United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

News Transcript

Press Operations Bookmark and Share


DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
April 22, 1997 2:00 PM EDT
Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.

First I'd like to welcome a couple of people here. Mr. James Buchanan, who's president of the Buchanan Company in Southfield, Michigan and is president of the Defense Orientation Conference Association. This is a group, it's sort of like the post-graduate course of the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference which is a group of civilians who come together every year, a different group every year, and they travel all around the country visiting military bases for a week as a way to learn more about how the military operates and what its capabilities and values are. So we welcome Mr. Buchanan here.

I'd also like to welcome Mr. Sakane of Japan. He's the International Affairs correspondent of NHK Nagoya, which is a Japanese public broadcasting station and he's here as one of the USIA's endless string of visitors, and we welcome him as well.

Let me start with a couple of remarks about the support we're providing to the flood victims in North Dakota. We have, among other things, provided through the Army Corps of Engineers about 5.5 million sandbags and 220 pumps. We've also, the Corps of Engineers has installed 50 generators provided by FEMA which, of course, is the lead agency in helping the people of North Dakota deal with the floods. We currently have 560 engineers or members of the Corps of the Engineers out there working on dikes, levies, and other activities to prevent the flood waters from attacking new targets such as hospitals.

In addition, we have, through the Engineers, worked on 33 separate locations to try to hold back the flood waters.

The Air Force is now providing housing for approximately 3,000 evacuees and they're prepared to help many more should that number rise. There are approximately 850 airmen working on flood control damage/limitation efforts going out there today, and another 60 personnel from air bases outside of North Dakota have been sent in to the Grand Forks Air Force Base Hospital to assist in the provision of care to civilian evacuees.

Finally, TRANSCOM has brought in a wide range of supplies -- the 50 generators I mentioned earlier; 4,000 blankets; 900 sleeping bags; and 90 pallets of Red Cross supplies. They've brought in a number of medical personnel as well, teams both from FEMA and from the Public Health Service.

So that's an overview of the support the Defense Department is providing out there. Army Secretary Togo West is out there today with President Clinton assessing the damage and what we can do to help limit it.

There are also, finally, I should mention, 2,181 members of the National Guard who have been called on active duty to help provide support for the flood operations.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: On the flood, do you have any idea how many flights TRANSCOM has made?

A: I'm afraid I don't, but we can try to find out.

Q: And all the 3,000 evacuees, are they primarily at the air base...

A: Yes, that's where they are.

Q: . ..outside of Grand Forks? Or are there other sites?

A: No, they're at the air base, I believe.

Q: Elizabeth Dole is scheduled to meet with Secretary Cohen, I think today or tomorrow. This is about the flooding?

A: No, she met with him yesterday, and the primary topic of discussion was anti-personnel land mines.

Q: On the situation in Iraq, the President and State Department have made it pretty clear the United States doesn't intend to shoot down what they call civilian helicopters that Iraq might use to transport civilians across the no-fly zone from the Haj. Number one, has Iraq... Iraq says it's going to. Has it started to move these helicopters yet? And could you clarify positions? What if they're military helicopters used to transport these people?

A: What the President said was that we were not going to interfere with the exercise of religious rights and privileges and faith -- we are not going to do that. We have made it extremely clear, both in words and in deed over the years, that we are prepared to enforce the no-fly/no-drive zone which was set up to prevent Iraq from increasing its military power south of the 32nd Parallel. In other words, increasing its military power in a way that could threaten Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. That remains our goal and we will enforce both the no-fly and the no- drive zone in order to do that.

Q: How do you know if Iraq uses military helicopters that it's not doing that? Are they communicating with you? And have they started moving people?

A: We have ways of telling whether they're mobilizing forces. In this case they are not mobilizing forces. I think it's heartening that Saddam Hussein, who has shown relatively little interest in the welfare of his people over the last six or seven years, spent vast amounts of resources rebuilding his palaces and attempting to rebuild his military while his people have starved and gone without medicine, I think it's encouraging that he is acting to help "tired and ill pilgrims," as he said. We don't intend to interfere with his ability to provide humanitarian aid to pilgrims. But I think we can discriminate between relatively limited humanitarian missions on the one hand and military mobilizations or movements on the other hand.

