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Department Of Defense Press Briefing by Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana W. White and Joint Staff Director Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. in the Pentagon Briefing Room

DANA WHITE: Good afternoon. I hope everyone is getting ready for a safe and happy holiday weekend. For many, Memorial Day weekend signifies the start of summer. It can be easy to overlook the significance of Memorial Day and what it means to our nation, especially the service members who continue to defend our freedoms every day.

We celebrate Memorial Day in honor of the brave men and women who died while serving in the military. As we head into the holiday weekend, please join me in a moment of silence for those we have lost in service to our great nation.

Regarding the secretary's travel, yesterday Secretary Mattis delivered the Air Force Academy commencement address. He charged the class of 2018 with holding the line to ensure our military remains the most lethal force in the world.

Today, Secretary Mattis presides over the NORTHCOM and NORAD change of command ceremony as we celebrate the 60th anniversary of NORAD. He will underscore the importance of North America as an example of democratic stability in a time of global promise and peril.

He will also reinforce the importance of our indispensable alliance with Canada. And he will welcome Mexico's increased leadership and renewed commitment to regional stability. With that, I will take your questions.

Bob, you're back.

Q: Yes, thank you. Dana, a couple of questions in connection with the president's marks a few minutes ago about canceling the meeting with North Korea. He mentioned that he has spoken with Secretary Mattis about this. And he said that the U.S. Military now is more ready than ever to deal with North Korea.

I wonder if -- if either of you or both could flesh that out a little bit, by what he meant by that. In other words, is the U.S. reinforcing positions in some way in South Korea? Is it anticipating missile provocations now and preparing for that -- that sort of thing?

MS. WHITE: Well I can confirm, yes, the secretary spoke to the president today. And we are still continuing the maximum pressure campaign. That hasn't changed for us. So, in terms of we are ready to fight, tonight; that's always been the case. Our position has always been to support our diplomatic-led efforts. So I'll let the general expand on that.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL KENNETH F. MCKENZIE JR.: Sure. Bob, I would just say I think particularly the infusion we're getting with the plus up of the recent budget is going to let address a number readiness concerns, all of which went through the readiness the military include forces that might be called upon to deploy and fight if we had to conduct operations on the Korean Peninsula. I would also tell you that we maintain a very high state of vigilance in regard to the DPRK and we will continue that going forward to include our -- our missile defense activities.

Q: Do you -- thank you -- do you anticipate missile provocations now, in light of what's transpired in the last few hours?

GEN. MCKENZIE: Sir, I couldn't speculate. We'll be ready if it happens.

MS. WHITE: Missy?

Q: Just a follow-up on Bob's question. You said, general, that there was a high state of vigilance vis-a-vis North Korea. Is there -- the question's to either of you, is there a heightened state of vigilance now?

GEN. MCKENZIE: No. No, there's a high state of vigilance, the state of vigilance that we always have because they've proven to be unpredictable in the past. We want to be ready to respond quickly to anything, but it's not a heightened state of vigilance. It's just the normal state of vigilance that we maintain.

Q: OK. So the -- the cancellation of the -- of the planned summit has not affected the military posture or -- in any way?

GEN. MCKENZIE: Not in any way.

MS. WHITE: Stephanie?

Q: The president also mentioned that he spoke with -- in addition to Secretary Mattis and the joint chiefs of staff -- also spoke with Japan and South Korea, saying they were willing to shoulder much of the cost of any financial burden, any of the costs associated (inaudible) United States in operations if such an unfortunate situation was to fall upon us.

Now, is the president saying that -- and maybe this is something that the (inaudible) discussed with Secretary Mattis, but is he saying that South Korea and Japan are agreeing to finance any U.S. military operation in the peninsula (off mic)?

MS. WHITE: I would -- I would have to let -- refer you to the White House. I wasn't privy to that, and I haven't spoken to Secretary Mattis since the phone call. But I'm happy to come back to you if I have any other details.

Q: OK. Thank you.

MS. WHITE: Here. Tony.

Q: Tony Bertuca, Inside Defense. Unrelated, the department was notified by the Department of Commerce that they were going to be conducting a Section 232 investigation into national security implications for imported automobiles.

Does the Pentagon feel that imported automobiles are a national security threat, especially when most of them come from Japan, South Korea, Europe?

