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Public Papers - 1991

Exchange With Reporters on the Persian Gulf Conflict Prior to Discussions With Defense Minister Thomas King of the United Kingdom

1991-02-12

Q. Going to talk about the ground war -- possible?

The Defense Minister. Are you going on, Mr. President, or -- --

The President. No, I'm not. I defer to guests because I don't take questions in here. And that's Helen Thomas [United Press International], I think. [Laughter] I don't look over, so I can't see, but I -- --

Q. We've got a better one for you.

The President. She knows very well that I don't take questions here. But foreign guests are encouraged to, if you'd like to.

The Defense Minister. Well, I just said to the President here -- and the Vice President, who I had the pleasure of meeting last week in London, and with Dick Cheney, General Brent Scowcroft -- the very close measure of the very close cooperation we have. I'm very grateful for it. We've been very appreciative of the close contact also we have. And I was going to say to the President that we have great admiration for General Schwarzkopf. We're working very closely with him. We have our 1st Armored Division, which is with now the U.S. 7th Corps. And General Franks is commanding that. And we have General Smith working under him. And it's a measure of the cooperation that we have. I think both at sea, in the air, and on land that it's been an excellent illustration of very close cooperation. And I welcome the chance to meet the President. And one feels one knows these issues so well, communicating through various channels.

Q. Mr. King, do you think it's too soon to go to a ground war? Do you agree with the President on that?

The Defense Minister. It's a need to see some significant reduction in Iraq's military capability. You can't put precise figures on it, but there certainly needs to be a reduction in their capability. I know the President has always made very clear something that we support very strongly, that we want to see a tilt in the balance of military advantage so that when our forces embark -- the allied coalition forces embark on that land campaign that the balance of advantage is with them. That will help us to minimize the casualties on our own side and actually hopefully minimize the casualties for the people of Kuwait who are going to be part of the battleground.

Q. Is there concern, though, on the other hand, that if the air war is protracted that you start to lose some of the international support?

The Defense Minister. There are a lot of considerations that have to be taken into account. We have great respect and confidence in General Schwarzkopf, in the military judgments that he will make on the ground. He talks closely to our commanders there as well, which is very valuable to us. And we appreciate very much -- and obviously my relationship with Secretary Cheney -- but particularly the President's excellent habit of keeping in very close touch with Prime Minister John Major. And so, as far as I can say for the United Kingdom, the cooperation couldn't be closer. And we know, I think all of us, in our hearts, a whole range of issues that have to be taken into account before the President will undoubtedly have to reach a very important judgment.

Q. But right now do you think they have the balance?

The Defense Minister. Oh, I think there's some work to be done.

Q. Mr. President, do you feel there is pressure to get it over with? Either internal or international?

The President. I'm not going to take any questions here. But I must -- like to identify myself with the remark we've just heard here. [Inaudible]

The Defense Minister. We've got a change of shift.

The President. This may be some of your troops coming in.

The Defense Minister. [Inaudible]

The President. I think so.

The Defense Minister. But it's been very useful to be able to see that exchange of views.

The President. I think there's a conscientious effort on his part to try to raise the propaganda value -- accusing us of indiscriminate bombing of civilians. And it's simply not true. And what's overlooked is the -- a lot of the brutality that's so evident and so purposeful on his part -- the treatment of the prisoners. The Scud missile attacks have no military value. The environmental terrorism has not taken human life yet, but it's pretty bad. And we are doing the right thing. And I'm just delighted with the cooperation. And we are on track. And I think most of the world knows it. But to hear this one-sided propaganda machine cranking out a lot of myths and falsehoods -- but I don't think the world is buying it, frankly.

The Defense Minister. We didn't see many television pictures of the casualties in Kuwait, did we?

The President. No. It's still going on.

The Defense Minister. And of the civilians and the tens of thousands of civilians that must have lost their lives there?

The President. No, I think we're right on track -- right on track and very proud to be identified with you all in this enterprise.

Note: The exchange began at 2:05 p.m. in the Oval Office at the White House. The Defense Minister referred to Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney; Brent Scowcroft, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs; Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf; and Lt. Gen. Frederick M. Franks, Jr., and Maj. Gen. Isaac Dixon Smith, commanding general and deputy chief of staff for personnel, 1st Armored Division, U.S. Army Europe and 7th Army. President Bush referred to President Saddam Hussein of Iraq.

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