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DoD News Briefing: Walter B. Slocombe

Presenter: Walter B. Slocombe
October 01, 1997

Mr. Bacon: Welcome ladies and gentlemen. This briefing will be on-the-record.

Mr. Slocombe: Good morning. Let me say a few words about the purpose of this informal meeting of NATO Defense Ministers. There are no formal decisions made or formal record made here, but the meetings are significant. This is the first meeting of the NATO Ministers of Defense since the Madrid decisions. It gives them an opportunity to review progress on NATO internal adaptation which was the main subject this morning, on NATO enlargement, and on the mission in Bosnia.

But it is also very important because Russian Defense Minister Sergeyev will be here this afternoon. It will give them an opportunity to meet the new Defense Minister, in some cases for the first time, in his new official capacity, and to talk about how to build the relationship between NATO and Russia. And that's very important because this relationship is central to Europe's stability. There will also be, as you know, a bi-lateral meeting between Secretary Cohen and Minister Sergeyev.

The discussion this morning focused on internal adaptation and particularly the restructuring of the NATO command structure. The most important development, I suppose, was the French integration and the response to it. In effect, Minister Richard said that France has come to the conclusion that it is not ready to take a decision to re-integrate into the NATO military structure. But he recognized the effort which the Alliance has put into reforming the Alliance structure to emphasize its European character. He stressed France's commitment to work constructively with NATO as it is currently doing in Bosnia.

In his response, Secretary Cohen said that, of course, we regret the French decision, but we value France as a close and important ally, and we applaud the French commitment to continued constructive participation. The details of all that participation will, of course, have to be discussed in the future.

The issues of the NATO command structure get to be a little arcane, but it's important to realize that in the last three years NATO has moved successfully with strong US support to Europeanize the Alliance. That will culminate when, as we expect, the command structure revisions are approved in December. That's the target which has been set. We will try to get the Combined Joint Task Forces up and running by the end of 1998. We will move to implement a whole series of steps which have been taken to promote the creation of a European Security and Defense Identity within NATO.

The discussion on Bosnia began this morning. It will be the major topic in the plenary this afternoon. The US view on this subject is clear. We have a continuing interest in stability and peace in Bosnia. A great deal has been accomplished, a great deal more can be accomplished, and should be accomplished during the remaining period of the SFOR mandate. This is the position of the United States and also the position of the Alliance. The current SFOR mission and mandate will end in June of 1998.

Of course, the Alliance and the United States are committed to continue to help preserve the progress that has been made in Bosnia, and will remain engaged economically, and diplomatically. But we have to focus on what we can do to solidify the peace between now and June of 1998. We have made significant progress in recent months. Of course, the cease fire, the separation of forces has been observed. There have been successful elections. There has been real economic progress in the Federation area. There has been a building of political institutions, there has been progress of police reforms. This is not by any means all strictly a military story.

Obviously, there is a lot of discussion about what will happen after June of 1998. In our view, it is premature to talk about military presence, and no decision has been made by the international community on its role. When he meets with his counterparts both in the plenary and in bi-lateral meetings, Secretary Cohen will stress that the Congress does not want a US garrison force in Bosnia. Congress is weary of any long term military involvement. Congress is writing legislation which will establish fairly rigorous procedures that the administration will have to go through before any question of the continued US military involvement can be answered.

Finally, this afternoon there will be the meetings both bi-laterally and in the 16 + 1 format with Minister Sergeyev. The relationship between Russia and NATO got off to a good start. The first ministerial-level Permanent Joint Council meeting last week in New York was a successful one. Sergeyev's presence will help the Alliance, and the United States and Russia bi-laterally, to discuss steps which we can take to build confidence, to help expand the Russian participation in PFP, and on a more general level, to express the Alliance's and the United States' support for Russia's military reform efforts. The stability of Europe depends in very large part on successful reform in Russia, and an important part of that reform is on the military front.

Secretary Cohen will raise some US-Russian bi-lateral issues, including the need to proceed rapidly to get Duma ratification of Start II, so we can move on to Start III. He will discuss with Minister Sergeyev as with his predecessor, Minister Rodionov, about measures to be taken both bi-laterally and unilaterally by the Russians to ensure the safety and security of their nuclear weapons, and American concerns about reports of Russian firms providing assistance to Iran's military.

