News Briefings

DoD News Briefing

Thursday, December 3, 1998 - 1:30 p.m.
Presenter: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA


Q: On North Korea. I was wondering if you could comment first on the Pentagon's response or any steps that might be taken following North Korean threats yesterday of putting its forces on alert over this issue of their second nuclear site, as well as what the latest estimate is on when they may test another missile?

A: I don't want to get into intelligence estimates or analysis. I've certainly read many reports in the press that there's an expectation that North Korea may test another missile this month. It's the third day of the month, I guess time will tell.

We know that they have tested missiles in the past and assume they'll test missiles in the future, so it wouldn't be hugely surprising if they were to have another test. It would, however, be very disappointing if they were to test again because we've urged them not to proceed with tests, and we've urged them not to proceed with missile sales to other countries as well. And we will continue to urge them against further tests because we think it's destabilizing.

Q: [Jeremy] seemed to be steering people away from that imminent test yesterday at the State Department briefing yesterday. Without going into intelligence details, can you tell us have there been any signs that they might be preparing for a test soon?

A: You mean like public newspaper articles in the North Korean press? (Laughter)

Q: No. Have there been any signs that North Korea...

A: How can I do that without going into intelligence details? I just think that certainly there are a lot of newspaper reports suggesting that they're preparing for another test. I can't confirm those reports and I can't talk about our own intelligence analysis.

Q:...of my question about the North Korean Press Agency yesterday came out with a story that said that North Korean forces were being put on alert to go to war with the United States should it come to that over the suspected nuclear weapon site that we want to get access to. Have there been any changes in the status of our forces in South Korea in response to that?

A: First of all, the North Korean forces have recently started their winter training exercise which they undertake at about this time of year annually.

Second, they from time to time make bellicose statements suggesting that they're about to be attacked. I'm not aware that there's any basis for these statements right now. They may be doing this more for internal reasons than for eternal reasons. I can't psychoanalyze the North Koreans and the public statements they make.

Third, our forces in South Korea are very alert all the time. We monitor what the North Koreans are doing and I'm not aware at this stage that there is anything out of the ordinary going on beyond the winter training exercises that usually take place at this time of the year.

Fourth, were the North Koreans to miscalculate and take some unfortunately provocative action, we would be ready to respond very quickly and very decisively.

Q: Some of the North Korean statements by the North Korean military were directed at this new military strategy that calls for, U.S. military strategy that apparently calls for an offensive response in case of attack rather than just repelling a North Korean assault. Has the U.S. briefed the North Koreans in any general sense on any... on what their strategy is now...any changes in it?

A: We do not have a practice of briefing the North Koreans on our military posture or strategy. (Laughter)

Q: Well, --

A: And I'm not aware that we've started recently. But let me address the bigger issue.

There was a newspaper story alleging a new operating plan or strategy toward North Korea. I'm not aware that that was an accurate account. I'm not aware that it was accurate.

Q: You're not aware it's accurate.

A: Right.

Q: One of the things that report said is that the outline for this plan would be briefed in, or would be laid out to the North Korean in generals talks. Has that...

A: There haven't been any recent generals talks that I'm aware of. There were some talks. I don't think there have been any recent ones.

Q: Will there be one sometime tomorrow?

A: No.

Q: In New York?

A: Tomorrow there will be talks in New York, but those are over access to the underground facilities that we want to analyze.

Q: Drawing from the Washington Post article, today's, the 3rd, it says how does the United States respond to the general staff of North Korean's People's Army saying that Washington was heightening tension by demanding inspections and talks aimed at preventing North Korea from developing nuclear weapons and long range missiles, that it's our fault that there are heightened tensions.

A: I think that's balderdash.

Q: One of the Defense Ministers in North Korea said something along the lines of our People's Army will blow up the U.S. territory as a whole if the U.S. starts a war on the peninsula.

A: We don't talk about operating plans. We have a very significant military force in South Korea to protect the South Koreans and to protect our interests. That's all I can say about it.