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DoD News Briefing: Secretary Cohen

Presenter: Secretary Cohen
December 09, 1997

Secretary Cohen: Good morning.

First, let me express my deep gratitude to Minister Kim for his flexibility and consideration in traveling to Washington so we could hold this very important meeting.

As you know, the meeting was scheduled to be held in Seoul last month. Minister Kim and I have just concluded a very productive session. This is the 29th Security Consultative Meeting between our two countries. The meetings demonstrate our shared commitment to security on the peninsula and our reliance on close consultation between our governments.

Today we reaffirmed our strong alliance and our efforts to deter aggression. These meetings showed our ability to work together on a variety of issues.

First, the United States agreed to return the 4,955 acre Tong du chon training area to the Republic of Korea control. In return, the United States receives guaranteed access to other appropriate training areas plus land, some 58 acres, necessary to connect Camps Casey and Castle.

This is a win/win change for the United States and for the Republic of Korea.

Second, we reviewed the uncertainty of future developments in North Korea and agreed to consult closely on preparations for a wide range of contingencies, including humanitarian challenges.

Third, we discussed the long term future of the alliance. We agreed that the United States and the Republic of Korea will continue to share significant values and security interests after the threat of aggression has receded on the peninsula. We intend to protect our interests by adapting our bilateral security relationship to the changing conditions over the long term.

Finally, I'd like to note that the first meeting of the four-party peace talks is taking place today in Geneva. Minister Kim and I are both very pleased that the initiative that has been launched by our two Presidents has reached this point. Such diplomatic progress would not be possible without a solid security relationship between the United States and the Republic of Korea.

Minister Kim: First I would like to thank Secretary Cohen and his staff for allowing us to have the 29th SCM here in Washington. Originally it was scheduled to be held last month on the 14th, but due to the incidents in the Middle East, we were able to have these discussions here in Washington.

Secretary Cohen and I have discussed ways of improving the situation and countering the threat from the North Koreans, both local and of a surprise attack. We have shared and cooperated and exchanged thoughts on these issues so that we can improve on the relationship between our two countries and to strengthen the long term relationship of both of our countries.

I feel that it has been a most productive and satisfying discussion and I'm sure that both countries will work on these issues in the future.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I might ask on another subject briefly. You announced this morning that you're postponing a six day trip to the Middle East next week in large part because of the Iraqi situation, although it's also Bosnia. Is U.S. foreign policy being manipulated by Saddam's indecisions? And are you being held hostage by situations?

Secretary Cohen: I'm not being held hostage. This was a decision on my part, in view of the fact that we have two major issues to deal with in the coming weeks, and I decided it would be prudent for me to be in Washington next week when the President is here. We do have to provide political guidance to the NATO committee, defense committee, that is now examining options about what future role the United States and NATO might play in Bosnia. That decision really has to be made in terms of giving the guidance, at least, during the course of next week. The President will be in Washington next week and I hope to be able to consult with him frequently on that issue.

Secondly, because the situation remains unsettled in Iraq, I felt it would again be prudent for me to be here where I can be in direct communication with the President and the national security team if we need to consult.

As you know, when we are traveling sometimes communications are difficult, certainly aboard aircraft, and when secure communications are necessary, it also becomes complicated when one is not able to have direct access. So, for those reasons, I felt it would be wise to postpone it for a period of time until I can reschedule it -- much as I had to postpone the trip to Asia earlier by virtue of what was taking place in Iraq. I think, under the circumstance, it is wise and does not hold me hostage here by any means, but I think it's important that I be nearby to give the President whatever advice is prudent under the circumstances.

Q: Mr. Secretary, has the situation in Iraq changed at all, or is it now stable? How would you characterize it?

Secretary Cohen: I would say the crisis has eased somewhat, but has only been deferred. Until such time as Saddam Hussein agrees there is unlimited access by the UNSCOM inspectors, then one cannot say the crisis has been resolved. So I think the tensions have eased somewhat, but it remains to be seen whether they will intensify again, depending upon what the reaction is on the part of Saddam Hussein. Mr. Butler, as you know, is going to be traveling, if he has not already set forth on his travels, to visit Baghdad and we will have to see the outcome of his visit to the region and what the answer's going to be as far as providing unrestricted access to the UNSCOM inspectors to carry out their duties.

