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DOD Press Briefing - Tuesday, October 15, 1996 - 2:15 p.m.

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
October 15, 1996 2:15 PM EDT

Tuesday, October 15, 1996 - 2:15 p.m.

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Welcome to our briefing. It's a beautiful Tuesday. You probably should all be out running or playing golf or tennis, rather than wasting your time in the Pentagon briefing.

I'd like to give you a brief readout of the first meeting in the Pentagon between Secretary Perry and the Defense Minister of Israel, Yitzhak Mordechai.

After the Honors Ceremony, the Secretary showed Minister Mordechai through his office, took him over and showed him the pictures on his wall about the denuclearization program in Ukraine and Kazakstan, some of the other pictures there. Then, at about 11 o'clock, they went into a formal meeting that lasted possibly 90 minutes. Afterwards they had a working lunch for about 60 minutes.

They covered a broad range of topics on the U.S./Israeli defense and security relationship and, as Secretary Perry said at the beginning of the press conference, he expressed his commitment to helping Israel maintain its qualitative defense edge.

They reiterated a mutual U.S./Israeli commitment to their strategic defense cooperation and reviewed the impact of the current situation in the Middle East. They also discussed the U.S. pledge to maintain military aid at current levels, which is $1.8 billion, through FY98.

The Secretary reaffirmed that the U.S., as I said earlier, U.S. commitment to maintaining Israel's qualitative edge, and they focused on these specifics.

They agreed to establish a secure defense telephone link to facilitate closer consultations between the Secretary and the Defense Minister of Israel. This is in addition to their ongoing communication links. They discussed closer cooperation in the area of counter-terrorism and agreed to review existing DOD/MOD- Israel cooperative programs. In particular, they looked at how to spend the $50 million that the President asked for in FY97, and the Israelis talked about various R&D programs for counter- terrorism.

They consulted on the status of a shared missile early warning network that alerts Israel to threatening ballistic missile launches. This was discussed earlier, in consultations with Israel and the United States. They reviewed existing cooperation in the area of theater missile defense, and agreed on a work plan for the coming year which will include combined military exercise planning. They also agreed that the U.S. Department of Defense will soon announce to Congress the intention to offer air defense equipment as excess defense articles -- that's primarily the Hawk and the Chaparral will be offered to Israel if they want them. Finally, Secretary Perry and Minister Mordechai discussed ways to achieve closer policy coordination on issues related to the transfer of equipment and technology to third countries.

I'd be glad to take your questions on that or anything else.

Q: Did Secretary Perry say the U.S. commitment to Israel of the $1.8 billion is ironclad, regardless of whether Israel adheres to the peace process? Or did he indicate that was a desire of the United States, and in fact is a condition?

A: They discussed the importance of the peace process and the Secretary made the point that not only does peace bring greater security to Israel, but it allows greater stability in the Middle East as a whole. The Secretary did not make the military aid contingent on anything. It's, as I say, a commitment to Israel's qualitative military edge.

Q: You mentioned they discussed combined exercise planning. Normally it's bilateral if it's between two nations. Combined means more than two. What other nations are you talking about, or other authorities are you talking about?

A: I think we're just talking about Israel and the United States now. This is on the theater missile defense.

Q: Is theater missile defense ... Are you sharing funding on the Arrow project?

A: I don't have the details on that, but as you know, Israel has been developing the Arrow missile which is, I guess you'd call it an advanced version of the Patriot missile. They have Patriots, and they're developing the Arrow on their own. They had a successful test of the Arrow a month or so ago, I believe, and we've been helping them develop that and will continue to do that.

Q: Following up on Jack's question a little bit, that $1.8 billion, is it locked in concrete, or can Congress come back and impose a quid pro quo on it?

A: Well, Congress always has to appropriate money. The money is set for FY97 and the Secretary said he plans, he assumes it will be the same amount through FY98. But obviously, Congress has to decide what money to appropriate. In the past, they have supported the Administration's request, Democrat and Republican, for aid to Israel.

Q: Any comment on the IG report on Admiral Richard Macke? The findings and what might the Secretary be considering doing?

A: Well, that IG report was made available to some of you today, I understand. The Secretary delegated to the Secretary of the Navy the response to the report, and the Secretary of the Navy has responded. If you haven't already, you should talk to the Navy about that. It's really a matter between the Secretary of the Navy and Admiral Macke.

Admiral Macke retired from the Navy on April 1st as a two- star admiral, rear admiral upper half. This report examines some charges that had been made regarding him prior to his resignation. The report is finished. He has been sent a punitive letter by the Navy, which the Navy can discuss with you. And the Secretary has, as I said, delegated to the Secretary of the Navy, who has acted.

