Thursday, December 5, 1996 - 2:40 p.m.
Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense for Gulf War Illnesses)
Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.
Before we start, I'd like to welcome four foreign journalists from Bahrain, Brazil, Fiji, and Lesotho who are here today under the auspices of the United Nations. They have received fellowships from the United Nations Correspondents Association and are visiting here as guests of the United States Information Agency. They're recipients of the Dag Hammarskjold award -- stipends from the memorial fund. So welcome to our briefing here.
With that, I will take your questions.
Q: What would you see as... would you see anything changing at the Pentagon with the change of the new Secretary? There will be a Republican moving in. Now is also the chance to go over some of the highlights of Perry's career.
A: First of all, Secretary Perry has worked very hard to develop a bipartisan defense policy. And Senator Cohen, as the President said, is known for his bipartisan approach to defense and national security affairs. So in that respect, I think we would expect to see Senator Cohen travel the same course that Secretary Perry has worked very hard to travel.
The Secretary believes that we cannot have a strong, effective defense and foreign policy unless it's a bipartisan policy. Senator Cohen shares that view.
Secretary Perry has worked very hard in a number of areas. One, to improve the management of the Pentagon. He's done that through acquisition reform, he's done that through reaching out to the military through quality of life programs that have improved conditions for the sailors, soldiers, airmen and marines. He has worked very hard on maintaining readiness while the force has been downsized. And as you know, the force has declined from 2.1 million to about 1.5 million today, and we've done it without sacrificing readiness -- probably the first time in our history that we've had such a drawdown without sacrificing readiness at the same time.
He's also worked very hard at devising and articulating clear standards for the use of force, and he's spoken about them a number of times, and over the last few years this has been a very active period for the deployment of our forces around the world to maintain peace and stability, and we have followed very clearly devised standards for that that have involved a very clear sense of mission, very clear goals, and supplying adequate resources for meeting those goals.
He's also worked extremely hard to reach out and engage other countries, particularly countries that used to be part of the former Soviet Union. He's done this through the Partnership for Peace, he's done this in his extensive travels -- over 650,000 miles as Secretary to foreign countries. He's visited over 50 countries, many of them many, many times during that period. He's built up strong bilateral relationships with nations in every continent and defense ministers in every continent, and when he travels, he not only deals person to person with his counterparts, but he frequently addresses parliament, and he frequently addresses rising officers in the military academies and command and general staff schools. What he has talked about is that the military forces, under civilian control, can be a strong, stabilizing force, and a strong force for democracy. That is the lesson that he has delivered everywhere he's been in Latin America, in Asia, in the former Soviet Union, and in new democracies in Europe as well.
I think that's a brief summary of his legacy, and I would expect Senator Cohen to follow many of those paths. He has distinguished himself in a number of areas, but one is that he's been a leader of the U.S. delegations to the so-called Wehrkunde Conference in Munich, Germany in February of every year which is a conference involving Americans and Europeans to discuss the future of NATO. He's been a very strong advocate of NATO. He's been a very strong advocate of the Partnership for Peace. He has, as Secretary Perry has, seen that as a vehicle for integrating formerly socialist countries into the circle of democracies in Europe and as a way to expand the circle of stability in Europe that has begun with NATO and is now expanding outwards.
Q: With the Secretary leaving, what does that mean to the other Assistant Secretaries of various elements in the Pentagon? What's their status?
A: Basically, presidential appointees in the Pentagon as in other departments, serve at the pleasure of the President and at the pleasure of their Secretary. So the new Secretary will have some flexibility in bringing in his own team, and I suspect there will be people who will want to leave because they've spent four years here, and want to do other things. And I suspect there will be people that Senator Cohen wants to bring with him when he comes, but that will all be sort out in the next couple of months.
One of the advantages of having a lot of time for transition and having basically a friendly transition when you're bringing in a new team but under the same President, is that there's ample time for discussion, briefing, and education. Senator Cohen starts from a strong base because he's been on the Senate Armed Services Committee and he's followed these issues very, very closely. But I'm sure that he will be spending a lot of time here being briefed from everybody from top to bottom on how the military and the Pentagon operate.
