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DoD News Briefing: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
October 01, 1997 6:30 PM EDT

September, 30 1997, 6:30 p.m. (EST)

Q: Have you made any decision on the laser?

A: Not yet. I hope to by the end of the week and I'm still gathering some more information – technical information . But I hope to make a decision by the end of the week.

Q: What will you decide to do about…

A: Well, I will wait until all of the technical information is in. You will be with me until I make the decision.

Q: Give us a little scoop on what you plan to do…

A: In due course.

Q: Would you like to talk a bit about the meeting and how you view what has happened, given the fact that Congress seems to have backed off of the Bosnia question? Not making it an issue with the President. Do you have a sense that you will be able to make a case for continuing a presence – a U.S. military presence in Bosnia, after June?

A: I think you have to look at what Congress actually has said, and the language. Of course you have the Appropriations Conference report but haven't got the authorization language finalized yet. But, essentially the President and Secretary Albright, Sandy Berger and myself have said that the mission is going to end – the SFOR current mission will end as scheduled in June of next year.

What I hope to do is focus attention once again with all of my colleagues and counterparts on what needs to done between now and then. If you look at the language, at what Congress has said, it is that the appropriations bill says that funds will be appropriated through June of '98. The President would have to come forward, if there is to be any change, with a plan and how many people, and how long, and why the need, and what about morale. And they could request for something (inaudible) appropriations.

So, I think that the sentiment is fairly clear on the Hill that they expect the mission to end in June of '98 and they would expect the President, if there is going to be a change, to come forward to Congress and seek additional funding for it. So, I think that is a pretty strong signal of what the sentiment is on Capitol Hill.

As you know, there have been a number of efforts, and I have resisted whatever it was, to kill all funding off as of September of this year. That was floated but never, in essence, pursued. I believe Senator Lott, at one point, was talking about December of this year and the other bills, originally the House, was to cut it off, period, in June of next year.

So there has been a number of approaches to this. But ultimately what came out of the appropriations bill was funding through June of '98, and, if there is to be any further continuation, you must come forward and spell out what the mission is, what the requirements will be, what role we will be expected to play, if any, and make a supplemental request and a number of other conditions.

So, I think the sentiment is pretty clear up there. I hope what we can do is really focus on what can be done in the next nine months. I would say that there has been quite a change, in terms of the tempo of activities and in terms of the progress that has been made in the last few months. I would hope to continue that kind of progress. It would make it that much easier to complete our mission by June of '98.

Q: In March you said that if the United States were to stay in Bosnia because people were at each others throats, that U.S. troops would be there for decades. Do you still believe that?

A: I believe that we cannot impose a peace on the parties of Bosnia. We can provide them with an opportunity for them to pursue peace. I think history will reveal that you cannot impose it unless you are willing to stay for decades.

That means, virtually, an occupying force in some form or another. I don't believe that the Europeans have that in mind, and surely the United States doesn't have that in mind. I think what we have done is give them an opportunity to see the benefits of peace, and then try to help them establish the institutions that will allow them to continue. I don't think the Europeans plan to stay for a decade and surely don't believe that the United States is willing to spend that time there…

Q: Would you oppose keeping troops there beyond June?

A: The mission, according to NATO, is going to end in June. The President has said that the United States, obviously, has a continuing interest in what happens in Europe; that the international community has a continuing interest. What shape, what form that will take, remains to be determined.

What role, if any, the United States plans to play, remains to be determined. There have been no decisions, no discussions pertaining to that. Right now, everybody is planning on June of '98. (inaudible).

Q: Do you think Congress has made it clear on what its inclination is going to be? You said Congress has made it clear its inclination is to get out and stay out, unless you can make a case otherwise. Do you think if the White House and the Pentagon decide that it is needed, that you can make, or that you could make that case? Do you think that it could be possible to convince Congress of that?