Q: Why did he delegate it?

A: He felt this was the appropriate channel to deal with it.

Q: ... was not of a Navy commander but as a CINC, which puts him directly under JCS and the Secretary, rather than ...

A: Let's be clear here. The gentleman is out of the Navy. We're dealing with some past history. It's been adequately investigated by the IG. The IG has made some recommendations, and the Secretary of the Navy has acted on these recommendations. There is no effort to cover up what happened. You have the report, you can read the report, and you can draw your own conclusions.

At the time Admiral Macke left the Navy, he, as you know, left his job as CINCPAC because of some indiscreet remarks he'd made about Okinawa, and the Secretary decided these remarks showed poor judgment in this regard. This looks at something else entirely different. It's been thoroughly reviewed and the action's been taken. I think there's no more to say about it. The letter will be in his file and another officer's file. They can file information to rebut the letters if they want. That's their right. I think this issue is closed.

Q: Does it affect his retirement pay?

A: His retirement pay, because he was a four-star admiral when he was the Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Command and he retired as a two-star admiral, so his retirement pay, the difference between those two was approximately $1,500 a month.

Q: Before you close the matter entirely, you've suggested we read this report. There are large amounts of the report that are blacked out, including things like dates, and the entire trip to Las Vegas is blacked out. There's not even a reference in that. Can you give me some explanation for why large amounts of things that don't appear to infringe on anybody's privacy are blacked out?

A: First of all, because they're blacked out, I guess it's hard to know whether they infringe on somebody's privacy or not. But I think, despite the redactions, the conclusions of the report are very clear. And I don't think the redactions get in the way of evaluating the report. I didn't make the redactions, my office didn't make the redactions, but they were done with the interest of privacy.

Q: It's my understanding that the Navy, contrary to the recommendation of the report, the Navy is not proposing to request any reimbursement from the Admiral for some of these costs like the phone calls or on the trips.

A: I believe the Admiral has already reimbursed for the phone calls. Typically the way phone calls are handled is that people receive logs of phone calls made on their phones, and they go through and reimburse for any calls that may have been made for personal reasons. There's frequently a lag between the time the phone calls are made and the logs appear and the reimbursement is made. I've been informed by the Navy that Admiral Macke has, in fact, reimbursed for those phone calls.

Q: But not for the flight crew that was laid over for three days at a cost of $3,600.

A: That's something you should ask the Navy about.

Q: What is the Pentagon's assessment today of Iraq's air defense capability?

A: First of all, let me start with what we did in Operation DESERT STRIKE and why we did it and what we think the results of that are. Operation DESERT STRIKE was designed to expand the no-fly zone by 60 miles north from 32 degrees to 33 degrees. We have expanded that no-fly zone. We've been patrolling it regularly. Every day we fly about 100 sorties in Operation SOUTHERN WATCH, and 50 to 70 percent of those sorties are in the no-fly zone. We regularly fly between 32 and 33 degrees, and we are doing that without challenge. So we achieved our strategic goal of expanding the no-fly zone, and we've been doing it with acceptable risk.

The Iraqis have reassembled some of their air defense capabilities in the no-fly zone, but taken as a whole, their air defense system there is, between 32 and 33, and in some cases below 32, is less mobile. It's less well integrated and less robust than it was before. But the important point to realize is that we are now flying over the expanded no-fly zone without being illuminated and without challenge at this stage.

Q: Did the United States not warn Iraq to not rebuild those air defenses that have been knocked out, and have they not reconstructed those air defenses?

A: As I said, they have reassembled some of the air defense capability, but they have not regained the capability that they had beforehand.

Q: Is there a reconstruction, if only partial, against the U.S. caution to not do so?

A: The object of the U.S. caution was to reduce risk to our pilots and allow the pilots and their planes to fly over this area without challenge, and that's what's been happening. So we're satisfied that we're able to fly through the no-fly zone, including the extended no-fly zone, without unacceptable risk. This is evaluated on a daily basis, and it is the feeling of the military commanders that we are flying there without significant risk.

Q: Communication links have been reestablished between some of the sites?

A: Overall, the system is less well integrated than it was before, and less capable than it was before.

Q: Will there be a day when he gets his missile systems up and ready and raring to go? As you say, they're reconstructing them now. There will be a time and a point down the road where it will get to a point of where he'll be able to have them operational. What about ...