MS. WHITE: So, Tony, I -- we just got that memo. I promise to come back to you about it. We -- we're still reviewing it, but I owe you an answer.


Q: Thank you.


Q: Which Tom?

MS. WHITE: I meant that Tom, but I'll come -- you'll be my second -- Tom Watkins -- Tom.

Q: Always, in my life, second. (Laughter.)

MS. WHITE: No, no. I'm going with you first. Here we go.

Q: Jackpot. (Laughter.)

Q: Thank you, Dana.

Earlier this week, the I.G. issued a report on Afghanistan regarding minimal process and that sort of tracked with the SIGAR report earlier on minimal progress.

General, specifically, I'm thinking about how we all talked about the winter offensive, the U.S. in Afghanistan, and how it was designed to counter a Taliban spring offense. Even if that -- even in Afghanistan, it's springtime now. So how does that winter offensive stack up to the reports that show minimal progress?

GEN. MCKENZIE: Sure. The report also noted there were some significant momentum shifts in favor of the Afghan government. So I think it's a mixed report. I think we're still pretty early in the fighting season this year, and I think there's a lot of fighting left to be done. And I'll try to wait before I gave a final characterization until we're a little further along in the year.

Q: You're probably privy, obviously, to more metrics than we were in that report, but it said the only real metric that they could use to judge that is the land that's controlled by the government, vis-a-vis not by the government.

That hasn't shifted much, according to that latest report. Can you share with us some of the metrics that will give us a sense of your optimism? Or...

GEN. MCKENZIE: Yeah, I'd rather wait and do that a little bit later, not do that right now.

Q: But you'll do it?

GEN. MCKENZIE: At some point. Yes.

Q: OK. Thank you.


Q: Thanks... (Laughter.)

Q: Is Secretary Mattis disappointed with the decision to scrap the summit?

MS. WHITE: The secretary has been in full support of the diplomatically led effort. This was a White House decision. This was a -- this was a State Department decision.

We -- for us, as the general has said, the maximum pressure campaign continues. Our posture hasn't changed. We remain very vigilant, and we will continue to be. So this is -- this is the beginning, not the end.

Q: OK. But can I just follow up there? Because he spoke to the president this morning.


Q: And obviously you can't talk about their private discussions. But can you -- I mean, can you help us to frame it? Can we -- we're trying to characterize.

And I understand it's a White House-led effort, but, you know, you -- what is his -- what is his opinion? Was he -- had he been -- had -- what was his view in terms of the summit going forward? Was he looking forward to it? Was it -- was he supportive of it? Or -- yeah, there must be some feeling from him about, now, what's happened.

It would -- we've seen a total 180. The building is going from -- you know, like, just a few months ago, we were on this bellicose path, and then it was all looking much more promising with the summit, and now it's canceled and we're -- and we're talking about "ready to fight tonight." It's just -- it's a complete -- it's a complete turnabout, again.

So, you know, instead of just referring us back to the White House, like, can you give us any kind of characterization of the secretary's view on all of this?

MS. WHITE: I would tell you, as he has said in statements, he had been cautiously optimistic. The secretary is used to dynamic situations. This is a dynamic situation. This is nothing new to him.

So, he is ready to support. We will continue the maximum pressure campaign, but the secretary was always of a -- cautiously optimistic about where this would go. And -- and he was very firm about we continue to support our diplomats, that hasn't changed for the secretary.


Q: Hello. One different topic for each of you. General Mckenzie, on North Korea you say no heightened state of alert, heightened. And I'm curious why that is because apparently that would come -- no need for heightened alert would come from Secretary Mattis and General Dunford that there is no need for it.

So, clearly that is the reaction from this building, that there is no need for heightened alert. And I'm curious why that is since you also said you do need readiness funds to improve your ability to fight against North Korea. But I'd like to hold and ask you to answer that in a minute.

Dana, a different question for you. The confidential FBI source, the president has already publicly said that person was paid money. And we now know from your press office that that confidential FBI source actually got about $1 million in contract money from DOD's Office of Net Assessment to produce some reports.

So just for the record, can you say that the million dollars the Department of Defense paid to this confidential source was for actual work being done for the Pentagon and he was not being paid by the Pentagon to be an FBI informant? Different questions for both of you.

MS. WHITE: General, I'll let you start.

