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DoD News Briefing, Tuesday, April 28, 1998

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
April 28, 1998 1:50 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.

I'd like to start by announcing that Secretary Cohen will host an armed forces full honor review for Senator Bob Dole tomorrow at Conmy Hall at Fort Myer, 10:00 a.m. The Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Joseph Ralston, will join Secretary Cohen in that ceremony. If you want to know about media arrangements you can check with DDI later.

Second, I'd like to welcome ten Croatian journalists here from Croatian TV and independent stations in Croatia. They're here as part of a Voice of America program. In addition there are 30 students from American University in the back of the room. Welcome to both those groups.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: A housekeeping question. Is the SECDEF just going to make some brief remarks tonight at this Eisenhower dinner or is he going to...

A: Fifteen minutes.

Q: Are you going to have it...

A: I don't know... We'll see if we can get an advance copy.

Q: What's the topic, do you know?

A: He's going to talk about the Eisenhower legacy. I actually haven't read the remarks, so I will...

Q: Q's and A's?

A: No, he doesn't plan to take Q's and A's.

Q: And on the, when Minister Richard comes, are they going to have a press conference on Thursday or just...

A: Yes.

Q: After their meeting?

A: The timing of it is being worked out now.

Q: But there is going to be a press conference as opposed to a photo...

A: We are currently planning a press conference after the meeting. But as I say, the exact timing of it is being worked out. There are two schedules. One shows it before the meeting, one shows it after.

Q: Before 5:00 p.m.

A: Yes, before 5:00 p.m. And after 5:00 a.m.

Q: Did Secretary Cohen say yesterday that he would decide within two weeks on what to do with the Tomb of the Unknowns? Is it possible that we could see an... assuming that he agrees to the exhumation, before Memorial Day, and are you working on the details of exactly how that would be done?

A: First, as you properly pointed out, Secretary Cohen has not made a decision yet on the Tomb of the Unknowns. If he does make a decision to exhume, it is highly possible that that would take place before Memorial Day. And yes, we are looking at details, but we look at plans all the time. Obviously if a decision were made we'd have to do a fair amount of arranging, and we've already started to look at how that would be done.

Q: Can you give us a little idea of what's involved?

A: No. I think I shouldn't right now. I think we should wait until Secretary Cohen gets the report and makes his decision, and then we'll move into the next phase depending on what his decision is. It's premature to presuppose his decision at this time.

Q: Is there any indication yet of how many families have agreed to testing? And would that have any bearing on this? I mean if only two families agreed to testing, would that have any bearing on his decision?

A: I can't answer that question, but I don't think that would have a huge bearing at this stage. As Charlie Cragin pointed out yesterday, we're trying to balance two very powerful forces. The first here is our desire for a full accounting, not just in this case but in every single case involving somebody missing in action, whether in Korea or Vietnam or, as you know, last year we sent a mission to China to look at some remains of a plane that crashed during World War II. One is the desire to have full accounting. The second, of course, we want to respect the sanctity of the Tomb of the Unknowns. This whole process has been designed to balance those two requirements.

So the first question is, as Mr. Cragin pointed out yesterday, do we have a good reason to believe that we have a possibility to achieve full accounting here? As you know, the senior working group has recommended exhumation because they believe that with DNA testing we may be able to identify remains that could not have been identified in 1972 when they were collected, or in 1984 when the remains were placed in the tomb.

Q: Have any religious groups voiced opposition to exhuming?

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

Q: Can you check into that?

A: I can check into it. I'm not aware that they have. We are in the process of consulting fairly broadly on this, and we're meeting -- Charlie Cragin is meeting with veterans groups today to continue the consultations that began on the Hill and with the families yesterday, but I'll check on the religious groups in particular.

Q: Should the Secretary make a decision to exhume, do you have a range of timing for how long a study would take to understand what... the identification process. Is there some kind of basic process that they go through that would take weeks or months or...

A: It's very hard to predict that because it depends... The identification tests would be done sequentially. You start with one and finish that and go to the next. It's all dependent on being able to get a good enough DNA sample out of the remains. If we can get a good enough sample, we move on to the next phase. If we can't get a good enough sample, then we stop there.

