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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Tracking Number:  436361

Title:  In his May 7 Defense Department briefing the Department spokesman discussed US policy on the use of nuclear weapons against a Libyan chemical weapons plant, Libyan military capability. (960508)

Date:  19960508



Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Kenneth Bacon held the regular Tuesday briefing for the press at the Pentagon May 7.

Following is the official transcript from Defense Link:

(begin transcript)

QUESTION: Ken, I'd like to ask you to maybe clear up some confusion, perhaps anguish, on U.S. policy on the use of nuclear weapons. The SecDef told Congress that the United States wouldn't rule out anything in its arsenal to respond to a direct attack on the United State by nuclear, biological, chemical weapons. That seems to have raised some anguish among arms control advocates. The United States might use nuclear weapons in response to a chemical attack. And number two, the question that's been begged on whether or not the United States might use a nuclear weapon to destroy the Tarhunah facility given the fact that there's no conventional weapon yet to be able to do that. Could you address those two for me?

ANSWER: Yes, I'd be glad to. There has been some confusion about this in the press and I'm glad to be able to clear it up. The Secretary actually spoke about this very forthrightly at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama about ten days ago, April 26th, when he was down there giving a speech on nuclear non- proliferation issues. And I can give you a copy of what he said. But let me just walk you through it. The Tarhunah Plant being built in Libya is one that we oppose as a dangerous initiative, and we have launched a diplomatic effort to prevent that plant from being built. That involves talking to neighboring countries to bring it to the attention of our NATO allies, publicizing the fact that the plant's being built -- you saw that in the proliferation report for instance -- there was actually an artist rendering of the plant and a description of the plant. We think this plant is, as I said, a dangerous initiative and should not be built.

Our first line of defense against that plant is to prevent it from being built using diplomatic and economic means. We started to do that. We have several years before we, at least a year before we, believe that plant is in operation. So we have plenty of time to work on diplomatic and economic initiatives before we even consider using military options. Should military options be necessary, we can accomplish this with conventional means.

There is no consideration to using nuclear weapons and any implication that we would use nuclear weapons against this plant preemptively is just wrong. And that's what the Secretary said at Maxwell Air Force Base if I can just read his comment directly. He said that "preventive action to keep the Libya plant from coming on line is something that can be done first through diplomacy. We've made a -- we have a good period of time in which we can apply that diplomacy including coercive diplomacy. If that fails," the Secretary said, "then we can consider military actions. That would not need to be and I would never recommend nuclear weapons for that particular application. So any application that we would use, any implication that we would use nuclear weapons for that purpose is just wrong." So, you can get a copy of this on your way out.

Q: Can you give us an impression on that first, for that purpose, you mean not just Libya but any suggestion the United States would use nuclear weapons in order to keep someone from producing chemical or biological weapons is wrong in general?

A: We have, as the Secretary and Assistant Secretary Carter and General Hughes explained here a couple of weeks ago, a very robust counterproliferation program. One of the goals of the counterproliferation program is to develop methods -- diplomatic, economic, as well as military -- to prevent proliferation threats.

We have a wide range of options already. We're developing a wider range of options, conventional options to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. We are focusing on developing and enhancing our current conventional methods for preventing proliferation of the production of weapons of mass destruction if necessary.

Q: Is that a yes or no?

A: That's my answer.

Q: Just to be clear. Are you willing -- are you now ruling out the use of nuclear weapons to prevent the plant at Tarhuna from coming into operation?

A: The Secretary has said that this is not necessary. We do not believe that nuclear weapons would be necessary to be used in a preemptive way against a plant like this. We have a wide range of conventional weapons. But before we get there, we are using diplomatic and other methods to deal with that. Barbara?

Q: Typically, this building never always sends the questions like this. "We never rule anything in. We never rule anything out." And you have always, as a military policy, kept all your options open as far as I know. So, I'm curious to what has caused the Department to change this very public position? What is the motivating factor behind making these statements?

