms of spending more time with their families, the repetitive deployments, all those kinds of things that we talked about over time in terms of stress on the force and health on the force.
Secondly as we do always, or I try to do wherever I go, visited with wounded warriors, a couple hundred of them down at Fort Bragg and less than that -- 30 or 40, I think -- at Camp Lejeune. And my takeaway on that is we've made a lot of progress there.
There's a lot of leadership focused on that, but we still have a long way to go administratively moving these young people through this, the Physical Evaluation Board process. They're anxious to know and find out, determine for themselves, what their future holds, whether it's in the service or not. And while we've got a lot of focused leadership on it, we clearly need to move ahead with them as well.
And then actually one of the questions that one of the young troopers brought up, we're still too often using what I call peacetime rules when we're a nation at war. And whether it's administrative procedures or other kinds of policies, it's an area that continues to -- we have to continue, particularly from the leadership standpoint, focus on and clear recognition that we are a nation at war.
With that, Lolita.
Q Admiral, one quick fact question: How many U.S. troops were involved in the Basra operation?
And then secondly and more broadly, since both sides declared victory and it seemed as though the end of the operations came when Sadr announced that his forces draw back, do you see this as a military victory or defeat for the Iraqi security forces? And what does that tell you about how much more training they'll need, and how much more effort the U.S. is going to have to put into their training before they'll be able to do better at such operations?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, while the fighting is significantly reduced over the last couple days, certainly the operation is still ongoing. As far as the number of U.S. troops involved beyond the capabilities that we provided, I'm not going to provide that kind of detail. The only thing I'd say about that, back to the fact that this really was Iraqi-led, Iraqi-intended, and the vast majority of the capability that was out there were Iraqi security forces.
With respect to the outcome and the views of the outcome, my view of that, I think, it's really too soon to tell. Clearly when Sadr put his nine points out, and there was compliance with that in a very short period of time, that had a significant effect obviously on the operation.
That said, I'm not prepared to say who won or who didn't, or go there per se.
I think it was significant in the fact that they really took a step forward to try to -- to provide for their own security, and it'll be -- I think it'll be a while before we really understand the total impact of what happened.
Q Admiral Mullen, do you have any independent confirmation that it was the Iranians who actually brokered the deal? Was it true? And do you have your own sources of information that Maliki's people went across to the city of Qom, met with Sadr there? With -- we're hearing reports that it was the head of the Qods Force who oversaw that. Do you know if that's true?
ADM. MULLEN: I don't have any independent confirmation with respect to the Iranian involvement in terms of brokering any outcome here at all. I can tell you that both broadly and specifically the Iranian involvement, particularly in that part of Iraq, has still not been very helpful. We're still finding IEDs. We're finding weapons caches. We're finding rockets and mortars that are clearly provided by the Iranians. We're -- we've captured or killed Iraqis who have recently been trained in Iran. And so the overall thrust with respect to Iran's support of what's going on down there is still very negative.
Q Are they supporting one side or several sides down there?
ADM. MULLEN: Actually, it's -- it is mostly consistent with where they've been in the past.
Q Given everything, number one, Basra, and number two, Shi'a -- the Iraqi government fights, the inter-Shi'a rivalries, the Shi'a militias; Basra and the Shi'a; is that now an Iraqi government problem solely? Is it up to them to solve this now, in your view? Or does the U.S. military and U.S. government still have a role to play in that?
And secondly, General Bergner said this morning some Iraqi units did not perform well in Basra. What can you tell us about that?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I can't tell you anything specifically about any Iraqi unit. I really -- as far as the specific performance is concerned, I would go to General Petraeus or -- and his people to determine -- and again, I -- while there may be some specifics now, I think it is too early to tell exactly how everybody did or what the outcome should be. In all of this -- or what the outcome was. In all of this, we still have, I think, very important -- a very important relationship between security and political reconciliation. And I think that more than anything else, this is indicative to me of the kind of reconciliation that's going to have to take place between the different factions in Iraq, political factions in Iraq, as was represented by those who were involved.
