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Media Availability with Secretary Cohen and Secretary Robertson, UK

Presenters: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and Secretary of State for Defense George Robertson, the United Kingdom
June 03, 1998 12:00 PM EDT

Secretary Cohen: The Minister and I have had an opportunity last evening and also this morning to share discussions on a number of issues. We have a very strong friendship. We met last year, approximately a year ago, and have spent a good deal of time talking to each other by phone and also meeting at NATO Ministerials. Today was an opportunity for us to spend considerable time reviewing a variety of subjects that we are cooperating on and areas that we are cooperating in.

So we are here to welcome the Minister. This is the first anniversary of his first official visit to Washington. We look forward to a number of years in the future.

Secretary Robertson: It's very nice to be in the Pentagon. I think I've seen a lot of you earlier on this morning, but it's nice to be here again in front of the American and the expatriate press.

As Bill says, we've got a very strong personal relationship, but we're also two of the closest allies in international security terms as well, and therefore coming to the Pentagon we're looking at a very dangerous world and how best we two countries, as part of NATO and as part of a growing international security community, can get to grips with the challenges that face our people.

So yes, it's past the first anniversary, and anniversaries are very important for politicians. They're one further step along the road to our own positions in our jobs here as well. But a personal and country-to-country friendship has been consolidated here today, and I'm very glad to be here.

Q: Mr. Secretary, the Minister told us this morning that you all agreed to cooperate on the chem-bio defense with your military, perhaps in stockpiling things and research. Could you go into a bit of detail on what you're talking about. Perhaps stockpiling protective suits?

A: (Cohen): We're going to explore a variety of ways in which we can cooperate. It would be developing protective equipment, it would involve devising and cooperating as far as developing vaccines. It would involve developing cooperative measures as far as the sharing of intelligence. It would cut across a wide variety of areas that are going to be required if we are going to effectively be able to cope with the threat of weapons of mass destruction and chemical and biological weapons. These are just some of the areas that we're currently exploring.

A: (Robertson): I think the standoff between Iraq and the United Nations earlier this year brought home to many people just how deadly and how real the threat from chemical and biological weapons actually is. I think people rightly expect their governments to be in the forefront of research into the vaccines that are available just now, and making sure we've got adequate stocks of them; researching whether further vaccines can be made available that are safe and would give protection to our troops and to the wider population. Whether there are systems of detection that can also be increased in number but made much more effective. We're already looking at that carefully.

As the two countries that were at the forefront of defending the authority and integrity of the UN earlier this year, we want to make sure that we learned the lessons of that period. Just as the UNSCOM Chairman this morning will be seeing, I'm sure, that Iraq has still to provide the evidence to show that it has destroyed its capability in this area, then so long as we cannot trust them, we must keep our vigilance up. That is why the cooperation between our two countries in this area is absolutely vital. It's not just a desirable add-on, it is critically important to the security of people in the Middle East, but also in the wider international community.

Q: For both of you gentlemen, Kosovo. There's been an escalation over the weekend in the violence in Kosovo. I believe our President has said that it must not become another Bosnia. The Kosovars are ready to quit the peace process. At least as of Friday they were pretty frustrated. I would ask you gentlemen, can NATO deploy into Bosnia? Should NATO deploy? What is the British view of the seriousness of this situation? For both of you.

A: (Robertson): The British position is the same as the Americans, and that is that this is an important and serious situation that we have seen developing. That Slobodan Milosevic must be under no illusions that the international community expect him to deal with this resolutely, nonviolently, and diplomatically, and that we will keep up the pressure to make sure that that takes place. The NATO military authorities have been taxed by the Foreign Ministers last week with looking at all of the options that are involved in it. The Defense Ministers will be meeting in Brussels next Thursday and Friday as well.

We treat this matter with great seriousness, and the Partnership for Peace exercises that are scheduled for Albania and Macedonia on the borders of Kosovo are designed to show that we are going beyond mere declarations and that the message to Milosevic is deal with this issue, and to deal with it nonviolently.

Q: Do you favor deployment of British troops in Kosovo, per se?