There are a number of questions still to be answered, and one is the exact time this would take. But I really think that you're leaping ahead. The next step is for the Secretary to review the report, and he has not received the report yet. Then he'll have to decide what decision to make. After he makes his decision, then we'll address these next steps.

First of all, all of you can go out to the armed forces DNA identification laboratory and get briefings out there, but I would be glad to bring an official here to talk about the process at the appropriate time. I don't think it's appropriate until the Secretary's made up his mind, but if that's necessary after he makes his decision, I'd be glad to bring somebody down here to talk to you.

Q: We could go to Hawaii.

A: Well, you could go to Hawaii. That's a different lab, of course. The DNA lab is here.

Q: Ken, you keep emphasizing the fact that the SECDEF hasn't made a decision and that you're balancing these two factors. And yet the possibility, the probability as he said yesterday, that it's one of these two flyers. Why would the SECDEF leave that question open?

A: He hasn't even received the report yet. The way decisions are made is you get reports and you evaluate the report and you make a decision, but he hasn't received the report. He has not read it and he hasn't been briefed on it. He obviously knows what's going on. He knows what the process is, but he has not sat down and read the report. So it's premature to talk about his decision until he's read the report.

Q: You're briefing this all over the Hill and to us and he hasn't read it yet?

A: That's correct.

Q: Why is that? You'd think he would want a little glimpse before you aired it in public.

A: It shows our respect for the press, that we've come and discussed it with you and we've discussed it with the Hill. Obviously the Secretary knows what the issue is. He knows what the report says, but he has not sat down and read the report. Nor has he even read a background paper as complete as the one that you were...

This is a process in which there's nothing to hide. We have tried to be very open about this process from the very beginning. The briefing that you got yesterday was part of that. This is just -- the Secretary has not reached the stage yet where he's had a chance to evaluate the report and make a decision, but he'll do that soon.

Q: There was a crash of an F-18 off the carrier INDEPENDENCE, and it just made me wonder how we're doing this year so far in the Class A mishap rate. Do you have any information about whether we're ahead or behind last year in terms of the number of major aircraft accidents?

A: The last time I looked at the figures was at the end of March, and at the end of March two services were slightly ahead of last year and two services were doing better than last year. In other words, two services had had -- compared to the same time, the end of March in 1997 -- two services were doing slightly worse, and two services were doing slightly better.

I don't have an overall comparison between the end of March of '98 and the end of March of '97.

Q: Would those be the two services that have the vast majority of the airplanes the U.S. government flies?

A: Actually, I can't remember. I looked at these figures on Good Friday, and I just can't remember. We can get you the figures, there's no secret here. The only thing I would advise is because the accident rate is so low, I think the Class A mishap rate is 1.5, has been for the last two years, 1.5 per 100,000 hours; because it is so low, over a short period of time one or two accidents can have an impact on the rate. You really have to look at it over the whole year. But you're all sophisticated statisticians, and I'm sure would come to that conclusion on your own.

Q: And the spate of accidents last year occurred later in the year.

A: The statistical bunching of accidents did occur in the last month of the fiscal year, you're right. Nevertheless, we came in at the same 1.5 Class A accident rate for last year as the year before.

Q: What's happened to the report on Cuba?

A: The report on Cuba. Now that's an interesting question. (Laughter) It will be released shortly.

Q: Today?

A: No, I don't think it will be released today, but it should be released perhaps this week, early next week I would guess.

Q: On Cuba, on the subject of hostile behavior by Cuba toward the United States or other democratic countries, especially Colombia and involvement of Cuba in supporting guerrilla groups that are involved in cocaine trade. The State Department said in response to this question, it would be difficult to get into that kind of issue. It would be difficult to get into the kinds of details asked about.

Would it be difficult for you, Ken, to talk about what Cuba is doing outside of Cuba?

A: I agree totally with the State Department.

Q: Mr. Butler has said that there's been no progress over the last six months in verifying that Iraq has destroyed the weapons of mass destruction Mr. Cohen had talked about on Sunday, the 50 SCUD missiles, 25 armed with biological agents, four tons of nerve gas. What kind of time table is the United States recommending? Is there a deadline now that the United States is recommending to the UN as far as Saddam, get your weapons out, show us where you destroyed them, where they're buried or whatever?

