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DOD News Briefing with Geoff Morrell from the Pentagon

Presenter: Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell
April 21, 2010

                MR. MORRELL:  Good afternoon.  Good to see you all.  I have a very brief opening statement, and then I'll take your questions.   

                I just want to remind you that Secretary Gates will be traveling tomorrow to the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he will resume his teaching tour.  As he did at the Air Force and Naval academies earlier this month, the secretary on Friday will be the guest lecturer in a couple of political science classes at West Point. He will use the opportunity to share some of the lessons he has learned over more than four -- or probably three decades in government service, including working for eight presidents.  But most of all, this is another chance for the secretary to spend some time with the future leaders of the Army, an opportunity that provides as much for him as it does for these young cadets.   

                Unlike the Air Force and Naval Academy visits, however, the secretary will not be delivering a speech to the corps of cadets during this visit.   

                As you may recall, he was the commencement speaker last year, and he delivered an evening lecture to the entire corps the year before that. 

                So, that's just an update on the schedule.  Let's get down to business.  How about Phil today? 

                Q     The secretary last month asked for a 15 -- a 15-day review of information operations.  What came out of that review, and what action was taken as a result of it? 

                MR. MORRELL:  The review has been complete -- completed.  It was -- it was tasked to a member of the secretary's staff.  He built a small team, who went around and visited a number of relevant commands; went down to CENTCOM, SOCOM, Strategic Command; I think, made a couple of other stops as well.  And it's my understanding that either today or in the coming -- I think today, given the secretary's schedule for the remainder of the week -- he's likely to get a brief from that team on their findings. 

                However, I would -- I would raise a note of caution here.  I would not expect us to provide you with a readout on that -- on that engagement today, if indeed it does take place as planned.  He's going to need some time to -- presumably, to digest what has been provided to him by this team, to consider their findings and then make a decision about how he wants to proceed from there. 

                Okay?  Yeah, Barbara. 

                Q     The Army, of course, is the executive agent for the chaplain function in the U.S. military.  An Army spokesman says today that the invitation to Franklin Graham to speak at the National Prayer Day event here at the Pentagon is being -- is under review and is being reconsidered.  Since it's a Pentagon event to which the entire military was invited, can you tell us why Franklin Graham was considered suitable to invite to this event, and why now it is under review, given the fact groups have written to the secretary objecting to him being here? 

                MR. MORRELL:  I'm just not familiar with it.  It sounds to me like the Army is on top of it, so I'd engage with them. 

                Q     You're not familiar at all with the controversy? 

                MR. MORRELL:  I'm not. 

                I mean I've obviously seen a couple of e-mails that have flown around today on it, I think in response -- they were probably prompted by questions that you or others may be asking.  But I think the Army has got the lead on this, so I'd defer to them. 

                Jeff. 

                Q     Will Secretary Gates comply with the subpoena from Lieberman and Collins? 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, the secretary is right now -- the department is right now considering those subpoenas, reviewing those subpoenas, doing so with the Department of Justice, who is also named in these subpoenas. 

                I can tell you that we will -- we will carefully consider them, and we will be in close contact with the -- with the committee on this matter. 

                But I would want to emphasize what the secretary said last week. Some of you were with us when we were traveling.  I think we were in Barbados at the time when he got this question.  And he made it clear that we are not and will not hide anything from the committee. 

                We certainly appreciate their oversight role.  We respect it.  In fact, we have shared volumes of documents and information with the committee; I think upwards of a thousand pages so far. 

                That said, we have responsibilities, too.  And the one caveat the secretary emphasized, when it -- when he made his pledge last week to be as forthcoming as possible, was that we will not share anything that could potentially jeopardize the prosecution of the accused killer in the Fort Hood shootings.  And that is where we draw the line. 

                There are other considerations as well.  We have an accountability portion of the Fort Hood review, which is still under  way, and to see if there needs to be any disciplinary action taken against others who were involved in this or were a part of a -- who should have perhaps seen warning signs involving Major Hasan. 

                But we are -- we have the subpoenas.  We are reviewing the subpoenas with the Department of Justice.  

                We will be in close contact with the committee.  But we have obligations just as they have obligations.  And the secretary is not willing to jeopardize the prosecution of this case.   