A: (Robertson): That is something that is being dealt with on a NATO basis. All of these options are being looked at and examined. But we've got to be practical about what we do here.

The border between Albania and Kosovo looks like a line on a map, but in fact it's 6,000 feet high mountains that make up that border. At the present moment it would be to the advantage of Milosevic and Kosovo if there was to be a complete blockade put on the mountain passes that are involved there.

So we must be careful in making sure that our message is strong and is robust and is practical. That is why these very substantial Partnership for Peace exercises have been organized, to make sure that that message goes across and the Defense Ministers will look again at what evidence and assessment has been made when we meet in Brussels.

Q: There are reports that NATO is studying the possibility of deploying something like 23,000 troops, just studying. But it appears at least to me that they're talking about deploying these next door to Kosovo, not in Kosovo. A, what are the odds that this would actually occur? And B, is that likely to be effective even if it does occur?

A: (Cohen): You indicated that it's a study. NATO has been tasked to study a variety of options. There should be no declaration in terms of what the intent is going to be or the result is going to be. It's required and incumbent upon us to examine what options would be available should military force be required. So I don't think that one should draw any conclusions from the study itself, but rather this is prudent exploration on the part of the NATO countries, and we would be abdicating our responsibility if we simply ignored it.

So there is a study underway to find out what the options are and then there will be an assessment made in terms of its desirability, its feasibility, and effectiveness. Until that study is completed, until it's been examined and reexamined, then I think it would be rather counterproductive to say what is going to take place.

A: (Robertson): The problem in Kosovo comes from Belgrade and from Slobodan Milosevic because it is his policy there that is causing the immediate crisis there. Therefore a diplomatic solution to this problem has got to be found. The views of the Kosovar Albanians have got to taken into account in any eventual outcome. Therefore the pressure on Belgrade will be maintained to take the right direction about the future of Kosovo. But an examination of the military options does not mean to say that we are wedded to any of these options at the moment.

Q: For both of you gentlemen on India/Pakistan, the nuclear faceoff. What should be done? Should they be cajoled or bullied or what? And what can be done about Kashmir, which seems to be at the heart of the problem? What concrete steps could be taken by the United States, Britain and other countries to ease the Kashmir...

A: (Cohen): As you know, there are going to be meetings this week and next week to examine exactly what options are available, but I think the world community has expressed itself in condemning what both India and Pakistan have done. They have, in fact, reversed the current of events, namely that you have seen a strong current flowing in the direction of nuclear nonproliferation, of nuclear disarmament, of countries declaring themselves to be nuclear free and abdicating any desire whatsoever to develop and deploy nuclear weapons. So if you look at what has taken place with Ukraine, with Belarus, with Kazakhstan, with South Africa, with Brazil, with Argentina, these two countries now have reversed that trend and I think they should expect that the world would condemn what they have done and we should try to find ways, obviously, of curbing any further tensions that could be developed. We have said before that we want to see them lower the rhetoric, lower the tensions, start talking in a more rational manner. But also to stop the production of fissile material, to agree to a comprehensive test ban treaty, to sign up to that. To find ways in which we can deal with the issue of Kashmir. I know that India, for example, would object and does object to any internationalization of that issue, but frankly, I think it's something that has to be on the agenda for a variety of countries to sit down and talk about ways in which we can reduce tensions in that area.

But I think in the short term, obviously the United States is going to take some action because it's required to take action as far as the imposition of sanctions, and then to also indicate to these two countries that they have to find ways in which to reduce the tensions that we have to work cooperative to facilitate that.

Q: What can be done about Kashmir, to ease the tensions there?

A: (Cohen): We first have to start talking about Kashmir and seeing what options are available in terms of reducing the tensions. As I've indicated before, India has strongly objected to any kind of international consideration of that issue. I think it has to be on the agenda.