And so from the prime minister and the central government to the political realities on the ground or political realities in Basra and in that part of Iraq, I think, in the long run, it's going to take a political resolution rather than a military resolution.
And as far as the United States's involvement is concerned, certainly we are and will continue to be involved, particularly in that part of Iraq, in a support way, embedded with the Iraqi security forces. We don't have a large footprint of American soldiers or Marines in that part of Iraq. So, by and large it's the security that's created in that part of Iraq which will set the conditions for reconciliation down the road.
Can I just follow up very quickly? Of course, the British military now has stopped their --
ADM. MULLEN: Correct.
Q -- troop withdrawals.
ADM. MULLEN: Right.
Q What does that say about the need for more coalition forces in Basra at this time? And can you rule out or is it still an option for more U.S. troops to go there?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I haven't seen any requests or any indication that more U.S. forces are needed in Basra, in that part of Iraq. Clearly, the British forces, as has been announced, I think are stopping at somewhere around 4,000 or something like that. And I think that General Petraeus and also the head of the -- the commander of the British forces will have to work out how security is going to be sustained and what the concept is. And I couldn't say at this point whether it will change in terms of the way the Brits were positioned before or whether it will be the same. And that's really going to be up to the commanders on the ground.
Q Admiral, there are some reports that General Mohan had presented a multi-stage plan to Maliki, and Maliki essentially hijacked the final stage of the plan, which was the military element. Have you been given any sense as to what the plan actually was, what were the real goals? And also there are reports that he spurned offers from the British military to help.
ADM. MULLEN: I've seen -- I've seen no specifics on what general Mohan planned, who is the Iraqi commander in Basra. And I just don't have any kind of details on what was accepted by Prime Minister Maliki and what was not. We were certainly engaged with the British, in contact with them, and in fact the connection with the U.S. and the Brits and with the Iraqis on this was an important one. But I just haven't seen any level of detail along the lines of what you're asking about.
Q But do you have a sense of what the plan -- what Maliki was trying to achieve? I mean, was he trying to stamp out the criminal elements, as he said? Do you think it was something different from that?
ADM. MULLEN: I think he was trying to get at the security challenge that he had, which included thugs, criminal elements, and that kind of -- that clearly was his strategic intent. There are views that it could have been planned better than it was in that regard. But again, I'm more -- I'm positive, particularly in the area that this is the Iraqi leadership and the Iraqi security forces moving in a direction to provide for its own security.
Q Admiral, given this current situation, what do you think the prospects are for future additional U.S. troop reductions beyond those that are scheduled to be completed in July? Is it realistic for the U.S. public to expect that there might be additional troop withdrawals in the second half of the year?
ADM. MULLEN: Right now, we're still on track for the fifth brigade to come out, the last of the surge brigades to come out by the end of July. And then the period of consolidation and evaluation will take place, and we'll take recommendations based on conditions on the ground there. And I've seen nothing from General Petraeus or General Dempsey at CENTCOM to indicate that anything else -- that anything has changed at this particular point in time.
That said, this was a particularly violent week time frame, as we know, and it is the kind of violence and lack of security that would certainly drive an assessment of what we would do after that. And speaking specifically about this time of consolidation and evaluation, in addition to that we are constantly assessing what's going on there, and that we will continue to do that and make judgments accordingly.
But right now, right now there are no plans to add additional forces -- U.S. forces in Iraq. We're still on -- coming down to 15 brigades. And then we will move forward based on conditions on the ground, and General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker will be here next week, after which decisions will get made about how we move ahead.
Q Is it accurate, do you think, to portray that period of consolidation as a hold or freeze on future withdrawals?
ADM. MULLEN: No. I think that it is really captured in those two words, consolidation and assessment, see where we are, and we will move ahead accordingly.