                Q     We had a briefing with two senior Defense officials.  One of them said that the Defense Department has the option of saying no to a subpoena if it feels it will jeopardize a military case.   

                Is the secretary prepared to say no?   

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, as I said, Jeff, we -- I think we just received the subpoenas yesterday afternoon.  So we are in the process of reviewing them.   

                We've got as you know I think 10,000 lawyers in this building. I'm sure we've got an ample amount of them dedicated to this project, as does the Department of Justice.  And between the two of us, we should be able to review them and make determinations about how we wish to proceed.  But we're not at the point of making those determinations yet.   

                Q     There are reports that insurgents from South Waziristan are being pushed up into the north and have found protection under an insurgent leader there who has been known to cut deals with the Pakistani army.   

                I'm wondering if you're aware of this issue at all.  Has the U.S. tried to approach this issue with the Pakistanis?   

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah, I'm not familiar with it, sorry.   

                Q     Can you confirm that the five suspected pirates that were captured in an incident with the USS Nicholas are going to be facing criminal charges in the U.S.?  And is that going to be a policy from now on, if pirates attack directly U.S. ships?   

                MR. MORRELL:  I am not in a position to confirm that.  And I'm not so sure I would be if that were the determination made.   

                The 11 pirates you refer to are still in our custody.  I think they're on a ship or ships in the Gulf of Aden still.  And their final disposition has yet to be determined.  So I have nothing to announce on that issue today.   

                Q     On the Iran power report -- on the report that was issued, it doesn't say exactly where it came from.  Can you say which agency? Was it DIA or somebody else?   

                MR. MORRELL:  Are we -- (let me get ?) the answer to that. 

                Are we at liberty to say that? 

                STAFF:  It's a DOD report. 

                MR. MORRELL:  Okay, it's a DOD report.  Clearly, there was some intelligence that factored into that that is warehoused in this building, but it's -- the -- it's a congressionally mandated report from the secretary, from the department to the Congress.  

                Q     And do you know what policymakers or strategic planners consider the key findings and what some of their initial plans are for what DOD would do to address some of these challenges? 

                MR. MORRELL:  I, frankly, don't think that anything that was shared in the report -- and I read it last night -- would strike anyone in this building as new, and therefore would require an adjustment in the approach we have been taking within the building, or, frankly, the interagency, the government as a whole would be taking towards Iran. 

                I mean, it underscored what people in this department, from this podium, have said to you time and time again, and I think has been echoed throughout other buildings within this city. 

                Clearly, Iran is -- when it comes to Iraq and Afghanistan, they continue to be duplicitous at some levels, wishing to engage with the government in others, trying to undermine their authority, their sovereignty; clearly trying to make the lives of our -- of the coalition forces that are trying to bring peace and stability to those two countries much more difficult.  In some case they -- cases, more often in Iraq than in Afghanistan, they have posed a deadly threat to those forces. 

                They clearly continue to pursue a missile program.  They have a very large arsenal in that respect. 

                They have, as you saw in that -- in that report, clearly not the world's greatest air force, but they are doing things to try to -- try to compensate for that by building up their air defenses, trying to acquire very sophisticated air defenses. 

                I think the most -- the thing that clearly caught the most attention, particularly on the Fox News Channel, was the -- was the  ICBM capabilities or the prediction that they could potentially have an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the United States, were they to receive significant foreign assistance, perhaps by 2015. 

                The only thing I would remark on that is that I saw some speculation in the aftermath, or while people were discussing that possibility, by some so-called experts that we would not have an -- the capability to defend against such a threat.  We CURRENTLY have the capability to defend against such a threat.  We have a missile-defense system, a ground-based interceptor system, deployed in California and Alaska that can protect the United States from a threat, whether it emanate from Iran or whether it emirate -- emanate from North Korea. 

                But we are also pursuing, as you guys well know now, a missile- defense system in Europe to protect our forces that are stationed there and to protect our allies there, so that we can't be held hostage to shorter- and medium-range ballistic missiles.  And eventually, that system that we are developing for Europe would provide us with supplemental coverage for the continental United States as well. 

