DoD News Briefing: Mr. Dennis Boxx, DATSD/ PA
Mr. Boxx: Good afternoon.
I have no announcements. I'll be happy to try to take your questions.
Q: Anything new on the Korea helicopter downing? And are you all getting frustrated with the lack of progress?
A: There was a meeting held today about 5:30 p.m. Korea time in Panmunjom. At that meeting, we passed along a message strongly requesting more information on the condition and location of Chief Warrant Officer Hall and confirmation that Chief Warrant Officer Hilemon is, in fact, dead. We've asked for an early resolution to this issue. We also urged for another meeting. At this point we have not seen any resolution to it.
Q: Are you going to have another meeting, and when?
A: We have not been given a date or time certain yet for another meeting. That is one level of activity that's taking place. As you know, there are other levels in other departments. Department of State has actively been engaged in trying to push the diplomatic side of this. Secretary Perry and Secretary Christopher are also involved in a number of efforts on the diplomatic front. So there are efforts underway at every level. This is a very high priority, as you have heard. We are pushing to an early resolution to this and we hope to see a positive outcome very soon.
Q: Are you frustrated or angry about this?
A: We continue to believe that this needs to be resolved at the earliest possible moment. We see no reason for a delay and urge for the quick return of the remains of the one pilot, the safe return of the other, and the return of the helicopter.
Q: Do you know--or have you heard... Is there a difference in attitude with this meeting at Panmunjom than with previous negotiations with the North Koreans? And particularly, after the deal was struck when the U.S. gave megabucks in return for them shutting down their nuclear weapons plant? Has there been any easing? Are the negotiations pretty hard ball? Anything you can tell us about any change in attitude?
A: I really can't characterize the discussions. They've been at a mid-level. I don't have any way to characterize their intensity of how they compare to past discussions. We've made our position clear, and we've encouraged that information to be passed quickly up their chain of command.
Q: You said Secretary Perry is engaged at a very high level. Doing what? With other governments?
A: There are efforts underway with other governments at a number of levels. I'd rather not be more specific. As you can appreciate, these are very delicate, and I think I'd rather just leave it at that for now.
Q: Is there anything equipment-wise in the helicopter--that's still in North Korea--that can pose any kind of security risk if they examine that, take it apart? Are they carrying any systems that might...
A: Not that I'm aware of, no. I think, as you heard in great detail yesterday, that was a very basic piece of equipment that should be quickly returned. It should offer no particular military value to them.
Q: You said you made the U.S. position very clear. Have they made their position clear at all? What is the delay as they explain it?
A: The only thing I can tell you is that they have indicated that they are investigating it. That's the information that I have.
Q: Does that investigation mean interrogation of Mr. Hall?
A: I can't speculate on what their definition of anything would be.
Q: Have you gotten a look at it yet with any overhead intel of any sort? Have you seen the crash site? Can you tell us what you saw?
A: I don't believe we have any more information than we had yesterday, no.
Q: You're still not sure whether it was shot down or fell down? You're not sure exactly how it went down?
A: That is correct. We have nothing new to tell you from what we briefed yesterday.
Q: Have you any indication on whether the helicopter is intact or whether it's... In other words, whether it might have...
A: We have no information on the craft itself.
Q: There was a wire report last night that said the copter had been fired upon... Not fired upon, but warning shots had been fired by the North Koreans. This is apparently their claim, and that the chopper had turned and headed south when it was fired upon. Is there any indication at all from any evidence that there were warning shots or that the copter was fleeing to the south?
A: Nothing beyond what we briefed yesterday on... I've seen those reports. We have nothing that can verify them. Obviously, a major piece of this, in order for us to put all of it together, is going to be the return of the pilot and [for us to] be able to talk to that pilot and find out what happened. That's going to answer a lot of these questions, but I can't address that one specifically.
Q: Secretary Perry and Deputy Secretary Deutch, I believe, were both important Administration players in reviewing the deal that was struck last October over the nuclear issue. How can we go ahead with the deal with a country that keeps one of our pilots in their custody? How on earth could we do business with them?
A: These are two separate issues that we are pursuing. One issue clearly is--the most dominating one right now--the resolution of the return of the pilots. That issue needs to be pursued and is being pursued aggressively. We need to seek quick resolution to that so that we can move on to improvements with our relations with North Korea as we move down the road. The first issue that needs to be grappled with is the return of these pilots.
Q: Isn't it unusual, Dennis, for one pilot, if the reports are correct, to be dead and the other to be uninjured? You would think, in a crash or a shoot-down, it would be highly unlikely for one to walk away when the other one was killed.
A: There's no way I can speculate about what may have happened on the ground. I don't know that it is unusual for one person to be able to walk away. I think, again, we have to talk with the pilot involved--talk to the people that were there and see what happened. That's the only way we're going to get to the bottom of those kinds of questions.
Q: Do you have a feasible explanation for why there appears to be no visible imagery--no visible image--of this helicopter down? Can you help us explain how that might be the case with all of our great overhead capability, air breathing and satellite capability?
A: That would just drag me into a discussion of how we gather intelligence and what they may be doing to defeat the way we gather intelligence. I think I'll stay away from that. But thank you for the opportunity. (Laughter)
Q: Do we yet know what his last words were, the pilot's last words?
A: I can't give you the verbatim words. They were, as was briefed yesterday, that the pilots had reached Checkpoint 84. They believed they were at Checkpoint 84. Obviously, that was not correct. They were in North Korea at that moment, we believe. That was the last communication that we're aware of.
Q: In Pyongyang or in any other communications, has our government expressed the evidence--presented the evidence--that this was an unintentional, accidental, and non-hostile incursion, and that the snow depth might have fouled up the navigation?