A: That's a good question. This is, of course, Saddam Hussein's birthday today. If anybody were to ask me what advice I would give him on his birthday, I would advise him to give the Iraqi people the present of peace and prosperity by honoring the UN mandates and by meeting the terms that the UN has set to get rid of his weapons of mass destruction, to end his capacity to build them, and to meet all the other terms such as full accounting for Kuwaiti POWs and MIAs, return of equipment, etc. Because it's only after he does these that the sanctions will be able to be lifted, and the people of Iraq will be able to return to some semblance of prosperity. It's only after he does this that his neighbors in the Middle East will be certain that he has relinquished the aggressive energies that he's deployed against Iran and against Kuwait in the past. And against Saudi Arabia as well, and Israel.

So it is, I think, important for the Iraqi people and for Saddam to honor these mandates, to comply with them as soon as possible so that Iraq can turn to better times.

There is no deadline right now. I think that it's been very clear to Saddam Hussein since 1991, when these mandates were adopted by the UN Security Council, that he should comply, and that's why the sanctions have remained in place. That's why they're in place today and that's why they'll be in place tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, until he complies with them.

The next review of the sanctions is, as I understand it, set for October, so the sanctions will be in place until October and the UN Security Council will then again look at his degree of compliance.

In this particular case that's received so much attention around the world, weapons of mass destruction, as Ambassador Butler said today, as his report said last week, he has not made progress. He, Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi government, has not made progress toward compliance with this mandate.

I can run through again, as I have many times, some of the figures here, but he has yet to prove, for instance, that he has destroyed, as he said, the 25 SCUD warheads he claims to have filled with biological weapons, for instance. There are many other failures to comply that I can enumerate.

Q: But the pressure will continue to be on sanctions...

A: Yes.

Q: And the continued presence of higher levels of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf region, is that putting a strain on the U.S. military?

A: The U.S. military, particularly the Navy, is used to deploying and fighting and patrolling from a forward presence. We usually have from 20,000 to 25,000 people in the Gulf, depending on the number of carriers there and other ships. Now we're up to around 36,000, 37,000, so there has been an addition over the last several months. It's not a huge addition out of a force of 1.4 million people. Seven thousand of those people are in the Army. So this is something that we can work with and have worked with and could continue to work with if we have to.

Q: But it's not something that you are comfortable with from a fiscal point of view and from an operational tempo point of view...

A: We've asked Congress for more money because it is more costly to have larger deployments in the Gulf. A large part of the cost is getting them over there and getting them back, so the supplemental does request more money to pay for the increased mission in the Gulf.

Obviously it does create some operational tempo problems, particularly for the Air Force, which has larger deployments than normal over there now. It also will, in time, could create some operational tempo problems for the Navy -- more in terms of force deployment, I think, than anything else. There hasn't been a carrier in the Mediterranean for awhile because we've had two carriers in the Gulf. So we've also had to deploy some extra air assets into the Pacific because the INDEPENDENCE, which is usually in the Pacific, has been in the Gulf for the last couple of months. But these are what military planners are paid to do -- make these decisions and make these deployments, and they've done it, and they've done it very well and very smoothly.

Q: The Navy has said for awhile that they really need 15 aircraft carriers instead of 12. Doesn't this kind of make that case that the United States is short a few aircraft carriers?

A: Would one of them be named the ADMIRAL KENDALL PEASE? (Laughter)

I think that the aircraft carriers we have now are performing well and are deployed all around the world as necessary. Whether or not we need more carriers is a decision that the Navy and the Secretary of Defense and Congress would ultimately have to make.

Q: The Navy has two deployed aircraft carriers in the whole world, and they're both sitting in the Persian Gulf. Other ones are in workup, but there's only two that are actually in deployment.

A: I think the EISENHOWER is deployed right now in an exercise. Didn't it leave Norfolk over the weekend for an exercise?

Q: On an exercise, then it's going back to Norfolk. It's not what they call deployed.

Q: Speaking of carriers, are you going to pull the INDY out of the Gulf on schedule at the middle of May? Are you going to leave it there awhile longer? Are you going to deploy the IKE from Norfolk more quickly?

