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Joint Press Briefing with Secretary of Defense Cohen and MoD Tsokhatzopoulos of Greece

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Cohen and MoD Apostolos-Athanasios Tsokhatzopoulos of Greece
July 08, 1998

Secretary Cohen: Good morning. Sorry we're running a little bit late. Let me welcome my friend Akos Tsokhatzopoulos to his very first official visit to the Pentagon. This is the third time that we've met since April and our friendship indeed is growing.

When we met in Athens, the minister gave me a personal tour of the Acropolis and, for a former classics major, that was an exciting experience certainly. We have nothing comparable in the United States, but I'm pleased that Mr. Tsokhatzopoulos had the opportunity to visit our temple of democracy known as the United States Congress.

We had a very good meeting this morning. We talked about many of the concerns that Greece and the United States share as friends and allies: the challenges of bringing peace to Kosovo, both Greece and the United States are seeking and want a diplomatic solution; the importance of continuing our efforts to reduce the tensions in the Aegean and in Cyprus; our joint support for the multinational peace force in southeast Europe -- this, like the southern Europe defense ministerial from which it grew, is a key to building more stability and security structures in the Balkans; the United States' commitment to help Greece modernize its military -- I am glad that Minister Tsokhatzopoulos has had time to visit with leaders of our defense industry; and, finally, we discussed an important issue that arose in our last press conference together in Athens, that of terrorism, and we are determined to work together to reduce this threat.

I think in each of our meetings we end up discussing a common literary heritage that began with Homer. In his funeral oration, Pericles spoke of the miseries of war and the sweets of peace. And as defense ministers, of course, we are committed to try to avoid the miseries of war and to preserve the sweets of peace.

But let me say that this has been a very important meeting. The relationship between the United States and Greece is stronger than ever and we intend to build upon that in the future months and years.

And I particularly appreciate your spending as much time in this country and traveling around from Texas to Missouri on from here to New York. You're going to Boston. I particularly appreciate you spending that kind of time to visit many parts of our country and influential people in our country.

I think I have to be translated.

Translator: Yes, sir. I'll just pick it up from here. Is that okay, gentlemen?

Minister Tsokhatzopoulos: It is a great pleasure for me and I certainly do experience great joy at being able to accept the invitation of my colleague here, the Secretary of Defense, Mr. Cohen. It is the first time, in fact, that I've had the opportunity as Minister of Defense of Greece to visit Washington. We have had very good collaboration with my colleague here. We've been able at this very crucial juncture to discuss the future of our two countries, to discuss the future of peace as throughout the world, especially in those areas which are facing crises. Suffice it to mention that Southeast Europe, our very neighborhood, if you like, is such an area.

In fact, all of the countries in the Balkans around the Black Sea and the Middle East have, as their objective, to overcome this crisis. We're talking here, basically, of a triangle of regional instability, if you like. So, we must therefore all work together in order to deal with this situation and to establish a stable situation in this area. We've had very, very fruitful talks together both as concerns our bilateral issues, in terms of a joint and common effort towards our future collective security, and establishing a body which will be effective in that sense, and also looking at what the conditions of security will be within Europe, within Central Asia.

Don't forget that the countries of Central Asia -- they too now are looking towards trying to achieve social development, to achieve prosperity in their own nations and; therefore, they're looking to the enlargement of the European Union and NATO in terms of their stability and security. In April of 1999, in fact, we will all be meeting in Washington in order to celebrate the 50th anniversary of NATO and also to approve a new structure in terms of the strategic planning of NATO in an effort to answer the call of a collective security and a stability.

We therefore talked about our efforts towards establishing stability, towards establishing peace, and reducing tensions which exist in our particular part of the world. In fact, our position on this is a common one and we both agree as to what should happen in Kosovo: there must be a political and diplomatic solution for the issue of Kosovo. We were also able to pick up issues of bilateral corporation, issues of joint interest to both our countries. We were able to talk about the development and the modernization of the Greek armed forces in collaboration, of course, which will take place between our two ministries that will assume collaboration with the armed industry here in the United States.