A: I think that it is premature to discuss what might take place in the future. I think what we have to do is to concentrate our minds wonderfully, if I could quote a phrase, and focus on what we do now and the next eight or nine months. If a case has to be made, you will see. I think the Congress is saying – you have to make a case and unless you do, then obviously the funding will be terminated automatically in June of '98.

Q: Mr. Secretary, this meeting is obviously going to cover a lot of topics. What are you hoping to get out of this meeting? Are you going in here with any new proposals? Any ideas?

A: We are going to discuss a number of issues. Obviously, we are going to pick-up where we left off in Madrid.

The internal adaptation, as far as setting up other command structures – we still would like to have the French integrated. That looks unlikely, but is still open. We are hoping that perhaps, they will still see (inaudible) of an integrated NATO, of a full integration. That is a decision only they can make. I would expect that the NATO allies would want to resolve the command structure by the end of the year. That will be a matter of discussion.

External adaptation, obviously has to do with the new select (inaudible). I will make some statements that there are costs involved and that we should just disabuse ourselves of any notion that this is not going to cost something.

We believe ultimately that the new countries coming in, assuming that they measure up to NATO standards, know what is expected of them. They will save money by becoming part of NATO, but that it is not cost free. Then talk that money will not have to be expended, I think it has to be discarded. So I will talk a bit about the cost of all dues and assessments and the Defense Committee examination, trying to make an assessment, in terms of what this will cost, keep (inaudible) guesstimates.

The Europeans think that we are too high. The U.S. Congress thinks that we are too low in terms of our estimates. So you have got the Defense Committee, who has been going around trying to make an honest, candid, assessment what needs to be done on the part of these countries; what needs to be done on the part of NATO itself in terms of picking up its force projection capabilities. We expect that to be filed sometime, I believe, in mid November, toward the end of November. So we can talk about cost.

Russia, of course, the major adjustment here. I hope my first meeting with Sergeyev...I've written to him and have corresponded in writing, but we have not met. This will be our first meeting. I think that it is a very important one. There has been some demonstration among the Russians that they are more eager today to engage in Partnership for Peace types of exercises, relationships or their individual partnership programs. They have expressed some interest in the more recent months. They have had funding problems and we are going to try to work with that as well.

It has been a very positive development, I think, in terms of the turn of events with respect to the Russians recently.

I hope to talk to Sergeyev about START II -- about its need for its ratification so that we can get on to START III. I want to talk to him about sales of weapons to Iran and elsewhere. I will talk about (inaudible) and how important that is. And the correlation that it is, if we can have START II ratified by (inaudible) and get things off on a good track. That makes it easier to rebut the arguments on the lowest point of cutbacks and cutoffs (inaudible) funds. So there is a lot for us to talk about. The prevalent joint committee is out now and the first meeting – we want to build upon that.

We also are going to talk about some of the non-selects -- that they shouldn't anticipate that there is any kind of guaranteed selection in 1999. This is serious business, that they have got to continue on the path that they have been on, and by that, of course, Romania, Slovenia. I'm going back to Bulgaria again because I really want to help give them some impetus. They are on the right road.

So there is no shortage of subjects, but I would say the meeting with Sergeyev is going to be very important.

I'll have a number of meetings with individual members of the French, Germans, Italians and others individually. During the plenary sessions we will take up -- obviously, Bosnia will come up. The subject of NATO Enlargement costs will come up. The command structure will come up. What the selects are doing in the way of measuring up to what we require of them.

Charlie, you filed a story on this in terms of the Czech Republic recently, and they are going to have to do better, I think, in order to measure up. Their economy is down, they are cutting back on defense, and the question of popular opinion really, is not been overly critical yet, because popular opinion can change pretty quickly. It can become energized quite quickly.

Once the public starts to focus on it, I'm not sure they have really focused attention on the importance of it, the need for it and what public support really means in terms of when that comes before Congress, before the Senate next year.