GEN. MCKENZIE: Sure. Barbara, we always maintain a high state of readiness in regard to the situation on the Korean Peninsula. We've done that for many years because of provocative, capricious actions of DPRK and its leadership. So we're always very confident of our ability to go from a very cold start to something that would be more significant if we are required to do so.

We would not raise readiness and I'm not going to discuss raising alert levels with you. But we wouldn't do that unless we had indications of that. Right now, we're at -- we're at our -- our level of good readiness. We're in a boxer's stance. We're ready to respond.

We'll see what develops over the next few days. If -- if any provocative actions occur from DPRK we'll certainly, in concert with our allies and partners in the region, be ready for it.

Q: Can I just ask you to expand on the one point you made, however, that you need these -- this additional readiness money for issues such as North Korea. So what is it that that -- can you give us any example?

GEN. MCKENZIE: Certainly. I think it -- I think...

Q: (Inaudible) North Korea that you don't have?

GEN. MCKENZIE: ... Certainly, the force in general over the last few years has accepted a reduction in things such as munitions, training and other things because of the focus that we've had against the -- against the fight in Afghanistan and against the fight against ISIS in Syria.

With the plus ups that we've gotten now, we're being able to turn and address endemic shortages that have plagued the departments for -- for -- for many years. And that will, in turn, affect our ability to employ forces against North Korea, but also in other places across the globe should we be required to do so.

MS. WHITE: Oh, and to your second question. So, I am aware of this but this is currently under investigations. I -- what I will do is I can come back to you about more details, but this is currently under investigation. I'll need -- and I'll just need to get you more details when I have them.

Q: OK. I am sorry, but I do need to follow-up on this. So your press office has confirmed that this person was granted four contracts by the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment. This is public information that can be found on your own contract website.

So is it -- but you say it's under investigation and I understand that. Are you saying that it is under investigation then that the money he was paid by the Defense Department actually went for real DoD work as opposed to paying him to maintain his informant status? What is it that you're saying when you say under investigation?

MS. WHITE: So first of all, the whole issue of his status and what he was with respect to the FBI, that is under investigation. With respect to the contracts, I just have to see this. I have - I just don't have the details. The press office is correct that they confirmed that there were four contracts.

But I would prefer to come back to you and give you more details. I'm - and I'm - I'll come back to you today, how about that? Louie?

Q: Can I just follow up on a few questions? First on the investigation, I take it to mean that you're saying ...

MS. WHITE: Which - which investigation?

Q: About the individual that Barbara is talking about. I take it to mean that you're saying that there was no DOD investigation of his relationship with the Pentagon, is that correct?

MS. WHITE: Not that I'm aware of, no.

Q: Thank you. And the question is about the - the Punggye-ri nuclear - for the testing facility in North Korea that the North Korea publicly destroyed today. What is the assessment - if I could ask both of you, what is the assessment of the capabilities of that facility today?

And how quickly do you think that it could be brought back to operability if it needed to be?

GEN. MCKENZIE: Sure, so we're looking at - we're looking at pictures of it right now. And we don't have a final assessment, they - they obviously did some visible destruction of entrance to the - to the tunnel. I don't have a better answer for you than that right now.

Except that they've done some visible - visible activities related to destruction. I don't know more than that as we - as we talk right now.

Q: Is that prior into weeks - in the weeks leading up to today as well?

GEN. MCKENZIE: I'm sorry?

Q: Was it - are there destruction of facilities as well in the weeks leading up to today?

GEN. MCKENZIE: We have - we watched preparations for the activity that just occurred, we've been looking at that very closely.

MS. WHITE: Janie

Q: Do you have any - excuse me. Do you have anything about the sharing of details of spending between U.S. and South Korea? Or are you willing to ask South Korea to increase this cost?

MS. WHITE: In terms of the shared cost, burden sharing on the peninsula? Is that your question? So I don't have any further details. Obviously the president has spoken to his counterparts. But I don't have any details about any changes in the relationship at this time. Right here.

Q: Thank you Dana, (inaudible). Can you clarify your statement about being ready to fight tonight, what does that mean? Is it in case you were asked to fight or what? And then on - on Syria, Syrian state media reported yesterday some Syrian armed positions in the Eastern Sea are being attacked or targeted by - by the coalition, led by the U.S.

Can you comment on that, as well?


MS. WHITE: I'll answer your first question and then I'll give it to the general. In terms of fight tonight, it means that the United States military stands ready to defend our interests of this nation and the interest of our allies.