So I'd say the tensions have eased somewhat for the time being. They could intensify in the future -- in the event we don't see a proper resolution of the issue.

Q: There's no deadline for access to those questionable areas?

Secretary Cohen: There's no deadline. As I've indicated before, there is no set deadline, but obviously the process can't go on indefinitely without being resolved.

Q: Does your decision to postpone the trip to the Middle East in any way signal an increasing likelihood of military action?

Secretary Cohen: It should not signal anything other than what I've said here today. I have to devote considerable time and effort to help provide some political guidance to the NATO Defense Committee and Ministers so that they can formulate a number of options to be presented to NATO itself in the very near future. It will be more difficult for me to do that if I were to leave on Saturday when I was planning to leave, and then come back a week later. I think we have to move on a fairly accelerated time schedule under the circumstances. So Bosnia is one aspect of it; and because of the situation in Iraq, I believe it's prudent for me to remain here.

Q: Mr. Secretary, the North Koreans are pressing for top-level general talks, direct talks with the United States, and that is in direct contravention of the military armistice commission agreement. What is your response to that?

Secretary Cohen: Minister Kim and I discussed this, as a matter of fact. We intend to reiterate, if it needs reiteration, that the North Koreans cannot hope to, in any way, separate the United States from the Republic of Korea. We act with the Republic of Korea's government, we consult with them. We are strongly in favor of maintaining our relationship as it is, and the North Koreans cannot hope to try to divide that relationship by seeking to have direct bilateral negotiations with the United States. That is not acceptable.

Q: Can I interpret this as a firm commitment on the part of the United States not to pursue top general level talks with the North Koreans?

Secretary Cohen: We will not proceed with direct talks with the North Koreans unless it were in direct consultation with the Republic of Korea government in terms of whether or not we would be together in any kind of discussions. We are not going to have a policy of allowing North Korea to try to set up bilateral negotiations with the United States.

Q:

Secretary Cohen: I'm sorry?

Q: I mean you don't want to think of the bilateral meeting with North Korea, but my question, is there any (inaudible) that proposals of the general meeting between the UNC and KPA will be such a meeting between North Korea?

Secretary Cohen: I'm not aware of any such...

Q: Let me correct my question. My question is, instead of the bilateral meeting with North Korea and the United States, is there any agreement that the UNC -- the general meeting between UNC and KPA, the North Korean People's Army will be held?

Secretary Cohen: There will be no separate negotiations at any level between the United States and...

Q: I mean the U.N.'s command. The United Nations command and North Korean People's Army.

Secretary Cohen: Let me reiterate. There will be no such discussions unless the Republic of Korea is part of such discussions.

Q: Mr. Secretary, as you are aware of the famine in North Korea and other deteriorating conditions, and as you read the tea leaves and read intelligence reports, do you feel there is a greater risk of a North Korean invasion now than at any other time in recent history, even perhaps since the end of the Korean War? The second part of that is, do you or Minister Kim see any aggressive actions on the part of the North Korean military?

Secretary Cohen: I think the situation in the North remains unpredictable and unstable. Whether it is more unstable today than previously, I think is an open question. Obviously the food situation has exacerbated their domestic problems, but that appears to have eased somewhat on a temporary basis, but the long term outlook should not be improved based upon what we have seen to date; so that will continue to be a source, I would estimate, of instability.

In spite of the food shortage problem that has existed in North Korea, the North Korean government still devotes considerable resources to their military. So it is, again, ironic and perhaps inconsistent that while people are starving, they're nonetheless devoting substantial resources to their military. But that is the situation that we face.

Our reaction is that we intend to maintain a very strong deterrent, and the United States and the Republic of Korea, by being strong allies in this regard will deter any aggression on the part of the North. Should they ever seek to move militarily, we would respond in substantial fashion and not only deter, but defeat such actions.