Q: Has he started to move these people yet, and are they communicating with you regarding the movements?

A: They don't typically communicate with us, and I don't believe they've communicated with us in this case.

Q: Have they started moving them?

A: We believe they have moved helicopters down to just north of the border with Saudi Arabia. There are 104 pilgrims who have been moved up to that area, and that will require probably three or four utility helicopters to move those pilgrims out.

Q: So is it only going to be for religious observances, or can a helicopter that maybe wants to deliver some rice to a village can then be another exception and so on and so forth?

A: The Haj only happens once a year, so I wouldn't anticipate that this would be an everyday event. We are not planning to make widespread exceptions for helicopter traffic in the area, but our main goal remains unchanged, and that is to prevent military buildup in the southern part of Iraq, and I think we're fully capable of doing that. And as I said, I think we can discriminate between relatively small-scale humanitarian operations on the one hand and military movements on the other.

Q: So you're saying small scale humanitarian flights into the no-fly zone are okay.

A: Our preference is that there be no flights in the no- fly zone, but we're not prepared to stop what seem to be small scale and reasonable humanitarian actions. But there's a big difference between that and any type of military mobilization.

Q: Are these military helicopters?

A: Yes, I believe they're Russian military... The same types of helicopters used by the Russian military, yeah. I think they're MI-8s and 17s, I believe is what they are.

Q: And they came south to at least close to the border with Saudi Arabia?

A: They did not cross the border. My understanding is they have not crossed the border. They've come close to the border, and then the pilgrims will be taken across the border.

Q: Did they come that far south without any warning?

A: They came that far south. I mean we basically announced yesterday that we weren't going to shoot down these helicopters transporting pilgrims.

Q: They didn't come south until after we made that clear?

A: No, they did not.

Q: How many helicopters are there, sir?

A: As I said, it would take about three or four helicopters to transport that many pilgrims. I also understand there's a helicopter of press people, as well.

Q: Have we shot that down? [Laughter]

A: Are you asking if we shot it down or if they did?

Q: Can you fill in a couple more of the real basic questions?

A: Just for the record, no helicopters have been shot down. I want to make sure the transcript reflects that.

Q: So have three or four helicopters already flown into the no-fly zone? Can you tell us what time that happened?

A: No, I can't. And I actually can't tell you the numbers right now. I'm just telling you that it would take three or four helicopters to transport that number of pilgrims.

Q: But there have been a number of helicopters that have flown into the no-fly zone as we speak already.

A: I have not seen them, but I have read reports that the helicopters have gone there.

Q: So as not to rely on Saddam Hussein's reporting, do you have information from the task force enforcing the no-fly zone that indeed, a number of helicopters did fly into...

A: We have information that several helicopters are flying into the area, yes.

Q: Can you tell us what time that was?

A: No, I can't. I'm afraid I just don't know.

Q: Can you say whether there was an effort to communicate on the part of Iraq, or was there any communication on the part of Iraq with the task force pilots or what have you to let them know...

A: Not that I'm aware of.

Q: Were any warnings given by the task force that they weren't to come, that...

A: No, not that I'm aware of. Like I said, we made a public statement yesterday about our response to this.

Q: Did Saudi Arabia not give them permission to enter Saudi territory? Is that why they stopped on that side of the border?

A: You'll have to ask the Saudis about that, but it was perfectly easy for them to stay within Iraqi territory and have the pilgrims, even though they are sick and exhausted, apparently walk the short distance to the helicopters.

Q: The Saudis have an AWACS aircraft of their own up and a couple of helicopters to try to determine how many choppers the Iraqis were bringing down. Is that how we got our information about how many choppers, or if the choppers of the Iraqis were flying?

A: I'm not aware of what the Saudi force dispositions were in the area.

Q: So you can't confirm whether there was a Saudi AWACS aircraft...

A: No. They can confirm that, I assume, but I'm not speaking for their forces.

Q: Is there a concern that this is going to be followed up with more challenges to the no-fly zone? Since, in fact, they defied a no-fly zone and there's been no response at all from the United States.

