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Press Availability with Secretary Cohen and Argentine Defense Minister Dominguez in Cartagena, Colombia

Presenters: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and Defense Minister Jorge Domínguez of Argentina
December 02, 1998

Secretary Cohen: Good morning. My friend Jorge Domínguez and I have just completed a good meeting. We discussed Argentina's leading role as a force for peace and stability. They have been extraordinarily helpful and important in being one of the key guarantors of the agreement between Peru and Ecuador. They have worked toward reconciling differences on their own border with Chile and they have an outstanding and well-deserved reputation for peacekeeping throughout the world. In fact, they are going to be co-hosting a meeting next week at the National Defense University, dealing with the subject matter of civilian police in peacekeeping missions. We look forward to working with them during the course of that session. We are working to be able to share intelligence and military information together and also to provide the kind of equipment that will be helpful to Argentina in carrying out its peacekeeping operations around the world. So, we have a very strong friendship, we have a close personal friendship, but our countries are working together very closely on issues that affect peace and stability in many parts of the world. So it's my pleasure to now turn the microphone and the podium over my friend, Jorge Domínguez.

Minister Jorge Domínguez: I would like especially to thank my good friend, Secretary Cohen, for his very kind words. Since the first time we met in Washington we were able to establish strong cooperation and that is in great part thanks to the Secretary. Argentina recognizes in President Clinton and in the Secretary of Defense of the United States a very strong point for support in terms of our peace keeping programs, restructuring of our armed forces and the equipping of our armed forces. We have gotten not only material support but also intellectual support from the United States. We have been given access to DOD programs such as programs of the four year plan to restructure the military and there are other aspects of military to military cooperation that we have also gained access to. Our officers have participated in training programs at the highest level and therefore we are very pleased with this cooperation and we would like to thank Secretary Cohen for this cooperation.

Q: For Minister Domínguez: What assessment do you have of this Ministerial Conference?

A: (Domínguez): The assessment is a very positive one. We have made progress in terms of our agenda for cooperation and we have increased the understanding in matters of defense and security in the hemisphere. There is a lot of commonality and we will continue to work together to further cooperation amongst the countries of the hemisphere.

Q: A question for the Minister of Defense. Sir, a year and a half ago the United States lifted its restrictions on arms sales to Latin America. Since then there have not been the wave of sales that some predicted. I was wondering if you could share with us your views on why that has happened or why you think that has not happened. And also in the future whether or not you expect to see more of a rush toward sales in the region. Thank you.

A: (Domínguez): I'd like to say that the policy of the United States and that of President Clinton and the Secretary of Defense has been to promote peace and cooperation in the hemisphere. And the countries that belong to the Mercosur Agreement have promoted our subregion as a region of peace. This has been strongly supported by Secretary Cohen and he has expressed this support in all of the meetings that we have held with him. This measure was not meant to start an arms race. It was rather an option to be provided to us to help us to get better equipment. And the Argentine government will continue its policy of peace and development in cooperation with the other countries of the region.

A: (Cohen): I am going to violate a rule that Senator Muskie once had: it said if you can't improve upon silence, don't.. But that was totally an appropriate answer, Mister Minister, and let me just add one other factor. