News

04 November 1997

TRANSCRIPT: U.S. BUYS MOLDOVAN NUCLEAR CAPABLE MIG-29 FIGHTERS

(Part of Cooperative Threat Reduction Initiative) (1970)



Washington -- Secretary of Defense William Cohen announced November 4
that the United States would buy 21 advanced nuclear capable MiG-29
fighters from Moldova as part of the Cooperative Threat Reduction
Initiative.


Cohen said, "this is a joint effort by both governments to ensure that
these dual-use military weapons do not fall into the hands of
countries that might use them against us, our friends or allies."


Cohen praised the Moldovan government for taking this step, saying,
"the agreement regarding these MiGs contributes to the enhanced
climate of trust in relations between Moldova and the United States,
and I want to personally extend my thanks to President Lucinski and
Minister of Defense Pasad."


The Cooperative Threat Reduction Initiative, according to Cohen, "has
made remarkable progress in reducing, controlling, and eliminating the
greatest potential security threat to Americans, and that is the
proliferation of weapons of mass destruction from the former Soviet
Union." He added that among the "achievements [of the program] are the
denuclearization of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine; the removal from
Kazakhstan and the safe storage in the United States of some 600
kilograms of weapons grade highly enriched uranium; and the enhanced
security, control, and accounting of nuclear weapons and fissile
materials in Russia."


Following is the transcript of the Defense Department briefing:



(Begin transcript)



DoD News Briefing



Tuesday, November 4, 1997 - 2 p.m.

Subject: Cooperative Threat Reduction Initiative


---------------------------------------------------------------------------
Mr. Bacon: After Secretary Cohen completes his statement he'll take a
question or two, and then Jeff Star is here from the Cooperative
Threat Reduction Program and he will brief on background and answer
additional questions.


Secretary Cohen: It gives me a great deal of pleasure to announce
another successful milestone in our Cooperative Threat Reduction
Program.


As a result of an Accord that the United States signed with the
Republic of Moldova in June of this year, we recently purchased 21
advanced nuclear capable MiG-29 fighters from Moldova. Over the last
two weeks we've been transporting these MiGs in C-17 transport
aircraft from Moldova to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. This
is a joint effort by both governments to ensure that these dual-use
military weapons do not fall into the hands of countries that might
use them against us, our friends or allies.


We have credible information that a number of rogue states, including
Iran, are attempting to buy available Russian high tech equipment and
weapons in the aftermath of the breakup of the Soviet Union. These MiG
aircraft were on their shopping list.


This is another growing list of achievements of the Department's
Cooperative Threat Reduction Program which was initiated by Senators
Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar.


Among these achievements are the denuclearization of Belarus,
Kazakhstan, and Ukraine; the removal from Kazakhstan and the safe
storage in the United States of some 600 kilograms of weapons grade
highly enriched uranium; and the enhanced security, control, and
accounting of nuclear weapons and fissile materials in Russia.


The CTR program has made remarkable progress in reducing, controlling,
and eliminating the greatest potential security threat to Americans,
and that is the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction from the
former Soviet Union.


Leaders in the Republic of Moldova took a visionary approach in this
effort. The agreement regarding these MiGs contributes to the enhanced
climate of trust in relations between Moldova and the United States,
and I want to personally extend my thanks to President Lucinski and
Minister of Defense Pasad. Their leadership and cooperation is another
positive step in the development of a greatly enhanced relationship
between the United States and Moldova.


I also want to thank the Congress for its sustained support for this
enormously important program of the Cooperative Threat Reduction in
general, and to this MiG operation specifically. We look forward to
working closely with Congress in many other projects to reduce the
threat of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.


With that, I'll entertain your questions.



Q: Mr. Secretary, could you tell us, are these the first MiG-29s that
the U.S. will obtain? And are they C models?


A: The model I think Jeff would tell you. The answer is yes, these are
the first that we have obtained.


Q: What are the consequences if this sort of plane did get into the
inventory of the Iranians?


A: Well, as you know, Iran is seeking to develop weapons of mass
destruction. They have programs seeking to develop chemical,
biological, and have been seeking to develop a nuclear capability. So
to have this kind of aircraft with a nuclear capability of deploying a
weapon of mass destruction, it seems to me it's in our overall
interest to see to it that it doesn't fall into their hands if we can
prevent it if at all possible.


Q: How much are we paying for these?



A: The agreement was that we would not disclose the cost of the
aircraft. That was part of the agreement that we did strike with the
government. Nonetheless, we are going to be in a position to assist
Moldova with humanitarian assistance and also with EDA equipment, as
such -- Excess Defense Articles -- because of their participation in
the PfP program. But the agreement did call for us to not disclose the
price for them. I can assure you, it was quite reasonable.


