Pentagon Officials Address Korea, ISIS, Budget in News Conference
It is too soon to tell if there may be an opening for talks with North Korea about denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, Defense Department officials said today.
At a news conference, chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana W. White said she wouldn't speculate on what North Korea's activities are or are not. The North has tested nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles, but has not had a launch since August.
"Our policies remain to have the verifiable, irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," she said. "So it's a diplomatic effort. We'll continue to support our diplomats and ensure that they can negotiate from a position of strength."
White said it is perilous to try and predict anything about what North Korea aims to do. "But we're continuing to monitor the situation," she said.
Reporters asked about the so-called "freeze-for-freeze' option, meaning if North Korea froze its nuclear and missile development programs, the United States and its allies would freeze military exercises. U.S. and allied military exercises are purely defensive, White said. "Our exercises are long-planned, and our exercises are about reassuring our partners and our alliance allies," she added.
"I would just add that for forward-deployed forces, exercises are a critical component of readiness," said Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, the director of the Joint Staff, who briefed with White. "They do, in fact, assure our partners. They're not necessarily aimed at anyone. But they also, I think, exercise a powerful deterring effect by the fact that they're occurring."
No Deal With ISIS
White and McKenzie struck back at accusations that the United States somehow has a deal with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. "We flatly reject those accusations. They're simply not true," McKenzie said. "And in fact, they're not helpful as we pursue what should be a mutual objective of the destruction of ISIS in the Euphrates River Valley. We're conducting one of the most carefully designed air campaigns in the history of modern warfare, and so we flatly reject those assertions."
White also discussed the DoD budget.
"The department has been operating for 1,060 days under a [continuing resolution]," she said. "The current CR will expire on Dec. 8. We need Congress to pass a robust and predictable budget. We need [a fiscal year 2018] appropriations budget before Dec. 8."
White called the process wasteful and inefficient, noting that continuing resolutions delay maintenance, construction starts and launching new programs.
"They increase anxiety in the industrial base, as well as in local communities," she added. "They have a negative impact on the economy, as well as local communities. It's just a waste of money, and we need to be able to plan in advance."
White called on Congress to lift sequestration as it is currently structured.
"As [Defense Secretary Jim Mattis] has said many times, no enemy has done more harm to combat readiness in the field than … sequestration," she said. "If sequestration happens, it'll mean a $52 billion cut to the FY '18 budget. Again, it affects readiness, lethality."
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)