Q Thank you, sir. You mentioned that in the tank meeting with the president, you and the chiefs stayed at the strategic level. Yet, to follow on Jamie's question, it seems there won't be any large troop reductions in Iraq. If that's the case, how concerned are you about the national security risk this nation is taking elsewhere around the world? And what are the main things the military can't do because of high force levels in Iraq?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, what immediately comes to mind is additional forces for Afghanistan. And I've said Afghanistan is an economy-of-force campaign and there are force requirements there that we can't currently meet. So, having forces in Iraq don't -- at the level they're at don't allow us to fill the need that we have in Afghanistan.
Equally broadly around the world, there are other places we would put forces -- or capabilities, not so much brigade combat teams as other kind of enabling capabilities or small training teams, that we just can't because of the pressure that's on our forces right now in the Central Command. And I think we'll continue to be there until, should conditions allow, we start to be able to reduce our force levels in Iraq.
Q How long, in your mind, should this period of assessment last? Is this weeks? Is it months? How long?
ADM. MULLEN: It is really a period in which I believe there will be constant assessment, meaning -- and we're doing this now, and then I think it's going to be up to the judgment of the commander on the ground that he can either -- that he either moves ahead with further reductions in troops or he can't do that. And to say it's precisely this particular date, we just haven't done that. I mean, we just don't see that kind of precision at this point.
Q You hear people talking about anything from 45 to 120 days.
ADM. MULLEN: Sure.
Q People say, you know, you just can't assess trends in a month. Is there some sort of minimum period of time that it's going to take for the dust to settle before decisions can be made?
ADM. MULLEN: I think it goes back to General Petraeus, who's been assessing conditions on the ground there for a long time, but in particular since we started taking troops, returning troops from the surge brigades, and he's been moving brigades and battalions around accordingly.
So the assessment is really ongoing, in a way, right now.
Clearly, we're going to stop, at the end of July, reducing forces, take a period of time -- but David, I'm just not prepared to say it's 45 days or it's 60 or it's 120. I'm very comfortable, based on my recent time there on the ground, based on my discussions with both CENTCOM and General Petraeus, that we will be able to accurately assess where we are and how we should move ahead.
STAFF: Time for one more, Admiral. One more question.
ADM. MULLEN: Right here. Can I get -- just over here, now.
STAFF: Okay. Okay.
Q To follow up on your answer to Afghanistan, it immediately comes to mind, as an economy of force situation, you said that having the force levels in Iraq right now doesn't allow you to have the force levels that you need in Afghanistan.
ADM. MULLEN: Right.
Q How many are you talking about? Are you talking beyond the NATO force commitments that have not been met? And what purpose would these additional forces be -- are you talking --
ADM. MULLEN: We are -- about 3,500 Marines have arrived in Afghanistan for seven months. They feel -- basically, that's two battalions. One of those battalions is a combat battalion and the other battalion is a training battalion. And priorities for us right now are our shortfall in trainers for the Afghan police and the Afghan army of about 3,000 trainers. That's the first priority. Should we have any forces available, that's the one we want to fill.
Now again, the Marines are only going to be there for seven months. They're not scheduled to be relieved right now. But that level, the 3,000 trainers -- we've discussed additional requirements which could go higher, from a brigade standpoint with General McNeill -- that it could be up to two brigades -- two additional brigades, which would be combat brigades, down the road. But without those forces being available, clearly, we're not going to be -- we're not going to provide them.
Q You're talking about U.S. troops in addition to the NATO commitments that are currently on the table?
ADM. MULLEN: I'm talking about U.S. troops on top of the commitment, whatever they are. And there's a summit in Bucharest right now which is going to determine or certainly announce what those commitments are.
Q Back to David's question, is there -- what's the length of time from a readiness perspective that the chiefs are comfortable with for this period of evaluation?
ADM. MULLEN: Haven't really looked at it from that perspective.