A: (Robertson): The P-5, the Permanent 5 Foreign Ministers are meeting tomorrow in Geneva and next week in London the Foreign Ministers of the G-8 are going to be meeting. This sort of (inaudible) of numbers and letters seem to be associated together. But, what is important is that there is a multinational response to the India/Pakistan situation, know that the tests have taken place, and that we move forward to make sure that they reenter the comprehensive test ban regime that, as Secretary Cohen says, that they deal with fissile material. We make sure that the pressure is on to do all of these things. So a combination of sanctions, some of which have already been announced and some of which will no doubt be considered by the countries both at tomorrow's meeting and next week's meeting, combined with a movement forward to try and bring these two countries back into the regime which, as Bill says, has produced dividends in the past. It's going to be clear where the priority... But operating on a multinational basis is clearly part of the outcome that we're all looking for.

Q: Closer to home, Mr. Secretary, the President today declared MFN status for China. Do you have any reaction to that?

A: (Cohen): I strongly favor that. During my years in the Senate I favored the extension of most favored nation status which is normal trading status with China. I believe it's important for us to continue that policy and I strongly endorse what the President has declared. I'm hoping that Congress will also endorse that.

Q: How will that affect mil-to-mil relations between the two countries?

A: (Cohen): Our military-to-military relationship is good. We continue to build upon the relationship that was started certainly under Secretary Perry which I have followed up with my own visits to China. We have secured by way of that military to military cooperation efforts on the part of certainly the Chinese to stop the flow of nuclear technology going to Iran, to pledge not to convey any anti-ship cruise missiles, the C-801s, 802s, and cooperate in a variety of ways to lessen tensions in the Gulf region.

In addition to that, we have established these contacts whereby we're going to share our expertise and how we cope with humanitarian type of exercises, and hopefully we will build upon that with port visits and other types of programs to build a strong relationship in the future. So our military-to-military contacts will continue and they will be built upon.

Q: Back to Kosovo, is it fair or accurate to say that the Clinton Administration is less willing to get militarily involved in that situation? And if so, why? And for the Defense Minister, it sounded a moment ago as if you suggested there could be some kind of economic or military blockade on Kosovo. Is that under active consideration? If so, how would that be done? Who would carry it out?

A: (Cohen): With respect to the first question, it's always I think important to try to resolve issues like this diplomatically, to use whatever levers we have from economic to diplomatic trade, whatever levers are available before looking to a military options.

Is the Administration reluctant to exercise a military option? Obviously this is something that requires a multinational approach. The United States is not eager under these circumstances or others to be the sole power who's going to exercise military options. Secondly, you have to be very clear on what the mission is. Before you can even talk about exercising a military option you have to be very clear on what the mission is, how defined it is, how realistic it is, achievable, and what the risks are involved and what would be the so-called exit strategy out of any military operation. So there is that kind of calculation that would go into any area.

We have learned, obviously, from our experience in Bosnia. There was a peace established in Bosnia. We are maintaining that peace. So we will look for ways in which we can help resolve this issue diplomatically and turn to military options not as a first resort, but a last resort.

A: (Robertson): Just as the problem has been created in Kosovo by Mr. Milosevic, then the problem can be solved by Mr. Milosevic. There are a whole number of factors that will change his mind about what he's doing at the present moment in that part of the world. Some of them will be a military calculation; some of it will be a democratic calculation. After all, there was a stinging rebuke from Montenegro at the weekend through the ballot box on his present policy. And partly, it will be economic because Serbia is an economic basket case at the moment. Further sanctions or the reinforcement of existing sanctions will undoubtedly put pressure on the civil population and on Milosevic's regime. So diplomatically and in every other way we've got to try and change his mind about the approach that he is taking, the attitude he is taking in Kosovo, and we will do that. As long as we keep all of these things working in the same direction, he will get one unmistakable signal, and we intend to change his mind.

Q: Does that, as suggested earlier, include consideration for some kind of military blockade?

A: (Robertson): NATO is looking at all of the military options and at their practicality and at their efficacy. And it is for NATO to do that. NATO is the military organization that unites us all together.

There is a contact group of nations that includes Russia that is involved with the diplomatic process at the present moment, and all of the contact, including the Russians, are calling on Milosevic to change his approach in Kosovo.

So we will use every mechanism that is available and is practical to change the view of the Belgrade government and its actions against the Kosovars at the present moment.

Press: Thank you.