Q: How long will Perry stay?
A: I think he'll stay until Senator Cohen is confirmed and sworn in to take the job. I would expect that to happen in January, shortly after the Congress returns. Now I don't know exactly how long he'll stay. That remains to be worked out.
Q: Do we know who might head the transition team?
A: Major General House, who is Secretary Perry's Military Assistant, has been working on transition issues since the election, essentially. I don't know whether he is the head of the team, but he's been pulling together the details and asking people to get ready to brief. Now that a new Secretary has been designated we will, all of us, pull together and put together individual briefings -- first in writing, and then secondly verbal briefings that we can present to Senator Cohen when he wants to get them. But we've got plenty of time. Transitions are very important, particularly when they have to be seamless when you're running military operations as we will be in Bosnia, in Operation Southern Watch, and of course all our naval forces at sea. The transition has to be as seamless as possible, and we will all work to make it so.
Q: To your knowledge, have any other senior Pentagon officials indicated their intentions in the next four years in terms of the Deputy Secretary or the Under Secretary?
A: I think it's premature to talk about that now. This is Bill Cohen's day. He's been named the new Secretary of Defense. I think we ought to celebrate that. Everybody will have an opportunity to decide what he or she wants to do over time. But I'm not aware right now of any other people who plan to leave imminently. That's not to say they won't. It's a natural time, after four years in a job, to look at new horizons, and I'm sure many people will do that.
Q: Will Mr. Cohen get a chance to meet with the Chinese Defense Minister while he's here?
A: I can't answer that question. Of course he's not the Secretary of Defense. Many members of Congress have been invited to various functions in order to meet Minister Chi. There's a dinner to which many members have been invited -- Democrats and Republicans. There's also a luncheon to which a number of former Secretaries of Defense have been invited and have indicated they'll come. So Minister Chi will meet a broad spectrum of our political leaders. I don't know specifically if Senator Cohen is among them. It would not surprise me if he is.
Q: What's your reaction to that New York Times piece today on missing documents in the chemical war, chemical logs?
A: There's nothing new in it. It's an old piece. All of that information was out basically in late September, early October. The article was correct in saying that we've been trying to reconstruct records from the Gulf War. We have not filled all of the gaps. One of the gaps we haven't filled is the missing logs from March 4th to 11th in the particular headquarters logs that were kept, but in a way that's a distinction without a difference. We already have said that there's the possibility of chemical exposure at Khamisiyah from detonations of bunkers there on March 4th and later, and we are now asking people to come forward and register for a medical examination if they want to, and we've asked them to come forward with information they may have about events at that time. So I saw nothing new in that piece.
Q: But you said in October that you didn't want to talk much about it because you had conflicting reports you wanted to investigate further before you talked too much about the missing documents. Have you been able, since then, to stake some of that out and be able to explain now what appears to be a mystery may not be a mystery or may be a mystery? In other words, the same kind of spot, the very pages that covered that period would be done, but sometimes things that seem odd are not so odd, don't you have an explanation for it?
A: I'd say you're absolutely right. Sometimes things that seem odd are not so odd. There are actually a number of gaps in this report. There are gaps for periods in February, several periods in February. There are gaps in January, and there are several days missing in March. So this was an imperfect data collection system, apparently.
But the main point to keep in mind here is that we are doing our best to care for people who fought in the Gulf War, no matter what causes, symptoms they may have, and we're doing our best to find out what happened at Khamisiyah and at other times during the war when people have said there were chemical alarms going off or that they may have been exposed to chemical alarms.
The other thing that's important to keep in mind is that at Khamisiyah, no soldier reported any sign of chemical exposure or felt chemical exposure at the time the detonations were taking place. We had no reports of people suffering from chemical exposure at that time. The issue is whether there was any chemical exposure and whether it may have had some lingering or late rising impact. That's what we've been looking at. We've got more than 80 medical studies that we have initiated into the health of people who fought in the Gulf War. They don't all deal with chemical exposure specifically, but they deal with a whole range of issues. We are working aggressively to try to figure out what has caused some of the symptoms of which people have complained.