A: As you know, Operation SOUTHERN WATCH planes have been flying over capable missile defense systems from the very beginning. The question is, one, do those missile defense systems challenge our planes? Two, if they do, can we respond adequately, that is, take them out? They are not challenging our planes now, and we believe we have the ability to deal with the air defense systems if they do, but they are not challenging our planes, and that's the important point.

Q: Today.

A: Today. Nor have they for some time.

Q: They're capable of ...

A: They were capable before DESERT STRIKE. They have been capable since DESERT STRIKE of challenging our planes. It is not as capable a system as it was before for the three reasons I listed, and it is not a system that is now challenging our planes. We are not flying as if we're in a risk-free environment. We understand that these are potentially dangerous missions, and we fly very robust packages of planes in order to defeat any challenges we may get. But we're not getting challenges now.

Q: What about U.S. warning and their failure to observe the U.S. warning?

A: The Iraqis have heeded, have done things like return mobile missiles to garrison, and we are satisfied that right now we are able to fly over the expanded no-fly zone without incurring unacceptable risk.

Q: Your senior defense official said that with a flip of the switch they could become military threats. Can you tell me what it is that you would do if the switch got flipped?

A: What we've done before, which was we fired radar- seeking missiles at their radars and taken them out.

As you know, the last time they challenged us, they only flicked on their radars for very, very brief periods of time -- in fact so brief that the missiles went wildly out of range of our planes. If they don't follow the planes long enough to hit them, the air defense systems aren't effective. So, as I said, I want to bring you back to the primary point here which is that we believe that we can continue Operation SOUTHERN WATCH over the extended no-fly zone, which is just south of the Baghdad suburbs, without incurring unacceptable risk. We evaluate the information every day at the highest levels in the Defense Department. If we decide that that's not possible, that the risk has become unacceptable, we will respond to that. We've made it very clear that we retain the right to continue to fly over the expanded no- fly zone, and we will protect that right.

Q: ... election?

A: We have made it very clear that we maintain the right to fly over the extended no-fly zone, and we will protect that right.

Q: Do you have any comment on the Kurdish activity in the northern part of Iraq? Is it evident that Iran is in any way playing in the recapture of Sulaymaniyah? Any evidence that Saddam's forces are coming out of garrison to participate in any fashion?

A: We're watching that very carefully. We have called on both sides to be restrained and not to foment fighting or violence in the area. We do not have evidence that there's Iranian involvement, and we do not have clear evidence of Iraqi involvement at this time, either.

Q: Clear evidence. Does that indicate that there is ambiguous evidence that...

A: We're watching it closely, and that's all I can say. I think we have to continue watching. It's night time over there now and we'll just have to see what's happening. But we've made it very clear to both sides that we don't believe that they should be involved.

Q: If Saddam brings his forces out of garrison to participate in the fighting once again, is there a message from this podium or this government about what the U.S. is likely to do?

A: We have called on both sides to exercise restraint and not foment fighting. We have shown in the past that we are able and willing to respond. I don't think I want to go beyond that.

Q: But we haven't responded in the north.

A: As I say, it's not clear that there's anything to respond to. There is fighting going on between Kurdish factions, and we've made it pretty clear in the past that we don't intend to get involved in that fighting.

Q: Gulf War illness. Do you have a better handle today than you did last week on any sort of timetable, any sort of details on the peer review process, when there may actually be a new number, new projection of those who may have been exposed to the pit?

A: I really don't have anything to go beyond the elucidating remarks I made last week on this. I don't have a clear idea of when the peer review will be completed.

Q: Has a peer review group even been named?

A: The chairman of the peer review group has been named informally but not formally yet, and people are in the process of choosing several other members of that group, but that hasn't been done yet.

Q: Probably this process will drag on past the election.

A: I think the CIA model is probably not the issue to focus on. The issue to focus on is how we continue to reach out to any soldiers who may have been in the area at the time and may have concerns about their health. It's interesting to note that there already has been a rather significant response by soldiers in the area, already in response to the public information that's come out about Khamisiyah I and II. Let me just give you these figures.

We first announced in the third week of June that there had been the possibility of chemical exposure because of detonation of chemical weapons in Bunker 73 at Khamisiyah, and then that month, 350 active duty military people registered for the Comprehensive Clinical Evaluation Program, which involves medical examinations and tracking of people who enroll themselves in the program. In July, 450 people registered. In August, 550 people registered. In September, 700 people registered. In the first half of October, 508 people have registered. So ...

Q: You mix apples and oranges. Three hundred fifty active duty for the first one. Are the rest of these ...

