THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Aboard The Bus On The Road To The 21st Century) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release August 31, 1996
PRESS BRIEFING BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL
On Bus En Route
8:47 A.M. CDT
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me just tell you just what we know. I can't tell you much about this. Everyone is reporting this morning some stuff involving the Vincent and the Enterprise and some other contingencies that the Pentagon has been describing.
Q Is the Vincent an aircraft carrier?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. I think the Vincent has been in the Persian Gulf and the Enterprise has been underway in the Eastern Med. And there are some reports this morning and some sources out of the Pentagon indicating that they might move it through the Suez and down to the Red Sea.
Look, I want to be honest with you, I will not be a very reliable indicator of where hardware is today. You really need to be in touch with your Pentagon reporters on that kind of subject today. We're going to stay -- what I was going to do on background was just tell you a little bit about -- since I can't do any intelligence information, I can at least tell you what we believe our understanding of the situation is. Most of your papers have already reported this today.
Q Are you able to say there have been naval movements, however, without being specific?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not confirming anything about movements, mostly because I'd want to make sure we get that absolutely right. I can try to get some more on that later on today, just so you know what is being told -- maybe some of your colleagues.
What we've got on background, what we're looking at is about three tank divisions that have been moved up to the north over the course of the last several weeks. They seem mostly from Republican Guard units, so most of them are elite units. It's a large --
Q Are these divisions or brigades?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Three divisions, so we're talking about a potential force of 30,000 to 40,000. They've got tanks, other armored vehicles. They've got a lot of artillery, the possibility of some surface-to-air missiles, as well.
They've been issued live ammunition and that is very rare, because Saddam Hussein is not exactly trustful of his military. So when -- and they don't routinely train with any live fire exercises. They have not, to our knowledge, violated the no-fly zone. The no-fly zone, as you know from the 1991 demarkation, extends above the 36th Parallel and we've enforced that robustly. We haven't seen any indications that they are violating that. But this is an unusual situation.
We haven't seen this type of military activity since 1991. And this is a more expensive deployment than the one that we dealt with down in the south in October of 1994, when we made a feint towards Kuwait.
We have issued repeated warnings to Iraq, including one earlier this week through our mission in the United Nations, that they would be making a very serious mistake if they resumed any repression of Kurdish minorities in the North. But that build-up has been -- has continued now, despite the warning that we gave them. And the President, as I said, has ordered preparations for any contingency and we've made clear that we would consider a very grave matter any operations against the Kurds.
As to what we think is really going on and what Saddam is thinking or what he's doing, you know, he never misses an opportunity to miscalculate and it is hard to understand his motives at this point. There's not much indication that he'd be able to consolidate his position in the North, nor is there much evidence that he would be able to assist any of the rival factions in the North to the degree that he could have an outcome that would help him. There's been some involvement that we know of from Iran, but that is not by any means extensive, and it certainly wouldn't be a justification for any move of this magnitude.
But Turkey has interests in the North, so does Iran, so does Iraq. Iran and Iraq have basically used the Kurds over many, many years as pawns in their own disagreements. And there's some possibility that might be reflected in some of the things we're seeing now. But it's a very complicated situation, of course now made much more complicated by the fact that the KDP, with whom the United States has had contact through Operation Provide Comfort presence in Kurdistan, has now invited Saddam to come deal with the situation they face as they do some -- as they have conflict with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the PUK.
So it is not a clear -- certainly not a clear cut situation at this point, and the reports that we're getting are certainly complex.
Q But isn't a clear implication of what you're saying as an official that the U.S. is prepared to use military force to stop Iraq from any aggressive action against the Kurds?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I am not ruling in or out any of the contingencies that we must develop in light of the situation on the ground. The President will have to examine this situation closely. We've got a high level review going on within our government of both options and contingencies and evaluating what we believe to be the situation on the ground, since the reports themselves are somewhat contradictory and confusing.
Q The President has been briefed about this, as you say, for some time. What orders has he given?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, he gave the orders necessary for things to happen yesterday. I'm not going to detail those for you, but they involve some change in our force posture in the region, both in the Eastern Med and in the Gulf. And I'll leave it to the Pentagon to address.
Q If, indeed, the KDP did invite the Iraqis in, does that change the scheme of things here? I mean, does it in fact -- could it be that they are there with some justification then?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, we are examining that statement very carefully. We don't think there's any justification for a provocative build-up of this nature, but it certainly does make the situation confusing.
There has been fighting there. There has been fighting back and forth between the factions. It would not be accurate to say this is a very clear cut case of aggression, but it is a provocative maneuver that we take very seriously.
Q The situation may be politically confusing, but militarily we have overflight capability and don't we know from our overflights exactly what's happening militarily, where the Iraqis are, how many there are?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You're, on a Saturday morning real early, testing me to see if I'd be dumb enough to answer that question, right?
Q And the answer is? (Laughter.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The answer is, as always the answer, we don't ever discuss intelligence capacities that we have.
END 8:54 A.M. CDT