Q: Would you take umbrage, though, with the allegations in these articles, in this particular article, that somehow the Pentagon has something to hide; that deliberately these pages have gone some place and that there may be criminal involvement here? I mean is there some kind of response from the Pentagon to the allegations that this is all some sort of conspiracy to withhold this information? That they're there some place and somebody knows about them?
A: Ed, if we were trying to withhold information, we would not have announced Khamisiyah when we did. We announced Khamisiyah as quickly as we could after we learned about it. We have announced facts as soon as we've learned about them since June. We've worked aggressively to get information out. Indeed, I've said before and I'll repeat again, there has not been an article written since June that has not been based on information that has been released by this building. We have released information about Khamisiyah, we have put documents on the Internet. Many of the articles that have been written have actually been based on testimony that was made to Congress in 1993 and 1994. We aren't holding back anything. We want to get to the bottom of this as quickly and as carefully and as accurately as possible. Our lives would be much easier if there were no facts unexplained. Life isn't always that easy.
Q: By now somebody must have interviewed the people who were responsible for keeping these logs. What is their story? What is their explanation for why the logs seem to be missing on that date or any other date?
A: First of all, and then I'll ask Bernie Rostker to come up and talk about that. We have talked to people and gotten conflicting stories. But the main problem we've had, as I understand it, is there are gaps on computer disks that are supposed to hold some of these logs. We don't know why those gaps exist. But I want to refocus again on the main point. We are not withholding information about the possibility of chemical exposure. We have announced that people might have been exposed to chemicals. We have interviewed a number of people who participated in the detonation of bunkers at Khamisiyah and we have gotten, frankly, some conflicting reports from them about what happened on those days. Some of them you may have talked to as well. They've been interviewed, they've given press conferences, they have spoken publicly about what's happened on March 4th and on March 10th or March 11th. So this information is out there. What we're trying to do is sort it out.
We aren't shirking from any finding or any piece of information, but we have not been able to put together a completely comprehensive, seamless story of data for this period, and we may not be able to.
Q: Do you have people saying yeah, I was keeping the logs for those dates in March, and yeah, I entered it into the computer, and no, I cannot explain why it's not on the disk?
A: We have people saying that, and we have people saying the opposite, that they were ill at the time that information was supposed to be entered. As I say, this happened years ago, there were a number of people keeping the logs. But the fact of the matter is, we aren't hiding... We have said that we believe there could have been chemical exposure. That's not the issue. The issue is what sort of contemporaneous account there might have been at the time. That's what these logs would show. But I think it's very clear from everything that commanders have said, that they were concerned about the safety of soldiers at the time, throughout the Gulf War deployment. Many soldiers operated in their chemical gear, their MOPP gear, at various times. There were alarms stationed all over the place. People took response to these alarms seriously. So it's not a question of being irresponsible at the time at all. I think people were extremely responsible at the time. The question here is whether we have seamless records for every day, and so far we haven't been able to reconstruct those.
Q: Where does the Pentagon stand on the question of whether or not there was a release? Because the officers in charge now say that there was no release.
A: What we've said, from June 21st on, is that we have to acknowledge the possibility of a release of chemicals at Khamisiyah. We did not have any confirmed data at the time, any data that confirmed release. There were one or two alarms that went off on March 4th at Khamisiyah, but alarms went off all the time and there was not confirmed chemical concentration when we moved in with more sensitive detection kits. So therefore, we have no conclusive evidence that chemicals were, in fact, released at Khamisiyah. What we have is a report from the United Nations that they believe there were chemicals in the bunker. We have some later information from the United Nations that showed evidence of canisters that typically stored chemicals -- that is linings of shells that typically held chemicals in the area. No chemicals were detected before the detonations, either in the pit or in Bunker 73 on March 4th. There were not conclusive evidence or soundings of chemicals... of chemical concentrations after the explosion. Nor did soldiers at the time report feeling any exposure to chemicals, nor did we see any medical symptoms of exposure to chemicals at the time. However, as I said, we have to be open to the possibility that there was some chemical exposure based on the reports we got from UNSCOM.