Now you sir, with your tremendous wealth of cultural knowledge quoted Pericles in finishing your introductory remarks here and of course, that indicated your deep knowledge of peace and war. May I, therefore, quote Alexander the Great, that field marshall who established, if you like, the principle of ecumenism around the world. And he was the one who was able, in times of confrontation, to establish a co-identification between what peace is and what those principles are that one should be clear, principles which say that differences of origin, religion, and color should in no way impede or obstruct us from living in a situation of peaceful coexistence.

May I, therefore, just say that this is a reiteration, if you like, of the basis of our collaboration, which I think will be very fruitful toward our common aims.

Secretary Cohen: And let me say that, just to make sure that I got the message about Alexander the Great, I have a very large bust of Alexander the Great in my office at this moment.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I want to ask you whether the U.S. is willing to participate in enforcing a no-fly zone over Cyprus which could avert the crisis over the S-300. And alternatively, I would like to ask Mr. Tsokhatzopoulos whether Greece would agree to such a proposal if it was a voluntary moratorium of flights over Cyprus.

A: Well, we are looking at ways in which we can reduce tensions in Cyprus. The minister and I talked about a variety of mechanisms that might be explored. The most important thing is to reduce the tensions to get the parties to not take actions which will only accentuate those tensions. The no-fly zone is one possibility that could be explored, but we have not made any determination on what the results should be in terms of how we achieve this reduction of tensions.

Minister Tsokhatzopoulos: Yes, but this is something we have discussed very openly with my colleague here, Mr. Cohen. The installation of the S-300 in Cyprus, well, obviously, this is something which reflects the situation of crisis in the country.

I think it's true to say that it would be in the interests of both countries, basically, for tension to be reduced; in fact, for substantial dialogue on the Cyprus issue to be embarked upon, because the problem of the area here is not if you increase and add to your defense systems in place in Cyprus. The point is that, basically, you have to embark upon the dialogue in order to find a solution to the Cyprus issue. So my answer on this would be that one has to take into account the fact that there is an excessive arming -- excessive amounts of armaments in the northern part of Cyprus. And I've said this publicly, in fact, that we ought to have a policy of demilitarization.

In fact, President Denktash -- President Clerides, rather, has already sent a letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations in which he is proposing a demilitarization of the island and that we should have a gradual withdrawal and all-out demilitarization of the island, therefore. And thereby, possibly, one could envisage the non-installation of the S-300 system.

But of course, if the other side has no volition for embarking upon on a dialogue, if the other side does not, in fact, accept the no-fly zone, which if one had very clear-cut guarantees for this, you would have a partial demilitarization -- partial air demilitarization and then that's to be extended for the whole of Cyprus -- if those two issues are not in any way accepted by the other side, it's very, very difficult for the Cypriot government, thereby, to unilaterally move to disarmament.

And this is something that we have, in fact, discussed. We've said that a very substantial effort should be undertaken for dialogue on the Cyprus issue to be commenced.

Q: For the defense minister, please, you have said that you believe that NATO military intervention in Kosovo would only create more instability in that region. Could you explain why you believe that? And, Mr. Secretary, do you share the defense minister's assessment of the situation there in Kosovo? Should NATO military intervention be required?

Minister Tsokhatzopoulos: Could you repeat your question?

Q: You have been quoted as saying that you believe NATO military intervention in Kosovo would only add to the instability in the region? Could you explain why you believe that and why you think NATO military intervention would be a bad idea?

Minister Tsokhatzopoulos: This is not something that I said in the discussions. In fact, I have read in an article this morning that this something they have quoted me as saying.

To put the record straight, therefore, I'll give you my position, once again. As I have said before the issue of Kosovo would require a political and a diplomatic solution. Kosovo is not Bosnia. And the military solution is not, therefore, apt or suitable, thereto.

The efforts of Milosevic, the efforts of the LKA extremists, are basically to say that by the very threat of a NATO military intervention activity they can thereby achieve their own ends. But that is very different from what NATO and the international community actually want and what they're talking about.

Milosevic and the LKA want to exacerbate the situation and bring it to a conflict. What basically the LKA wants is independence and the establishment of a greater Albania, but this is something which is not acceptable in terms of stability and peace in the area.