There's a mechanical piece here. It takes, if we're going to send an additional brigade that's scheduled to relieve a brigade over there, we have to do it a certain time in advance. If we're going to bring somebody home, they start at a certain point in time.
And it takes, depending on what kind of brigade it is and where they're going, sometimes between 45 and 75 days just mechanically to move people around, both on the front end as you send them and on the redeployment side as well.
But from a readiness standpoint, I think, General Casey has been pretty clear that, you know, the readiness levels will continue to be where they are with respect to focus on this mission. We're not concerned about the brigades that are getting ready to replace the ones that are due to leave from a readiness standpoint, because we're very focused on this mission.
So there really hasn't been a readiness for operations kind of concern. There continues to be a stress on the force, a health of the force kind of issue associated with all these rotations that we're very focused on.
Q How long can you maintain 15 though without getting into dwell breaks and other training and readiness?
ADM. MULLEN: What General Casey has talked about is an ability to sustain that for a significant period of time, although the risk level with that for the next couple years is pretty high.
Q Can I just get back to Basra for a second and talk, ask you, a bit about timing?
Most of the people we've heard, from this podium and from the screen over your shoulder here, have talked about the main weight of the battle right now being AQI, particularly the kinetic end of this, which has been Diyala, which has been Ninawa, has been the North. Now we have, all the sudden, kinetics breaking out in the South.
Does that complicate things for the main part of the mission? Do you have to divert assets to deal with that? And particularly at a time when you're drawing down troops, is it perhaps an ill-timed offensive to go to the South when you're trying to deal with AQI in the North?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, we didn't divert any significant amount of troops as a result of that. We're still very focused in Mosul. That battle continues and it continues to progress well. Very violent, very tough, very dangerous, but we're making progress with respect to the battle in Mosul which, we believe, is going to take several more weeks to move through.
So if I were just going to use this example for the period of time that we're talking about, we didn't have to divert that -- it's -- any forces. It's very clear that, you know, if we had this kind of violence for a sustained period of time, those are the kinds of conditions on the ground that must go into assessment of "Do I have enough troops to do this?"
And I'm not -- I don't want to speculate really beyond that at this point, but certainly, you know, that becomes part of our calculus. Actually, it's been part of our calculus as we look at a way ahead that violence could, in fact, break out somewhere else, and this is an example of that.
Q But on the timing thing, though, I mean, you've said you think the strategic intent was positive, but that's where it begs question of whether the actual execution perhaps was either ill-timed or badly done. I mean, was the timing an opportune time for him to go -- doing this while you're dealing with the stuff in the north?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I mean, again, it's -- Iraq's a sovereign country. He's the head of state. He gets to make those decisions, and he, I'm sure, takes all of this into account and acts accordingly. And sometimes it's a little more difficult to see it from where I sit, as opposed to how he sees it. Clearly, he's aware where we are in the process, and he judged that the risk was acceptable and acted accordingly.
Q Sir, going back to Afghanistan, as far as the situation in Afghanistan is concerned, as NATO meets, as you said, in Bucharest this week, including the president -- and the secretaries are there -- is there much pressure on NATO from the people of Afghanistan to do more because al Qaedas and Talibans are back in Afghanistan, and the Karzai government is in trouble. And there's a new government in Pakistan and a new general there. And the secretary was recently in India.
But my question is that are you asking more or are you -- or will you -- assessment the U.S. troops there and the security for the troops as far as new government in Pakistan -- are you asking more from Pakistan to do more, or asking India to do more as far as the situation in Afghanistan?
ADM. MULLEN: We, I believe, have to be focused on the fact, because it is -- this is a new government in Pakistan. And it is getting up on its feet, and with any new government, it's going to take some time to -- for them to get on their feet and get headed in the direction that they want to go. I -- from my perspective, we've got good military-to-military contacts, so that's the right contact level for those of us in the military. And I think we need to be mindful that this is a new government, new leadership, could certainly have new direction and that they, too, are a sovereign country. They're a strong ally. They've been a strong ally in this war on terror, and I believe they will continue to be. And we just need to be thinking about how to both recognize this new government, what their plans will be, and then work with them accordingly.
