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DoD News Briefing: Press Conference, Ministry of Defense, Paris, France

Presenters: Press Conference, Ministry of Defense, Paris, France
October 08, 1997

Secretary Cohen: Good afternoon. Let me begin by expressing my sincere thanks to Minister Richard for hosting this visit.

French and American troops are serving shoulder to shoulder around the world advancing our nations' shared security interests. France is playing a leading role in that effort to bring peace and stability in Bosnia where French and American troops are working together in SFOR. French aircraft fly with American planes to patrol the no-fly zone over southern Iraq in order to prevent a repeat of the Iraqi aggression, and earlier this year the U.S. relied upon French military assistance in extracting American citizens from Congo Brazzaville.

Some of the press reporting focuses on the disagreements between France and the United States. Sovereign nations, even those who are strong, dependable allies -- historical friends -- often see problems in a different way.

France and the United States share the same strategic goals but we sometimes differ on details of how to reach these goals. One example is NATO adaptation. We both agree that Europe should and will play a greater role in the NATO command and NATO has taken many steps to increase commands for Europeans and should complete this work at the December ministerial. The changes did not meet all of France's needs, but as Minister Richard and I have discussed, the alliance has made some very important steps and we intend to continue to work together.

Another issue is Iran. We both want to see Iran end state-sponsored terrorism and to cease its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. And we're working together to acquire and achieve those goals through a variety of efforts to halt the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. On the subject of Iran, I'd like to clarify several press reports on this issue. I recently accelerated the deployment of our aircraft carrier, the USS Nimitz, to the Arabian Gulf by five days. I did this to send a signal to Iraq that the coalition is serious about enforcing the no-fly zone over southern Iraq. And as I explained to Minister Richard, the deployment order cited only Iraq; it did not refer to Iran.

Minister Richard and I also discussed military reform. The French military is taking important steps to build a smaller, more agile military, capable of projecting power around the world and defense of French interests. The United States has taken similar steps over the past twenty-five years and we discussed some of the lessons that we have learned.

With that I would like to turn the podium as such with the microphone over to my friend. We have established a good working relationship. We have met on several occasions, most recently in Maastricht. I learned today for the first time that Minister Richard is familiar with all of New England having traveled throughout New England, including my home state of Maine and not only do I invite him to return to Maine, but as soon as possible, invite him to visit me in Washington so we can build upon the friendship that we have. Thank you.

Minister Richard: J'ajouterai peu au bref résumé de caractère trés positif des entretiens que nous avons eu, que vient de présenter Bill Cohen, et je veux simplement souligner que nous avons pu poursuivre les échanges, et communiquer de façon trés approfondie sur tous les sujets qui correspondent à nos responsabilités partagées, et qui correspondent à la gestion d'une alliance traditionnelle, mais qui a su s'adapter à travers les changements de circonstances historiques. Donc je préfère que nous passions tout de suite aux questions et aux précisions que vous souhaitez avoir sur certains des sujets qui nous sont communs, mais je tiens à dire que la relation politique entre nos deux pays est évidemment parmi les constituents essentiels de la politique française de relations internationales et de sécurité, mais que de surcroit, en effet, comme il avait l'amabilité de le dire, les conditions dans lesquelles nous pouvons discuter tous les deux et la relation de confiance qui s'est établie sur le plan personnel, nous permet d'espérer traiter l'ensemble des questions de relations entre les deux pays dans des conditions parfaitement efficaces.

Q: (Pierre Babey, France 3) Ma questions s'adresse aux deux ministres. Je voudrais savoir de M. Cohen quelle va être l'exacte mission du Nimitz lorsqu'il sera déployé dans le Golfe Arabo-Persique, et savoir de M. Richard s'il envisageait que la France accompagne cet effort américain dans le Golfe.

