Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.
Let me make two announcements. The first is that on Sunday, General Shalikashvili will leave for a trip to China where he will visit with his counterpart, General Fu Quanyou, is the Chief of the General Staff Department of the People's Liberation Army. He'll be there for four days. In the course of the trip he will give a speech at the People's Liberation Army National Defense University, and he'll also visit military facilities and units. This, as you know, is part of our program of strengthening military-to-military relationships between China and the United States. The goal is to increase understanding and transparency so that we have a clearer idea of how each military establishment operates and so we can do more to cooperate with each other when necessary.
On the way back, Chairman Shalikashvili will stop in California and give the commencement address at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California, and he'll also commission the ROTC class there. Those are both on Sunday, May 18th.
Q: What are the dates he'll be in China?
A: Well, he leaves on Sunday, and I guess that means he arrives on Monday. It's a four-day visit. He'll come back to California on the weekend, but he'll be basically there next week in China. He also does plan to meet with American reporters while he's over there. That's being arranged by the embassy, and I don't have an exact time on that.
The second announcement is that, as you know, Igor Rodionov, the russian minister of defense, will be here next week to meet with Secretary Cohen. It will be their first meeting as two Defense Ministers. He will spend a couple of days in the United States here and elsewhere. On Monday morning, Frank Miller, the acting assistant secretary of international security policy, will come down and brief you on that visit, the Rodionov schedule, itinerary and the general themes of the discussions that we'll be having during his visit here.
Q: Will the SecDef and Rodionov have a press availability at their meeting?.
A: They will, I believe on Tuesday at 11:30 -- at 11:00 or 11:30 I think is when it's scheduled for. That will be after their plenary session.
Q: When does he arrive and when does he leave?
A: I believe he arrives Monday night, and Frank Miller will tell you precisely when he arrives and when he leaves. I don't have the itinerary here.
Q: Do they plan on signing any kind of agreements or anything while he's here?
A: I think we should wait for Frank Miller to come down and give you all that information on Monday.
Q: Why wait?
A: Because I don't have the information. (Laughter) Because I'm depending on Frank Miller to make all of this clear, which he will do.
With that, I'll take your questions.
Q: Anything new on Zaire? How close is the [USS] Kearsarge?
A: The situation in Zaire is as follows. The Kearsarge remains about 250 nautical miles from Brazaville at Simba Station. As I said earlier, it has 2,365 people on board, including 1,045 Marines, which it seems to me is maybe different than the number I gave you a couple of days ago, but close enough.
There are currently 281 American troops stationed at Brazaville; there are still two in Kinshasha -- they're communicators; and the standing force at Pointe Noire is seven, although that can increase dramatically during the day as people move in and out, security forces and things like that. But basically, the standing force there is seven.
Right now the situation in Kinshasa is calm, but filled with speculation, expectation, mystery about what's going to happen. The commercial ferries are working, going back and forth across the river so it's possible for people to come and go in Kinshasha. I can't give you an update on where the Kabila forces are at this stage. They're relatively close to Kinshasa. We still hope there will be a peaceful, so-called soft, landing, and that when and if they come into Kinshasa they will do so without conflict. That, as you've read, is also the hope of General Mahele, who is the Chief of Staff of the Zairian forces.
Q: Is there any indication whether the rebels have stopped their march towards Kinshasa?
A: Not that I'm aware of, no. But the rebels, their standard modus operandi has been to come relatively close to a city and sometimes wait days or even weeks before moving in while they consolidate their forces and work on their plans, etc. So I can't make a prediction of when the rebel forces do plan to enter Kinshasa, but they've stated that's their intention.
Q: Do you have a number of Americans still in Zaire?
A: The number still in the country as a whole, we think there are up to 400, and in Kinshasa, there are about 200. As I said, they are all very aware of the situation and now have plenty of opportunities to leave commercially if they want to.
Q: You said there are two communicators at the embassy, but is there a Marine security force there as well?
A: I'm sure there's the standard Marine security force. I don't know how large it is. We can get that information for you. But the only augmentation has been communicators.
Q: Has the U.S. military yet been asked either to facilitate the refugee situation at all or to look at how they might be able to do so?
