United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

News Transcript

Press Operations Bookmark and Share


Joint Press Conference at Vilnius, Lithuania

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
June 10, 2000

Saturday, June 10, 2000

Joint press conference at Vilnius, Lithuania

(Also participating: Ceslovas Stankevicius, minister of Defense of Lithuania)

Secretary Cohen: Let me express my delight in being in Vilnius to attend the third Nordic-Baltic-U.S. Defense Ministerial and to meet with Lithuanian leaders. The Baltic states have become a leading example of the benefits of regional defense cooperation. The Baltic peacekeeping battalion has just completed its third rotation in SFOR helping to make Bosnia and Europe more stable. Lithuania has made a firm commitment to improve its ability to work with other nations for security, operating very much in the spirit of Nordic-Baltic-U.S. framework. Lithuanian defense budgets are increasing to finance military reform and modernization programs. I am particularly impressed with the steps Lithuania is taking to lift the quality of life for the soldiers by improving barracks and training facilities. Lithuania is also making progress under the NATO Membership Action Plan. NATO will review the enlargement process in 2002 and it is, of course, too early to predict what, if any, action they will then take. But Lithuanian determination to lift its military capability, to work productively with NATO and non-NATO countries to improve its relations with Russia, and play an active role in regional security structures all are very good steps up that long and difficult staircase to possible NATO membership. As it has in the past, the United States will continue to assist Lithuania's participation in the Partnership for Peace program and the cooperative regional projects such as the Baltnet Regional Air Surveillance Network and through its concentration on improved security through regional cooperation. Lithuania continues to build a future that is much brighter than its past. With that, I will yield to the Minister.

Minister Stankevicius: I would like to speak in English. First of all, I would like to express my gratitude to Secretary Cohen for coming for this visit to Lithuania and for this very high evaluation of our progress which we have made as well as for his attendance at the Ministerial Conference, 1+5+3, which was held today. We had a good opportunity to exchange views on our broad cooperation in the security and defense area. I would particularly stress that the United States is the strongest Lithuanian partner in this cooperation. But I would also like to say that the other Nordic countries also are strong contributors to our common Baltic projects as well as our bilateral projects. This cooperation helps us to hasten our progress and to strengthen our own efforts, which will make for modernization of our forces.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I understand that at a meeting this morning you all discussed the need for greater engagement between the Baltic countries and Russia. Would this be to try to improve relations with Russia at NATO's review of the membership in 2002 and how would you go about overcoming Russia's concerns about NATO expansion in the Baltics?

Cohen: First, let me separate out the issue of NATO membership from establishing better relations with Russia. Whatever takes place with NATO enlargement, it is important that the Baltic states and other members of the European Community and NATO itself seek to find ways in which we can cooperate on many levels with Russia -- be it in environmental protection, disaster relief, peacekeeping operations -- where ever we can. In so separating it apart from NATO, we think that it is important that Lithuania and the other Baltic states -- Sweden, Norway, and all the other EU members and non-EU members -- must find ways to constructively engage Russia. So, in addition to that, I think there is a positive benefit to the extent that when such measures are undertaken, I think it does contribute to a sense of security on the part of the Russian people and Russian leaders. And that too will be important as the debate unfolds on future NATO membership.

Q: I want to know if military expenditures were one of the main issues when the membership question arose for Baltic states and other countries?

Cohen: We have indicated that the door to NATO remains open. We reiterate that no nation should be excluded by virtue of either geography or history. What we also have said is that membership in NATO requires a number of important steps: to modernize its militaries, to ensure that there is civilian control over the military, and to take such steps that are necessary to ensure that each member contributes to the collective security of NATO members and is not simply a consumer of the security benefits. That will require necessarily the increased expenditure of funds for defense modernization. We understand that Lithuania and other Baltic states have been going through some difficult economic times, but nonetheless they have also taken steps to improve their military capability. They are working very closely with the Partnership for Peace, the Membership Action Plan, and all of that will be important as the consideration of future NATO membership comes up again in 2002.

