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DOD News Briefing with George Little from the Pentagon

Presenter: Pentagon Press Secretary George Little
July 17, 2012

            GEORGE LITTLE:  Good afternoon.  I only have one brief announcement, and that is that tomorrow the United Kingdom's Secretary of State for Defence, Philip Hammond, will be in Washington and will meet with Secretary Panetta here at the Pentagon.  They're expected to discuss a wide range of issues during a breakfast meeting that begins early tomorrow morning. 

            Following that meeting, the two secretaries will conduct a short press briefing here in the briefing room at 8:30 a.m.  Yes, that's 8:30.  Some of you will have to set back your alarm clocks, knowing some of your sleeping biorhythms.  But I expect to see many of you here. 

            All right.  With that, let's go ahead and take your questions.  All right.  That's it.  Jennifer? 

            Q:  George, what can you tell us about these anti-demining exercises that are supposed to take place in September in the Persian Gulf?  Who's going to participate?  How unusual is it?  And also, what can you tell us about the shooting incident yesterday?  What kind of warnings was this fishing boat given?  And were any weapons or explosives found onboard? 

            MR. LITTLE:  The international mine countermeasures exercise for 2012 will involve more than 20 nations.  I think CENTCOM (U.S. Central Command) probably has the full list of participants.  It will take place from September 16th through the 27th.

            It's an international symposium in a float exercise of mine countermeasures conducted in multiple locations in the NAVCENT (U.S. Naval Forces Central Command) area of operations.  This is a defensive exercise aimed at preserving freedom of navigation in the international waterways of the Middle East and aimed at promoting regional stability within the CENTCOM area of responsibility. 

            On the incident yesterday, as you know, this is under investigation.  And CENTCOM has posted a timeline of events on its website describing what happened.  We would associate ourselves with the statement issued by the United States Embassy in Delhi.  The USNS Rappahannock escalated warning measures to -- in response to a potential threat posed by this vessel.  The incident remains under investigation.  And this is something that all U.S. Navy ships take into account for security reasons.  

            The prospect of potential threats to -- you know, especially in the wake of the USS Cole, to put this into some context, there are procedures in place.  Based on what we know now, a series of warning measures were issued to the oncoming vessel.  Those warnings were not heeded.  And the vessel was fired upon. 

            Q:  The Indian ambassador says that the -- the survivors say that there was no warning.  Are you planning to apologize for the shooting? 

            MR. LITTLE:  We certainly regret the loss of life in this incident, Jennifer.  There were, in fact, warning measures that were taken based on what we know now.  This is under investigation.  And we'll know the full facts of this incident once that investigation is complete.  Thank you very much. 

            Tony? 

            Q:  One follow-up, and then a sequestration question.  Size and scope of this mining exercise, is this the largest ever -- since the creation of CENTCOM?  I mean, it's 20 nations.  It seems like a lot.  But can you give some measure of proportion? 

            MR. LITTLE:  I don't know if it's the largest.  I would refer you to CENTCOM for details on past exercises.  But this is an important exercise.  It's going to involve an international contingent of military planners.  And these exercises are designed to enhance cooperation, develop mutual maritime capabilities, and are aimed at promoting long-term regional stability. 

            Q:  What's the message for Iran (off mic)?

            MR. LITTLE:  This is not an exercise that's aimed to deliver a message to Iran.  This is an exercise that's designed to, within this multinational forum, increase our capabilities and cooperation. 

            Q:  And one sequestration question.  The AIA -- 

            MR. LITTLE:  I'm so shocked. 

            Q:  Don't be a Geoff Morrell. 

            MR. LITTLE:  OK.  (Laughter) 

            Q:  The AIA put out a new statement, a new study today on jobs losses.  I want you to be clear on sequestration.  What impact will sequestration have on contracts obligated -- funded with obligated 2012 dollars, in layman's language, contracts that were signed up until September 30th of this year, funded with dollars approved by Congress for this fiscal year?  Will they be terminated, whacked, reduced, affected in any way? 