That means - that's what I mean by fight tonight. General?

GEN. MCKENZIE: I have no - I have no reporting that indicates anybody's struck Syrian military position, U.S. or coalition forces.

Q: ... involved in that?

GEN. MCKENZIE: The U.S. is not involved in that.

MS. WHITE: Tony?

Q: Hi, one contract question for you Dana and one Korea question for the General. You said the maximum pressure campaign is going to continue. Have you got any instructions today to ratchet up the maximum pressure campaign in terms of more visible Obama rotations?

And for Dana, a lot of the computer world is waiting for the final RFP for the JEDI Cloud to give - the Defense Department has said they want to get it done by the end of the month, which is coming up next week. Is it on track for an end of the week - end of the month release?

GEN. MCKENZIE: Tony I wouldn't want to speculate on that. It - obviously this is information that's less than three hours old. So I'm not tracking anything, and that would be something I wouldn't be able to speculate on anyway.

Q: Well, (inaudible) going to speculate, but you haven't got any instructions in the last few hours to ratchet up the maximum pressure campaign.

GEN. MCKENZIE: I'm not going to -- that's a future contingency that I'm not going to speculate on.

MS. WHITE: With respect to the RFP, we -- we are very anxious to get it out. I don't have a particular date to give you on when it will be released, but it is -- it is working, and we are -- we're reviewing everything. But I anticipate that it will be released on time.

Q: When you do release it, could you at least give a statement in terms of how it's changed from the draft RFP, and how industry input helped shape the final product?

MS. WHITE: Let me take that.


Q: Thanks. For both of you, one on North Korea, and then one separate topic.

You know, a lot's changed in the last 48 hours. For months, we've heard that China had a critical role in getting North Korea to the table, and then yesterday, its involvement in RIMPAC was canceled, and then today this, the cancellation of the summit. What is the way forward to get any sort of agreement to denuclearize North Korea?

MS. WHITE: The way forward is, frankly, it's -- it's in the hands of the North Koreans, right? As the president already said, he's prepared to talk. His letter says he's -- right, may call me. So -- but our position is we continue the maximum campaign. That hasn't changed for us. We're going to continue to ensure that the alliance is strong, and that we're ready, and that forces are prepared for whatever contingencies.

Q: In terms of disinviting China from RIMPAC, what are kind of the -- the actual consequences of that, and -- and not having them in the full -- even as these other things, like the potential cell phones and some of the other things that have caused China to be disinvited?

MS. WHITE: Well, I -- I think it's important to remember that we will work with China where we can, and we will confront China where we must.

With respect to the disinvite for RIMPAC, that was directly involved because of -- of the militarization of South China Sea. It has to do with the rule of law. And so that was that expression. But again, we'll continue to work with the Chinese, but it's also important that they understand that we take the militarization of international waters very seriously.

Q: Have you been able to talk to the Chinese since then? Are they still going to engage on getting North Korea to potentially denuclearize?

MS. WHITE: I'm not going to speculate on what ongoing talks there could be.

Q: OK, then apologies. Just the -- the separate topic. Last week we talked about the water study at HHS. In the last week or so, there's been some movement on it. But could you just, from the podium, state the Pentagon's official stand on getting this information out to military families?

MS. WHITE: So yes, we want to get all of that information out, but understand that the lead is -- is -- is HHS. But what we have done, with respect to -- this has been an ongoing issue. We have worked with the bases. We have worked with local communities. We've surveyed 524-some-odd installations and their water system, and in the places where we haven't been able to remedy the contaminates -- PFOS and PFOA -- we have provided contingency -- bottled water, municipal links. So we are getting that information out. Those -- that information is also provided in the base newsletters and newspapers, and there's also a website -- which I'm happy to give you after this -- where all of that is listed, and what -- what we have done to mitigate the pollution.

H ans ?

Q: General McKenzie, have you seen any change in behavior from the Chinese, in terms of enforcing sanctions on their northern border?

GEN. MCKENZIE: No, I haven't, but I don't have any detailed information on that. I'll have to come back to you on that. I am not prepared to give you anything more than that.

I think they've been pretty consistent in the application of it, but I don't know that we've seen a change, something I could discuss with you here today.

Q: OK. And then, for both of you in general, we hear a lot about the maximum pressure campaign. Does that include a military component? Or is it just the sanctions side?

