NEWSMAKER: WILLIAM PERRY
SEPTEMBER 17, 1996
The Kuwaitis delayed 24 hours before accepting 3,500 U.S. troops. The Saudis said they never would have allowed those troops into their country. The Turks have refused to allow U.S. planes to fly out of Turkish bases on missions over Iraq. Is the Gulf War coalition falling apart? Secretary of Defense William Perry talks to Jim Lehrer about the fallout from U.S. policy towards Iraq.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
Secretary of Defense William Perry explains the logistics and the politics behind the U.S. military's counterstrike against Saddam Hussein's regime.
Two experts discuss the ramifications of Iraqs invasion of the Kurdish "Safe Haven."
The NewsHour looks at the U.N. decision to lift sanctions against Iraqi oil sales.
The state of Iraq five years after the imposition of sanctions.
Three experts discuss why Saddam Hussein has agreed negotiate the lifting of sanctions on his country.
JIM LEHRER: We go first tonight to a Newsmaker interview on the Iraq situation with the Secretary of Defense, William Perry. He returned last night from a trip to the Persian Gulf region and to Europe. I talked with him this afternoon.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, welcome.
WILLIAM PERRY, Secretary of Defense: Thank you, Jim. It's good to be here again.
JIM LEHRER: The order has been signed to send 3,000 more U.S. troops to Kuwait, is that correct?
SEC. PERRY: Three thousand five hundred, that is correct. I signed the orders yesterday.
JIM LEHRER: Now, what is their purpose? What is their mission?
SEC. PERRY: Well, for 15 years, Jim, Saddam Hussein has been a danger to the region, threatening his neighbors, developing weapons of mass destruction, committing atrocities against his own people, attacking his neighbors. So all of the countries in the region, certainly Kuwait, have every reason to fear him. When the Iraqi government called Kuwait and accused Kuwait of committing an act of war for accepting our F-117's, a very belligerent, very aggressive statement, the Kuwaiti government had some legitimate reason for being concerned. So we have a brigade of heavy armored equipment in Kuwait. We have one battalion of troops with that.
JIM LEHRER: These are infantry.
SEC. PERRY: Infantry--well, mechanized, armed troops.
JIM LEHRER: All right.
SEC. PERRY: And we suggested to them Sunday morning we could round out that brigade, send the troops over, so that there could be a full, heavy armored brigade in the desert, training, ready to go. They considered that offer for less than 24 hours and accepted it. The reason they accepted it, as I said, is because they thought there was a palpable danger. At the same time, we sent a Patriot battery to Kuwait to protect them against missile attack.
JIM LEHRER: Now so, the total brigade is now--that's 5,000 troops, right?
SEC. PERRY: It's just under 5,000 troops.
JIM LEHRER: Just under 5,000. Now, there were reports that the Kuwaitis were reluctant to take these troops. Were those true?
SEC. PERRY: No, not at all true. I met with the Emir, the crown prince, and minister of defense Sunday about noon. I made the offer to send the troops in. And the Emir and the crown prince were very grateful for the offer. They said they needed to review it with their defense council, would do that and get right back to me. That same evening, they reviewed it, and the next morning they called me and said, please send the troops. Now, in-between in that roughly 20 hours of time between when I made the offer and when they--and when they authorized it, there were a blizzard of press reports about the Kuwaitis being hesitant or rejecting the offer. It's nonsense. This is a pretty serious consideration for them; it was not at all unreasonable for them to sit down and discuss it with their defense council before they gave an answer.
JIM LEHRER: One of the reports said that they were annoyed that it was announced by the United States before they gave approval. Did they express annoyance with you about that?
SEC. PERRY: Before they--before they had a chance to express anything when I met with the Emir, the first thing I said to him was I apologized for the leak of that information. What had happened was that on Friday night the President accepted my recommendation to make that offer to send those troops over there, and I immediately sent an alert order to our troops at Fort Hood.
JIM LEHRER: Down in Texas, right?