            MR. LITTLE:  I'm not sure if whacked is a technical budget term, but let me try to put this into English that's perhaps a little less plain than that.  Sequestration cuts would not affect current contracts funded with FY (Fiscal Year) 12 dollars that is obligated funds.  Anything put on contract between now and September 30th, the end of the fiscal year, would also not be affected or be subject to sequestration.  All FY 13 dollars would, however, be subject to sequestration.  And FY 13, as you know, begins August 1st -- excuse me, October 1st.  

            Q:  Even if those FY 13 dollars were obligated, put on contract, in layman's language, between October 1st and January 1st, when sequestration, you know, could take affect, those dollars would be affected and those contracts would be affected? 

            MR. LITTLE:  FY 13 dollars would be affected by sequestration, period.  That's right. 

            Q:  Obligated and unobligated? 

            MR. LITTLE:  All funds. 

            Q:  Thank you. 

            Q:  A follow-up to that?  Is there any -- not planning, but any assessments being made that the department would hold off on contracts in that October to January period?  Is there -- do you have any -- has there been a look at that, in terms of how to handle that?  If the threat of sequestration hangs over it, but yet it's not in place yet, are you going to do anything differently? 

            MR. LITTLE:  It's a very fair question.  We are, obviously, assessing the potential impacts of sequestration.  We are not planning for sequestration to try to get ahead of a question that may be posed here today by others.  But, clearly, we do need to take a look at contracts and take that into account, should sequestration go into effect. 

            Justin? 

            Q:  George, have any Navy officials, anyone from NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigative Service) gotten their hands on this boat in question?  Have they seen the boat?  I know the investigation is ongoing, but what I'm trying to understand here is if there's been any suggestion of malicious intent on the part of these fishermen and this boat, did they find explosives?  Did they find anything that would give us any reason to believe it was a threat, other than their -- the maneuvers they made? 

            MR. LITTLE:  I have gone about as far as I can in describing what we believe to be the case thus far with respect to the incident involving the USNS Rappahannock.  NAVCENT and Central Command may have more detail later on to add to the storyline here.  This is under investigation, and I'm going to leave it there for the moment. 

            Q:  George, can you say who -- who gave the order to -- to fire?  It's Sealift Command, so you have a civilian crew with the Navy team aboard.  How does -- how does that come about?  Who gives the order? 

            MR. LITTLE:  It's a good question, and I do not know the answer to that. 

            Q:  Yesterday, Nawaf Fares, the Syrian ambassador that defected, said he was very concerned about the fact that Bashar al-Assad uses its chemical weapons when cornered.  Are you in a position to secure the stockpiles when time comes or when the -- or if the regime collapses? 

            MR. LITTLE:  I'm not going to speculate as to what we may or may not do with respect to future scenarios in Syria.  The obligation is on the Syrian regime to protect its very sensitive stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons.  That is their obligation.  We expect them to live up to that obligation.  And that's a very important consideration as we look at this very problematic situation in Syria. 

            Jeff? 

            Q:  For the restrictions on the F-22, will that last until the Air Force can say definitively this is it, we are 100 percent certain?  Or is it more until the Air Force says we are reasonably confident that this is it? 

            MR. LITTLE:  The Air Force is looking closely at what may be contributing to issues, hypoxia-like symptoms with the F-22.  The secretary will receive an update.  It's scheduled for later this week.  And we will see where the process goes from here.  But the Air Force is, in our estimation and in the secretary's estimation, doing a very thorough job at assessing what may be contributing to problems with the F-22.  In terms of characterizing the outcome of that investigation, I'm not in a position to do that today.  

            Barbara? 

            Q:  Can I ask you about Syria?  In the last couple of days, we've now seen fighting in Damascus.  What's your assessment of what's going on?  Is this now the battle for Damascus?  Is it the opposition doing hit-and-run attacks?  Should the regime be worried?  What's your sense of it? 