MS. WHITE: It's -- it's a whole-of-government approach. I mean, this is sanctions; this is economics; this is diplomatic; this is military. The maximum pressure campaign spans the U.S. government.

Q: Can you flesh out a little bit, then, what the military component of the maximum pressure campaign is?

GEN. MCKENZIE: Certainly. It's the maintenance of high-readiness forces in Korea. It's the deployment of THAAD to Korea. It's the exercises that we continue to conduct with our Korean and Japanese allies. It's a whole variety of things.

And, if I could just expand on that for a moment, we were talking earlier -- I think Tom made a point that you thought the building had done a U-turn in terms of our approach to North Korea. I would argue, from a military point of view, we've been on a very consistent direction that hasn't changed at all.

We're in full support, with the military component of the maximum pressure campaign. But nothing has changed. We didn't ramp up or down as word of this summit began to rise and, now, has ended. We're being very steady, very straight in terms of our preparations, in terms of the readiness that we display. So I don't actually believe we changed anything from the military component vis-a-vis North Korea, going forward.

Q: Thank you, sir.

MS. WHITE: Kasim?

Q: Yeah. Dana, can you say that the secretary recommended President Trump to cancel the summit with Kim Jong-un?

MS. WHITE: What I can say is that the secretary and the president spoke today about the cancellation, and the secretary was aware of the decision.

Q: Also, just a follow-up -- recently, the United States resumed the exercise with Republic of Korea and then Kim Jong-un regime, of course, responded to it -- a heightened (inaudible).

Can you say that -- whether there was an impact of this exercise on the -- the point that we are today?

MS. WHITE: I'm not going to speculate on what factored into the decision-making process on the part of North Korea. I can tell you that we continued our exercises. We will continue our exercises. And we stand in full support of the diplomatic effort that moves ahead.


Q: Thank you. A question for both of you: In light of the cancellation of the summit, is the Pentagon or U.S. Forces Korea taking a second look at whether South Korea should be an accompanied tour -- as in, the dependents of service members should be allowed to live there, given that North Korean artillery can range all U.S. bases in South Korea?

MS. WHITE: General?

GEN. MCKENZIE: Since it just happened four hours ago, I think it would be premature to make any -- to speculate at all about that.

Q: And, earlier this week, the State Department declared that the U.S. is going to do a full-court press against Iran, one of the -- including freedom of navigation. Is the U.S. prepared, if it needs to get into a conflict with the IRGC?

GEN. MCKENZIE: So freedom of navigation, and particularly in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility -- you're talking the Bab-el-Mandeb and you're talking the Strait of Hormuz -- we believe we are prepared to ensure that freedom of navigation can be maintained in those two critical geographic choke points.

Q: How long do you think it would take to sink the Iranian fleet? Days, weeks, hours?

GEN. MCKENZIE: I don't think that's useful speculation.

MS. WHITE: And Joe?

STAFF: Ma’am, we have time for a couple more.

Q: Thank you...


Q: My question is for both of you. If I could get an update about the operation roundup in Eastern Syria, could you confirm that the SDF now are in control of the Syrian-Iraqi border? And what is the right role right now for the ISF in backing the SDF?

GEN. MCKENZIE: Sure. So, first of all, we're very -- we believe that, on the Iraqi side of the border, they pressed up against it pretty -- pretty completely, and we're very satisfied with the way that's developing. In the Euphrates River Valley and Syria, particularly in the -- in the Euphrates River Valley east of the river, operations continue. I don't believe that they've completely closed up against the border, but they're moving in that direction. And after, you know, a pause for a period of time, those operations have now recommenced and are moving.

Q: Can I have one clarification?

Q: Sir, a couple clarifications?


Q: A quick -- sorry -- a quick clarification about the phone call. Did the secretary have his phone call with the president before the decision was made or after the decision was made?

MS. WHITE: Listen, I don't -- I don't know the exact timing. The secretary and the chairman are both out in Colorado Springs. They spoke earlier this morning.

Q: How long were those conversations?

MS. WHITE: I'm not going to -- I'm not going to detail the -- how long they spoke. The secretary was aware and -- and we're moving forward.

Q: For his input or only being notified about it?

MS. WHITE: So the secretary and the president did speak and the secretary was aware of the decision that was -- that was going to be made with respect to the summit. Thank you all very much.