That gives you an overview of what has happened this morning and what we expect to happen this afternoon. I'll be glad to take your questions.

I want to say that the Secretary General and General Clark have just spoken briefly on the subject of the SFOR operations during the night and this morning in Bosnia with respect to the transmitter towers. But I have nothing significant to add on that issue. Before I take your first question, I would like to ask Ambassador Hunter if he would like to add anything.

Ambassador Robert Hunter, US Perm Rep to NATO: I'll just add a couple of words. This meeting is important because it is the first time the ministers have gotten together since the historic Madrid Summit, which laid out the architecture for European security in the 21st century. This is a meeting of the builders, to make sure that everybody is working according to the same plans, and to make sure that we are going to be successful. That means working towards the goal of getting the new structure decided in December. It's also going to mean, in the next day and a half, understanding our common approach towards enlargement, reviewing the state of play in discussions that have taken place already with the three invitees, and underscoring both as allies today and allies tomorrow, the responsibilities that each of these countries is undertaking, to ensure that this remains a strong and effective alliance. The three (newly invited countries) ministers will say what they are already doing to show their commitment to becoming real allies, and to hear from the existing members of NATO what is required in order to get ratification by the sixteen parliaments.

Q: (Reuters): Did (French) Minister Richard make clear, is he signaling, that the French will not in fact, rejoin NATO before the end of the year?

A: (Mr. Slocombe): It's obviously for the French Government to announce their final decision, but I think Richard left very little doubt what the result will be.

A: (Ambassador Hunter): He actually sounded a very positive note about France's wanting to fulfill its responsibilities as a NATO ally, to be engaged in a wide variety of activities, and this was welcomed by all the other ministers.

Q: (German Newspaper): Will any arrangement be made in the new command structure in case that France should decide to come in at a later date?

A: (Mr. Slocombe): Nothing in the new command structure will preclude France from coming in at a later date and indeed, at least on the part of the United States, and I think all the other allies, we hope that in time the French Government will decide that it does want to come back into full integration into the alliance. Of course, the fact that France will not be participating in the military structure means that French officers will not have positions in the military structure -- that's what participating in the military structure entails. But there is nothing about the way the command arrangements will be set up that precludes France from reaching a different decision in the future.

One reason for hoping that France would complete its process by the end of this year is that the next phase of reform of the command structure is to decide on what flags to assign, i.e. actually assigning the jobs to different allies. Clearly, once that has been done it will become a more complicated process to engage any other country.

Q: (AP): Were the ministers simply informed of the operation in Bosnia this morning or was there a discussion of it? Was this seen as a setback to the progress that you speak of?

A: (Mr. Slocombe): First of all, as to the facts of what happened; at the very beginning of the meeting, SACEUR General Clark gave a brief report of the events. The action which was taken was within the authority which SACEUR had. As Secretary General Solana said , there had been a consultation. In any event, the action today was within existing authority. Far from it being a setback, it seems to me the action that has been taken makes clear that SFOR will insist that when agreements are made by the Bosnian Serbs or anybody else, that they are lived up to. And that appropriate, restrained actions will be taken to deal with the situation when there is not compliance. I think that this will have the effect of dealing very substantially with the problem of the poisonous stream of material that has been coming out from the Serb-controlled radio and television stations. It will be an important step toward the stability in the region.

Q: How will the television network be managed now?

A: (Mr. Slocombe): The details of that obviously have to be worked out and will be announced by SFOR or by the office of the High Representative, but not here.

Q: (Polish newspaper): As changes are made in the command structure, do they take into account that three new members hope to be joining the Alliance?

A: (Mr. Slocombe): One of the important reasons we want to make decisions in December is so that we have a command structure which is adapted to receive new members. Of course, it is not anticipated that the new members will become formal members of the Alliance until 1999. But the heart of the consideration has been how to make sure that the command structure is well adapted towards having new members participate fully in the alliance. We also want to signal to the three countries that have been invited exactly what is the command structure that they will be joining. So that they will be able to make their own decisions, their own adjustments, in light of the reality of what NATO is doing.