Q: Russia says it plans to declare its opposition to the Baltic States' admission into NATO. Such declarations are always threatening to Lithuania, so how is it possible to solve this issue with Russia?

Cohen: First of all, it should be clear that Russia does not have a veto over NATO decisions. One of the reasons that we established the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council was to give Russia a voice -- as Secretary [of State Madeleine] Albright has said, but not a veto. Namely, that we always want to take into account Russian concerns and Russian interests when we make our decisions in terms of how we carry out our action today and what we may do tomorrow. But that is internal to our decisions and Russia does not have a veto over those decisions. So NATO members will decide in the year 2002 whether there should be an enlargement and we will take into account all of the factors that I mentioned before -- the progress made by aspiring members to modernize their militaries, to adopt those measures that would satisfy the requirements, including a market economy and other criteria, and then a decision will be made at that time. I will stop here for the moment and then add a few words.

(pauses for translation)

I want to add just a few more words. You may recall that when the wall came down in Germany the question arose as to whether a unified and united Germany could remain a member of NATO. At that point Russia took strong opposition to that. We believed that a united Germany could remain and should remain a part of NATO and that steps could be taken to ameliorate or take into account any concerns on the part of the Russians that it would somehow pose a military threat to them. And we did that. And I think the Russian concerns were legitimate; they wanted to make sure that they were not going to be in any way put in an inferior position militarily by virtue of a united Germany still remaining a member of NATO. I believe that they also expressed opposition to enlargement of NATO this past round. I believe that as we engage Russia, as we show that this is a defensive alliance, that we can take into account their legitimate concerns and nonetheless do what is required for NATO itself. And so I believe that by engaging them and by possibly discussing and taking up issues of their concern and dealing with them in a responsible fashion, that we can overcome objections in the future. But a lot of work has to done and that is the reason why I have stressed the need to cooperatively engage Russia on a number of different levels.

Q: I have a question for both of you. Were there any concrete steps discussed in terms of engaging Russia? And also I would like to ask you, sir, given the history of your country, what do you think about this wanting Russia to be more involved?

Cohen: The next step is that I am on my way to Moscow. I will be engaging Russian leaders, including my counterpart Marshal Sergeyev. I hope and plan to meet with President Putin while I am there. I will meet with members of the Russian Duma. This will not be the first time; I have met with members of the Russian Duma in my office at the Pentagon as well as in Moscow in the past. And so I will certainly personally continue these efforts, but we will do so on a government-wide basis because it is in our interest to have this engagement with Russia. All of us have stated at the various meetings we have attended, and all of the NATO members, EU members, and partnership members understand that Russia must be stable and engaged with the rest of the European membership. So this is something that we will do on a constructive basis. There is an exercise taking place today with Iceland, Russia and Iceland, and we will have other exercises that we will continue in the future -- all in an effort to build a sense of mutual confidence, to reduce suspicion or apprehension so that we can take measures in the future that will provide for security and stability and promote prosperity.

Stankevicius: May I say some words in this context? During this conference, we got an opportunity to introduce our view on cooperation with Russia and I would like to give only one example. Recently, Russia accepted Lithuania's initiatives on confidence, directed to confidence building. Russia agreed with the Lithuanian proposal to exchange some additional inspection in the Kaliningrad region as well as in Lithuania, and also to exchange additional information in the framework of the Vienna document. Along with our cooperation with Russia, I would like to particularly express our cooperation with the people and government of the Kaliningrad region. We are building confidence; confidence between us and Russia and the Kaliningrad region. This confidence will very positively serve both countries. The Russians see that Lithuania has and shows good will and is ready to cooperate with them in all possible areas.

Cohen: Could I add that that is a mutual responsibility? Establishing a good neighbor policy also requires Russia to act in ways that are cooperative and constructive and so it is always very much of a two way street and that is how mutual confidence and respect is established.


Additional Links

Stay Connected