It will very important for all of the countries involved, Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic, to demonstrate strong public support because in terms of the future, were talking ten years into the future, you are going to have to have support for the defense spending requirements. And as these economies go through their transitions, the crush will be like it is on us, always coming back to defense. So popular support for NATO expansion is a very strong indication that they are serious about it and they will keep the commitment of measuring up to the …

Q: Let me ask you one more question about Bosnia. No decisions, of course, will be taken at this meeting, it is informal. When do you think a decision will be made? You can't just wait, and wait, and wait to see what happens and make this kind of thing at the last minute. When do you think – do you have any kind of deadline in mind? Or any kind of idea when some firm decision will be made?

A: My own preference is to gradually, get out on a gradual slope as far as an SFOR to a DFOR, a deterrent force. What time that could take place remains to be decided.

I think it is preferable, in terms of going on a gliding slope rather than going to June and just dropping off. That will be a subject of discussion in terms of what the time frame should be.

Obviously, you can't go to the very end. You have to do some planning. I would expect that by the first part of the year, I would expect that some decision will have been made in the January/February time frame.

Q: What about war criminals? These war criminals are still at large. A lot of people say that they are behind the recent challenges to the NATO troops. It seems like an obvious thing to do – if you want to get out of there in June is to , would be to get these troublemakers.

A: There has been, as you know, some effort made on war criminals. But it is not the mission of SFOR to search and arrest war criminals. That is specifically mentioned as not being the mission.

The mission is, if war criminals come in their presence, if they are aware of them, and the tactical situation permits, then they arrest them. That has not changed. I think that it should be clear, it has been stated over and over, that there is no statute of limitations on this. They can expect to come to justice at some point. You have to, obviously, be in a position to know who they are, where they are, and to make such arrest in a time when the situation permits. That is something to be -----

Q: ...stand in the way of a timely exit from Bosnia.

A: I think that their presence there, those who are trying to undermine Dayton, present a problem, but that is why we are supporting Dayton. That is why we have been coming out expressly supporting Mrs. Plavsic, because she is a supporter of Dayton.

We are trying to do it in a positive way, in terms of letting everyone know to the extent that the war criminals, or those who are trying to undermine Dayton, they are not going to be supported by the United States or by the NATO Allies.

Economic support will not be forthcoming, there are negative consequences afloat for them, so there are a number of ways of cycling our ----

Q: You mentioned Iran. Vice President Gore was at Russia recently and said that there was new evidence that the Iranians are developing nuclear capabilities. The French have just signed a big deal with the Iranians; the French Oil Companies have. Are you going to be talking to the French about that?

A: It will probably come up in our discussions when I get to Paris certainly. Whether or not we talk about it in Maastrich remains to be seen. I think we are going to try to focus on the agenda for the NATO countries. If I have any bilateral with the French minister, it may come up. I will raise it obviously with him at some point.

Q: Anything that you can tell us about the Iranian nuclear program that has your particular concern at this point?

A: I think all of the programs the Iranians are pursuing have me concerned. They are making a concerted effort to acquire missile technology, developing biological chemical weapons. I think that it is clear that they are also trying to acquire the capabilities of either acquiring nuclear materials or building an indigenous capability to construct a nuclear weapon. So, it should be a concern to everyone.

Q: In your talks in Bosnia, if you can't answer now, maybe in a couple of days before we get there, what it is that you are looking to hear from General Clark, General Grange, General Shinseki? What is your sense of what you want to ask them about.

A: Well I have been dealing with General Clark almost on a daily basis. I have not had a chance to meet with General Shinseki since he has gone over there. We will meet with him when we go to Bosnia. But to try to get a sense of him and how things are going , I do stay in almost daily contact with General Clark. He checks in, keeps me posted on how things are going, are they tense, less tense, are things taking place that are positive, how he sees the political situation unfolding. We communicate quite frequently on that. And I might say that I did so with General Joulwan as well. That is the role of the CINCEUR to also keep me posted.

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