DoD News Briefing

Tuesday, April 21, 1998 - 1:45 p.m. (EDT)
Captain Mike Doubleday, DASD (PA)

Captain Mike Doubleday, DASD (PA)

Captain Doubleday: Welcome to the briefing.

I have no announcements, so let me try and answer some questions.

A team of U.S. government specialists is on the ground in T'bilisi helping the government of Georgia better secure its nuclear material. This effort is part of our continuing cooperation with states of the former Soviet Union to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Because the operation is ongoing I will not be able to provide any further details at this time.

Q: Can you just confirm the amounts?

A: I want to leave it right where it is.

Q: How about any... Can you define whether there's U.S. military involvement?

A: Well, it's actually... When I say a team of U.S. government, it's an interagency team that includes representatives from several departments of the executive branch.

Q: What about the issue of prospective buyers for this nuclear material? Can you talk about who has been interested, if any actual offers have been made?

A: I think just in general, without referring to this specifically, I think you're well aware that the policy of the United States over the past several years since, in fact, the breakup of the Soviet Union, has been to try and do whatever we can to try and prevent the proliferation of these weapons of mass destruction and it is our concern that in the aftermath of the breakup -- that the weapons should certainly be controlled. We've already taken steps, in that regard, to remove weapons from four of the republics that had them before to Russia, to destroy a large number of the weapons. So that's kind of the overall context in which we're working here.

We have concerns that there are nations and perhaps groups that may be interested in getting their hands on such material, and that's why we've taken these steps in the past.

Q: Are we buying this material from the government of Georgia?

A: I will leave it until the operation is completed before I get into a full briefing on exactly what we're going to do with the material.

Q: the end of this week that you'll be able to get into that? A: I hope it will he very soon.

Q: Do you have concerns about their safety? Is that the problem?

A: I think that we're always concerned in any kind of sensitive operation about the safety and security of the individuals who are involved. We've taken steps in this case, as we do always, but you can certainly understand that I'm not going to detail what those steps are.

Q: Did you have a credible threat or is this just a general concern because of the atmosphere in Georgia?

A: To my knowledge it's a general concern that we would take in any kind of a situation like this.

Q: Was there something in particular that set off alarm bells in this particular instance?

A: I am not aware of anything that has set off alarm bells other than the fact, as I say, we're always very sensitive to the security in these kinds of operations.

Q: Have there been other similar operations in any of the other countries of the former Soviet Union?

A: I think you're aware that back in 1994 we conducted an operation with [the] Department of Energy to remove weapons grade enriched uranium from Kazakhstan.

Q: How much did we get from that?

A: Six hundred kilograms.

Q: And how much is believed by DoD to be in Georgia currently?

A: I don't have a figure that I can give you right now, a total figure.

Q: How about a ball park estimate? Is it as much as was removed from Kazakhstan?

A: I think it's considerably less than that.

Q: Can you tell us something about the stability or lack of it in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia?

A: I don't want to get into a characterization other than to say that I think some of the events of the recent past speak for themselves, and we have taken action that is appropriate to what we believe to be the security situation.

Q: This was something that the government of Georgia wanted to have done for some time, right?

A: As I say, I don't want to talk about this specific operation until it's been completed. And I will tell you now that we will provide somewhere here in Washington a full briefing on the operation when we can.

Q: Slightly more generally speaking, not having to do specifically with this uranium, is there a concern that particular government rogue nations or independent groups are actively shopping around in the former Soviet Republics for nuclear materials?

A: I cannot give you specifics on that other than to say in general we know there are certainly nations and groups that could be interested in this kind of material, and we've taken steps in this particular case to maintain security. But overall, that is the purpose of our Cooperative Threat Reduction program -- which is to ensure that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is under control and that we put an end to it in any way we can.

Q: Are there other developments like this under negotiation with other former Soviet Republics?

A: I think you can understand that if there are, I would not be able to talk about them. And I frankly have no specifics that I have been made aware of.

Q: On a somewhat related subject, are you aware of press reports coming from Israel, I believe it was the week before last, and do you have any comment? The reports basically were saying government sources within Israel, there had been a secret report leaked or something about four tactical nuclear weapons having been sold or transferred, at least, to the possession of the Iranians during the breakup of the Soviet Union in '91, '92. Does that ring a bell?

A: Frankly, the way you describe it does not ring a bell. There have been reports similar to that which we have discussed here -- Ken has discussed over the last couple of weeks, about which we had absolutely no confirmation. But the way you describe it, I've never read those reports.

Q: Something coming out of Israel to the effect that Iran has tactical nuclear weapons.

A: I'm not aware and I have no information on that.


Press: Thank you.