A: As I said earlier, we believe we can adequately discriminate between small-scale humanitarian operations on the one hand and military mobilizations on the other. Our goal of enforcing the no-fly, no-drive zone is to prevent them from mobilizing their forces in the south, and I believe we can do that. We've also shown that we're willing to enforce that. I don't think there should be any doubt on Saddam Hussein's part that we are willing to enforce the no-fly/no-drive zone.

Q: Does this constitute a change in United States policy with regard to enforcing the no-fly zone?

A: I don't believe it does, no.

Q: Because?

A: Because it isn't.

Q: They're flying in the no-fly zone, which they've never done before.

A: It is not a change in our policy.

Q: Can I follow with a question of that? I had always understood since the end of the war that the rule was no armed helicopter flights, and now you're defining that, as I understand what you just said about discriminating on the basis of the mission as opposed to armed or unarmed. So by definition, if you're discriminating now on the basis of the mission and the intent of the mission, does humanitarian mission, by U.S. definition, mean absolutely unarmed? And are you assured that these helicopters are not armed, and by definition future humanitarian flights must be unarmed?

A: I'm not prepared to make a sweeping statement about that because I don't have... I cannot describe to you the helicopters that they sent down there.

Q: Do you know whether they have any arms or...

A: I do not know.

Q: How do you know that it's humanitarian?

A: We know that they went down to pick up 104 pilgrims and that they sent a small number of helicopters to do that, and as the President said, we're not going to interfere with the exercise of religious liberties.

Q: I'm sorry to press it just one more time, but you can't say whether this definition of a humanitarian flight means armed or unarmed?

A: There are ways for the Iraqis to seek permission from the UN Security Council for various types of activities in the no- fly zone. In this case they did not seek permission to do that. We wish they had, but they did not. But our decision was not to interfere with this humanitarian mission, and I go back to the point that I think we're perfectly able to tell the difference between a small-scale humanitarian mission on the one hand, and military operations on the other.

Q: But you don't regard this as Saddam Hussein finding a little chink in your armor, a way to tweak the nose of the great satan by taking a couple of helicopters down there and...

A: I regard this as Saddam Hussein showing that he is a good Muslim and supporting other good Muslims who have made their pilgrimage to Mecca.

Q: After the Black Hawk shootdown in '95, why are you guys so certain you'll be able to distinguish between a military operation and a humanitarian operation?

A: What I said was that we would be able to distinguish between small- scale humanitarian operations and military mobilizations. And I believe that's the case.

Q: Can I go back to the question of whether or not this is a change in policy? The rhetoric of the policy, at least I believe, is that it's fairly consistent that you wouldn't tolerate any flights in the no-fly zone without having sought permission from the UN. So is this the first time that Iraq has carried out a small- scale humanitarian mission without having asked permission from the UN?

A: I can't answer that question. I just don't know the history to be able to say whether it's the first time they've carried out a humanitarian operation.

They have flown helicopters in the no-fly zone before. I know that. But I can't describe them. I don't know whether they were humanitarian operations or not.

Q: But they were always at risk when they were flying before. Weren't they?

A: I'm not saying that future helicopter flights won't be at risk. In this particular case, because it was clearly a religious or a humanitarian operation to bring back religious pilgrims, we took the stance that we did.

Q: Perhaps there is a de facto policy in effect that we don't know about, and this is the first time we've found out that there's a helicopter provision that you're permitting that falls outside of what seemed to be what you would permit before. So...

A: So?

Q: Well, so either there have been missions like this before, and you say you can't answer that question?

A: I'm saying I'm not aware of earlier humanitarian missions. There may well have been, but I'm not personally aware of them.

Q: Again, why doesn't this amount to a change in policy?

A: It has not been our policy to interfere with small- scale humanitarian operations. That's not our policy.

Q: What are currently then the rules of engagement for U.S. pilots or allied pilots patrolling the no-fly zone when they encounter a helicopter?

A: We don't discuss rules of engagement in any specificity. But what we've shown in the past is that we will take appropriate actions, one, to protect our forces; and two, to prevent Iraq from assembling military power in the south of its country, and that's the point of the no-fly/no-drive zone. That remains unchanged.

Q: Has there been an increased number of sorties in which the U.S. can monitor...