So our best procedure right now is to maintain the strength of that deterrent capability, to improve it in any way we can, to be aware that there may be a chemical or biological capability on the part of the North, and be prepared to deal with that as well. Perhaps General Telelli and others can comment more specifically on that later, but that is our current capability now. We think we have sufficient forces and capability to deter any active aggression and to defeat the North should they be foolhardy enough to launch an attack for any reason -- be it a total loss of control of their domestic situation, or for whatever reason.

With respect to any aggressive actions, I think that we can say that we don't see at this point any act of aggression that would cause us to think there is any imminent danger. But I have to qualify that. They still have roughly a million men under arms; they still are forward deployed; they still have a capability that warrants our careful day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute scrutiny. So to say that we don't see any preparations that would indicate any imminent danger -- there's always an inherent danger just by virtue of the large force that they possess and the military capability that they have. So we are on alert and on the watch all the time.

Minister Kim: We have almost two million men under arms. The risk of a second Korean War has never been absent. But as of now I don't have any indication of imminent North Korean attack. But the likelihood of a war there still exists.

Q: What concrete steps, if any, do you see coming out of Geneva this week? I'd like to ask you both, please.

Secretary Cohen: One can only speculate, at this point, what steps might come out of the meeting in Geneva. I think the important thing is that they're meeting. I would expect this to be a fairly long period of negotiations, given the history of dealing with the North Koreans. I think this is not something we look at in terms of spontaneous or very quick solutions to a long-standing problem. I think the important part is the process is on today and hopefully will continue, and that they're meeting and talking and not shouting at each other and we're not shooting at each other. So that is progress in and of itself.

Q: A follow-up to Minister Kim. The four-party talks, do you believe the North Koreans are sincere in their desire to make peace, to have a lasting peace? Are they going to talk to South Korea there in Geneva or any time soon? What is your assessment of their intentions?

Minister Kim: First I welcome the talks after lengthy 19 month negotiations between the related countries. The fundamental purpose of the four-party talks is to have a long-term stable peace agreement along the Korean Peninsula. Because the talks have only started today, it is very difficult to foresee what the results will be, but we must not forget the purpose of these talks.

Q: Mr. Secretary, the Commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific said recently that the North Koreans appeared to be making preparations to deploy the No Dang missile. Is that missile close to deployment? If so, what kind of a threat will that pose to the forces in the region?

Secretary Cohen: I can say that the No Dang, the development of it, has been completed. Whether or not there are preparations underway for deployment or whether they have been, in fact, deployed, is not clear. But, obviously, any time you have a missile with increased range, that does pose a threat to the South and to perhaps others in the region.

Q: What steps is the U.S. going to take to counter those missiles once they're deployed?

Secretary Cohen: As you know, we are, in fact, developing a number of theater missile defense systems. We have a fairly vigorous program underway including our PAC-3 which, among the other programs, we will, in fact, take into account to counter such threat and to protect our troops.

Q: Secretary Cohen, as you prepare your Bosnia guidance, does the United States oppose any follow-on mission in Bosnia that doesn't include a certain firm withdrawal date as the last mission, since, as you know, there was some debate at NATO about whether or not there should be an open-ended commitment.

Secretary Cohen: I think that's yet to be determined. Again, the military committee, as such, defense committee, will make recommendations on options, and so I think it would be premature to indicate or speculate as to whether or not it would have a date certain or some other definition of what would take place.

Q: But that's not a requirement for a U.S. mission, to have a firm withdrawal date?

Secretary Cohen: I said it's an open question at this point. It's not been decided. The President has yet to make a decision on this. I believe he will need to stay in consultation with key members of Congress as well as his national security team which, again, is one reason I'm remaining in town for the next week.

Q: How soon do you anticipate a decision from the President on this? Don't they need to get going with the planning if there are going to be any changes?

Secretary Cohen: The planning has to be underway in terms of presenting guidelines to NATO itself, I believe by the 18th; in terms of giving the guidance. Then the options will be developed, and then there is a period of time following that, obviously, that the President will want to review those options as will all of NATO Ministers and then make a decision. So I would assume it would take place within the next several weeks, or sometime during January/February.