                But we are currently equipped with defenses to protect us from an ICBM capability emanating from North Korea.  And they have not yet demonstrated that they have the wherewithal to reach the U.S., and -- or -- and Iran.  And clearly, despite this report, they clearly do not have that capability now. 

                Q     Can I follow up on Iran very briefly?   

                MR. MORRELL:  On -- hold --  

                Q     What concerns do you have about the wargames that they've announced for Thursday? 

                MR. MORRELL:  I haven't heard any particular concerns.  I mean, they've -- they conduct exercises and tests and wargames with some frequency.   

                I think any sovereign state is obviously prepare -- is obviously within its rights to drill and prepare and make such preparations for their own defenses.  But I have not heard of any concern emanating from this department about these exercises in particular.  They don't seem out of the ordinary for what they have done in the past. 

                We'll -- what's always been interesting is how much what they do comports with what they say.  It's more often the case with testing of weaponry than it is with exercises and drills.  But oftentimes, they profess and claim to have capabilities which are not demonstrated in reality based upon our review of intelligence after the fact. 

                Q     Geoff? 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah, Bill. 

                Q     Geoff, refresh my memory.  When has the United States successfully tested an ability to shoot down an incoming ICBM outside of a highly controlled test? 

                MR. MORRELL:  I can -- all I can tell you is this, Bill:  that our people -- our folks are very confident that the system that we have in place now -- and we've testified to this on many occasions, including probably the foremost expert on this, General Cartwright -- that we are confident that the system we have in place right now -- the GBIs that are based in Alaska and California are sufficient to protect us from such a threat coming in from Iran and North Korea. 

                You know, this is -- this is designed to deal with rogue nations. You know, these are a limited number of GBIs that we have, and so, clearly, this is not meant as a -- you know, to protect against a country with a vast arsenal.  But clearly, the threat as it is now constituted from rogue states such as Iran and North Korea, we feel as though we are very well situated to protect against. 

                Yeah, Jim. 

                Q     Geoff, is the secretary worried that the recount in Baghdad and the concomitant delays in setting up an Iraqi government -- going to delay the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq? 

                MR. MORRELL:  I have not heard any concern on that -- on that front.  In fact, I think that what we've heard from General Odierno, who's obviously closer to the scene than the secretary is, is that things continue to progress on the security front.  Despite, you know, the machinations of the political process, which I think most people would see as a relatively healthy thing, we clearly are making, simultaneously, extraordinary progress against the security threats in Iraq.   

                And this week was a particularly successful one; in the span of, I think, two or three days, took out the top two leaders of al Qaeda in Iraq, and I think the next day picked up another significant al Qaeda figure in northern Iraq.  So this is not a good time -- nor has it ever been, for that matter -- to be a leader of al Qaeda in Iraq. There's not much longevity in those jobs.   

                And we commend the Iraqi security forces for their extraordinary performance developing the intelligence, executing the operation, bringing down these most wanted terrorist figures.  We obviously were in this operation with them.  We're there to support.  We have capabilities that we can bring to bear that they still have not yet developed fully.  And so it was a great joint mission that brought down three people that have been responsible for the deaths of scores and scores of innocent Iraqis, not to mention U.S. and coalition forces. 

                Yeah. 

                Q     The prosecution of the Navy SEALs:  My understanding is some 20 lawmakers have written to the secretary asking him to dismiss the charges against them.  Any reaction from the secretary?  And why not step in? 

                MR. MORRELL:  I think that the -- I have not heard any reaction from the secretary.  I think he's gotten this question before when he's testified on the Hill, I think particularly before the House Armed Services Committee.  And every time he has, he has declined to weigh into this. 

                This is a matter that's probably best addressed to the Navy, although frankly, this is a matter for the Uniform Code of Military Justice.  And probably in light of the fact that this is -- that this adjudication -- that these cases are still working their way through the military justice system, it's probably not appropriate for me -- certainly not appropriate for me, probably not appropriate for the -- for the Navy to comment on it either. 

                Q     As you know, we've been crunching the numbers on the supplemental, and there is a billion dollars in there for Iraqi forces.  Why should the American taxpayer, Geoff, be paying for -- a billion dollars for Iraqi forces at this point? 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, the overall supplemental is about $33 billion, at least the DOD portion of the supplemental.  The vast majority of that, as you know, covers the fact that the president made a decision, after the budget was submitted to the Hill, for 30,000 additional forces to deploy to Afghanistan.  So that is the bulk of the supplemental; $19 billion of the supplemental request goes largely towards that. 