Q: Since June, and it's however many months that's been now -- five months. Have the investigations conducted since June made it seem more or less likely that chemicals were released at Khamisiyah?
A: I think I'll let Bernie Rostker answer that question. Bernie?
Mr. Rostker: I really can only repeat what Ken has said. There's conflicting information. On the one hand the UN reports that clearly place chemical weapons at Khamisiyah both at the pit and in the bunker. The facts stand that we had explosions at both of those places to destroy the munitions. But there were no alarms. People have not reported sick. Other things you'd expect to see -- dogs dying, small animals dying -- have not occurred.
We have, as part of our Khamisiyah efforts, notified the troops that were within 50 kilometers of the possibility of exposure, and again, asked them if they had any health problems or concerns to come into the VA or to the Defense Department to get medical treatment to be evaluated. We have told them that we will survey all of those people. The survey is at OMB, I believe it has been approved and given the Christmas season coming up we will be looking to send that to in excess of 20,000. Two of the questions on that survey deal with did they see anything that would indicate chemicals? Were they sick or did they observe anyone that was sick in ways that could be attributed to chemicals. That will be a 100 percent survey of all of the people who were in that area for an extended period of time from the 4th to the 11th, and that will give us our most definitive sense of whether or not anybody was sick. Not only looking at the reports, but in this case going forward to the people.
Q: What of the statements of the officers now at Leavenworth who said it didn't happen?
Rostker: Quite predictable. Quite consistent with the efforts that they took. No one, frankly, in their right mind would expose themselves or their troops to chemical weapons, and these officers took due diligence on what they observed at the time, and there was nothing until we brought in the UN reports that would suggest that there may, in fact, have been chemicals at Khamisiyah.
Q: But they haven't changed, the UN reports have not convinced them to change their minds.
Rostker: And if you go back to the UN reports, they're after the fact, they talk about canisters that were there. There is a great deal of uncertainty as to the purity of the sarin, the amount of sarin that was actually there. The puzzle is, we believe, that from the UN reports, that sarin was present, that it is likely it was present when we blew those dumps, and yet we don't see the health impact of the sensor reactions that one would have expected to see. It is a puzzlement.
Let me say one thing about sensors. We talk a lot about them and going off and not going off in their operational environment. We have planned next Wednesday to have a demonstration of all of the sensors that were in the Gulf and the protective gear that was in the Gulf, and we're, in fact, bringing a Fox vehicle down from Aberdeen. We're doing that for the Veterans groups, and I'd like to extend an invitation to the press to join us for that, and we'll give you the specific time. It will be here, and you'll be able to see all of the range of sensors from M8 alarms to 256 kits and talk to the troopers who were there and gain a sense of how accurate, how sensitive they were, under what conditions they went off. We'll also show you some of the more modern equipment because we have progressed in what we now provide our troops. But I think you'd find it interesting.
If I might digress and give you one example, many of us are familiar with the story of the Czech alarms and how we had dispatched a Fox vehicle to detect the Czech alarms, or to clarify them or validate them. What I learned in my trip to Aberdeen is that in fact the Fox vehicle per se, the sophisticated equipment on the Fox vehicle, is to test the presence of ground contamination, of liquids -- not of an aerosol, and it was an aerosol that the Czech equipment detected. So in terms of the level of sophistication, we could have sent a Hummer with an M8 alarm, and it would have been as sophisticated as a Fox vehicle with its M8 alarm. So there's a presumption about the degree of sophistication because of the nature of the vehicle, but it doesn't hold up. You will be able to see that for yourself when you, if you're interested in actually looking at the Fox vehicle and you can see what its sensors is, how it picks up contaminants, how it processes that. I found that very interesting to get a better handle on that. It might help you as you write your stories on these various sensors. That will be next Wednesday, and it will be with the veterans groups.
Q: You may have given a crucial answer in passing there. You said there was no, you believe there was sarin, but there was no pattern of illnesses or effects from the sarin. Do you know that from documents that would say the same thing as these missing papers? In other words there are missing papers, but there must be other documents.
