Secretary of Defense Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey held this press conference on January 10, 2013. They discussed Afghan President Karzai's visit, defense sequestration, and possible chemical weapons in Syria.
Excerpt from the transcript:
"Q: The last time that Israeli prime -- or Defense Minister Ehud Barak was in town, shortly thereafter, we started hearing concerns about Syrian chemical weapons and that sarin gas had been made in some form. And then about a week or so later, you were said -- you said that the -- the threat seemed to have been put on the backburner a bit. What is your view right now? Has it changed? And, General Dempsey, do you think there's anything militarily that the U.S. can do to stop the Syrians from using chemical weapons?
SEC. PANETTA: You know, I think -- I think right now the bigger concern that needs to be focused on is -- assuming Assad comes down -- and, you know, I think there's a stronger likelihood that -- that that could happen, how do we secure the CBW sites? What do we do to deal with that situation?
And that -- that is a discussion that we are having, not only with the Israelis, but with other countries in the region, to try to look at, you know, what steps need to be taken in order to make sure that these sites are secured and that they don't wind up in the wrong hands.
I -- I think the greater concern right now is, what steps does the international community take to make sure that, you know, when Assad comes down, that there is a process and a procedure to ensure that we get our hands on securing those sites? That -- that, I think, is the bigger challenge right now.
Q: U.S. ground troops, Mr. Secretary?
SEC. PANETTA: We're not talking about ground troops, but, I mean, obviously, you know, it depends on what kind of -- what happens in a transition. Is there a permissive atmosphere? Or is it a hostile atmosphere? And that'll tell you a lot.
Q: Mr. Secretary, along those lines, there was some talk about the Czech Republic being eager -- through NATO channels -- to help out with training, perhaps training the rebels in another country. Is that something that's being looked at?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, actually, the Czechs have a very capable -- we would call it in this country chemical, biological, nuclear elements, CBRN capability, by the way, built over time in collaboration with us as a NATO partner. And we are in contact with -- through NATO -- with partners who have that capability. We've done assessments of what it might take in -- against the various environments that the secretary mentioned. And we're engaged in -- in -- I told you, we're engaged in planning to develop options against alternative futures, you know, alternative future one, collaboration or cooperation, permissiveness, non-permissive, hostile, all of which would have different requirements.
Q: Is there any talk now or possibility of them training rebels?
GEN. DEMPSEY: I haven't heard -- that's not a request we've made of them. And I don't know -- I don't know that they would have gotten that request through some other channel.
Q: Mr. Secretary, did you just rule out putting in U.S. troops to secure Syrian chemical weapons?
SEC. PANETTA: Well, I mean, look, we -- we're not working on options that involve boots on the ground. You know, with -- you know, I think you -- you always have to keep the possibility that, if there is a peaceful transition and international organizations get involved, that they might ask for assistance in that situation. But in a hostile situation, we're not planning for that.
GEORGE LITTLE: Got time for one more.
Q: Mr. Chairman -- wait, just back to General Dempsey, I had asked whether there was militarily anything the U.S. could do to stop the Assad regime from using chemical weapons.
GEN. DEMPSEY: The -- the effort -- or the act of preventing the use of chemical weapons would be almost unachievable, Jennifer, because the -- you would have to have such clarity of intelligence, you know, persistent surveillance, you'd have to actually see it before it happened, and that's -- that's unlikely, to be sure.
On the other hand, you know, our collaboration with regional partners, Turkey, Israel -- I talked to my Lebanese counterpart yesterday, Jordan. We've got a planning element in Jordan. You know, messaging, such as our president did, that -- that the use of chemical weapons would--those that would be responsible would be held accountable.
I think that Syria must understand by now that the use of chemical weapons is unacceptable. And to that extent, it provides a deterrent value. But preventing it, if they decide to use it, I think we would be reacting.
Q: And do you still believe that the sarin would expire after 60 days, after mixed?
GEN. DEMPSEY: That's what -- what the scientists tell us. I'd still be reluctant to handle it myself.
Q: Just one last question on -- on Afghanistan.
MR. LITTLE: This will be our last question.
Q: The State Department said again today that they plan to have -- keep open an embassy and four consulates in Afghanistan. In light of what happened in Benghazi, and after speaking with President Karzai today, what sort of U.S. military -- troops, equipment -- do you expect to have to provide to protect those American civilians who may be in Afghanistan post-2014?
SEC. PANETTA: Well, you know, I mean, I -- as we -- as we always do around the world, if the State Department has requirements that they think are important in order to provide security, we'll do what we can to meet those requirements. And that would be the case in Afghanistan."