In fact, our position is a very clear one on this. Our belief is that the solution to the problem must be to support to the principle that minorities cannot in the name of human rights, through violent action, dissolve existing borders or call into question existing borders. In fact, we would support a policy of political action, of diplomatic mobilization through all of the international organizations, through NATO, the OSCE, the Western European Union, the Contact Group, in order to put pressure on Milosevic and the LKA, in order to provide support for Rugova, who in fact, is the only legal representative of the Albanian minority, and thereby to help him to establish a structure -- infrastructure which would enable Kosovo to have its autonomy.

But I think that Rugova is the person who is the responsible individual in this case and therefore should be afforded all the support of the international community in establishing a policy of peace.

Q: Mr. Secretary --

Secretary Cohen: Maybe if I could just address this one quickly. First, let me add one footnote to the question about Cyprus because she jumped in quickly with the question to the minister.

We think it would be a mistake for the Cypriots to deploy the S-300. We think that that would only add to tensions, rather than decrease them. And so we are hoping that no such deployment will take place.

With respect to the question on Kosovo, the minister and I are not in disagreement. We think a diplomatic solution is the only viable solution for the long-term stability of the region, and we think a military option is the very last option.

We do not favor those who are seeking independence for Kosovo. We do believe there should be greater autonomy for Kosovo. But the Contact Group is meeting as we speak, trying to hopefully bring about some proposals that will lead to a peaceful and diplomatic solution.

And the NATO countries are in agreement. We had a meeting in Brussels that we would review a series of military options of what might be required in the most extreme case, but we also are very clear on this; that, on the one hand, we do not want to see Mr. Milosevic indulge in the kind of attacks upon innocent civilians and disproportionate force that has been used in the past and, by the same token, we do not want to see any action taken by NATO that could then be construed as lending support, both either moral or military support, for those who are seeking independence.

So we think that the best solution is diplomatic and not military, but the military is a last option, not a first one.

Q: In case of a conflict between (inaudible) forces and the illegal Albanian liberation front, what are you going to do?

Secretary Cohen: Well, you're asking me to answer a hypothetical at this point. Again, I come back with trying to seek a diplomatic solution and we need not answer that question at this point. We're looking for a peaceful solution, not a military solution.

Q: There have been some criticism that statements coming from Washington like what you just said that the S-300 deployment will add to tensions and not decrease them. Without such statements that have been accompanied by other statements that the US will not accept any military action by Turkey, the interpretation of that is that Turkey is encouraged toward military action.

That's my first question and then I have another question on Kosovo.

Secretary Cohen: We are not encouraging Turkey to take any military action. As a matter of fact, I visited Turkey earlier this year and met with all of the officials and encouraged them to bring about a peaceful solution to the tensions that exist in Cyprus.

So I have made this clear in Turkey in public statements, also when I was in Greece. So there should be no mistake that we are in any way lending support for any kind of aggression on the part of Turkey.

Q: Enough blame has been placed on Mr. Milosevic or the extremists from the Kosovars; however, a lot of people believe that a greater cause of concern is the instability or lack of policy of the U.S. and the Europeans, which contradicts itself sometimes, and especially the fact that Mr. Holbrooke and the Europeans do not see eye-to-eye many times. Would you like to comment on that ?

Secretary Cohen: Well, I can only say on behalf of Mr. Holbrooke, I think that he has seen eye-to-eye with many Europeans. He has been one of the principal architects of the agreement that produced the so-called Dayton Accords, and I would think that he enjoys very high levels of support among European nations.

I don't think that you find the situation that we're in disagreement. The Europeans, I think, also are very concerned about what is taking place in Kosovo. That was the reason for the Contact Group getting together. That is the reason why NATO, at its meeting in Brussels just a few weeks ago, also was focusing upon Kosovo.

We see eye-to-eye on many issues. There may be a difference of approach in how we resolve it. There may be a difference of opinion as to whether one needs to go to the United Nations Security Council, for example, for authority. But there is no disagreement on the need to take collective action. Diplomatic is the preferable collective action.

Q: Mr. Secretary, did you discuss the violation of the (inaudible) treaty which the Greeks signed to put more armament in the Aegean islands, decreasing the tension in the Aegean?

Secretary Cohen: We discussed ways in which tensions in the Aegean can be reduced. There were a number of discussions that we had to produce a reduction in tensions, yes.