Rostker: Your point is very well taken. But in terms of the health effects, it's by looking at the medical logs from the units. If somebody was sick, he would have come in, it would have been recorded in the medical logs, etc. We have not seen that. We also are certain in terms of any mortality, in terms of any people who may have died in that period of time in that portion of the theater.
But let me follow on on your point, because I think it's very important. The missing pages are CENTCOM logs at Riyadh. They have to be, in effect, secondary to field logs with units that actually would have observed any pattern, taken any readings, etc. At this point, we have no confirmation on those dates from any of the field logs.
Rostker: If there was an indication of chemicals on those particular dates in that, 4 to11 March, there should be corresponding indications in other unit logs of the same event. Because Riyadh was, in a sense, a senior headquarters, not a prime headquarters. Not in the field. We don't find that, at this point, in the pattern of the logs.
Q: Are there no missing logs from the field units...
Q: . ..that were at Khamisiyah?
Rostker: I'm not going to say that because I don't know. The pattern of having missing logs, I think, is something that we will see in a whole range of units, not just the headquarters unit.
Q: In other words, you have field unit logs covering all the days that you're missing from the headquarters logs.
Rostker: No, we do not. Let me say, I can't say that definitively at this point. I will be, as we go forward in our assessment of the log process, I'll be able to say that definitively. I can't say that definitively now.
Q: Can you explain what is the significance of that, just for...
Rostker: If there was a major chemical event in the theater, one would expect to find it represented in more than just the headquarters log. There should be other pieces of information that corroborate it. At least at this point in our inquiry we have not found anything that would corroborate it. Your example of the company commanders at Khamisiyah is a perfect example. That's where the chain starts.
Q: Corroborate what? The actual explosion or the finding of...
Rostker: If there had been any reference to chemicals in the missing pages, chemical releases at Khamisiyah, it would have started with the units that were in Khamisiyah. And as you so correctly state, company commanders who were on the site wouldn't have said there were chemicals because today they don't believe there were chemicals released at Khamisiyah.
So we're looking at a pattern here, not just an isolated piece of information, and the pattern does not suggest that there was anything in the reporting system that would have suggested to us at the time that there were chemicals released at Khamisiyah.
Q: So what you're saying is the commanders in the field didn't think that there were chemicals there, and yet now you're saying you definitely think there were.
Rostker: No. We're saying based upon the UN report, we believe there may have been chemicals in the bunkers. The commanders in the field on observation and in terms of the effects of the explosions, did not observe anything that they believed would indicate chemicals were released. So we have, again, this quandary of the presence of chemicals at Khamisiyah, canisters that clearly had been destroyed during an explosion. We destroyed the bunker, and yet none of the corroborating facts from the commanders seem to support the release of chemicals in Khamisiyah.
Q: And is any of that that you've just said anything new from what you said a few weeks ago?
Q: Have the unit logs been placed on the Internet yet?
Rostker: I don't know the answer to that question.
These logs, I don't know the answer to that question. There is a process of declassifying information, and as that information that has reference to medical events and the like comes up, it is being declassified and placed on the Internet, but I don't know the universe of what's on the Internet compared to what might be.
Q: Can we find out if those units logs are available?
Q: Were chemical weapons found, or do any of the logs show that chemical weapons were found in any of the other deposits that were discovered after the war by U.S. troops and demolished?
Rostker: No. The only ones we know about were at Khamisiyah, and we know about that not through any American logs, but through the UN inspections. And the only place we have identified, the UN has identified to us where that took place was at Khamisiyah.
Q: Is there any doubt in your mind that there were chemical munitions at Khamisiyah?
Rostker: No. Based upon the UN reports and the evidence that the UN has brought back, there's no doubt in my mind there were chemical, in fact the UN found both mustard gas and sarin at Khamisiyah.
Q: But they didn't actually find mustard gas and sarin, did they? They found...
Rostker: They found sarin.
Q: They actually found the gas or the canisters which would...
Rostker: Well, they drilled into a rocket and sarin spurted out of that rocket. So sarin was present and they did find a cache of mustard gas, yeah.