                Additionally, it -- there's another 3.3 billion (dollars) for force protection.  That covers everything from body armor to MRAPs. There's money for the Joint IED Defeat Organization.  There's money to continue to grow the Afghan national security forces and their capabilities.  There's money for the increase in the cost of fuel. 

                So there's a number of smaller components.  But you're right, a billion dollars of the supplemental is earmarked for the Iraqi security forces.   

                And this is a judgment -- and we -- and we are reinstituting this.  I don't believe we had money in there last year for the -- for the ISF. 

                But it is the judgment of General Odierno that we need to, as we draw down forces and transition capabilities and authorities and responsibilities, both to the Iraqis and, frankly, to our civilian component in Iraq, that we need to expedite some of their -- some of their capabilities. 

                And they right now, in their budgeting process, probably do not have the means, the wherewithal to execute the spending on the things that we think they need to invest in right here and now, as quickly as we can do it by spending this money. 

                The secretary fully supports this strategy.  He obviously would not have submitted his budget proposal to the president unless he did. 

                But I think he -- he is very leery of repeating the final scene in "Charlie Wilson's War," in that movie, where Charlie Wilson is trying to convince his congressional colleagues to invest a few measly million dollars in the Afghans after our support of the mujaheddin had led to the defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan.  And it was a case of us being penny-wise and pound-foolish.   

                And the secretary believes we've been paying the price ever since.  We turned our backs on Afghanistan.  We turned our backs on Pakistan.  Al Qaeda and -- was able -- and other terrorists were able to take root there, and obviously we were struck on 9/11.   

                We have spent hundreds of billions of dollars in Iraq.  We have lost upwards -- nearly 4,400 American lives.  We've had nearly 32,000 U.S.  service members wounded in this war. 

                He believes that we need to spend the money necessary to finish this job, to make sure our drawdown is successful and the Iraqis have the capabilities they need to assume responsibility for more and more of the security component. 

                And that's why we are asking for that additional billion dollars. 

                Okay, Yoso. 

                Q     Hi, are -- Geoff, are you expecting a meeting with Japanese senior officials tomorrow?  If so, what are the expected --  

                MR. MORRELL:  I am not meeting with any Japanese senior officials tomorrow. 

                Q     Is --  

                MR. MORRELL:  Is somebody else?  Okay, I'm sorry. 

                Q     (Laughs.) 

                MR. MORRELL:  I believe there is a meeting, Yoso, tomorrow.  I think that the deputy assistant secretary of defense, Mr. Schiffer, for that part of the world, will be participating in what is described to me as a routine regional security dialogue taking place here between U.S. and Japanese defense officials.   

                I'm obviously not going to get into much detail on their discussions, but I think your follow-up question will likely be, will the Futenma replacement facility be part of these conversations, and I do not believe that is a subject of the talks tomorrow. 

                Q     Okay. 

                MR. MORRELL:  Oh, it sounds like a follow-up.  Okay. 

                (Laughter.) 

                Q     (Off mike) -- in Japan, an island called Tokunoshima, which is 200 kilometers far from Okinawa, is -- has been focused as an alternative plan with the current plan.  So what is the position of the Pentagon about that? 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't believe the Pentagon -- I am certainly not aware of any -- of any -- anything we care to share on that particular island and where it stands within the internal Japanese discussions about the Futenma replacement facility. 

                I would only now repeat to you the lines I have deployed to you time and time again.  So if you find them necessary, I will do so.   

                But I -- we have nothing new to announce on this.  We are waiting for the Japanese government to complete their review.  And we will certainly look forward to talking to them, when they are ready to do so, about this important realignment of forces in the region. 

                Q     So obviously, there's no improvement since you last said that three weeks before? 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I think -- my understanding is, here we are in the month of April, and the prime minister had always said that it would not be until May that he were to complete his review.  So as far as we're concerned, their work continues.  We clearly, as we have stated to you before, have been -- have been kept apprised of some of the developments, those that they've cared to share with us.  They've done that through our ambassador in Tokyo.  But I wouldn't characterize it as no improvement, or a deterioration, or status quo. We are -- we are essentially waiting, as the Japanese government goes about their review. 