Q: A question for Minister Kim. Relating to the recent economic crisis in Korea, I expect that there will be some sort of effect on the ROK/US security structure that you have there. For example, on cost sharing and the modernization program. Has the Korean government relayed its position to the United States? And what was the response the United States showed to the position?

Minister Kim: During today's discussions, there were no discussion concerning the Korean economy. Although it is true that the Korean government is having difficulties with its economy, I do not feel that it should or that it will affect the alliance structure that we have between our two countries. Additionally, because of the forthcoming tight budget, I do feel there will be some restrictions on the purchase of foreign weapons and exchange of personnel between countries.

Q: In connection with Minister Kim's answer, the South Korean government recently, reportedly, concluded an agreement to purchase four AWACS airplanes from the United States, and the ongoing financial crisis brewing in South Korea is certainly a fact, as you said, of the procurement agreement between the countries. How do you expect -- do you think the financial crisis will affect negatively to the purchasing process of the AWACS and others, the Apache helicopters and the Comanche helicopters and so forth?

Secretary Cohen: That really is a question that should be addressed to Minister Kim. The Republic of Korea government must make a decision based upon its current economic situation in terms of how it balances its economy with its need for an appropriate defense. We have to make similar types of decisions, whether we have a strong economy or a weaker economy, always looking at what options are presented to us. Under the circumstances, obviously this is a decision that has to be made on the part of the Korean government. The Republic of Korea must decide what it can afford under which circumstances. So it's not something that the United States can decide for the Republic of Korea. That's a decision that rests with them.

Obviously, they are very much concerned with the potential of the threat that the North poses and they have to balance what is needed in order to offset that. Whatever modifications would be made would be something that they would do in their discretion. I'm sure they would also consult very closely with U.S. defense planners, General Telelli, to find out and examine what sort of tradeoffs would be possible given budgetary constraints, what that would do to the warfighting capability. That's something that would take place in the normal, routine discussions of our affairs.

Q: Minister Kim, if I might just follow up briefly, are you saying that no decisions have been made yet on what types of military sales might be postponed or canceled? And are you also saying that South Korea will not cut its economic support for the 37,000 U.S. troops on the peninsula?

Minister Kim: As you said, no final decision has been made on the status of our modernization program. It is our government's policy to maintain the 37,000 U.S. forces as long as we face the North Korean threat.

Q: So you will not cut financial support for those troops?

Minister Kim: We'll be bearing the fair burden of responsibility in terms of budget.

Q: North Korea has said they're seeking the elimination of those U.S. troops on the Korean Peninsula. What kinds of things would have to happen before the United States would consider any troop reductions in Korea? Or would you?

Secretary Cohen: First of all, the position stated by the North Koreans is completely unacceptable, as far as demanding that before discussions can be underway or continue in any fruitful fashion, that the United States must either reduce or remove its troops; that is not a negotiable item. Secondly, I think the United States only, in consultation with the Republic of Korea, could consider any kind of modification of our current structure after there were a demonstrable reduction in the threat -- and that would have to be deep and long term, and we would have to consult very closely in terms of whether there should be any corresponding reduction in the size of the Republic of Korea's forces or the United States' forces. So that's something that is long term in nature, there has to be demonstrable evidence of their commitment to reduce the nature of the threat, and we would make no decision until we had closely consulted as to whether it should be met with any kind of reciprocity.

Q: You mentioned a need for U.S. troops in Korea after peace has been established with North Korea?

Minister Kim: As you know, our alliance has been threat driven so far. In other words, as long as there is a threat from the North, the U.S. presence on the Korean Peninsula is very vital to the security of Korea. But we strongly believe the role of U.S. forces is very vital in maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia. So the future of the U.S. role will be closely consultative when such things as a reduction of tensions occurs in the future.

Q: Mr. Secretary, Ambassador Lawrence's body, your view on that...?

Secretary Cohen: The President has already expressed that his [Lawrence's] wife has requested it, and that resolves the issue.

Press: Thank you.