            MR. LITTLE:  Well, separate and apart from the attacks in Damascus, this regime should be worried.  They are not only facing internal opposition, but they are facing serious opposition from the vast majority of the international community.  The regime is undertaking deplorable acts and has been rightly condemned for those acts. 

            I don't know that we can say for sure right now, with respect to Damascus, what this means.  But it's noteworthy that the fight is occurring in the capital. 

            Q:  Do you -- well, can I just follow up very briefly?  I mean, do you think -- is it your sense from the fighting that you and the -- this government has seen that the capital is at risk yet? 

            MR. LITTLE:  I'm not prepared to make that assessment today.  We, of course, are looking at the end of the day for the violence to end and for there to be political transition in Syria.  And that's our goal. 

            Q:  A quick follow-up on that? 

            MR. LITTLE:  OK, all right. 

            Q:  So, you know, there has been assessments that General Dempsey and I believe the secretary have made in Congress on terms of the opposition now, but these assessments are some weeks old now.  Given the fighting in Damascus, the claims of taking down a helicopter, is the assessment of this building changing?  Is this -- is opposition showing that they are more component, more organized, more of a threat to the Assad regime? 

            MR. LITTLE:  The focus of the entire United States Government right now remains on diplomatic and economic pressure.  The internal assessments that we make of the Syrian opposition I wouldn't offer publicly, but the opposition, we believe, is making inroads.  And while the Assad regime is still in power, we've seen some cracks recently with the defections, and we expect at the end of the day that this crisis will end with the new leader in Syria and that the Syrian people hopefully will be free from violence and can be in a position to determine their own future. 

            Yes? 

            Q:  So, you know, the fact that they've gotten thus far as Syria and even -- (inaudible) -- shows that clearly they're getting -- there's some firepower behind the opposition now.  And is there any information about what sort of weapons the opposition now has, where it's coming from, where it's being smuggled through? 

            MR. LITTLE:  A fair question.  I don't have the answers for you on that particular issue. 

            Craig? 

            Q:  Different subject.  The DoD inspector general recently completed a report into the management practices of the director of the Missile Defense Agency.  Lieutenant General O'Reilly is highly critical of his management practices.  Has the secretary been briefed on that report?  And does he still support Lieutenant General O'Reilly's position there? 

            MR. LITTLE:  I am aware of the report.  The secretary is aware of it, as well.  But, you know, I think we're in a position right now not to -- not to comment on the particulars of the report. 

            Q:  George, on Pakistan, Senator Rand Paul says that he has the votes now to force a vote on ending aid to Pakistan.  And he said if Dr. Afridi is still in prison next week, he will force that vote.  How much is the U.S. currently giving Pakistan, just in terms of the coalition support funds?  And are you worried about the sustainability of the GLOCs (Ground Lines of Communications), if, indeed, aid to Pakistan is cut back or curtailed? 

            MR. LITTLE:  I think this calls for a bit of speculation, Chris.  We're very pleased that the GLOCs are now open.  There has been some flow.  We're not at full capacity yet on shipments through the -- through the GLOCs.  The relationship with Pakistan is -- remains critical to the United States.  And we are, we believe, entering a new phase, as I've said before, in our relationship.  And we have -- are getting past some of the obstacles that we've encountered over the past year-and-a-half to two years. 

            I think my colleague before his departure from this office addressed the issue of CSF (Coalition Support Fund), and I wouldn't comment on prospective legislation. 

            Q:  Was the -- the deal to reopen the GLOCs continuing on further or sustained aid to Pakistan? 

            MR. LITTLE:  Not that I'm aware of.  If that changes, I'll let you know. 

            Yes? 

            Q:  Thank you.  About -- (inaudible) -- says he will send the team, specialist teams to the United States, about the -- to verify the safety-ness of this frame -- I mean, the aircraft.  So what is your plan?  What -- how and when do you accept the team?  And do you have any idea that -- how to deal with this team (off mic)?