                So, I'd -- I would hesitate to characterize it one way or the other.  There's still work, clearly, to be done on the Japanese side, and we're anxiously awaiting the completion of their review. 

                Q     Just to follow up, one more on that. 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah. 

                Q     And as far as you're concerned, you're still anticipating that by the end of May? 

                MR. MORRELL:  I believe that's the case.  I haven't heard any update to that.  So, if they -- if there has been a development, I have not been informed of it, so I think we're still operating under the belief that they still require May to complete this review. 

                Okay?  Yes, Gordon. 

                Q     There's a report that the U.S. -- the Pentagon is doubling its support for the Yemen -- Yemeni military.  And I wonder if you could give us a little bit more meat on the bone as to what this $150 million a year goes for.  Does it mean more American trainers?  Are they open to that?  Can you just kind of give us an update? 

                MR. MORRELL:  You know, I'm not going to get into the details of it.  I think we -- I think Bryan has talked to you before about sort of, you know, a generic breakdown of the money.   

                We're still in a position of notifying Congress and consulting with Congress on the request that we've made.  So I don't think it's appropriate for me to be discussing it from here while we're still working with Congress on it.   

                Q     Is there a way to characterize what the Pentagon's plan is for --  

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I think -- I mean, it has been -- it has not changed.  I mean, obviously with an increase in the request that we have made to Yemen, we clearly believe we need to be doing more.  And we are doing more at their request.   

                And it is all designed to help them increase their capabilities to conduct operations against this increasing terrorist threat on the Arabian Peninsula particularly emanating out of Yemen.   

                So al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is a threat to the Yemeni government, to the Yemeni people.  It's a threat to all the gulf states.  And it's also a threat to us.   

                And so we are working with our friends in Yemen to see what more we can do, to help them improve the capabilities and the effectiveness of their fighting forces, both through training and through equipment purchases.   

                Yeah.   

                Q     Last week while Secretary Gates was traveling, the secretaries of navy and army for Mexico were here.  They met with Admiral Mullen.   

                Do you have any readout from this meeting?   

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't.  I -- you know, clearly -- the secretary and the chairman and Secretary Clinton and Secretary Napolitano and a host of other U.S. officials had a very good meeting with their counterparts in Mexico City last month or earlier this month, it all runs together -- recently -- and came out of that -- I think there was a great deal of momentum that came out of that meeting.   

                I don't know if this meeting that took place back here between the chairman and his counterparts from Mexico had been planned in advance of that, but I think I can sense an increased momentum, an energy focused on this issue in the wake of the Merida discussions that took place down in Mexico City.  I know there is a big effort under way within this building to try to figure out if we can get any of the capabilities that we have -- have promised to the -- to the Mexican security forces to them any faster.   

                I mean, they are dealing with a crisis now.  It does not do them any good if what we are offering is months, if not years, away.  So it is the focus of the people who are responsible for that part of the world in this building right now in trying to get them more of the equipment they've requested and need sooner than had originally been planned. 

                Q     And you said (he would ?) consult the chief of staff of the Colombian military.  Do you think it's possible to transmit or use part of the Colombian experience in fighting the drug cartels in Mexico?   

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I think -- Secretary Gates spoke exhaustively on this during our trip through the region last week.  He clearly believes there are lessons learned in Colombia that can and should be and are being shared, shared in Peru, shared in Mexico, perhaps now even being shared once they're -- the Colombian forces deploy to Colombia -- or, pardon me, to Afghanistan, there as well. 

                So the Colombian transformation is an absolutely remarkable one. The secretary is in awe of it.  He is -- he has lauded President Uribe as a hero.  And he believes that President Calderon has the -- is demonstrating the same kind of courage and commitment in going after the vicious drug cartels in Mexico, and is -- has made it clear to this department that we need to do everything we can to help in that effort. 

                Q     We also know that some military advisers or military contractors are traveling to Mexico to provide some training for Mexican military in military justice, human rights. 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yes. 

                Q     Can you (tell us ?) what type of -- what is the profile of the personnel that is being deployed traveling to Mexico? 

