Wednesday, June 6, 2001
(Bilateral press conference with Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Greek Minister of Defense Akis Tsohatzopoulos at the Hyatt Hotel, Thessaloniki, Greece.)
Tsohatzopoulos: [Through translator] Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. The U.S. defense secretary and I have just concluded our meeting. The defense secretary is here in Greece on an official visit. At our meeting we were able two discuss to issues of mutual interest. We jointly welcomed this initiative, which is actually an indication for peace and security in the Balkans. The U.S. and Greek governments are both working in this direction, and of course we had an opportunity to underline the special role Greece is playing in the framework of the European Union. Our two countries have excellent bilateral relations, and we realize that these excellent relations lead to long-standing cooperation which benefits peace, democracy and freedom.
We touched upon several important areas of bilateral interest. For example we spoke about defense and security policy, given the defense and security policy being developed within the framework of NATO. I had the opportunity to make clear to my counterpart why European policy shouldn't stall progress, and we should proceed on the peace and security field within the framework of NATO.
On the bilateral level now, we have elaborated on the CTA [Comprehensive Technical Agreement], which regards the legal regime on U.S. military activities, both on and off the bases. This agreement will be applied at the same time as the prior agreement governing NATO forces. As a result these two agreements will complement each other.
I was also given an opportunity to dwell on the Cypriot issue. I expressed my support for the political solution which is necessary and my expectation that Mr. Denktash will go back to the negotiating table under the auspices of the UN. We firmly believe that the EU perspective for Cyprus is very important and will give impetus to all subjects regarding the island, both regarding the EU itself and the relations between Turkey and the EU.
Rumsfeld: Thank you very much, Mr. Minister. I appreciate your hospitality, I'm delighted to be here, and certainly thank you and your country for your leadership in the Southeast European Defense Ministerials. I quite agree that we have an excellent relationship, which we value, and certainly a close working relationship with respect to the Balkans. We're very pleased with your leadership and the success in concluding the CTA after two years of discussions and negotiations. I would also say that we're pleased with the progress being made in Greek-Turkish relations, which of course are very important to us as two countries that we consider friends and allies in NATO. I'd be happy to respond to questions.
Q: The Bush Administration has indicated a preference to reduce U.S. military non-combat missions around the world. Did your visit to Kosovo yesterday convince you that U.S. military forces in Kosovo should remain at their present level for the foreseeable future?
Rumsfeld: Well, the Bush Administration's policy is that we are engaged in the Balkans with our friends and our allies, and we have always worked closely with them with respect to any adjustments or changes that have taken place over the years with respect to force levels and of course deployments and organization. That will certainly continue to be our policy and our full intention.
There is no question but that the SFOR and KFOR forces in the Balkans are making a very valuable contribution to stability in the region. Our interest is peace and stability in the region and finding ways to do it in the most effective and constructive possible way.
Q: A brief follow-up question: are you convinced of the continued need for U.S. troops in Kosovo.
Rumsfeld: Oh certainly. I would add to this very briefly that obviously the hope, goal and intention of all of the nations that have troops in the Balkans is that over a period of time the parties on the ground will sort through their differences in a peaceful and constructive way, and find the kind of civil structures that will enable them to have the stability that would be necessary for them on a more durable basis.
Q: [Through translator] I have a question for Secretary Rumsfeld, but I'd also like a comment from Minister Tsohatzopoulos. Recently there has been talk in the region and in the West about a de jure change of borders in the region. Statements from Mr. Kissinger and Lord Owen, and the announcement of the Skopjen [Macedonian] Institute of Sciences --
Rumsfeld: Excuse me, but what is the essence of what you're saying?
Interpreter: De jure change of borders.
Rumsfeld: The borders where?
Interpreter: In the region.
Tsohatzopoulos: In Southeast Europe, they say. It was a bad question.
Translator: The statements talk about "walls" in the region, they refer to an actual wall in Mitrovica which was erected by KFOR to separate the Albanians from the Serbs. I would like to know what your comment is, and whether you have heard similar statements in Washington.
Rumsfeld: Whether what?
Translator: Whether similar statements have reached Washington.
Rumsfeld: I think I'll leave the question to the minister.
Tsohatzopoulos: If I understood the question correctly, the concern was about whether there will be an acceptable change of borders, because there are concerns in Kosovo and Skopje. My response is that our policy is based on UN Resolution 1244, which provides for a settlement of the problem given the existing borders. No changes whatsoever are expected. There is the 1972 Helsinki decision, through which the international organizations are working, there is no legal change of borders.