A: I'm not sure about the last piece. I don't think we've tried to offer every possible scenario that may have contributed to this very tragic event. But there should be no question that we have communicated at every possible turn that this was unintentional, accidental, non-hostile, non-threatening. There is no question but that this is simply a mistake, and that's how it should be viewed by the North Koreans. And we encourage them to resolve it quickly, return the pilots, return the aircraft, and let's move on.
Q: Has there been an apology, or is that not appropriate?
A: Apology by who?
Q: By the United States for violating, apparently, North Korean airspace.
A: I don't think we're at the apology stage. I think we have acknowledged that this is probably a mistake--that we did violate their airspace apparently. That seems to be what all the evidence is. We need to confirm that by talking with the pilots. We'll see where we go from there.
Q: How about Richardson? Is there anything new from Richardson on...
A: I know that Congressman Richardson met with the Deputy Foreign Minister--I believe it would be today, our time--and again pressed for a quick return of the remains of the one pilot and the living pilot and the aircraft. There had also been contact through the State Department at the UN mission in New York.
Q: Any reaction from...
A: Not at this point.
Q: Do you see any unusual military activity on the north side of the border? Any heightened state of readiness while this crisis has gone on?
A: No, Jack. We don't, on either side, see any increased readiness. As you know, both sides of the DMZ are in a high state of alert all the time. But we see no increase to their posture.
Q: You mentioned that you were encouraging the North Koreans at the greatest possible speed to finish their inquiry into this matter. So I take it we are asking them to evaluate the fact that it was an error on our part and would rather they release the pilot, is that correct?
A: I think so. I think there was a question there, but I'm not sure what it was. I get your point: yes, we are doing everything we can to move the diplomatic process along so that everyone understands what our position is, what our role was in this mission, and that we can bring it to a close.
Q: In a clumsy way I was asking if we understood that they had a need to do an inquiry, to know what the intent was of this incursion. We do give them that, do we not?
A: I think that's reasonable.
Q: Just so I understand this linkage or non-linkage that you're making to the nuclear aspects of this. Am I correct in saying that the U.S. government is going out of its way not to threaten the nuclear agreement because of this incident?
A: We are simply recognizing this incident as a single, isolated incident which we need to resolve with the North Korean Government as quickly as possible so that we can move on in future relationships and enhancing our relationship with them down the road if, in fact, that is what they desire.
Q: If it is not resolved, then what?
A: I'm not going to do what if's. I think we need to press ahead with getting it resolved. This is being handled at the highest levels of government. You've heard the President speak. Secretary Perry has spoken to it. Secretary Christopher has spoken to it. Congressman Richardson has been very helpful in this. There's a lot of focus on this--a very high priority on this--by the U.S. government, and we think we can press it to resolution, and we hope we can press it to resolution very quickly.
Q: [Lt.] General Shelton is being honored at the White House today for the Haiti situation. I wonder if you, in light of that, could just bring us up to speed on Haiti? What the situation is there, and your readout of the mission so far?
A: I'd love to. The Haiti story is truly a great success story. Stability has returned to the country; democracy has returned to the country; security has returned to the country. We continue to draw down our forces there--now at about 5600. We hope to have a few more home by Christmas. We look forward to a quick and smooth transition to the UN early next year.
Q: When do you believe we'll have all of our forces out?
A: As you know, the plan calls for the transition to the UN mission in Haiti, which would be a total of about 6,000 forces in UNMIH. Of that number, between 2,000 and 3,000 would be U.S. So those forces--that number of U.S. forces would be involved in the UN mission--probably [would leave] into the point at which there is an election for a new president which is, at this point, scheduled for early '96.
Q: Has there been any more violence in the area recently?
A: I'm not certain of any particular isolated incidents. There may well have been some isolated cases, I'm not sure. Generally, though, the climate security situation there is excellent. The U.S. forces there, particularly the special operations forces that are out in the region, are doing a remarkable job of securing the environment and trying to make it a safe and secure place for democracy to return.
Q: Most of the role of the police keeping is now back to the Haitians? Or will U.S. forces get a large part of that?
A: There's really three tiers. You've got the police trainees who are growing in number literally by the week. You have the UN police monitors who then back up the police trainees. Behind them, you have U.S. military forces. So that's the process by which we hope to ensure the secure environment, and at the same time, bring the police force up to speed so that when these forces begin to withdraw, there will be a better environment there.
Q: You're satisfied everything is going well?
A: Everything is going remarkably well.
Q: On the subject of highly successful operations, have you any indication when the U.S. Marines are going into Somalia to help the UN beat a final retreat?
A: I'm sorry. When did you say?
A: I think--as we briefed the other day--we will be dealing with the UN and the UNOSOM force putting the final finishing touches on the withdrawal plan. We would look for that to be in the January/February/March period. As you know, the withdrawal is underway. We would see the final stages of the withdrawal probably in the March time frame. That's principally when the main U.S. involvement would be, so it would be in the January/February/March period.
Q: Is that ARG headed from the Gulf towards Somalia now?
A: No. The Essex ARG is still involved in Exercise Eager Mace, and it will finish that up this week--about the 23rd. It may well then at that point begin to head south.
Q: What about the CHOD meeting and General Shali?
A: I can't add much. There was a communiqué issued yesterday. There was a communiqué that was released today. We have that in DDI for those of you that haven't seen it. We can make that available to you. It's fairly complete in terms of a readout and what they've decided to do.
The next step in that process will be for the individual chiefs of the military to go back to their governments and discuss the plan as it was laid out, or the plans as they were laid out, for some concurrence within each of the capitals.
Press: Thank you.