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DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD PA

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD PA
November 30, 1994 1:00 PM EDT
Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.

I'm going to start with one announcement, if I might.

Secretary of Defense William Perry will receive tomorrow the National Military Family Association's 1994 Support to Military Families Award. He'll get this at the organization's annual luncheon meeting tomorrow at the Sheraton National Hotel in Arlington. The award portion will begin at 12:45. If you need more information, please see George Lawton. His number is

(703) 823-6632.

Q: Will he have remarks prepared for the occasion and that's about it, or will he have something broader to say?

A: He'll have remarks appropriate to the occasion, and discussing his strong commitment to improving quality of life in the military.

I'm prepared for questions.

Q: On the U.S. policy on Bosnia, Dr. Perry said earlier at the photo opportunity, the United States would be willing to consider the concession of allowing a federation between Bosnian Serbs and Serbs and yet I asked him and he didn't address this. The U.S. representative to the Contact Group said in Sarajevo today there would be no change in the Contact Group's peace plan. How do you reconcile the difference between the two?

A: I believe Ambassador Taylor said there has been no change. What Secretary Perry said is correct. There has been no change. We are prepared to discuss new diplomatic options, one of which could involve a federation type idea. But I want to make one thing very clear, anything we discuss will be talked of in the context of a broad peace agreement. Our goal is to achieve a peace agreement in Bosnia. That's been our goal from the beginning. It remains our goal. That's what our actions are aiming to achieve -- a peace agreement in Bosnia. Any discussion that takes place in the next few days with the Contact Group will take place in furtherance of that goal of a broad peace agreement.

Q: Can you tell us about what's happened with the Marines (Correction: USS Nassau Mediterranean Amphibious Ready Group)? Where are they, exactly? Are they in the Adriatic? What is their role there? Is there any chance they'd be used to rescue the Bangladeshi peacekeepers, for example, in Bihac?

A: The role of the Marine Amphibious Ready Group is a limited role. They're there to deal with contingencies such as rescue operations of American or NATO flyers, and other operations that may require a very limited use of force. It's a relatively small group of Marines. It's not prepared for a ground action, and they are there for a limited contingency. Nothing more than that.

Q: Does that mean they would or wouldn't come to the aid of U.S. peacekeepers who are surrounded, cut off, being shelled, in trouble...

A: I can't answer that definitively. I do not believe they would. They're there for a much more limited operation than that.

Q: They are in the Adriatic?

A: I did not answer that question. The reason I did not answer it is because I don't believe I know exactly where they are at this minute.

Q: Is the U.S. willing to consider a larger evacuation operation?

A: We have said that we would consider requests from the UN to help UNPROFOR. We have not gotten such a request. Our hope and plan is that we will not be faced with such a request. Our hope and plan is that we'll be able to, through the Contact Group, arrive at an agreement which will stop the hostilities in Bosnia and make such an operation unnecessary.

Q: If we were to get a request for the withdrawal of UNPROFOR, NATO's been planning this for some number of months now and obviously the U.S. would have a big piece of that. What would be the U.S. contribution to a withdrawal of...

A: Our contribution would be appropriate to the request. I can't go farther than that now because we haven't gotten a request.

Q: You've got plans, right? You know that the guy at the UN, the Under Secretary for Peacekeeping said yesterday it would take 165 days to pull all the peacekeepers out of there. That suggests there's a very detailed operations plan that's already been drawn up and drafted which the U.S. is contributing to.

A: I can't go into details on this. We haven't gotten a request. All we've said is what I said earlier, that we will consider a request when and if we get one. We haven't gotten one right now. Obviously we have plans for all sorts of things, but these plans will be designed to respond specifically to a situation at hand. Right now there's not a request, there's not a situation in which we would contemplate sending in help.

Q: Can you say whether or not to withdraw UNPROFOR would require the presence of American combat troops on the ground in Bosnia?

A: I said that we would consider requests for that if a request came.

Q: Are there U.S. units on alert or on standby?

A: Not to my knowledge.

Q: The ships in the Adriatic, have they chopped to NATO, or will they stay under national operational control?

A: You're talking about the Marine Amphibious Readiness Group. (Correction: USS NASSAU Mediterranean Amphibious Ready Group)? I don't know for sure the answer to that question, we'll find out, but I believe they'll stay under U.S. Navy control.

Q: Are there any plans to move the aircraft carrier, the USS Eisenhower, and what those plans are?

A: The report that the USS Eisenhower is being moved into the Adriatic because of what's happening in Bihac or elsewhere are not correct. The Eisenhower is currently in the Gulf. Its current deployment plans, which have been long-standing, are that it will move later this month into the Mediterranean. Sometime when it gets into the Mediterranean, it will have a port call around Christmas time. I don't know exactly where that port call will be, but when we find out we'll let you know.

Q: You said later this month?

A: I mean in December. I mean next month in December.