SEC. PERRY: Down in Texas, so that when the authority did come, when the deployment did come, they would be ready to go. And one of our overzealous public affairs people misunderstood the alert order to be the deployment order, and so it was a mistake. It should not have been announced. Therefore, when I got to Kuwait, the firs thing I did was apologize for that premature release.
JIM LEHRER: That flap is now over?
SEC. PERRY: That's all over. There's nothing to it.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Now, but the flap did contribute to this idea that many Americans have that for some reason the people that we're over there to help don't want our help because the Saudis, a Saudi government official even said today that the United--that the Saudis certainly wouldn't have let those troops in there, and there are all kinds of reports like that. What's going on, Mr. Secretary?
SEC. PERRY: I have--in my eight years in government, Jim, I have never seen such a discrepancy between the reality--the facts on the ground and the perception on this issue. One of the reasons I wanted to go to the region and talk with all of the heads of states of these countries was to get a first-hand estimate of what is going on, where does the coalition stand. And I can tell you the coalition is alive and well. They, first of all, and most importantly--I discussed with each of--and let me just summarize--I talked with the, the--all of the leaders in Saudi Arabia, from the king, crown prince, minister of defense, all of those equivalent leaders in Bahrain, all of them in Kuwait, the key government officials in Turkey, and the British and French minister of defense, so I have a very current and very authoritative view of what the--what the coalition believes today. They all believe that Saddam Hussein is--threatens the stability of the region, is a danger to his neighbors, is a danger to the free flow of oil in the world. They believe there is a danger that he will develop weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, chemical, biological weapons. And they all believe that the military presence of the United States is key to containing him and is crucial to containing him, and that the linchpin of that military operation is what we call Operation Southern Watch, which is the enforcement of the no-fly zone over Southern Iraq. That is absolutely the key element of our strategic interest, all of those countries committed to sustaining Operation Southern Watch in its expanded form for the indefinite future.
JIM LEHRER: But they don't all support the use of the firing of the missiles against the Iraqi targets by the United States, did they?
SEC. PERRY: Some of--some of those countries are needed for the execution of strike. Most of them are not. Those that are needed supported it. The--
JIM LEHRER: The Turks said they wouldn't allow planes to fly from there for these strikes, did they not?
SEC. PERRY: We did not request--
JIM LEHRER: You didn't request it, okay.
SEC. PERRY: The Turks--had no intention of requesting--the Turks are not needed, not necessary for this operation. So--we didn't request the Japanese government either, they're not needed for the operation. But the countries that are needed for the support of Operation Southern Watch all committed to it, those that are needed for the--any strike we might have to make. I want to emphasize, though, we don't want to make any more strikes, and I hope we do not have to. We have sent a warning to the Iraqi government. The warning says do not take threatening actions against our air crews. If you do that, there will be very serious consequences. But I hope and I believe that they will take that warning seriously, and there will not be threatening actions against our crews.
JIM LEHRER: Have there been any indications one way or the other in the last say two or three days?
SEC. PERRY: Yes. In the last two or three days, many of the things they had been doing last week they stopped doing. They have not fired any more SA-6's. That's the mobile missile that they had in the area. The have fired six of those over a period of three or four days.
JIM LEHRER: This was at U.S. planes, right?
SEC. PERRY: Well, presumably U.S. planes. None of them came even close.
JIM LEHRER: But they were in the no-fly zone, right?
SEC. PERRY: They were in--we had planes in the no-fly zone at the time they fired.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. All right.
SEC. PERRY: So we presume that they thought they were firing at U.S. planes. They were not close. They were no immediate danger to us, but they expressed an intent to fire at U.S. planes, and, therefore, they could become a danger.
JIM LEHRER: If there have been no signs of any hostile acts in the last two or three days, why then are we sending the 3500 new troops?
SEC. PERRY: The threatening actions involve more than firing missiles. The threatening actions have to do with the deployment of their air defense systems on the ground, have to do with other things they have done in the past that we consider threatening. We consider it threatening if they illuminate our aircraft with the radar, even if they don't fire a missile. So there--
JIM LEHRER: Explain that, illuminate--in other words, they turn the radar system on?