 

            MR. LITTLE:  I don't have specific knowledge of this particular plan for a visit.  That being said, we have briefed Japanese officials before on the V-22, and we would welcome the opportunity to do so again. 

            Final question, Jeff? 

            Q:  A top North Korean general has stepped down for illness.  In North Korea, that's akin to spending more time with your family.  And I'm just seeing if the Defense Department is concerned that that's a sign of instability in the North Korean regime. 

            MR. LITTLE:  This is really an issue for the North Koreans to address, Jeff, not -- not me.  All right?  

            Louie? 

            Q:  George, is the secretary and Chairman Dempsey, are they going to the Hill this week to testify or discuss the national security leaks?  And what is the -- what -- what kind of message are they going to be talking about up there? 

            MR. LITTLE:  Well, they will be on the Hill on Thursday, testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on the very issue that you mentioned.  I don't think it would be appropriate for me from this lectern to discuss what they -- in advance what they may be saying in closed and classified session. 

            Q:  You can discuss what is their current thinking about what the -- those national security leaks -- what kind of impact they've had? 

            MR. LITTLE:  The secretary -- and I would include the chairman, as well -- both leaders believe that the unauthorized disclosure of classified information is deplorable, in a word.  It's unacceptable.  And it's a crime. 

            Q:  Could you get a redacted copy of their testimony on Thursday. 

            MR. LITTLE:  I'll see what I can do. 

            Q:  It's probably not going to be extensive, so it would be useful to get -- to see what they have to say in general.  Deplorable is one thing, but whether it impacts national security is a different issue. 

            MR. LITTLE:  I'll let you know if we can provide anything. 

            Q:  OK. 

            MR. LITTLE:  OK?  All right.  Thank you all very much.  Oh, wait, one last question.  Sorry.  Don't put your pens down yet, class. 

            Q:  The Wall Street Journal today talked about X-Band Radar into Qatar.  Can you discuss whether that is accurate? 

            MR. LITTLE:  I'm not going to comment on the Wall Street Journal report.  We have a number of allies and partners in the region with whom we seek to build greater cooperation.  And our goal is to address a wide range of U.S. security interests there.

            Q:  (off mic) building up of the infrastructure -- the missile defense infrastructure there in that part of the world, talked about the missile systems that have actually been sold to partner nations there.  Why can't you discuss this component, which is an integral part of building that -- that networking? 

            MR. LITTLE:  I'm not going to comment, Louis. 

            Finally, at long last, Mike? 

            Q:  (off mic) I'm so late, but (off mic) 

            MR. LITTLE:  Don't be late tomorrow, Mike. 

            Q:  No (off mic). 

            MR. LITTLE:  Tomorrow morning. 

            Q:  The two questions I have, you've probably already been asked and answered.  One was about the gulf incident, and, yes, you probably -- 

            MR. LITTLE:  I've addressed that. 

            Q:  OK, I'll ask somebody else. 

            MR. LITTLE:  OK.  There will be a transcript later. 

            Q:  OK.  And the carriers, something I'm confused about.  Did anyone ask about the carriers? 

            Q:  No. 

            Q:  OK.  We were talking yesterday about the two-carrier policy.  My understanding was, the U.S. Navy announced that the Abraham Lincoln had gone through the Suez Canal yesterday, so that's exit one.  Enterprise still out there.  Stennis on the way.  You said that Enterprise would be leaving shortly, so does that mean Stennis will be on its own? 

            MR. LITTLE:  The answer is no.  We do have two carriers currently in the CENTCOM AOR.  And those two carriers are the USS Enterprise and the USS Eisenhower (USS Dwight D. Eisenhower). 

            Q:  That's the missing link. 

            MR. LITTLE:  All right.  Very good.  Thank you.  Have a good day.