Q: Is there no doubt in your mind that American troops destroyed chemical weapons at Khamisiyah?
Rostker: I put pieces of information together. The bunker had destroyed chemical munitions, we destroyed the bunker. I guess I have to conclude that there were chemical weapons that were destroyed. It is literally pieces of information like that that I have to put together and you have to put together.
Q: Is there any direct evidence that at the time the munitions were destroyed that there was any chemical weapon there at Khamisiyah?
Rostker: The people on the scene did not believe they were dealing with chemical weapons or they would have taken other precautions. They believed they were dealing with just conventional weapons. And it's not until we get the UN reports, and then understand the significance of those reports in terms of the units that might have been involved, that the issue even comes up. But you've talked, the press has talked to the commanders on the scene.
The important thing that I want to stress is whether there is or not, we're concerned about the health of our people. It makes no difference whether there is or not in terms of coming in and getting treated and assessed for the ailments. The presence or absence of chemical weapons clouds or what have you makes no difference in an assessment of, for any compensation purposes. The most important thing we can do is encourage people who have symptoms to come in. Seventy-five to 80 percent of the people who have symptoms get diagnoses that are readily understood. That means they're sick. And the medical community can identify what their ailment is and how to treat it. We can treat the other 20 percent, roughly 20 percent, in terms of the symptoms, but it's important that those people come in.
Q: Going the next step in that chain of logic, do you have any information on whether it's possible to blow up chemical weapons with sarin in them and not spread that sarin into the atmosphere?
Rostker: We would have expected it to go into the atmosphere, and we were away from, we were not in the path of the wind, so we would have expected to have been down wind, and the range that one would have expected in terms of health, immediate health effects, is fairly small, but we would have expected to see it. That's why it remains a puzzlement to us, that we just did not. And I go back, you've talked to people on the ground there. None of us were there. And for their own safety and the safety of their men, they did not believe there were chemical weapons there. We have to proceed on the presumption that there is a possibility, and that's the action we've taken.
Q: Speaking of wind direction, what is the status of...
Rostker: The plume analysis in the various models and data were put together under technical scrutiny being assessed by IDA and that report is due back on the 15th of December. I have no further information on that.
Q: You or the CIA?
Rostker: It will come back to the Deputy Secretary. He was the one that asked all of it to come together -- the CIA models as well as DoD models.
Q: There's a study published in, I don't know where it was published, but it was done in Israel, which apparently establishes a link in mice between PB stress, doses of PB stress, and disorders of the central nervous system. Does that have any relevance to this?
Rostker: It may. It's too early to tell. We're aware of that. It goes with the range of studies that Ken has talked about. I found it very interesting, but I'd let the docs really comment on that.
Q: Is there any hope left on the missing logs? The CENTCOM spokesman seemed to say they don't have anything they could think of...
Rostker: The Army and my office are engaged in a final quality control check over all of the data that has come in to make sure that it is complete and to clarify what our expectations are and which actually come in, and in that process, the Army has gone out again -- the Army is the executive agent here for DoD -- has gone out again and asked the services, their own commands, the services, the joint staff, to take one further look to make sure, regardless of classification, that we have all of the information, and we've been working with the Army on that process. So in that spirit, we'll give it one more shot to make sure.
My understanding is that those logs were packed up in Riyadh, were sent to the repository under the Freedom of Information Act, they were searched, and when the search came about, pages were missing. But as you know, pages, many more pages were missing for other periods of time, so there's no pattern here around any known chemical event. It just happens, at this point it just happens that it captured those days in Khamisiyah. But as Ken said, we have been very forthright in identifying those days as days of potential exposure.
Q: The Army IG is doing the investigation into what happened at Khamisiyah?
Rostker: That's correct.
Q: Where are they? When are they going to give you the results of their investigation?
Rostker: I got a briefing from them about two weeks ago. They have field people in the field, but frankly, I can't remember when it was due, but we can get you that information.
Thank you very much.
Bacon: We were going to follow this with a background briefing, and we are.
Q: Before you do that, and this is probably a different topic. Is there something generally you can say about the significance of the China Defense Minister coming, on camera?