SEC. PERRY: These are guided--their surface-to-air missiles are guided missiles. They require radar to track the airplane, and then guide the surface-to-air missile to the airplane. The reason the FA-6's were fired wildly was they did not turn on the radar. The reason they don't turn on the radar is because we have anti-radiation missiles, and their air defense crews on the ground have learned that's very dangerous to turn on their radars.
JIM LEHRER: Let me make sure I understand what you're saying, Mr. Secretary. If the Iraqi government through its defense commands or through troops--troop movements, or whatever, does nothing else up to this point than what they've done up till now, the U.S. contemplates no military action, is that right? In other words, the status quo is okay as we sit here?
SEC. PERRY: We will take no further military actions if they do not threaten our air crews, and there are many things they could do to threaten our air crews. I don't want to catalogue them all.
JIM LEHRER: But they're not doing it as we speak?
SEC. PERRY: There are some things they have to do differently than they are doing right now in terms of a deployment of their forces on the ground. They know what those are, we know what they are, and we will be watching very carefully to see that they do them. There are some things they have to refrain from doing. Those are obvious, like firing missiles at our airplanes and turning on their target tracking radars. So they understand very clearly what they have to do and what they have to refrain from doing, and we will be watching very, very carefully to see that they follow those.
JIM LEHRER: Well, what I'm suggesting is that it would take a new, a brand new overt act on their part in order to trigger another missile response from us?
SEC. PERRY: No. It's more than that, Jim. It would also require them to refrain from doing some things they're doing right now, some deployments they have right now. JIM LEHRER: So they're still under the threat of another missile--
SEC. PERRY: They're still under the threat.
JIM LEHRER: --attack.
SEC. PERRY: But I want to emphasize, I want to emphasize, we are not seeking to take any more military action. We have given them fair warning. We hope that they will comply with that warning. I expect they will comply with that warning.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. McCain, among others have suggested that the end result of all of this, where we sit here today, is that Saddam Hussein won. I mean, he's got--with his-the Kurd faction that he supported in the North, they now occupy that. He's way ahead of the game. Do you agree with that assessment?
SEC. PERRY: I don't agree with that at all. First of all, it is quite premature to say what is going to happen to the Kurds in the North. Secondly, our interest in the Kurds in the North is not a vital national security interest. It's a humanitarian interest. That's why we are concerned about the Kurds. And we maintain that humanitarian interest, and we continue to pursue it. As recently as yesterday I was in Turkey with Assistant Secretary Pellitoe. He is staying on to work with the Turks to find ways to improve the humanitarian situation of the Kurds in the North. But our vital interests are in the South, in the South where they have the danger of coercing or attacking neighbors in the South, as they did in Kuwait--we do not believe for a moment that Saddam Hussein has given up his ambitions in that direction, and we also have vital interest in the development of chemical and biological and nuclear weapons. Only the military force we have there, only the maintenance of the no-fly zone, Operation Southern Watch, gives us a way of controlling that. It gives us enormous leverage. What we have done is extended that no-fly zone--
JIM LEHRER: As a result of his actions.
SEC. PERRY: As a result of his actions, he has lost strategically very substantially because that no-fly zone and no-drive zone prevents him from massing his forces, prevents him from training in the South, prevents him from doing things which he could do to invade or to move to the South. It's a very substantial restriction on him.
JIM LEHRER: But what would you say finally, Mr. Secretary, to those who suggest that the message to Saddam Hussein is just the opposite, you want--you want to take the North, you can take the North, we'll fool around in the South, but as long as you do--as long as you do those kinds of things, you're still free to act?
SEC. PERRY: The message to Saddam Hussein is if you threaten our vital national security interests, you will be facing military action from the United States. That is the message which he has and which he has very, very clearly, I believe.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.
SEC. PERRY: Thank you, Jim.