A: The motivating factor behind making these statements is there's been confusion in the press over this. We're talking about -- we are talking about a very limited situation here. The possibility of preemptive action against a chemical weapons plant. We are not suggesting that nuclear weapons would be used in that case. We think we have plenty of conventional options for dealing with that. But our first line of defense, our first line of preventive defense, is diplomacy. Diplomacy has worked in this connection before. We believe it will work again. We're not trying to saber-rattle in this. We want to be very clear. We are not talking about using nuclear weapons against the Tarhunah Plant. I don't know how to say it more clearly than that.

Q: What about the larger question. Secretary Perry has clearly on several occasions said that the United States while not specify what its reaction would be -- would not rule out the use of nuclear weapons if the United States came under a direct attack from chemical or weapons of mass destruction. Does that statement prima-facie or undercut the agreement that the United States has made in the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in promising no first use of nuclear weapons?

A: The statement that President Bush has made, Secretary Cheney has made, Secretary Perry has made, is that we would respond to the use of weapons of mass destruction against us or our forces with overwhelming and devastating force. I think that phrase speaks for itself and doesn't need further explanation. However, the Secretary has also spoke about that at Maxwell Air Force Base where he said, "in every situation that I have seen so far, nuclear weapons would not be required for response. That is, we could have a devastating response without the use of nuclear weapons, but we would not forswear that possibility." This is also in the same statement that you can get on the way out.

Q: I understand the development issue of conventional weapons against that plant, as you addressed at the podium, is we don't have conventional weapons right now that could destroy that plant. I understand there are weapons under development as you've spoken of before. I presume then from your statement this afternoon those developmental weapons will be finished before this plant is open.

A: The goal is not to have to use weapons against the plant. The goal is to stop the plant through diplomatic and other means short of using weapons. That's what we're striving to do. We've launched that effort. We will continue the effort. Steve?

Q: But that's not -- excuse me. But if that's not successful, your backup is conventional weaponry.

A: We have a wide and growing range of conventional weapons. As I said earlier, the key to effective counterproliferation is not to be backed into a situation where you have only one weapon, one and only weapon, one and only one weapon that you can use against such a challenge. And that's why we are developing a range of weapons. We have talked about those. I've talked about those from up here before. Ash Carter has talked about them. You know basically what they involve. We're constantly evolving new weapons for new purposes. But here, the point to make is we're looking to deal with this diplomatically.


Q: Libya has used chemical weapons before. Do they currently have any manufacturing capacity for chemical weapons?

A: I'm just -- I do not believe they do, but I'm not certain about that. We'll try to get an answer to that.

Q: Ken?

A: Yes.

Q: Has there been any indication recently, particularly since Secretary Perry has discussed the Tarhunah plant, any indication of any decline of activity there or change in the face of activity?

A: Not that I'm aware of.

Q: I just want to come back to something you said and this is not talking about the Tarhunah Plant, but just in response to what the U.S. position is should the U.S. come under attack from weapons of mass destruction. You said, and quoted Secretary Perry as saying, the U.S. does not forswear this possibility, the use of nuclear weapons. What does that say to the countries who signed the NPT with the understanding that the United States was forswearing the use of nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state that the signatory to that agreement?

A: I think the important thing to realize is we have always -- we have always had the -- always maintained the ability to respond in such situations with overwhelming and devastating force. I think that statement speaks for itself.

Q: But it doesn't answer the question of whether the United States should swear off the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states that are signatories to the NPT? Didn't the United States agree to that in that treaty?

A: Well, you can read the NPT. I'm not an expert. I'm not a lawyer. What our position is consistent with what we said all the way along that we reserve the right to respond with overwhelming and devastating force in response to an attack by weapons of mass destruction against us or our forces. Other questions?

Q: A new topic?

A: Sure.

Q: This comes out of sort of left field.

..... NNNN

File Identification:  05/08/96, EUR303; 05/08/96, TXT301; 05/08/96, LEF302; 05/08/96, NEA305
Product Name:  Wireless File
Product Code:  WF
Document Type:  TRA
Thematic Codes:  1DE; 1EU; 1NE
Target Areas:  EU; AR; NE
PDQ Text Link:  436361
USIA Notes:  *96050801.txt

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