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Secretary Cohen Media Availability En route to Moscow, Russia

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
June 12, 2000

Monday, June 12, 2000

(Media availability en route to Moscow, Russia)

Q: Going back to your answer...

Secretary Cohen: Answer on what?

Q: Answer on the international court, the war crimes (inaudible). We were talking on the way over that it was an interesting answer, and that if Saddam Hussein or Milosevic would have said the same thing, we'd be, like, that's preposterous -- they're horrible human rights violators, and they need to be brought up in front of a court of law. How do you...

Cohen: They also don't have a respected judicial system. The United States does, and we have demonstrated over the years that whenever there is an allegation of an abuse on the part of a soldier that we have a judicial system that will deal with it very effectively. Our concern is that once you have a totally independent international court that is not under the jurisdiction, supervision, and is not in any way influenced or obligated to a supervisory institution like the United Nations Security Council, then the potential exists for allegations to be made against our soldiers that can be frivolous in nature. You could have charges brought, or you could have soldiers apprehended and brought before The Hague. I think this would be very destructive to our international participation. It would be intolerable as far as the American people are concerned. As long as we have a mature, respected judicial system, then there should be some insulation factor, whether it is a filter on the part of authorization from the UN Security Council or some measure to protect people against frivolous charges that can be brought. Now, we just saw recently the charges brought against NATO in which Carla del Ponte had to make a very thorough examination. But the very notion that there be an allegation of war crimes, given what we went through to protect innocent life, is just the shape of some things to come in the way of allegations being made by third parties, by other nations, that would seek to embarrass or try to in some way to hinder U. S. participation in international affairs. So, if there can be something worked out whereby a non-party that has a mature judicial system and is respected as such at the international level, then I think that consideration should be given, and we could be supportive of the court. But if there is no protection for our soldiers -- we're the ones that are called upon virtually every time to be deployed all over the world -- then, we would adamantly oppose it

Q: Well, couldn't what happened with Nader this time happen again still with the war crimes tribunal? There would be nothing that they're deciding now that would stop similar things from happening again, right?

Cohen: In terms of the court that they currently have? That is not an international criminal court. That is under the jurisdiction of the UN.

Q: What, realistically are you expecting from these meetings in Moscow? I mean, what, realistically, do you think the Russians will (inaudible)?

Cohen: Well, we're going to talk about some things in addition to NMD and ABM. We will talk about training together, preparing the forces that will be deployed to Kosovo, having a kind of pre-deployment joint training session and preparatory sessions. We will talk about areas of shared early warning. We will talk about that in greater detail. We will talk about the need to continue the Cooperative Threat Reduction program. We'll look for ways in which we can generally engage them and look for areas of cooperation, understanding that there'll always be areas of dispute, but we'll work through them in a diplomatic fashion. I will take advantage in dealing with some of their intellectual and academic members tonight. Tomorrow, as I understand it, the meeting is on with President Putin. It was supposed to be today. Then, it got changed. So, it's on for tomorrow. Obviously, with the Duma members, I have met with them each time that I've traveled to Moscow, and when they come to the United States, I meet with them. So, we will just talk about ways in which we can cooperate. I will try to find out more about their proposed NMD system, but I think it's just important that we continue to stay in contact. It was important that Marshal Sergeyev come to the PJC meeting in Brussels. It's been too long that they've been away. There are a whole variety of issues we've got to talk about in addition to NMD.

Q: Do you have any doubt, at this point, that this isn't simply a ploy to divide the allies?

Cohen: So far, it's a very vague concept or idea, which has no defined parameters. So, it's hard for me to have a responsible comment on it until I know more about it. We can look for ways on a TMD program, certainly. We can look for ways to cooperate on joint projects. We already have a number of projects underway working with our allies, and we certainly could work with the Russians on TMD programs. Based on what I have heard today, this concept doesn't really effectively deal with the issues that (inaudible).

Q: Based on what you've heard today, do you see any basis for cooperating with them?

Cohen: I have to know more about it. I haven't dismissed it, but I've raised the kind of questions that are important to raise. That is, we don't know whether it's a boost phase intercept system or not. If so, then there are a lot of questions that flow from that. If it's not boost phase, then how would it protect the United States? If it's not boost phase, you still have the ABM modification issues involved. So, there are a lot of things that have to be clarified before we have a responsible comment.

Q: How important is the European view going to be in your recommendation to the president on whether to move ahead?

Cohen: Well, it will be important, but that's the reason why I spent so much time dealing with the Europeans.

Q: How important?

Cohen: It's important, and I've tried to convey that. You cannot have an effective NMD system unless you have the cooperation of key allies, whether it's in phase one or phase two of our proposal. Their interest should be taken into account, which is one reason why I have spent so much time explaining our system.

Q: Did you get a sense from them that the Russian proposal had eroded any of their support or had caused some questions in their mind or made things more difficult for you?

Cohen: No, I don't get that impression. I think they still have genuine questions and concerns about the NMD project in itself. I don't think that the Russian proposal -- because it's not really a proposal, not really something concrete -- has made much difference.

Q: So, he didn't divide the allies?

Cohen: No, and the allies have not signed onto the system which we have not signed onto ourselves because the president hasn't decided to deploy it. We're still in the stage where the president first has to make a decision as to whether we're going to deploy or not, and then we would have to have the support of the allies in order to carry out, certainly, phase one and phase two. Phase one is much more limited because of what will be required, software types of changes rather than construction of (inaudible). But we will continue to work with the allies, and if we can work with the Russians, we will do so. What I've heard today doesn't really deal with the issue that we have. Plus, the time factor-if they're talking about developing a boost phase type of interceptor system, it's going to be at least 10 year's away and we need to have a system somewhere around...

Q: You still think what they're talking about is a boost phase?

Cohen: I don't know. I really don't know.

Q: Let me ask you something else. There's been criticism again just in the past couple of days that the ABM testing has been essentially rigged to make it look like it works even though it can't possibly work. The man who's proposing this is a reputable scientist. He's apparently looked at the data. I know that you all have been coming up with a point by point rebuttal. Are you satisfied that the testing and design has been as rigorous as possible, not simply dummied up to make it look like it works?

Cohen: I am not interested in recommending the deployment of a system that doesn't work. So, my answer is that I will look very carefully and scrutinize everything. We're going through stages right now, looking at the technology involved. That's very, very challenging in a very time compressed period, but I am not interested in endorsing something that is either structured in a way that is bound to fail or is simply a system which we spend billions of dollars on that doesn't have any chance of working effectively. We believe that the testing to date demonstrates the validity that we are close to having a technology that can, in fact, defeat a few dozen missiles fired by a rogue state, and that's the criterion that I will look at.

Q: Are you taking any kind of message from the United States to President Putin on his visit to North Korea?

Cohen: No. I just learned about his position. He's going.

Q: Is there anything that you're hoping he's going to, you know...

Cohen: If President Putin can persuade the North Koreans to give up their missile program, I think that we would all welcome that, but he's already issued a statement that he doesn't intend to make any statement about their missile program.

Q: I have a question on the nature of the threat. What is it about...

Cohen: I'm sorry. Am I correct about that, Ken?

Bacon: I haven't seen any (inaudible).

Cohen: I saw a report that said that he didn't intend to try to urge them to discontinue their missile system. To qualify it, I thought I saw a report to that effect.

Sorry, you're out of time.