A: All those questions will be answered after the President decides on what level of forces should remain in the Gulf. He hasn't made that decision yet. I anticipate he'll be making it in the next couple of weeks, but that's something for him to decide.

Q: Just to clarify, so when we heard that a decision had been made to maintain the level of forces, that was not the final review?

A: I think the right way to describe it is no decision has been made to change the level of forces.

Q: Has the Secretary recommended a change, or has General Zinni recommended a change?

A: I think their recommendations should remain private until the decision is actually made. They are recommendations to the President, and it's ultimately the President's decision.

Q: How long of a period is the President considering? This decision that he's got to make in the next week or two is for how long of a period?

A: First of all, we've asked for funding to maintain two carriers in the Gulf until the end of the current fiscal year, which is September 30th. The President will have to decide whether two carriers is the proper level or whether we should move down to a lower level. Remember, before this began our level of deployment was... We had one carrier there 75 percent of the time -- 270 days out of the year we had a carrier there; 180 days out of the year we had an amphibious ready group, a Marine expeditionary unit in the Gulf.

The President will make a decision, and I suppose that whatever he decides will be subject to change when and if conditions change. That's been our history in the Gulf. When there was a need to deploy more assets, more planes, more soldiers, more ships, we did it.

Q: ...even be considering this right now?

A: Well remember, when this buildup took place, when it began, two things were happening. The first was that Iraq was threatening to shoot down planes patrolling as part of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH. It was also publicly threatening to shoot down U-2s that were flying in support of the UN mission. He had thrown inspectors out of Iraq, and was threatening to violate, to continue to violate UN mandates.

Since then, since February, he has worked out an arrangement with the Secretary General of the UN to allow inspectors back in to certain sensitive sites. Those inspectors have gone in and done their inspections. Mr. Butler said that they have to be able to inspect more, and in different sites, and we hope they'll be able to do that.

He had stopped threatening publicly to shoot down American and allied planes around the end of October, early November, when we deployed the George Washington into the Gulf, so the language is less bellicose, less threatening, and his actions have been more receptive to UN Special Commission inspectors. Those are two things that have changed.

In addition, the UN has decided to leave the sanctions in place until October when they'll be reviewed again, and no one expects the sanctions will be lifted in October unless Saddam Hussein dramatically changes his policy and is more forthcoming with the inspectors and more aggressive about destroying his weapons of mass destruction. But right now, I think the conditions are somewhat less threatening than they were several months ago when the forces were built up.

Q: Can you tell us why it takes another week or two to make the decision? Has the President asked for more information or some other input or... It seems like the facts are out there. He either decides to do it or...

A: I don't think this is an unreasonable amount of time. The UN Security Council just reviewed the UNSCOM report yesterday. It voted on the sanctions or decided to leave the sanctions in place yesterday. I don't think this is an unreasonable amount of time at all.

This is a complex decision. It affects potentially thousands of people. It also will be interpreted, rightly or wrongly, as sending some sort of a message about how we see the situation in the Gulf. So I think it's fully appropriate that the Secretary take his time to review this and that the President take his time to review it and make sure he has all the facts.

Q: Is a presidential matter and a decision on the force structure focusing primarily on the two carrier option, or will he also be looking at the number of aircraft?

A: I think he'll look across the board at aircraft, ships and soldiers in the Gulf. As you know, we have some extra bombers there, some extra fighters. The F-117s, for instance. There's an air expeditionary force in Bahrain.

Q: Is it more likely that... Will this decision entail whether or not to go down to one carrier, or possibly to having one carrier in for a brief period of time then going back up to two when the EISENHOWER is scheduled to...

A: I think whatever decision the President makes in the next couple of weeks when he reviews this will be subject to change if conditions change. We would like conditions in the Gulf to remain peaceful. We would like Saddam Hussein to cease from threatening his neighbors or threatening military forces in the area that are carrying out UN mandates. But if he refuses to remain peaceful and placid, then we will have to build up our forces again if the circumstances call for that, and I'm confident that we will.