A: (Secretary Cohen) In response to the question, I cannot give you the specific date of the arrival, but the Nimitz will arrive soon to the Gulf. It will arrive five days ahead of its scheduled arrival date, and as I indicated in my opening statement the purpose of sending it five days sooner was intended to send a signal to Iraq that they cannot simply declare the no-fly zones to be illegal or to be inoperable. They remain in effect and the United States, along with its coalition allies, intend to enforce those no-fly zones. So that's the purpose for sending it five days early and hopefully that signal will be received loud and clear and Saddam Hussein will continue to abide by the restrictions that he currently must operate under.

A: (Minister Richard) Pour ce qui nous concerne, comme vous le savez, nous avons une force aérienne qui est en opération dans le cadre de l'Opération Southern Watch -- c'est-à-dire l'opération de contrôle de la ligne d'interdiction aérienne qui a été définie par les Nations Unies depuis plusieurs années, et comme le remarquait Bill Cohen tout à l'heure, cette force coopère avec l'aviation américaine pour maintenir l'interdiction de zone de façon efficace. Sur une éventuelle évolution de la situation, nous nous tenons en étroite concertation avec nos alliés de la zone pour éventuellement adopter un autre dispositif militaire, mais nous n'avons pas de raison de prendre de décisions à ce stade.

Q: (China Times, Taiwan) Au point de vue de coopération militaire, la France est trés liée avec les Américains, d'autre part la France a déjà livré les avions de combat à Tai Wan comme les Américains. Ma question est, s'il y a une nouvelle crise dans le détroit de Tai Wan, est-ce que cette fois, la France enverrait un porte-avion comme les Américains pour évacuer ses ressortissants? Merci.

A: (Secretary Cohen) I assume that question is directed toward Minister Richard. (Laughter)

A: (Minister Richard) Comme vous le savez, la livraison d'un certain nombre d'équipement militaire à Tai Wan correspond à un accord conclu il y a maintenant quatre ans, que la France a confirmé et qu'elle a appliqué. Vous savez aussi que la France a indiqué son intention de ne pas aller plus loin dans la confrontation potentielle militaire dans cette région. Quant à l'éventualité de l'envoi direct de forces navales en cas de crise, c'est une éventualité que nous n'examinons pas aujourd'hui, et comme Bill Cohen avait l'amabilité de le rappeler, nous avons procédé à l'évacuation de ressortissants exposés à Brazzaville récemment, sans effectuer de différences suivant leur nationalité, et nous sommes convaincus que pour le petit nombre de ressortissants Français qui pourraient être trés éventuellement impliqués dans une crise possible dans cette région, nous pourrions aussi nous fonder sur la coopération de pays amis.

Q: (Charles Aldinger, Reuters) I'd like to direct my question to both Ministers if I may.

I'd like to ask has the Total assay gas field with Iran badly damaged U.S.-French relations? Does the French government intend to interfere with that in any way, and do you gentlemen intend on increasing military cooperation among the two countries despite these political problems?

A: (Secretary Cohen) Let me answer first. The United States does not support the proposed sale to Iran. It is opposed to it. It believes, we believe, that transactions which substantially enhance Iran's ability to acquire the revenues it would be necessary to acquire missile technology, weapons of mass destruction, should not be in any way made easier. And the United States has taken no position at this point in terms of what consequences will flow, but if it's determined that a violation of a law has occurred then it will enforce the law. But that's the answer to the first part of your question.

The second part is this. That we, like all good friends, and we have many allies -- France is among one of our best allies -- we intend to maintain a strong, cooperative relationship into the future as we have in the past. There will be disagreements from time to time. We need to discuss them and we discussed them in a friendly, candid, open exchange and we will do so in the future. Whatever difficulties arise we will seek to work them out to our mutual satisfaction, but I must say that we have established -- we have had a good relationship with France over the years, we intend to maintain that relationship.

We intend to find areas that we can cooperate in the future in development of systems, in helping each other in areas of the world where we have similar interests. And that relationship will be built upon so we've expressed our opinion that we disagree with the sale. We do not support it; we oppose it. What action shall flow from that remains to be determined. But we intend to maintain a positive, constructive relationship with a very good friend and ally.