Q: Also, did you discuss the Greek military action of the PKK terrorist organization which the Turkish side met with the allies and approve of this assistance?

Secretary Cohen: We have had no such discussions today.

Q: Mr. Cohen (inaudible)?

Q: (Inaudible.)

Minister Tsokhatzopoulos: Can you repeat to me please? And don't translate. I understand. Which is your question?

Q: The first question is putting some more arms for the Aegean islands in violation of the (inaudible) treaty? Could you discuss that?

Minister Tsokhatzopoulos: Mr. Cohen answered already to you that, he discussed it. But if you asked me, if you ask me about this perspective, then I wish to give you an answer.

Is this so?

Q: Yes.

Minister Tsokhatzopoulos: If you are asking me about this problem --

Q: Yes.

Minister Tsokhatzopoulos: Okay. (Inaudible.) I cannot understand how it is possible to say that the Greek government puts more weapons in the Aegean Islands. The Aegean Islands is the place, as you know, that they are staying as the only regime in Europe under threat from the Turkish side.

And through the principles from (inaudible) country that stay under threat from outside has the elementary right to defend and to protect his own national territory. What is unnatural about such a question?

And it exists already a lot of decades and, on the basis of the Lausanne agreement, is any question about the borders or the possibilities area in the Aegean very clear, so that's not necessary to put in doubt or to exist question about this problem today.

Q: There are many factions in the Kosovar Albanian fighters, the KLA, that are not taking allegiance to Mr. Rugova, not following Mr. Rugova. And I would ask, there are many who want a greater Albania, who want Albanian descent, basically Turkish descent people to comes together for a greater state.

How does this particularly affect relations with Greece and Turkey since Turkey is, I take it, basically supporting those Kosovar Albanians? What is the danger of more confrontation with Turkey?

Minister Tsokhatzopoulos: First, I wish to make clear that the problem of Kosovo has nothing to do with balanced relations of Greece and Turkey. The question of Kosovo is a problem with international influence. The original stability depends from the correct solution to these problems. It exists, in any case, overspill dangers from Kosovo to the neighbor countries, and that is a reason more that we have to face very original, very correctly, and very clear what you have to do.

And as we told before, my colleague, Mr. Cohen and me, that the peaceful diplomatic solution (inaudible) for Kosovo is absolute necessary, the best solution.

Of course, the NATO take clear decisions in that direction, and NATO has to prepare, of course, for all eventualities because NATO has the ability to use even the military power as press more for a political decision in the problem of Kosovo.

That is the reason that, for me, it is not important which kinds of peoples they are and which (inaudible), if they are more or less nationalistic Albanese or not.

The problem is not allowed to try to solve the Kosovo problem in this direction, from the wish from the (inaudible) people, because they wish some different as autonomy, and autonomy and guarantee from the national community and the borders of Yugoslavia (inaudible) border is the only possible resolution.

Q: Doesn't the greater Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Albanian ethnic state threaten Greece security?

Minister Tsokhatzopoulos: I don't believe (inaudible) imaginary possibility. It has to do perhaps with an old dream of (inaudible) to create an old Balkanese federation, yes. But it has nothing to do with in our days. It was a historical challenge, about 100 years ago.

Q: Mr. Secretary, Mr. Minister, can you discuss the defense program of Greece and the possible arms sales from the US to Greece like the F-15 and the F-16 issues, and does the US, through this program and through the sales to Greece, plan to exercise some kind of control of the buildup of the armaments in the region?

Secretary Cohen: We deal with Greece and other NATO members on a bilateral basis. We have indicated our willingness to help Greece modernize its forces. We look at and evaluate their requests and make an ad hoc judgment. But we work very closely together. We have indicated we are willing and hopefully very able to deal with Greece's modernization needs. And it cuts across a variety of programs and we are a reliable supplier to a reliable partner.

Q: If Greece decides to order F-15s, is the US willing and ready to give to Greece the F-15s?

Secretary Cohen: That's something that we have to examine. No such request has been made. And we have provided information on a variety of programs, and Greece will make its evaluation on which program is desirable, which is affordable, which can be delivered in what time frame. There are a lot of factors involved. But we are, again, very willing to be helpful in Greece to modernize its forces.

Minister Tsokhatzopoulos: Thank you very much.