A: No, but a large number of sorties on an average day, frequently over 100 sorties in an average day. So we have fairly complete coverage of the no-fly zone. We don't cover all of the no-fly zone every day, but we cover, we fly enough to cover vast parts of the no-fly zone.

Q: Has Iraq increased its level of air defense integration or preparedness during this...

A: Iraq clearly has been watching our response, I think it's fair to say.

Q: Did the Saudi government specifically ask the United States not to interfere with these humanitarian flights from Haj?

A: I'm not aware that they have, but we're, as the President made very clear, not only aware of but supportive of the exercise of religious liberties and of faith. We made a decision to allow this.

Q: How are the pilgrims getting from, presumably they're in Mecca or Medina. How are they getting from the holy mosques to the helicopter pickup points?

A: I don't know how they got there. That's something you should ask the Saudis because...

Q: . ..the helicopters...

A: As I said, I can't answer your question. The Saudis will have to answer that question. It happened in their territory.

Q: Presumably the Saudis are cooperating with the transport of the pilgrims.

A: Well the pilgrims got there, as I understand it, so yes, presumably they allowed them to get there.

Q: And to get across the border to where the helicopters are.

A: As I said, those are questions you should ask the Saudi press operation in Washington.

Q: . ..sorties, has there been any change in the security posture...

A: I did not say we've increased sorties.

Q: I'm sorry. Other than that question, you're right. You didn't say that. But has there been any change in U.S. security posture?

A: Not that I'm aware of, no.

Q: Regarding the defector Hwang Jang Yop, it was reported yesterday that he had spoken about plans by the North Korean military to attack and burn the countryside of South Korea, and there was some mention of a possible nuclear component to this attack. So I would ask, while the South Koreans are interviewing him, debriefing him, does the United States have an immediate interest to ask the South Koreans, or jointly interview this gentleman, Mr. Hwang, about the North Korean nuclear capability and whatever plans they might have to use such capability? Is that not urgent?

A: It is certainly of great interest to us. The South Koreans have promised to share their information with us and also they have made it very clear that we will have our own independent access to defector Hwang.

Q: But will we be willing to wait until we have independent access, or would we be asking the South Koreans for whatever... Certainly the burning question is nuclear, right?

A: It is one of several questions we have, yes.

Q: And we would want to know whatever they find out immediately.

A: To the extent that it's been reported in the press, we have one version of what he said already. As I said, we work very closely with the South Koreans; we're allies on the peninsula; and we will also have a chance to talk with him independently.

Q: Do you have a time frame of when you'll be able to talk to him?

A: I think we'll probably let the South Koreans talk with him for awhile. I would guess it would be several weeks. But in the meantime, they'll be sharing information with us.

Q: Have you not been talking to him over the course of the last month?

A: They have not really started systematic discussions with him prior to his arrival in South Korea, as I understand it. Remember, he was in Beijing for awhile, and it's my understanding that there wasn't much communication with him then. Then he moved to the Philippines; now he's in the Republic of Korea. I think there will be ample time for both the South Koreans and for us to talk with Mr. Hwang.

Q: While he was in the Philippines, did the U.S. have a chance to talk to the North Korean defector?

A: No.

Q: You've not spoken to him at all up to this point?

A: I believe that's the case, yes.

Q: Does the U.S. have independent verification of what we read today that indeed the North Koreans have a nuclear capability?

A: Our intelligence community obviously has looked very closely at that. At around the time of the Framework Agreement which was designed to shut down their nuclear program, we believed that they had generated enough plutonium to make at least one nuclear weapon. I checked before coming in here in The Military Balance put out by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and they phrased it this way, referring to the Framework Agreement. "It is generally believed that the North Korean nuclear program is frozen. Although there can be no absolute assurance that it does not already possess a small number of nuclear weapons."

Q: Does the U.S. agree with that statement?

A: As I said, our intelligence people who have assessed this believe that they probably, that they could have generated enough plutonium to make at least one nuclear weapon.

Q: Could have. But did they?

A: I think I'll stick with what I said. It's pretty clear.

Q: What are we to make of what is the fairly startling piece of information?