Q: (Aldinger) ...and Minister Richard...

A: (Minister Richard) Yes, I didn't intend to avoid any response. At first the deal has been decided by private company which is in normal consultation with the French government, but which is not under its instruction or order and the government when consulted has indicated to this company that there was no legal limit to prevent it to achieve this deal either any national one or any U.N. one. So we had to leave this company realize this deal.

Broadly we stay very vigilant over the projects of Iran which can affect the stability and the peace in its region and we observe with interest the ongoing changes in Iran domestic politics with the hope that they can get, can yield results in terms of building a more peaceful and more organized relationship with their neighbors.

In my recent contacts with other governments of the zone, of the region, we try to check what was actually improving or not in Iran's attitude. And of course with our American allies the exchange of intelligence and analysis is completely transparent to try and better view what is the current evolution in Iran. In larger terms of the alliance and cooperation between the two countries of course I can only agree with what Bill Cohen just said.

Q: (Greg Palkot, Fox News) Monsieur Richard, How important is a European counterweight to American strategic strength in Europe? We're talking about NATO, we're talking about Bosnia. How important is it to have a role for Europe in strategic issues?

A: (Minister Richard) What is important is not a counterweight it's a partnership.

Q: What kind of role might that take?

A: (Minister Richard) Well, we're discussing it with both our American allies and our European counterparts and the general idea is what we call a European security and defense identity and it's being discussed both in the European Union and the Western European Union which is our best or second best military or defense organization of nearly all European countries.

I insist on the fact that it's not an opposite vision with the American alliance but the best way to help Europe as a whole to become a defense partner and to express its own purposes and objectives in a good relationship and a good complementary role with the United States.

So, it's improving, but as you may remember, defense has been the first field on which the Europeans have tried to design their unity in the fifties and it failed. And it failed mainly in France with a dramatic vote in our parliament so wisdom has forced us to build this European identity very cautiously and very slowly, I must say, so we are achieving some progress both in strategic and analysis terms and also in industrial and practical cooperation terms. But this doesn't change first the global agreement of all Europeans to become narrow allies with the United States and also the difference of France with its European partners on its membership in the military organization of NATO.

Q: Do you think Europe should have a greater say in NATO?

A: (Minister Richard) It's not a matter of "say." It's a matter of, as we explained several times, but maybe one more time is necessary, it's a matter of level of responsibility of global Europe commands throughout the military structure.

We have to say that there have been some progress made and that especially the new definition of the mission of the Deputy SACEUR and the design of the command chain within NATO for WEU missions are significant progress and that's why I explained to my colleagues in Maastricht that France was willing to be more active in some of the new tasks of the military structure without entering it integrally but it's a matter of, as I explained, it's a matter of amount and not a matter of principle.

A: (Secretary Cohen) I'd like to add just a couple of points. I'd like to add something... I would like to support what Minister Richard has just said. With respect to NATO we would hope that France would agree at some future time to become fully integrated into the NATO military structure. That was not possible at this time. It is not possible at this time. It is France's decision. We hope that at some future time they will be fully integrated.

Secondly, we support the concept of the European security defense initiative, ESDI. We are working with our allies to help make that a reality. In the meantime Minister Richard at the ministerial that we had in Maastricht indicated he was hopeful that a concept known as the combined joint task force could be utilized in ways that would allow France to participate more fully in these combined joint task force operations. And so we are very hopeful that we can build upon the relationship we currently have to make it even a more integrated union as such.

Another word about Bosnia. We are cooperating very closely on Bosnia. All of you have by this time been apprised I assume that we've had some very good news that came out of Bosnia this morning. That we've had ten war criminals who have voluntarily surrendered, Croatian and Bosnian Croat leaders have finally accepted the responsibility to help turn in indicted war criminals.

