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February 10, 2011
Notes from the Pentagon

Mongolia and Korea talks
Mongolia is eager to host bilateral talks between the United States and North Korea, according to Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj.

"We are open for that, and we would like to participate in regional dispute settlements. That's our desire," Mr. Elbegdorj said during a recent interview in Ulan Bator, the capital.

He said Mongolia, sandwiched between Russia and China and close to the Korean peninsula, is geographically well-located to play a major role in resolving regional disputes.

"The other thing is that we don't have a big political interest, and that means Mongolia can be a very neutral place to meet those parties," he said. "Mongolia is very happy to share our lessons to others in our region."

The country, considered one of the most open and democratic in Central Asia, can help others make the transition to democratic systems, he said, noting that Mongolia's successes during the past 20 years of independence from the former Soviet Union also included mistakes.

"But we usually learn from our mistakes, and we share those mistakes and the lessons from them with others," he said.

Mr. Elbegdorj made the comments when asked about a recently disclosed State Department cable revealing details of Mongolian-North Korean government talks.

The Aug. 13, 2009, cable outlined meetings between Mongolian leaders, including Mr. Elbegdorj, and North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Yong-il two days earlier.

The cable, labeled "secret," said Mr. Kim "spent much time on the nuclear issue and little on the bilateral relationship with Mongolia."

"Key themes on the part of the [North Korean government] were the lack of criticism of the United States, indications that the [North] is seeking bilateral talks with the [the United States] on normalization of relations, that the recent travel of former President Clinton to Pyongyang has greatly improved the prospects for such talks, that Mongolia would be an appropriate venue for these talks, and that the Six-Party Talks are no longer an option," said the cable, which was published by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.

It also provided rare insights into the North Korean government's thinking on nuclear and other issues.

The North Korean minister said his country was "spending too much on weapons rather than on its children, but that the current reality dictates that they cannot get away from weapons for now."

Mongolian officials countered that a nuclear North Korea could lead to South Korea, Japan, Syria and Iran becoming nuclear powers, and urged Pyongyang to follow Mongolia's "nuclear-free model."

"Kim stated the United States would not allow Japan or [South Korea] to go nuclear and that the [North] is committed to peace and denuclearization," the cable said.

The Mongolians then called for North Korea to permit nuclear inspections.

According to Mr. Kim, North Korea was seeking a "common language," a "non-aggression agreement" and diplomatic ties with the Untied States, stating that under those conditions "denuclearization will be possible and easy."

The Mongolians then cautioned North Korea to avoid provocations, such as missile tests, noting that "even if one has peaceful intentions, one can be seen as provocative."

The cable was written before North Korea sank the South Korean naval ship, Cheonan, and shelled a South Korean border island. Ties between Ulan Bator and Pyongyang have since soured over the artillery attack, which killed four people in November.

On U.S.-North Korea talks in Mongolia, the cable quoted a North Korean official named Choi, who worked at the embassy in Ulan Bator, as suggesting to Mr. Kim that U.S.-North Korea talks be held in Mongolia, noting that Mr. Kim had no reaction.

Mr. Choi said "the timing was right to establish a regional security mechanism whose organization the Mongols should spearhead."

Coinciding with this week's publication of his memoir, former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld published a large cache of unclassified documents relating to his decades-long government career.

One of them highlights the problem of poor U.S. intelligence on China, a subject extensively reported previously in this space.

The "snowflake," as his memos to subordinates were called, from Nov. 6, 2001, apparently is based on an assessment provided a week earlier by Dennis C. Blair, director of national intelligence, titled "Fixing the Intelligence System."

The Blair memo states that U.S. spy agencies work on "priorities, not missions," and need "missions such as 'Collect on PRC plan for aggression against Taiwan by the end of 2002,' or 'Penetrate Central Military Commission communications in the PRC by the end of 2003.' "

"Currently, China is classified as a 'hard target' and greater effort is going into collection against China, but there is no plan which leaders have approved and can track," the memo stated.

The memo went on to state that there is a "clear need" for Mandarin language speakers "but no way" for the defense secretary and intelligence director to approve a plan, assign accountability and track the results.

"There are huge gaps between planned [imagery intelligence] collection capability and ability to use the data collected," it said.

Also, intelligence collection by U.S. submarines is troubled by the fact that while submarines are available for spying missions, funding is not. Likewise, airborne spying missions were "being flown without the gear needed to collect all the signals."

The memo also said that managing the collection of electronic signals, images and human-agent-derived intelligence lacked close coordination.

Another snowflake from May 21, 2001, appears to be a note from Mr. Rumsfeld based on talks with Ken Bacon, Pentagon press spokesman during the Clinton administration. The memo is an assessment of top reporters at the Pentagon, including your correspondent, of whom Mr. Rumsfeld wrote: "excellent sources, best reporter."

Others include CBS' David Martin and ABC News reporter John McWethy. Both were described as the "top two" in the building, along with then-CNN correspondent Jamie McIntyre, who he said was "on every 30 minutes in a crisis."

Washington Post reporter Tom Ricks came in for criticism in the memo with the note he "can't be convinced he is wrong" and "receives a lot of emails and believes them."

Mr. Ricks stated in his blog Tuesday that the memo reflected a "somewhat contentious relationship" between himself and Mr. Bacon.

Rumsfeld on China
Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld revealed in his new memoir that senior Bush administration officials favored caving to Chinese demands to apologize for the Chinese F-8 jet collision with a U.S. EP-3 surveillance aircraft during the U.S.-China crisis in April 2001.

Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told President George W. Bush in a meeting they favored giving in to Beijing's demands to issue an apology and halt future surveillance flights even though the incident was caused by the Chinese military's jet flying into the aircraft's propeller.

"I said I did not favor an apology or suspending our reconnaissance flights," Mr. Rumsfeld wrote in his memoir "Known and Unknown."

"The Chinese knew they were wrong," he said. "Capitulating to their threats and feigned outrage could embolden China's military and political leaders to commit still more provocative acts. I did not believe that America would benefit from being seen as a weak supplicant."

In the end, the U.S. government did apologize for the EP-3's entry into Chinese airspace - when it made an emergency landing on Hainan island to save its 23-member crew, only to be arrested and held captive by Chinese troops.

Mr. Rumsfeld said he suspended military exchanges with China, noting that Beijing "had been using the contacts as intelligence-gathering missions and had been denying us truly reciprocal visits of equal value by American military officers."

The suspension sought to "impose a cost" on the Chinese, he said.

Marine budget woes
The Marine Corps is warning Congress that failure to enact a new defense budget will adversely affect warriors in Afghanistan.

A memo sent to congressional staffers warns against funding the military with a "continuing resolution," which is now in effect, saying it means a dip in readiness, pay and new weapons.

"Because of manpower and procurement shortfalls, future operating force equipment readiness will be degraded because of a continued lack of equipment availability," states the Feb. 4 memo obtained by special correspondent Rowan Scarborough. "As equipment is worn-out or degraded, newly procured replacements will not be available to support deployed Marines, or those preparing to deploy at home."

Perhaps more troubling, come September, the last month in the 2011 fiscal year, the Corps "would not be able to make payroll," the memo says.

The paper also lists several weapons systems in use in Afghanistan that could not be replaced. For example, the Corps would be able to buy only 35 percent of the required number of guided multiple launch rockets.

The Democrat-controlled Congress failed to pass a budget last year and instead enacted a continuing resolution that expires March 4 and keeps funding at roughly 2010 levels.

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