A: This is a significant visit because it will allow both countries to begin building closer military-to-military relationships. As you know, this Administration, starting with the President on down to the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense, is working hard to develop mutually beneficial relationships with China. The Secretary of State has been there recently, the President met with President Jiang Zemin recently. They plan to exchange visits. The National Security Adviser, Anthony Lake, has been to China; Walter Slocombe, our Under Secretary of Defense for Policy has been there recently; Admiral Prueher, the CINCPAC, Commander in Chief of Pacific Forces has been there.
We believe that one of the keys to a more stable world is having a robust dialogue with all countries, and China is a leading country with whom we want to have a full and frank dialogue. We know we won't agree on all topics, we don't agree on all topics. But all together we think we have a chance of maintaining the type of stability we have achieved in Asia through a full dialogue with China, and that's what we will be working on with Minister Chi's visit.
The Secretary met Minister Chi in October of 1994 when he visited Beijing. They had very productive discussions. We expect these discussions next week to be productive as well.
There will be, as I said, a background briefing, but I want to announce that it will not follow in ten minutes because the briefer had to go brief the Secretary on something else, so he will be down here at 4:15. If those of you who have come over here specifically for the briefing have time to kill, we'll hand out one of Secretary Perry's classic speeches on engagement with China which he delivered in Seattle last year and you can read that to bone up for the background briefing.
Q: A new law on gun control, or an amendment to an old law, apparently impacts the Defense Department in the sense that anybody convicted in a domestic violence case can no longer carry arms. How will the Defense Department be able to comply with this? Especially if it requires that guns are taken away from many who are already in the service?
A: The Department and the Justice Department are in the process of studying that law and I, frankly, do not have any idea whether it will affect soldiers in their duties. As you know, soldiers are issued weapons as part of their responsibilities, and when they aren't carrying out those responsibilities they return their weapons. They're accounted for very, very carefully, and I do not know what, if any, impact this will have on the military. That's under consideration now by both the Department and the Justice Department.
Q: Why does the Army have to announce the Taiwan missile sale just a couple of days before Chi's arrival? Have you looked into that, or do you know what the answer is?
A: I'm afraid I don't know the answer. Basically the dimensions of our arms sale relationship with Taiwan were announced a number of months ago. I don't think there's a huge secret about what the package involves, and I suspect this is just a timing issue. But I will look more closely at it and have somebody provide you a different answer if there is a different answer, but I don't think there were any surprises about our relationships with Taiwan.
Q: So it's not a high level decision to show some balance between Taiwan and China?
A: Our policies are always balanced. We have a one China policy, and we see Taiwan as part of that one China, so I don't think there's a real issue here.
Q: Do you think the changing of the guards is going to have some kind of an impact on the bilateral talks between Defense Minister Chi and Secretary Perry? Because there's now going to be a change of guards, do you think it undermines some of these discussions, takes the air out of the balloon, so to say?
A: I don't think so at all. First of all, we have the same President and he clearly is determined to open a more productive dialogue with China. We believe the Chinese leaders are very open to a better dialogue with us. This is something that's being done mutually, not by one country. We're doing it together.
Senator Cohen actually has had a strong interest in Asia for a number of years. He's traveled extensively in Asia. He was in Thailand just several weeks ago. And I would expect Senator Cohen to carry on aggressively the policy of engagement not only with Asian countries, but with all countries, just as Senator Perry has. So our policies are based on mutual interest in policies, not on personalities, and I'm sure that the Chinese policies are also based on mutually beneficial policies to them, not on personalities. So I don't think there will be an interruption.
Q: Do you think the Chinese government looks at it the same way? Do you think on a one-to-one basis where promises made by one Secretary of Defense...
A: Yes, I think the Chinese government looks at it the same way. No, I don't think they look on it as just a person-to- person relationship. I think they look at it as a government-to- government relationship, and the key to that relationship is the dialogue that President Clinton has been carrying on for several years with his Chinese counterpart.
We'll reconvene at 4:15 for the background briefing on the Chi visit. Thank you.