DoD News Briefing

Tuesday, June 17, 1997 - 1:30 p.m.
Captain Mike Doubleday, USN, DASD (PA)


Q: Can we ask you a little bit about Secretary Cohen's statement this morning in Bahrain about the latest Iranian military capability, an air-launched version of the anti-ship cruise missile? How much does this increase Iran's military capability in the Gulf?

A: This is another step in the program that Iran has underway to expand its military capabilities. What the Secretary said this morning was that certainly by words and by actions, Iran suggests that it wants to be able to intimidate neighbors and to interrupt commerce in the Gulf. The Secretary also made it clear that the United States was present in the region and has been for many, many years as part of our policy to make sure that this doesn't happen.

With regard to the overall program, I think you're aware that the Iranians have possessed cruise missiles for over a decade. Last year, I think they had used ground-launched cruise missiles during the Iran/Iraq War, and in fact one of the missiles struck a freighter during the war, and I think you recall that incident.

Last year the Iranians acquired their first ship-launched version which was a Chinese missile called the C-802, and with this latest test they have started working on another version which is called the C-801 which is a version which is fired from aircraft.

The tests that took place recently occurred on the 3rd of June, and then there was a second test on the 6th of June. Again, what this was, was an air-launched cruise missile. It was fired from F-4 aircraft.

We, of course, have the capability to track their cruise missiles and in fact to destroy cruise missiles in the region if they pose a threat to us, but these were tests.

Q: This gives them a new dimension of capability, though, does it not? And is it not a significant concern?

A: It certainly provides an additional arrow in the quiver, but at this point they're working in the test phase. As I understand it, the tests were conducted against barges which were reflector barges, which enhanced the signature of the target.

Q: Did this test violate any U.S. policy, any international law, any arms agreements? And the second part of the question, does the export of this technology, these missiles from China, violate any agreements, U.S. policy or sanctions or anything like that? Was there any violation by Iran in testing these missiles? And any violation by China in exporting them to Iran?

A: Let me first say that as Secretary Cohen pointed out today, the concern that he had and that the United States has with regard to Iran is that they have a track record of exporting terrorism, of at least sounding belligerent toward neighbors, of talking in terms of closing down the Strait of Hormuz, all of which does not certainly signal very peaceful motives on the part of the Iranians.

We also acknowledge that any country has the right to self defense, and as far as I know the acquisition of these missiles does not violate any international arms agreements.

Q: What is your assessment about why they have acquired them? And do you have any idea how many they've acquired?

A: At this point I just want to say once again that these were some tests that were done, the initial tests. I can't give you any idea of how many missiles they actually have.

With regard to what their overall motives are, I think that basically the Iranians are interested in developing a military that can counter any other military in the region; and as I say, they have made statements which certainly would give one the impression that they also may, at some point, wish to intimidate their neighbors. They also were embarked on the development of weapons of mass destruction, which is a concern that we've had for some time, and a concern which has been voiced by the Secretary, the Deputy Secretary, and others in the Administration over many years.

Q: Doesn't this beg the question of sanctions against China?

A: As you know, we watch very closely the transfer of arms technology worldwide, and certainly we are concerned about the transfer of technology that is in violation of international arms agreements. My belief, however, in this particular case, is that this particular weapon does not, but it is of concern to us from a broader perspective simply because it shows an increase in the capability on the part of a country that does not have a track record that could be called peaceful.

Q: You said in this particular case, but what about the case cited in today's Washington Times which talks about Chinese missile technology of a different sort, a land-based short range ballistic missile capability?

A: As I said, we continue to watch these developments. We continue to watch very closely the transfer of this technology. But we are not in a position at this point to make any judgment about the extent of the transfer and any possible reaction that we may have with regard to the Chinese.

Q: Does the U.S. Government still believe that Iran is sponsoring terrorism at a fairly vigorous level, even though they now have had elections and a more moderate element has come into power.

A: I don't think at this point the moderate element that you're talking about has had the length of time to take effect with regard to policy. As far as I know, there has been no radical shift in certainly any actions they have taken with regard to terrorism, and to my knowledge they have not voiced any change with regard to terrorism.

What the Secretary has said with regard to Iran is that he was optimistic that the change in leadership would signal a change in their overall policy, but he is also skeptical.

Q: You said a minute ago that the United States has the ability to track these missiles and to destroy them if necessary. Is it fair to say that from this increased capability, if indeed that's what it is, we don't see it as any threat to American ships.

A: I just want to make it clear that we are watching this very carefully. We have forces in the region. The Secretary made it very clear in his press conference today that we intend to be there as long as we and our friends in the region feel it's necessary for U.S. military presence to be there. We maintain a very robust military presence in the region, and we will continue to watch developments on the Iranian front just like we do with the Iraqis.

Q: We don't regard this as any more of a threat than the Iranians already present to...

A: We regard this, as I mentioned before, as another arrow in their quiver. It is certainly something that we are going to be watching very carefully.

Q: With the anniversary of Khobar Towers almost upon us, does the U.S. Government have a clear picture of the culpability of Iran in that affair? There have been hints by Secretary Perry, by Secretary Cohen, by Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright. What is the state of thought on Khobar Towers and Iran?

A: The state of thought on Khobar Towers is that this is a matter that is still being investigated and that no final conclusions have been made.

Q: This morning at Senate hearings on economic espionage, the question of technology transfer to nations like China it was stated that there were DoD officials who had things to say on these matters and they were prevented from saying them to that committee in one form or another, and I wonder if you have any clarification. To your knowledge has there been any DoD policy to prevent people in the Department from speaking on these questions to congressional committees or...

A: No, as far as I know any time a congressional committee asks for someone to come up to testify, we provide people to go up and testify. I think you're also aware that we in the Department watch and are part of an inter-agency review of technology that is to be transferred to various countries overseas, but I am not aware of anybody who has been muzzled in connection with a hearing up there on the Hill.

Q: There were some reports that American-made technology, especially with guidance systems for missiles, has been transferred to China, and in return, those missiles are being shipped and sold to Iran and Pakistan or other countries. Is there any truth or evidence of American-made technology finding its way to Chinese missiles?

A: For guidance systems for missiles? Not that I'm aware of. I'd be willing to take the question and see if anybody has any further information, but I'm certainly not aware of anything like that.

Q: On the missile, is this missile a missile that only can be fitted with F-4 aircraft or other...

A: I can't say. The test was conducted using F-4 aircraft.

Q: Is there any information that they are using other aircraft to be fitted with this...

A: I don't know at this point.

Q: Are they American-made F-4s?

A: As far as I know, we're the only ones that ever made F-4s.

Q: Where was the test conducted?

A: I can't specify the exact location. I don't happen to know. It was in the Gulf region, though.

Q: How are the Iranians obtaining their spare parts and weapons for the F-4?

A: I don't know. We can see if we can take the question. They may have used a little reverse engineering.

Q: Do you have offhand in your briefing--in your notes there--the percentage of the world's oil supply passing through the Strait of Hormuz these days?

A: No, but I'm sure that we could get that for you. It's a significant portion. [Answer: 20 percent.]