A: Yeah, all this is the Comprehensive Clinical Evaluation Program, which involves people still in the military, as opposed to people who have retired. And they would sign up for the Veterans Administration Registry, and I do not have those numbers.

Q: Do you have another list of other units that might have been in the area? Last week you gave out a litany of about five or six units. Are there any more that you...

A: I gave a list of the units that were in the area and I don't have anything to add to that.

Q: Has the number from the podium grown from the 15,000 plus? Or is that the latest figure?

A: I'm going to hold off on numbers until we have a clear idea of what the numbers are.

Q: Are these people who called you in response to the [inaudible], or did you send something out to them asking ...

A: Most of these have called in response. What happened after Khamisiyah I was that we determined there were about 1,100 people in the units I listed last week -- two engineering units, some explosive ordnance, detonation units, etc. We have contacted by phone about 600 of the 1,100 people. We can't trace down the others. We're trying to do it by certified letters, which are supposed to follow them from place to place, I guess, until they locate them -- homing letters. So we have contacted 600 people. That is much smaller than the number of people who have called to register for the Comprehensive Clinical Evaluation Program.

Q: I guess if you have 2,200 people that have come in for this comprehensive medical exam, you would also begin to get some inkling as to whether there is even a trace of physical evidence on these people that they may have had some problem.

A: So far we don't have that trace, according to what I'm told by the people in Health Affairs. But we have not examined all these people yet. There are 32,309 people who have enrolled in the program already. Of those who have enrolled, 32,309 -- this is from the beginning of the program -- 7,448 declined any physical examination. So that leaves a total of 24,861 to be examined. People who wanted medical exams. Of those, 22,632 have been examined. The other 2,000-odd people have not been examined. Some of those would be those who have called to register recently.

Q: The people who have signed up here are people who for one reason or another, you don't have to complain of an ailment, you just sign up and get looked at, right?

A: That's right, or you can sign up and not be looked at. Nearly a quarter of the people have chosen to register but not be examined.

Q: What do you find out from the 22,652 that have been examined?

A: That's been described in the past, but we have not been able to find any clear explanation of what's been called Gulf War Syndrome from this.

Q: How many of these are active duty, how many are vets? Do you have a breakdown?

A: These are all active duty. Those are the people involved in the Comprehensive Clinical Evaluation Program. There is another group that registers with the Veterans Administration, and those are people who are already out. There are about 60,000 people who have registered with the Veterans Administration.

Q: None of them active duty, right?

A: Right.

Q: Any co-relation among people on active duty ...

A: Sorry?

Q: Among the people in active duty who have been examined, and some of those have what they call undiagnosed ailments. Any correlation between them and the units which you ...

A: So far we've not been able to find any.

Q: What happened to the 7,448 who declined at this time, let's say six months, a year, or five years from now ...

A: They can always come in and get examined. They just made a decision not to do it. For various reasons, they wanted to be on the list for notification purposes or whatever their private reasons were. But I guess you could conclude that they weren't suffering from any illness or they would have come in for an examination.

Q: Is that what being on the list gets you, is at least you get the mail or the notification of various findings? I don't understand why you would sign up if you don't get something from it.

A: They're on the list, they can come in at any time, as any soldier can, and they would have some notification, if notifications were sent out to people on the list. But basically, the people who have come in and had examinations are people who were in the theater at any time or place. They weren't necessarily, in these numbers that I gave you, the increasing registrations from June to the present aren't necessarily people who felt they were in the Khamisiyah area. They may be people who just read about our disclosure that there could have been low level chemical exposure, and decided to come in and have themselves tested, or perhaps they felt that, although they didn't have any symptoms, they wanted to make sure that they were sufficiently tracked in the future.

Q: Will some who were from the Khamisiyah area, have you found anything... You've already said you've found nothing that is obviously traceable to Gulf War Syndrome, or chemical exposure. But have you found anything else that seems to predominate among active duty people who were in the Khamisiyah area?

A: According to the medical affairs people, we have not at this stage. What we have found is that... Let's focus on the group that we know the most about because we've worked the longest to try to contact them, and that's the 1,100 people who were in the units involved in exploding Bunker 73, Khamisiyah I. That's the March 4, 1991 group. Forty-six of those had enrolled in the Comprehensive Clinical Evaluation Program prior to June of this year. We've contacted 600 of those people, and of those, approximately half have said that they will either, that they want to register in the CCEP or the Veterans Administration Program. So, in other words, of the 600 people we have notified so far, about half of those say they want to register. So there's already been a big increase in the number of people from that group of 1,100 who say they want to register. We would expect ...

Q: The 1,100, is that the bunker and the pit or just ...