A: Not that I'm aware of, no. But that's been an area where non-government organizations have done most of the work.
Q: Do you have any idea what Ambassador Richardson's going to meet with the French about?
A: I think that's a very good question for the State Department, for whom Ambassador Richardson works.
Q: We can't try it here?
A: You can try it, but I think it's more appropriate to ask it at State.
Q: A housekeeping question on General Shalikashvili's visit. When was the last time a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs ever was in China?
A: It's a good question. I'm not sure one's been there before, but I could be... I think I'm wrong on that, and we'll get the exact date.
Q: I wanted to change the subject to race relations in the military. Once again, in the case of Sergeant Major McKinney, his lawyer and McKinney himself have raised the question of whether race might be a factor in the prosecution. Without commenting maybe specifically on that case, but can you comment at all on what the Pentagon's feeling is on what the current state of race relations in the military is? Is this becoming a problem again?
A: I don't believe it is a problem. I think the military remains an exemplary institution in dealing with the question of race. I think it should be very clear to all Americans that the military does the best it can to open opportunities to everybody who joins the military. We don't keep anybody -- any group -- out. We're looking for the best possible people we can find, and that means we have to look broadly throughout society. We train everybody equally, to work as a team, and to trust one another. The military has a very well-defined promotion system where everybody is treated equally to the best of the system's ability.
I think the military has an exemplary record in dealing with race now; it has had for a number of years; and we plan to have that fine record in the future, as well.
Q: What about the specific charge that Army investigators have targeted individuals because of race, or have given more credibility to testimony and statements from people because of their race?
A: We look into all charges of irregular proceedings. I'm not aware that there's any truth or credibility to those charges. But those are serious charges, and we look into charges that are made about the adequacy or the fairness of investigations. Those charges will be examined.
Q: Are they going to be looking at any of these situations now?
A: All I can tell you is, broadly, without commenting on any specific case, we take any allegation of irregularity seriously. We're trying to do the fairest, best job we can in dealing with all people. One of the reasons the military has been so successful in dealing with racial issues is that we do try as hard as we can to treat everybody equally. Part of that means pursuing charges of unequal treatment. So we do look into these charges.
Q: Have any allegations of irregularities been brought to the attention of the DoD regarding the Army scandal, the Army situation?
A: There have been charges made publicly, certainly, and we're aware of public charges. But I'm not aware that any specific information has come up in investigations of the DoD leadership on this.
Q: One of the military defense attorneys for Sergeant Simpson passionately spoke out against the joint male/female training that the Army is engaged in, called it a total failure, which kind of surprised all of us, but we also know he was getting out of the service very soon. Has this prompted the situation that the Army's investigating... Has this prompted a new look at joint training, whether or not it should continue, or whether it should be the way the Marines do it?
A: We're always looking at ways to make our training better. There is not a specific new look at the question of gender integrated training now as a result of these. I think you may have seen the Air Force Secretary, Dr. Widnall, on television this morning talking about this issue. The Air Force, the Army and the Navy all have gender integrated training at the basic training level. They believe this is the best way to train their force. The mantra they use is "we train as we fight." It's an integrated force in the field and integrated in training. They believe very strongly that this is the best, most effective and fairest way to train.
Q: Attorney General Reno confirmed today that the Justice Department is looking into a possible high-level U.S. government secret-passer to Israel. Is the Pentagon involved in that search for Mega or...
A: I have absolutely nothing to say about that. The Attorney General of the United States is the proper spokesperson on this, and you can rely on everything she says.
Q: When do you expect announcement of successors to Dr. Kaminski and Dr. White?
A: I don't have a precise time on that, but I think that the announcement of a successor to Dr. Kaminski will come relatively soon; and the successor to Dr. White, who remains in his job and remains... In fact Dr. Kaminski is here as well. They're both doing their jobs very, very well. But the Kaminski successor will come sooner than the White successor will.
Q: Do you have anything today on the North Korea MIA talks at all?
A: I'm afraid I don't. What I promised was that we would try to get some readout for you by the end of the week, and we'll do that.
Press: Thank you.