Q And India, as far as the secretary's visit to India, if the secretary has asked the Indian government to do more in Afghanistan, or --
ADM. MULLEN: The secretary is -- the secretary had a great visit in India, another very strong partner and strong ally. And I'm not aware that he had any discussions along the lines of asking India to do anything else in Afghanistan.
Q Admiral, back to Basra: Within three-four days, the Shi'a militants inside Basra fought the Iraqi military security forces pretty much to a standstill. And Prime Minister Maliki had said that he was going to stay there, that the security forces were going to stay there and fight this thing to a resolution.
How can this not be seen as a defeat, either for the security forces or for Prime Minister Maliki himself? And why is it that you say it's too early to tell if that mission was poorly planned or poorly executed?
ADM. MULLEN: I think it's too early to tell what sort of the strategic outcome is. And was it a win or a loss or a victory or a defeat?
It's very clear that there was a meeting of the minds or a brokered resolution in terms of -- to the point that Prime Minister Maliki obviously has returned to Baghdad, that the fighting, the violence level, while not ceased, and the operation is still ongoing, is in fact way below what it was at its peak just last week.
And again Jim, I just think it's too early to say, you know, what was a win and what was a loss. And there were some Iraqi security forces who performed incredibly well, and there were others who were challenged. And I think that's always the case.
Again I really come at this from the point of view that I think it was very positive that the leader of a sovereign nation decided to make a move which was focused on providing for his own security, the security of his people.
And in these kinds of situations, some things are going to go well and some things aren't. So as far as the overall outcome, I think, it's going to be a little while before we really understand the impact of it.
Q And what kind of assessment is the U.S. military now doing to determine if, in fact, Iraqi security forces are not ready to take over the fight in areas like Basra, and whether there needs to be any change in the training that the U.S. military is providing?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I think, that will certainly come out of it, whether we should or not. This was an area, a province that had been turned over to the Iraqis for security control.
Q (Off mike) -- pretty much in the control of the Shi'a militants.
ADM. MULLEN: No, I understand that. But in fact it was turned over -- provincial control was transferred to them last fall, as I recall, and along the lines of putting them in the lead and supporting them as they need to be supported. That's essentially how this was executed. I'm sure there will be some things we'll learn that we can do better or that they can do better from a training standpoint. I mean, your question is spot on, particularly when you are in execution, obviously, of a mission like this. And we'll fold those lessons in. but I haven't seen anything dramatic that says we had their training wrong, that they don't know how to both operate -- clearly I talked about there's certainly been some concerns about the planning effort here. We've assisted in that regard. But I think that's all part of the learning.
Q Admiral, it's been several weeks since Admiral Fallon announced plans to retire, and rightly or wrongly, I think he was perceived widely as something of a contrarian on some important aspects of our policy in Iraq. As we go into this period of reevaluation, are you at all concerned that officers down the line on whose judgment you and others rely as you think about the way ahead are going to be constrained in passing their opinions to you?
ADM. MULLEN: I'm not concerned. I mean, I can speak again to the atmosphere and the environment of just having President Bush here. And it was a very open, free discussion. And it wasn't just me, it was the entirety of the Joint Chiefs, all six of us, and everybody had more than an opportunity to give their recommendations and voice their opinions.
I went to -- Secretary Gates and I went to the change of command last Friday down in Tampa, where Admiral Fallon turned it over to General Dempsey. General Dempsey is a confirmed four-star. He's an exceptional individual. He's got great depth, not just at CENTCOM, because he's been the deputy down there for a significant period of time, but he's also got significant amount of experience in theater. So I'm very confident that we will continue to get the kinds of recommendations that we need to get from him throughout this process.