                MR. MORRELL:  I am -- I -- we can certainly get you that information. 

                I think you're right on target that the focus of these efforts, I think, right now are on helping train them on human rights and military justice and things of that nature.  But our team can certainly get you the specifics on that.  We're happy to share that. 

                Jen DiMascio. 

                Q     (Off mike) -- about the tanker competition.  Do you -- are you concerned at all by -- about statements that Congressman Dicks made last week that it may have dissuaded some U.S. companies of partnering -- from partnering with EADS on that competition? 

                MR. MORRELL:  I -- listen, I think we made it perfectly clear in our statements yesterday -- I'm looking here for "tanker" on my card, and I'm not -- it's not under T.  It's under KCX.  I should have known that. 

                We made it clear in our statement yesterday -- I thought we made it clear; perhaps we didn't make it clear enough -- the third line of it says, "We also believe that any company that is interested and qualified to participate in this important program should do so." 

                That is not meant as a reference to EADS or E-A-D-S.  Pardon me. The opening line of our statement welcomed them into the competition. That line was directed at any American company who is qualified and wishes to partner with EADS in this venture. 

                We are welcoming of them doing so.  We are encouraging of them to do so.  So that's the position of this department vis-a-vis American companies partnering with EADS. 

                Q     Why did you feel it necessary to make that statement, to make that very clear? 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I think there clearly has -- there clearly has been some confusion about whether or not this truly is an open, fair and transparent competition in which all qualified companies are welcome to bid.  And I think we wanted to make it clear, as far as this building is concerned -- and after all, this building is the one that will be determining who is the winner of this competition -- as far as this building is concerned, we are running a free, fair, open, transparent competition; and that any and all companies who are qualified are encouraged to bid. 

                We are heartened and -- that EADS has decided to enter this competition.  After all, we would like a competition in this important program.  And so, we wanted to make it clear at least how this building feels on this issue, despite statements that people may have heard elsewhere on that issue. 

                Yeah, Dan. 

                Q     Back to Afghanistan.  There's a lot of attention on the U.S.  troops pulling out of the Korengal Valley, that outpost being closed; some interpretation -- questioning the whole role of the U.S. mission and strategy, and whether this was sort of an exercise in futility.  And then also, is there also concern about the message it may send to Pakistan?  Here is an eastern part of Afghanistan where U.S. troops are moving out. 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I mean, first of all, U.S. troops are not moving out of eastern Afghanistan. 

                I mean, there are -- we can certainly get you a breakdown, but there are, you know, thousands -- tens of thousands of American forces in RC East, and thousands of French forces as well in RC East.  So there's no abandonment of eastern Afghanistan -- by no means.   

                This is all part of the regular adjustment in the counterinsurgency strategy that was adapted by General McChrystal, where the focus would be on allocating resources on population centers.  And so this has -- this has -- you know, this has been months in the working, and we are happy to see that it -- that it was executed very, very well.   

                And so those resources that had been committed to the Korengal Valley will be used elsewhere in the hopes of providing more security to more people.  Because this is very much a population-centric strategy, concentrated where the most people are concentrated, and so it's -- we -- General McChrystal views it as a better use of resources. 

                Even as we increase our forces to nearly 100,000, you know, we still have -- we still don't have enough, clearly, to provide security to every pocket of the country.  So we have to make judgments and choices, and it's the judgment and choice of the commander in Afghanistan to allocate these resources elsewhere in hopes of providing greater good for the Afghan people. 

                Yeah, Michael (sp). 

                Q     In evidence to the Armed -- Armed Services Committee last week, General Cartwright -- I hope I heard him correctly -- said that there would be consequences for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan if there was military action taken against Iran.  What sort of -- which of the many military options currently on the table could he possibly have been thinking about? 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't -- you asked it with such an air -- there was sort of a theatrical quality to it.  I'm not so sure I got it.  I mean, is it a straightforward question or am I -- 

                Q     It's a straightforward question. 

                MR. MORRELL:  So the question is, what military operations was he referring to; or what are the potential consequences to American forces were there military action taken against Iran? 

                Q     It's the former.  He said there would be consequences. What I'm thinking of is, what possible military action could there be that would have consequences.  