Q: Was that movement of the carrier because the European commander requested a carrier in his area of operation?

A: No. The normal deployment pattern of the carrier, in this case the EISENHOWER, but before that the GEORGE WASHINGTON, is that it splits its time between the Gulf and the Mediterranean. We're seeing that normal deployment pattern with the Eisenhower. It started in the Gulf, and it will go in December some time after the middle of December to the Mediterranean. It takes about six or seven days to get there after it sets out.

Q: Would it go into the Adriatic then necessarily?

A: No. It would not necessarily go into the Adriatic. It would go into the Mediterranean. It could make a port call at any number of places. It could go to Cannes, it could go to Naples, it could go to other places as well.

Q: Can I go back to David's question for a minute and make sure I understood something? I think his question was specifically, would the U.S. consider putting ground troops in Bosnia to assist with the evacuation, and you answered that you would consider such a request. Are you, in fact, opening a door now to U.S. troops on the ground in Bosnia?

A: Let me address the second point of that question first. We have no intention of getting involved in a ground conflict in Bosnia. That's the first point, and I want to make it strongly.

Secondly, we have always said that we would consider assisting UNPROFOR in getting out of Bosnia if a request came. We have not gotten such a request.

Q: I just want to make sure I understood. You would consider a request including ground troops.

A: That's the way I answered the question.

Q: I don't understand how you could put troops on the ground and not be involved in a conflict on the ground.

A: As I said, our goal from the very beginning is to end this peaceably. That's what we're expending a huge amount of effort on right now, this minute, and later this week we'll be spending more time on it. That's our goal. We hope we can succeed in doing that and this will not become something we have to face. So far we have not succeeded in doing that. It's cleared everybody. But we're working on it and we continue to work on it and we haven't given up hope.

Q: So you would only be willing to consider troops on the ground involved in evacuation?

A: That's right. We are not considering troops in any other way working in Bosnia.

Q: Would there be a need for other nations to contribute military assistance should a UN/UNPROFOR removal take place?

A: We assume that it will be an allied effort. That's been our assumption from the beginning and we continue to assume that.

Q: Can you give us any idea of what total number of troops would be necessary?

A: No.

Q: How many UN peacekeeping troops are currently on the ground in Bosnia?

A: I believe in Bosnia there are about 22,000 UNPROFOR troops.

Q: How many U.S. forces are actually in the region? There is a medical team and... Do you have any idea at all?

A: It's a very small number. Why don't we get that for you later.

Our main concentration of troops, and it's very small, I think it's only 300 is in Macedonia. That's in furtherance of one of our primary goals here -- I might point out a goal at which so far we've succeeded although we've gotten little notice for it, and that is the goal of preventing the conflict in Bosnia from spreading into other areas, into other nations. That's one of our primary goals, and so far that goal has been met.

You asked earlier about the Marine Amphibious Readiness Group (Correction: USS Nassau Mediterranean Amphibious Ready Group]. The USS Nassau Group is now in the Adriatic.

Q: A number of Administration spokesmen have been trying today to dispel the notion that there has been some dramatic change in U.S. policy towards Bosnia--that the hard line has been abandoned and that the U.S. is now pursuing a line which includes additional concessions to the Serbs, in effect rewarding Serbian aggression. How do you respond to that?

A: First of all, as I said many times, our overall goal has not changed -- that's to achieve peace in Bosnia. We believe peace would be in the best interest of both of the Bosnian Serbs and the Bosnian Muslims; both in the interest of the Serbs and the government of Bosnia. That's our goal and it has not changed at all.

We are prepared to discuss ways to meet that goal within the Contact Group, but any decisions made would have to be made under the umbrella of a peace agreement -- of a ceasefire and a peace agreement.

Q: Would you acknowledge that U.S. policy is no longer built around pressuring the Serbs and is now built around making additional, new concessions to the Serbs?

A: First of all, it is clear that the NATO policy, the NATO decision to use aggressive air power if asked, is on the shelf right now because it's a two-key approach to use air power, and we weren't asked to use it very often. When we were asked to use it last week, it was, in fact, an aggressive use of air power. Forty planes were used. If we're asked again to use air power to protect UN forces in Bosnia, we'll use air power forcefully. But we haven't been asked, so obviously that's not an element that we're stressing in our policy right now.

Q: So would you say the means by which the United States hopes to achieve the ultimate goal of peace, those means have changed?

A: We've always been interested in a negotiated settlement. That's been our goal.

Q: The means by which one would achieve a negotiated settlement has changed.

A: The way you achieve a negotiated settlement is to negotiate. We're ready to negotiate. Secretary Christopher's going to Europe this week, I believe tomorrow, to meet with NATO people. Then he's going to meet with the Contact Group. We're putting things on the table that can be discussed that we hope will lead to a settlement.

Q: Are you prepared to say that the dual-key approach has not been successful?