A: We've been talking about... We clearly regarded the North Korean nuclear program as a threat. In 1994, we were preparing a major surge of our forces over the question of whether the North Koreans, to compel them to stop what we believe was work on a nuclear program. We succeeded in forcing them to stop through negotiations. That led to the agreed framework agreement. We believe that they have frozen their nuclear program since 1994 and that that program remains frozen. There are inspectors who have been in and out of North Korea looking at their reactors. As you know, as part of the framework program there are a number of events that have to take place in terms of supplying fuel oil and in terms of building less threatening nuclear reactors to generate power. That process is ongoing now.

But I can't move the ball beyond what we said back in '94 and have said since, and what I said today.

Q: Do you consider this report fairly troubling, then? You're not disputing it...

A: I consider the North Koreans' military capability troubling. The United States does. We have 37,000 troops in South Korea. They have the world's fourth largest army. Fifty percent of it is arrayed along the demilitarized zone. They have extensive artillery trained on South Korea; they have missiles, we know. They have worked very hard to build dangerous and threatening weapons. That's one of the reasons we're trying to engage them in four-party talks, to lead to a peace agreement on the Korean Peninsula.

Q: [What about] Minister Hwang's assessment that, or his belief that North Korea is preparing for war and intends to go to war -- if I read the statement that is credited to him correctly. Is that an intent which surprises, worries, how is that...

A: First of all, we have in connection with the Republic of Korea very strong defenses and very robust military forces in Korea today. Those forces, since 1994, have been improved in several very specific and meaningful ways. We've improved dramatically our counter-battery radar -- for instance, our ability to locate artillery shooting at us and to fire back at it very, very quickly. We've improved our helicopters.

Q: That's not what I'm trying to get at, Ken.

A: We do not see today nor have we seen recently any signs of increased military preparedness on the part of North Korea. Indeed, one of the... Although this is a very powerful, threatening, and certainly serious military force arrayed against the Republic of Korea and against our own forces, the general level of exercise and training has fallen off somewhat in the last several years from what it had been in the past, and we attribute this, in part, to the impact of their economic problems.

But I want to make two points. One, it is a very significant military force. It is now, and it has been in the past, and we believe it will be in the future. And two, we do not see signs of increased preparedness today.

Q: It seems to me that his statement was more directed, rather than at a systematic, logical escalation on the part of North Korea, but more a level of mental intent on the part of the leadership whereby whether they were ready or not, whether they had made mass preparations or not, it still might be a more live possibility than many of us who have been watching this for a long time might have thought. That's what I'm trying to get at.

A: I can't psychoanalyze defector Hwang, and I certainly can't psychoanalyze the state of mind of the North Koreans. Suffice it to say they have a significant military force; it's a force we take very seriously; and it's a force we have worked very hard to counter. We believe we have a very powerful defensive force that could respond extremely quickly with devastating power to any attack they made against us or the Republic of Korea. We have in the last three or four years taken a number of actions to improve the ability of our forces there. Secretary Cohen was recently in Korea. Some of you traveled with him. He had a chance to assess first-hand in his meetings with General Tilelli, his visit to Osan, his visit to the 2nd Infantry Division at Camp Casey, he had a chance to assess with his own eyes and ears the readiness of these forces. They're extremely ready. They're well prepared.

But as I say, our goal now and in the past and in the future will be to convince North Korea that it is futile for them to think of military solutions to the problems on the peninsula. Instead, they should agree to sit down and negotiate with the four parties, the other three parties, toward a peace agreement on the Korean peninsula.

Q: (inaudible) Did they ask to join the interview?

A: I'm not aware that they asked us if they could join with us. I have read the same report you've read, and I would just refer you to the Japanese government on that. I cant' speak for the Japanese government on what their plans are.

Q: Do you know whether this August report that he wrote is detailed enough to allow the U.S. to verify whether or not they do have nuclear weapons since he named the site. Did he name any specifics that would allow you to then figure out whether...

A: I do not know that, no. I can't answer that question.

Q: Secretary Cohen said, "The United States will have access to this defector to find out what's in the hearts and minds of the Korean leadership."

I take it that the U.S. government regards Hwang as very credible, is that correct?