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, clearly, I'm not going to speak to possible military action against Iran, although I will emphasize that military action has never, ever been taken off the table.  It was not off the table in the Bush administration, it is -- and it is not now off the table in the Obama administration. 

                Clearly, our preference and our focus and our energy is all being dedicated right now to -- all being dedicated -- is being dedicated right now to engagement and the pressure tracks.  The engagement track, despite the fact that it has not been reciprocated yet, is still alive.  That door remains open.  However, we clearly are more aggressively pursuing the pressure track, trying to get meaningful sanctions out of the United Nations.   

                That said, the commander in chief has all weapons, all possibilities, all options at his disposal, including -- including military means. 

                Now, you've heard from Secretary Gates, you've heard from Chairman Mullen, you've heard from Michele Flournoy, you've heard from a host of Defense officials who believe that there -- you know, there are clearly disadvantages to going down that route.  There are potential consequences, including to our forces deployed in the region.  We've got -- we've got nearly 200,000 forces on the east and western borders, essentially, on the two countries on the east and west of Iran.  

                And so that is clearly a factor into our thinking. 

                And I think that's what he was referring to in, I don't think, a statement that was meant to strike anybody as alarming or new.  It's just a fact of life.  The military option is and -- is and has been on the table.  And we have troops in close proximity to Iran that are potentially targets of retaliation should action be taken. 

                Getting back to missile defense, we also have theater-based missile-defense systems that are designed to protect our resources in -- our personnel and our resources in the region. 

                Yeah. 

                Q     Excuse me. 

                Q     Well, this is a follow-up.  Was -- so was Undersecretary Flournoy misquoted or was she out of the loop when she said that military option was off the table for the near term? 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, what she -- well, I don't think she's saying anything -- she made it very clear in that -- as best I can tell, in that interview -- I think it's an Associated Press story; I'll pull it up -- that she -- let me look here -- that no options are off the table.  Let me just --  

                Q     Really, her quote was the military option was "off the table for the near term" -- (off mike). 

                MR. MORRELL:  She emphasizes that our focus right now is on the combination of engagement and pressure in the form of sanctions. That's where the focus is right now.  Military force, she said, is an option of last resort. 

                I don't think that's anything new.  It clearly is not our preference to go to war with Iran, to engage militarily with Iran. Nobody wishes to do that, but she also makes it clear it's not off the table. 

                Q     (Off mike) -- it was not an option in the near term. 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, our focus -- our focus -- we've been very clear about this for quite some time.  It was true under the Bush administration.  It is true under the Obama administration.  That is not the preferred course of action.   

                In the Obama administration, the preferred course of action is to pursue engagement.  The secretary strongly supports the president's efforts on that front.  He believes it has given us moral authority.   

                It has given us the high ground.  People now see Iran perhaps more clearly than they once did in terms of how willing they are to actually negotiate a solution, a settlement to this problem.   

                Simultaneously or now that they have rebuffed our offers on that count, we are pursuing aggressively the pressure track.  However as I have said before, there is always the option at the president's disposal of taking military action.  It is not the preferred course of action.   

                Q     But is it an option in the near term?   

                MR. MORRELL:  I'm not going to get into this semantic game.   

                Q     Can I just --  

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah, hold on.  I have somebody else over here.   

                Yeah.   

                Q     Geoff, last month, the Russian anti-drug chief was in Brussels for a meeting with NATO officials.  And he basically called on NATO to join Russia in a strategy to defeat the drug trade from Afghanistan, to include eradication.  But NATO said no.  And I presume that was with the support of the U.S.   

                Isn't this a contradiction given that most of the funding that the Taliban gets, in Afghanistan, comes from drug trafficking? Wouldn't it make more sense for the U.S. and NATO to cooperate with Russia and other countries to defeat the drug trafficking, to include eradication?   

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't know -- well, first of all, we have real issues with eradication.  And I can go through those with you again if you wish.   

                But is the question -- in what form would the Russian assistance in this -- I'm not familiar with it -- would the Russian assistance in the counternarcotics efforts take place?   

                Q     Probably in the area of interdiction.  It's --  

                MR. MORRELL:  So you'd have Russian forces in Afghanistan. 