A: The dual-key approach, when both keys have been turned has been successful. When no key has been turned, it hasn't been used.

Q: Negotiations suggests a two-way street. If the Serbs aren't giving at all, it seems like the United States and the West are doing all the giving. You keep saying that your ultimate goal is peace, and that's all well and good, but if you give away the farm to save the horse it doesn't...

A: I don't think we've given away the farm, and certainly we haven't given away the horse.

Q: Regarding the decision not to appeal the decision in the Petty Officer Keith Meinhold case, what message does that send if any? Does it say it's okay to say that you're gay and still serve in the military? Can you explain what the rationale was for not appealing that decision?

A: It was a technical decision, basically. The Meinhold case, of course, arose under the previous policy. The new policy which took effect on February 28, 1994 wasn't addressed in the Meinhold case. The Justice Department, with the concurrence of the Navy and the Department of Defense, decided it was not worth challenging. In part, it was a tactical decision based on the lawyers' conclusion that the Supreme Court probably wasn't going to accept that case certiori.

Q: Just a technical question then. What happens in the Meinhold case if he, again, states his sexual preference? Is he then subject to expulsion under the new policy?

A: That's an interesting question. If he tells us what we already know to be true? I can't answer that question.

Q: Have you gathered any data yet on the number of expulsions since the new policy has taken effect? Have there been any trends, more people being kicked out, fewer people?

A: We have some figures, but I don't know how useful they're going to be to you. First of all, there has been a down trend in the number of expulsions, but I want to point out we only have figures for FY94. Since this policy took effect in February, that was five months into FY94. So the figures for FY94 include expulsions that may have occurred under the old rules as well as under the new rules. In fact I don't even know for certain whether there have been expulsions under the new rules. You'd have to check with DDI on that, I just don't know. But I can give you the broad figures.

In FY91 there were 949 discharges for contravention of the policy dealing with homosexuals. In FY92, 708. In FY93, 682. In FY94, which straddles both the old and the new policy, 597.

Q: There's no way to draw any conclusion from that about whether the policy is working as it's intended?

A: There's no way I can draw a conclusion from it. You may be more facile with figures than I am, but I think it's very difficult given the fact that both policies were in effect in FY94 to draw a conclusion now.

Q: Have you gotten any communication from any of the new leadership on the Hill that they may try to revisit this policy when they take control of Congress?

A: I have not gotten any communication.

Q: Can you give us any more definitive plans on the announcement on program changes under the new budget, the Deutch memo?

A: Soon, but not immediately.

Q: Within months and not years?

A: Certainly within months.

Q: Within weeks?

A: Certainly within weeks. The whole budget will be wrapped up within weeks.

Q: By Christmas?

A: Yes, certainly by Christmas.

Q: Do you have a budget date? Do you have any idea when the budget might be presented to Congress?

A: I'm afraid I don't. That's something for the White House and OMB. You might ask over there. I'm sure there's a date set, I just don't know what it is.

Q: Because of the types of briefings they do here...


Q: The Secretary suggests it's going to come in a package rather than by dribs and drabs, one program, then another program three days later. It will probably be in a package. Since it all has to be figured together anyway, are you going to give us any total budget figure at that time, or is that going to wait until the budget comes out?

A: I think what we'll be able to do is give you an overall picture of the budget with a top line figure and some but not total detail. We will also discuss the Deutch memorandum decisions when we are able to talk about the budget, which is not now. That's the first thing.

Secondly, you'll get the full nine yards, the detailed line-by-line briefing at about the time it goes up to the Hill.

Q: But the overall budget figures we'll probably be given, at least the top line figures, along with this Deutch memo thing this month?

A: No, not this month. Not November. Sometime in December.

Q: Everyone from Secretary Perry down, including folks over in Bosnia, have more or less indicated that the Serbs have all but won this war, and yet we keep hearing from the Administration, from the Defense Department, that your hope is to come to some kind of a peace accord with this Contact Group. Why would the Serbs have any interest in coming to the peace table?

A: I think the Serbs are interested in ending the fighting for various reasons. Right now the Serbs are doing very well around Bihac. There's fighting in other parts of Bosnia. Our reports are that they're not doing uniformly well all around Bosnia, so first of all, the progress is spotty.

Secondly, there are indications that they, in fact, have brought many of their forces up to the Bihac area to prosecute that battle and pulled them out of other areas. So they might want to get them away from Bihac and redistribute them around the country.

It's a mixed picture. In just the last couple of months, we know that at one point the Muslims seemed to have more momentum than the Serbs. Now the Serbs seem to have more momentum, so it does go back and forth. This is an enormously draining conflict for both sides. We assume that if they can find an acceptable set of terms for ending it, that both sides would like to do that. We've had discussions with both the Serbs and the Muslims and we're led to believe that if we can find acceptable terms that they would embrace them. That's the issue at hand right now, finding the terms.

Press: Thank you.

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