A: He has been the leading ideologue of North Korea, which is a state that seems to live more on ideology than food, so he's been a very important person. I think we take the information we can get from any defector seriously. He is a very high level defector, so we will, obviously, listen with great interest to what he says.

Q: Do we believe he's telling us the truth?

A: Well, that's one of the things we'll have to find out. But that's one of the reasons we want to talk to him ourselves.

Q: Just to make sure I understand something way back at the beginning. Do you believe there's a possibility that North Korea holds weapons grade plutonium outside of the agreed IAEA program that was supposed to freeze their capacity and their nuclear infrastructure? Did I understand you right? You believe there's a possibility they hold weapons grade plutonium outside of that regime?

A: Let me repeat what I said earlier, because I want it to be exactly what I said before. Our intelligence community believes that they may have acquired enough plutonium to make at least one weapon. I don't think I want to go beyond that. That's been our stance for several years, and it remains our stance. In addition, I read to you a public statement that anybody can ready from The Military Balance

Q: Would that not be a violation of the IAEA agreement, however?

A: We are talking about what happened before the agreed framework agreement. We believe that their nuclear program has been frozen as of the time that agreement was signed which, I believe, was in October of 1994. We believe that they have honored that agreement since October of 1994. That agreement, the framework agreement, was a huge diplomatic achievement because it shut down what we worried was a nuclear program. But the agreement only took effect in October of 1994 and their program pre-dated that agreement.

Q: But you believe the plutonium is frozen somehow within the confines of the monitoring capability that was set up by that agreement?

A: That's not what I said. I said we believe they may have generated enough plutonium to build at least one nuclear weapon.

Q: Did you know that before the October '94 agreement was signed? Is that grandfathered in somehow?

A: There was no grandfathering to allow them to continue a nuclear weapons program. The entire point of the Framework Agreement was to shut down a program that we believed was designed to allow them to produce a nuclear arsenal, and we succeeded in shutting down that program.

Q: But the agreement does not prohibit them from maintaining, from holding the plutonium that they may have already had.

A: I'd have to go back and look at the agreement, but our assessment of their program is exactly what I told you.

Q: Was that assessment made before October '94? That you've just read us about...

A: Yes, it was.

Q: I understand everything you just said, but can you answer the question whether or not you believe they hold any nuclear material outside of the framework agreement?

A: You've asked me that question. I answered the question the way I answered it. I have nothing to add to my answer.

Q: Looking for an update on Zaire. Is there any change in the number of people deployed there, when the swap-out is to take place...

A: There's been no change to the number of people deployed. We still have somewhat less than 1400 Marines offshore on the NASSAU. There are less than 200 people on the ground, based almost exclusively in Brazzaville. Two people in, I think there are about 150, 140 military personnel, somewhere in that area, on the ground. Most of them are in Brazzaville. There are two in Kinshasa.

The second part of your question was the switch-out. In early May, the KEARSARGE will replace the NASSAU.

Q: Do you have anything new on the search in Colorado?

A: I've got a little bit on that.

There have been basically two things happening in Colorado today. First, a UH-1 helicopter from Eagle conducted an on-site survey this morning. Just went up there to look at what's changed with the snow cover. One of the passengers on that helicopter was an A-10 pilot who, of course, would be able to look at the wreckage and identify parts or have a better assessment of what happened, perhaps. There is also an MH-53 helicopter with a para-rescue team and its equipment from Leadville, Colorado, which is currently flying above the suspected crash site, or at least it was when I began this briefing.

So the first helicopter, the UH-1 surveyed the site and came back. The MH-53 helicopter, which a heavy lift helicopter, went out with a para-rescue team. My understanding is that this is just an assessment and they don't plan to dispatch any people down ropes or in any other way to the site. They're looking at the situation, deciding what they need to do to do more. If the weather holds, the rescue team could go back later today to actually conduct a physical search, but as of the time I came in there there had been no decision as to whether that would happen. That would be based, in part, on the first...

I see Colonel Bridges is leaping up here with new information.

This is an ongoing operation right now, and whether they can do more will depend on the weather and the snow cover.

Q: If his remains are found with the A-10, where will they be taken?

A: I'm afraid I can't answer that question.