It's an important, maybe a small step, but a very important one symbolically. It should send a very clear message to the Serb and Bosnian Serb leadership that time is running out. They have to turn over all indictees to The Hague and that's the only way they can ever hope to rejoin Europe.

And I would like to take this occasion to thank all who were involved. The Hague Tribunal, the U.S. government, the French, the Dutch. I'd especially like to acknowledge the efforts of President Clinton's special representative to Bosnia, Ambassador Robert Gelbard. This was a very important step this morning.

Q: (Richard Arzt, RTL) Je voulais savoir, M. Richard, si la position française à propos de TOTAL et de d'Amato, est, à votre avis, maintenant bien comprise par votre interlocuteur, et M. Cohen, vous-même avez-vous bien compris la position française?

A: (Minister Richard) Je pense que cette fois-ci, il vaudrait mieux que ce soit Bill Cohen qui réponde en premier.

A: (Secretary Cohen) You asked the Minister whether I understood his position and the answer is I understand the position the French have taken and it's my hope that Minister Richard understands the position the United States government has taken.

So we clearly have expressed our positions and the rationale underlying these positions and from the United States point of view we are consistent in our goal. We are seeking to deprive Iran of -- or discourage Iran from the course they have followed in the past and that is sponsoring terrorism, acts of terrorism directed against western interests. Not only installations, our people as well. And so to the extent that we can take actions which deprive them of the ability to do so, we intend to pursue that course.

We may obviously disagree on the best method of achieving that but the position of the United States government I think is well understood. I understand the French position as explained to me by Minister Richard as well.

A: (Minister Richard) Comme nous avons déjà eu l'occasion de le dire, la détermination de la France à ne pas négliger les comportements qui peuvent être contraires aux doit international de l'Iran est complète, et en particuler, dans le cas où un tribunal agissant suivant les règles des pays démocratiques a reconnu la culpabilité des autorités iraniennes dans une action terroriste déterminée -- c'est le cas du procès donc de l'affaire de Myconos en Allemagne, nous avons manifesté notre totale solidarité avec les autorités allemandes lorque les autorités iraniennes ont décidé d'exercer une pression unilatérale sur l'Allemagne fédérale. Et donc, encore aujourd'hui, en complet accord avec tous nos partenaires de l'Union Européenne, nous maintenons nos ambassadeurs à l'extérieur de l'Iran, pour bien marquer que lorsqu'il y a une implication terroriste qui est, hélas, prouvée, nous en tirons les conséquences politiques.

A: (Minister Richard) I'm sorry we are late -- one last question please.

Q: (Roger Cohen, New York Times) Monsieur Richard, does France share the intelligence as similar to the United States that Iran is today involved in state-sponsored terrorism and is leading a push to acquire nuclear weapons?

And for Secretary Cohen, would the -- no let's just leave it at that. Ah yes, would the consequences that you talked about of this decision possibly affect Franco-American relations decisively?

I mean you said the consequences of this investment have not yet been decided. Do you think when they do come they could affect this basically sound relationship that you described or will they be so mild as not to affect anything?

A: (Minister Richard) We are generally sharing our intelligence data on such particular and delicate issues and we don't make any public statements about them -- especially in these circumstances. (Laughter)

A: (Secretary Cohen) We believe we have a very strong relationship that has existed over many years. We expect that relationship to continue. It would be premature and highly speculative to try to answer what impact if any, would flow from this decision.

As I indicated before, the United States does not support it, it opposes it, it has to determine whether or not sanctions should be imposed if there is a violation of the law, that remains to be determined. So it would be counterproductive to even speculate about it, but I would say that Minister Richard and I have a very good working relationship and a personal relationship that we intend to build upon, and when there are differences of opinion, we will stay in very close communication with each other. That's what friends do, and we intend to maintain that friendship into the future.

Q: Minister Richard, would you care to speculate on what sanctions might do, I mean do you think that might be (inaudible)(laughter).

A: (Minister Richard) I think that that was the last question (laughter).

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