One of the things we've proven over the years since DESERT STORM was that we can surge forces into the Gulf very quickly, and we have built up our infrastructure in the Gulf quite dramatically with prepositioned equipment and continuing operations throughout the Gulf so that we can accommodate a large surge in forces. We've shown that time after time, and no one should doubt our resolve to do it again if we have to. We could surge our forces beyond where they are now.

Somebody asked me about the aircraft Class A mishap rate. A Class A mishap is when a plane crash creates damage of more than $1 million or the loss of a pilot or a crew member. The mishap rate -- these are mishap rates as of the end of March, 1998, and we can give you copies of this, obviously.

The Air Force mishap rate in 1998 at the end of March was 0.89. That is Class A mishaps per 100,000 hours of flying. That's down significantly from 1.09 at the same time in fiscal 1997. Viewed in absolute terms, it's nine Class A mishaps through March of 1998 versus 11 through March of [1997].

The Navy is up. It was 1.70 through the first six months of the current fiscal year versus 1.39 -- a difference of one mishap. The absolute number is nine in FY98 through March, versus eight in 1997.

The Marine Corps, the Class A mishap rate was 2.91 in FY98, the first six months, versus 3.95 the year before. In absolute numbers, it's five in '98 versus seven in '97.

The Army, the mishap rate is 1.85 up from 1.15 in '97. The absolute number is eight Class A mishaps this year in the first six months versus five in the first six months of the previous year. You can get copies of those.

Q: I was wondering if you could confirm or comment on an AP report from Norway that Norwegians were used in US backed experiments to determine the effects of radiation exposure during the Cold War.

A: I'm afraid I have not seen that report and I can't comment.

Q: It was reported extensively in Greece that during his recent visit to Athens DoD Secretary William Cohen discussed with Greek Minister [of Defense] Akis Tsohatzopoulos a kind of a initiative, plan, or proposal for a U.S. collective military presence in the Eastern Mediterranean, including the Aegean. I wonder if it's true, and what was the response of Minister Tsohatzopoulos.

A: I don't believe that's an accurate account. Secretary Cohen discussed two initiatives that are ongoing already in the Aegean and in the Eastern Mediterranean. The first are the confidence building measures that have been proposed by the UN Secretary General, Mr. Salona. He urged, both in Ankara and in Athens, that the Turkish and Greek governments embrace these confidence building measures as a way to reduce tensions in the Aegean. You're familiar with those confidence building measures.

The second point he stressed was the need to seize the current opportunity presented by the Holbrooke mission to make progress in the Cypress dispute. Mr. Holbrooke, I understand, will be back in Cypress later this week or early next week. In both Ankara and Athens, Secretary Cohen said that he felt it was very important that both countries do everything they can to try to reduce tensions over Cypress, and that this may be an opportunity that does not come up again. So he stressed that. He did not volunteer or discuss any option that would involve an enhanced U.S. military presence in the Eastern Mediterranean, or a U.S.-provided security blanket in the Eastern Mediterranean or the Aegean. He made it very clear that he felt that both Greece and Turkey face an opportunity, historic opportunities, now, to reduce tensions in the Aegean and over Cypress, and that they should take those opportunities.

Q: How did you comment on the report of the Aegean issue by Jane's Intelligence Review, that Pentagon officials were examining a new agenda in the Middle East with Turkey and Israel as key players, and the (unintelligible) all ensuing from a war initiated by Turkish strike on the S-300 missile systems on Cypress.

A: I haven't read that report so I think I shouldn't comment on it, but first of all, as you know, Turkey and Israel have carried out some joint military exercises and we've participated in one of those search and rescue exercises earlier this year. We invited other countries to participate as well. We've discussed the possibility of joint military exercises involving Greece and Turkey and other countries, particularly formed around the creation of a multinational Balkans peacekeeping force, which is one of the initiatives that's come out of the Southeastern European Defense Ministerial meetings that have been held over the last couple of years.

We believe that the answer to solving the issues raised by the possible purchase of Russian air defense missiles in Cypress is that those missiles should not be purchased and deployed there, and the Turks should tone down their rhetoric. We hope that if there is a settlement, which we believe is possible because of Mr. Holbrooke's efforts, that the need for those missiles will disappear.

Press: Thank you.

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