Q: The MH-53 helicopter, is that an Air Force Special Operations...

A: It is, indeed, an Air Force Special Operations helicopter.

Q: And the parachute, para-rescue team is also?

A: Yes. One of the things these helicopters do is provide search and rescue services for the Air Force. That's one of the things this team is trained to do, but it can do other things as well.

The point here is, you've all read about the demanding task that faces these rescuers or searchers. This is high up, it's snowy, it's very steep, and they really have to assess the situation and decide how they can get there and...

Q: What kind of Special Operations team is it?

A: It's a para-rescue team, so it's mainly a team designed to provide search and rescue services.

Q: Are they from...

A: They're Air Force. You want to know where they're based? Kirtland Air Force Base.

Let me just say here that the agreed Framework Agreement was signed in Geneva on October 21, 1994 and it provides that the North will halt and eventually dismantle its nuclear weapons program to ensure a nuclear-free Korean peninsula. But the timing is open to question. What the agreement does is state the intent, but it does not have a deadline.

Q: Has the government of Ecuador or the military of Ecuador provided any reason why a week ago today two of their Mirage jets fired warning shots at a U.S. T-3 off the coast of Ecuador?

A: The government of Ecuador apologized profusely for that, and they called it a mistake. Since you know something about this, I presume you know there was no damage to the American plane.

Q: The Clinton Administration and the President himself has actually said many times that the Administration would welcome Republicans into high level positions. The Secretary here is, of course, a Republican. Has he brought any Republicans into the Defense Department since taking over? Or are there any other high level positions that may be filled by Republicans? And just generally, is there a roll-over and do you have any specifics on Republicans in senior positions at the Pentagon?

A: When the Secretary arrived at the Pentagon the day he was sworn in, he announced at a staff meeting that he has no political litmus test, that he never has. That he's never asked anybody who worked for him their party affiliation. He has always hired people on the basis of their capability, their competence, and their energy to do the work before them.

He has been given the carte blanche of any Cabinet member to hire people. We discussed this. I think Jamie MacIntyre asked me this question at the last briefing. But so far, initially he has concentrated on filling military positions, and that's been shown, first of all, in the selection of General Wesley Clark to succeed General George Joulwan as the commander of our forces in Europe, SACEUR, and the EUCOM commander.

He is in the process of selecting a replacement for General Peay who is retiring later this year. He's in the process of selecting a replacement for General Clark when he moves from SOUTHCOM to EUCOM. And he has also been working to fill vacancies in the civilian side, in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. I think he's quite close to finding a replacement and announcing a replacement for Under Secretary Dorn. He's making rapid progress on finding a replacement for Under Secretary Kaminski, who has announced that he's leaving as the Chief Acquisition Executive early next month. He is also trying to fill some of the other slots in the building. There are a couple of assistant secretaryships open as well.

So he's working on that. There is no political litmus test. I can't tell you who here now is a Republican, and I'm not even sure I'll be able to tell you of the people he brings in who, which are Republicans and which are not because he said that's not one of his criteria.

Q: A lot of people on the Hill, for example, are either Republican or Democrat. [Laughter] Presumably the answer is no...

A: You're quite a political analyst.

Q: Their business cards tell the tale. But apparently the answer is no. At this point no Republicans have been put in senior positions. CINC jobs aside...

A: Wait a minute. He brought with him several people -- his Chief of Staff, Mr. Robert Tyrer; he brought with him his Special Assistant, Mr. James Bodner. These were people who worked with him on the Hill for I think the two of them have worked with him for a total of 37 years or something like that. They've been long-time employees. I don't know what their political affiliation is. There's probably a good chance they're Republicans, but I've never asked them. He also brought special confidential assistant Stephanie Sherline. But beyond that, he has not filled any jobs in the Pentagon that require Senate confirmation. He's working on that. He's close to doing that, but he hasn't done it yet.

I can't forecast for you right now who those people will be, but he's been working hard on this.

You asked about the number of TRANSCOM flights. It has flown nine missions into the flood area -- five from other places in North Dakota, probably from Minot, North Dakota; and four from Minnesota. And of course there will be more missions to come.

Press: Thank you.

Additional Links

Stay Connected