Q: Do you know what we're going to do with them?



A: We're taking them out of the hands of those who otherwise might
acquire them, for openers. Number two, we will obviously study the
capability of the aircraft for our own national security purposes,
because these aircraft may very well fall into, this type of aircraft
could very well end up in the hands of other rogue nations.


Q: Have you and General Shelton talked to the President about Iraq
today?


A: No.



Q: Do you plan on any discussions at the White House?



A: There will be discussion this afternoon with a number of
congressional leaders. I will have an opportunity, I think, prior to
that to meet with the President on other matters. But this issue of
Iraq, obviously, is very much on the mind of the President, on all of
the national security team, and we will continue to follow it on a
day-by-day basis.


Q: Have you advised the Russians of this purchase? Has there been any
concern on their part that we're inspecting the weapons?


A: The Russians had prior notification. They knew about the
acquisition of the MiGs.


Q: The Russians are still making MiG-29s, and they're still marketing
them. How does this take the MiG-29 off the international market?


A: We are still conducting our own CTR programs with the Russians
directly. This is with a separate country, of course. So we will still
continue to deal with the CTR program with the Russians on a variety
of programs. But obviously, they can continue to manufacture their
aircraft as we continue to manufacture ours. Our goal is to take this
aircraft out of the hands of potentially rogue nations, from countries
that otherwise might be inclined to sell them for their value.


Q: How many other nuclear-capable MiG-29s are in the inventory of the
former Soviet states? Isn't this a potentially large pool of aircraft
we might eventually have to buy down the road?


A: I can't give you right now... Perhaps on background you can get
that information, but I don't have that figure right now.


Q: Had the Iranians actually approached the government of Moldova to
buy these...


A: Our understanding is that such an approach was made. It was on
their shopping list. And we are very happy to have them in our hands
rather than the Iranians'.


Q: Any other countries besides Iran?



A: I think you can get that on background.



Q: Had the Iranis made a cash offer? Do you know how much they were
willing to pay?


A: I don't have any idea how much they were willing to pay.



Q: Did Moldova come to us or did we find out about it and then
approach them with a counter-offer?


A: I think you'll get that in a subsequent briefing?



Q: What is the U.S. going to do with these MiG fighters?



A: We're going to study them. We're going to analyze them. I'm sure
the Air Force may come up with some utilitarian use of them.


Q: You said they came over on C-17s. Can they be flown? Will our
pilots...


A: They had to be partially dismantled in order to fly them here.
Obviously, one can reestablish their capability. But our purpose is
not to do that, but rather to make an analysis of the capabilities, to
study what kind of technology is involved so that we can, should we
ever in the future have to come into contact with another country
having this capability, would know what protections we would need and
how to counter some of their capability.


Q: When you said this was the first such purchase, you meant of the C
models? The United States has other MiG-29s.


A: Right.



Q: You said the Russians were notified ahead. Did they object at all
to the transaction?


A: Not to my knowledge. I don't have any information. They were aware
of it. I believe they were aware that the Moldovan government wanted
to sell and dispose of the MiGs. Obviously, it may have been an
economical decision on their part, that they have plenty of their own
and didn't want to acquire other inventory at this time.


Q: Can you say if the Iranians are seeking other aircraft of this type
from other sources at this time? Do we know that?


A: I think that's a fair assumption. They are seeking to acquire a
capability of delivering weapons of mass destruction. This is one
avenue of doing it. There will be others that they will pursue.


Q: If that U-2 pilot flies, aren't you putting him in harm's way?



A: We have pilots who fly in harm's way every day. Whenever our
aircraft are flying over Northern Watch or Southern Watch, they're
certainly in harm's way.


We believe that this mission will be carried out safely. That is the
purpose of the UN team that is traveling to Iraq, to impress upon the
Iraqis the importance of maintaining the security of those who are
engaged in inspecting Iraq's programs, and so we would expect that
they would abide by their prior pledge, and we would hope they would
not take what we would see as a very dangerous step to in any way
threaten this aircraft.


Q: Has any Iraqi troop movement that you've been briefed on caused you
any concern?


A: I really don't care to comment on any operational or intelligence
matters.


Q: Have you given the President a recommendation on whether or not he
should veto the Defense Authorization Bill?


A: Whatever recommendations I have given to the President remain a
matter between me and the President.


Mr. Bacon: We've got now a background briefer who can walk you through
how we got into this.


Q: Mr. Secretary, just one item of late news. Out of Baghdad we've
heard that the government in Iraq has agreed to postpone any expulsion
of American inspectors until after this mission arrives. Have you
heard about that and do you have any reaction? Is that a positive
development?


A: We always turn to you, Jamie, to get the latest... (Laughter)
You're the first that has disclosed that to me.


Press: Thank you very much.



(End transcript)




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