And also, prior to the time that Admiral Fallon left, he was able to give his recommendations directly to the president. And I think they had a great deal of wisdom. And they, in fact, were very supportive of overall, in my view, overall the direction in which we're headed.
STAFF (?): One or two more?
Q Thank you. There are reports out today that there was a big increase in the number of attacks on U.S. personnel in Iraq last week as the fighting in Basra and Baghdad played out. First of all, are those reports accurate?
And secondly, has the level come back down again as the fighting has tapered off?
ADM. MULLEN: Secondly, the level has come back down. And yes, there were -- in addition to the violence which occurred in Basra, there was a significant amount of violence, in Sadr City, or on the outskirts of Sadr City. And in fact, there was a fair amount of interaction and combat associated with security on the edge of that city. And that brought the violence level up, not just in Basra but also in Baghdad. But up until a little while ago, that violence had decreased back to pretty close to what it was before Basra broke out.
Q So you think that that was just a temporary spike that won't be repeated?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I think temporary in the sense that there is compliance with the direction coming from Sadr.
Q Well, you mentioned General McNeill's desire for two more combat brigades in Afghanistan. When could the U.S. possibly provide that, if NATO doesn't, which it doesn't seem that they will? What happens in the meantime? Are we just treading water in Afghanistan? And what impact would sending something like two brigades to Afghanistan have on your desire and the secretary's to go back to 12- month tours?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I've been on record a lot to say we need to get the 12-month tours down from 15 months as rapidly as possible. Clearly, as far as forces are concerned in Afghanistan this year -- major movers in 2008, the big addition, which is a significant addition, is the 3,500 Marines. And what oftentimes gets lost here is that the Marine Corps is going to remain on surge as we come down from 20 to 15, because the number of battalions they'll have out there will be equal to the -- it'll be eight, even though two of them will be in Afghanistan -- it'll be equal to the battalions that we had in Iraq for the -- at the height of the surge.
So I have no expectation that we would generate additional -- could generate additional forces this year. And we would then be tied to availability of forces which are tied specifically to conditions on the ground in Iraq. And until forces become available with respect to that, I would not expect us to be able to provide additional forces to Afghanistan, which is also a priority.
Equal -- you know, the other -- the third part of balancing this is tied to the health of the force, starting to create dwell time, starting to -- if we can get into a position to reduce the deployments down to 12 months and start to build dwell times.
But we've got missions which are significant missions. They're at the top of our priority list. And we are executing them exceptionally well in Iraq right now, with the security increase. We've actually had, you know, from a -- our combat forces in Afghanistan -- you know, we've had significant impact there. But we don't have enough forces there to hold in what is a classic counterinsurgency. And that's what we need, in addition to a fully integrated all agency of government approach in Afghanistan, which just isn't there yet either.
STAFF: Last question.
Q A quick follow-up. Bottom line, in Basra and in Iraq, what does all of this say right now about Iran's ability to pull strings inside Iraq, turn violence on and turn violence off?
ADM. MULLEN: I'm not sure I'd describe it as turning violence on or turning violence off. But as I indicated earlier, Iran clearly is influencing a great deal there. They're providing weapons which are killing our people. They are training Iraqis to do the same thing. And that influence is really, really negative in terms of what I -- what needs to be, I think, the long-term outcome there.
I'll take one more.
Q Do you expect any additional commitment from the NATO allies during the summit in terms of training brigades? Because they -- some of them seem to be reluctant in terms of combat brigades, but they may be more feasible in terms of training brigades in Afghanistan. Do you foresee anything coming out of that?
ADM. MULLEN: There -- the entirety of NATO knows that the number-one requirement that exists right now is for trainers. We still need more combat forces. And I, like many people around the world, await the decisions that will be announced here today and tomorrow at the summit. And I certainly wouldn't want to get out in front of that.
Q Thank you.
Q Thank you.
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