                Q     Yes -- well, they're not proposing to put Russian forces in Afghanistan, but they complain that 30,000 Russians die every year from Afghan heroin and that the U.S. and NATO are not doing anything about it. 

                MR. MORRELL:  Who complains that? 

                Q     The Russian anti-drug chief, Viktor Ivanov. 

                MR. MORRELL:  Okay.  Well, as you guys may know, the secretary met with Secretary Nikolai -- yesterday, who is, I think, General Jones's equivalent in Moscow, their national security adviser.  He's due to meet with their chief of defense, General Makarov, tomorrow, I believe. 

                And I can tell you that while counternarcotics was an issue that -- in their -- it was briefly touched upon in their discussion of Afghanistan yesterday, it was not raised in that context.  It was not raised in the context of "Hey, you and we need to be doing more; we want to do more; we want more of a role of this." 

                So I don't -- I don't know how -- how much of a -- I -- well, I don't know how viable what you're speaking to is. 

                Yeah, Al. 

                Q     Are you familiar with the Navy ship that was sold to the Pakistanis yesterday? 

                MR. MORRELL:  I'm not.  I -- we're trying to get -- the Navy -- 

                Q     Never mind. 

                MR. MORRELL:  -- are probably the best folks to talk to that on. I think it was news to us that we're selling a ship. 

                Kevin. 

                Q     Has there been any change in the status of relations with China and the military exchanges back and forth?  Any sign of that thawing out, getting back to normal? 

                MR. MORRELL:  You know, the only -- the only gauge I have on any of this stuff is that frankly it is still on our -- on the secretary's calendar to travel to -- to accept the outstanding invitation from the government in Beijing and travel there in the months ahead. 

                Q     But given the limited number of contacts they were having before, is this -- what can you say?  How is this in any way damaging to military-specific relations back and forth, to have this kind of absence continue? 

                MR. MORRELL:  I'm -- frankly, I'm not too sure how prolific the absence is.  You know, we are heartened that the secretary's trip is still on.  We look forward to traveling over and continuing high-level engagements with the Chinese, and keeping that dialogue open and going. 

                Q     Geoff, can I ask you some quick clarifying questions on Iran? 

                MR. MORRELL:  And then let's wrap it up there.  Yeah, go ahead. 

                Q     Very quickly, you said that U.S. troops in the region were, quote, "potentially targets of retaliation."  Retaliation, of course, goes to capability -- or, pardon me, intent.  What capability does Iran have to make U.S. troops their target?  And why aren't U.S. troops protected against that?  And my second question -- 

                MR. MORRELL:  I think I addressed both those.  You've read the Iran report that was presented to the Congress this week.  There's a section that deals with missile capabilities.  They clearly have -- are trying to develop, and to some extent have developed, short-range and medium-range capabilities, you know.  And so, our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan would certainly be within that range.  I've also addressed the second part of that.  We have theater-based missile- defense systems that we think will protect our forces against such a threat. 

                Q     Okay.  Thank you.  My just second question, to wrap this up -- and you might have to take this -- you said, I believe, that the United States was protected against an Iranian ICBM launch.  For those -- 

                MR. MORRELL:  Mm-hmm, this nonexistent ICBM, yes. 

                Q     Yes.  But you said the U.S. was protected against an ICBM launched from Iran. 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yes. 

                Q     For those of us who don't recall the details, could you -- if you have to take it -- tell us what operationally proven, fielded capability there is to protect the United States from an ICBM launch? 

                MR. MORRELL:  Okay. 

                Q     If you have to take it, that would be fine. 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, we'll -- I'm happy to take it.  You guys can call the Missile Defense Agency, you can talk to them; you can refer back to the -- to the testimony of General Cartwright and others.  It is the belief of the -- of the leaders of this department that we have the capability to defend the United States against the -- against an ICBM threat from a rogue nation such as Iran or North Korea.  We are confident in the system that we have at this point. 

                Okay?   

                Q     It seems we still have a question from earlier. 

                MR. MORRELL:  Thank you. 

                Q     You called on him, and -- 

                MR. MORRELL:  I think they -- I saw them conspiring, so I figured that he probably checked his box. 

                Q     (Off mike.)  Got it already.

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