Q: (USA Today): Sir, a process question. Do all three of these prospective members have to be let in by the same decision or can they be done one at a time?

A: (Mr. Slocombe): I think that this is an issue to be decided. As far as I recall, the only time in the past that more than one country has come into the Alliance at one time is when Greece and Turkey came in. My understanding is that that was a single instrument. But that is a choice that NATO, and presumably the interested countries as well, can make.

Q: (AP): Have the ministers addressed the question of troop levels between now and June? Should it be maintained at the current level? Will there be a drawdown, or will there not be a drawdown?

A: (Mr. Slocombe): That is an issue on which a decision has to be made in the course of the coming weeks and months. I'm sure that it will be discussed this afternoon. But neither it nor anything else will be decided at this meeting.

Q: (AP): Has the discussion come up yet?

A: (Mr. Slocombe): The Bosnia discussion has just begun. I suspect that it will come up this afternoon, if any minister wants to raise it.

Q: (Defense News): I would like to come back to this command structure. The MILCOM has not come to an agreement. They have made several compromises over the last month, and they are still at a standstill.

A: (Mr. Slocombe): There are a number of details that have to be worked out.

Q: (Defense News): My questions is from the conceptual point of view. Even if you do reach some sort of compromise in December, which seems to be unrealistic to me, how can you claim that you have a solution, without France, on ESDI, command structure, CJTF?

A: (Mr. Slocombe): The issues which remain to be resolved, I think, are well on their way to resolution. They don't involve France. France's decision not to fully reintegrate into the Alliance does not affect their resolution in anyway. These are issues between other allies, especially how to adjust the command structure of the Alliance. The Alliance has had an effective command structure for thirty years without France. It can continue to have one.

Q: (Defense News): But there has been so much hoopla about this ESDI. I just don't see how you are going to do that.

A: (Ambassador Hunter): There are three other outstanding issues. One has been the command structure in the eastern Mediterranean, the second has been the place where the Canary Islands would fit within the structure, upon Spain's complete integration. The third has to do with Gibraltar, which is essentially a bi-lateral issue between Spain and the UK

A: (Mr. Slocombe): It is possible for the alliance to reach decisions at 15 and move forward. We would obviously prefer to make a decision at 16, with France, but that may not be possible. The ESDI arrangements will move forward. This is all agreed. No one has any problems with doing this.

Indeed one of the important points which the French made as a part of their "resolutely constructive" approach, is that they would not block the implementation of steps towards building a European Security and Defense Identity.

Q: I'd like to clarify something about the troop numbers, correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't General Joulwan indicate that he preferred a phased withdrawal?

A: (Mr. Slocombe): I take the question to be about the troop numbers during the remainder of the SFOR mandate. Yes, it was the original concept that there would be regular reviews, and at an appropriate point within the SFOR mandate, there would be a drawdown and a reorientation of mission. That is the issue which is on the table. Secretary Cohen addressed it last night before he got on the airplane, and other governments have their views.

Q: But it's possible that troops could remain at the level they are at now...

A: (Mr. Slocombe): That doesn't defy the law of gravity, it is a logical possibility.

Q: But there is no mandated structure.

A: (Mr. Slocombe): It has to be discussed and will be decided in the light of events. But not this afternoon.

Mr. Bacon: We have time for one more question.

Q: Do you have any information about Russian Minister Sergeyev's intention to name the person they are going to appoint as military liaison in SHAPE?

A: (Mr. Slocombe): Your information on Russian intentions is a lot better than mine. This is the first that I've heard of that. It would be a useful step if he did.

Q: What kind of actions will you propose?

A: (Mr. Slocombe): I think the more general answer is to urge the Russians to move forward and be more active in participation in the Partnership, in exercises, in the planning process, in establishing liaison missions, that kind of thing. Most of these things have been on the table for some time, and we hope we can move forward.

A: (Ambassador Hunter): All of this would be a logical outgrowth to the progress already made in implementing the NATO/Russia Founding Act and building on the very successful meeting in New York last Friday, with Minister Primakov and the foreign ministers.

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