A: No, no. That's just the bunker, Bunker 73. That's the March 4th, the March 4th situation.

Q: In talking to veterans, especially those that were in the 37th Engineers and that were directly related to Khamisiyah, they say there is a large incidence of illness in families and veterans in those groups, and yet the Pentagon keeps saying we don't see any of that illness. I don't understand why there's this apparent disconnect.

A: That is one of the mysteries, and that's one of the reasons we're reaching out to these people and trying to talk to them and get them to come in. All I can tell you is that of the 1,100 people initially involved in Bunker 73, Khamisiyah I, March 4, 1991, only 46 had registered.

Now we're seeing an increase in registration, but what we have not yet been able to see, according to what I've been told by the medical people, is a clear link between ...

Q: That's not my question. My question is not a clear link. The question is ...

A: I understand what your question is.

Q: ... very ill.

A: We have not been able to confirm that it's related to this.

Q: So there will be people on your list who are ill, but maybe they're ill from something else?

A: It could be, yes. That's one of the reasons we're reaching out to these people is to try to improve our database and do more examinations. That's one of the reasons we're asking independent reviewers like the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine to review the steps we're taking to try to get to the bottom of this.

Q: You're not saying they're not ill, you're just saying you don't have a link.

A: Right. We're not saying they're not ill, and we have never said from here that people who claim stress or psychological illness are not disabled. And we have never said that they're not eligible for medical treatment.

Q: Can you give us an update on the ship collision Monday off the coast of North Carolina?

A: No. I actually can say very little about that, except that the Navy has started an investigation and they will look into the circumstances of this.

Q: Does the Secretary plan to watch the debate tomorrow, or Game 6 of the National League?

A: The Secretary is going to be in Moscow tomorrow, and given the eight hour time difference, I suspect he'll be asleep and won't watch either, although he may get up early to watch the debate, which I reckon will be on at 5 o'clock in the morning. Is that right, Moscow time? Assuming that it's carried by either CNN or NBC, which is also available in the Radisson Hotel.

Q: Fox News.

A: Fox News. Is that there, too, in the Radisson Hotel?

Q: Radisson in Arlington ... [laughter]

Q: O ne more question on the Israel ... There have been some suggestions during the turmoil that they had several weeks ago that they might come and ask for more military aid. We're saying it will remain steady at $1.8. Can that be seen as a rejection of additional aid?

A: No. Minister Mordechai did not ask for more aid. He never brought up a bigger number.

Q: Can I ask a question on Russia? There are several stories on the Duma not liking START II. There's a story today that a high Defense Ministry official there would like to see parts renegotiated. What kind of message is the Secretary conveying on that to the Russians?

A: The main message he's going to take over there is that START II is of mutual benefit and interest to both countries. The U.S. and Russia have both taken significant steps toward arms control, but we can go much farther, and that's what the START II treaty is. START I brings us down from about 10,000 to around 7,000. START II would bring us down to a range of 3,000 to 3,500 warheads. And he's pointing out, he will point out to them how this helps stability and how it improves the security of both the U.S. and Russia.

Q: What if Rodionov said to him, look, I need a few changes to get it through the Duma. What is the Secretary's response?

A: The treaty has been negotiated fair and square by both sides. It's been ratified by the U.S. Senate. This is beyond the Secretary's control to change terms in a treaty that's already been ratified by the Senate. The issue is, does the Duma see it in its interest to ratify the START II treaty? The Secretary's been invited over there by members of the Duma to explain why he thinks it's of mutual benefit to the U.S. and Russia, and that's what he'll do.

He realizes first, that there are a lot of questions about the treaty in Russia, and he thinks he'll be able to answer some of those questions. He also realizes that there's right now significant expressed opposition to the treaty. His hope is that, if we can begin a dialogue and get out some of the facts, that people will take a fresh look at the treaty in light of what he testifies. But I don't think anybody expects that this is going to be a quick debate. It's the beginning of a dialogue, it's the beginning of a process, and it could take some time.

Q: One last, quickly on Israel. In the discussions about the peace process, did the Secretary lean on Minister Mordechai at all about, let's get with it, let's get this thing moving, let's stop foot dragging, let's stop this hard line? Was there any kind of pressure put on him at all?

A: Well, the Secretary made it very clear that he thinks that peace is necessary for Israel's security, and peace is necessary for stability in the Middle East. He made that clear to him in the meeting, he made that clear to him at dinner last night. We are working very hard right now with the Palestinian Authority and with Israel to resolve some of their differences, particularly at Hebron.

Press: Thank you.

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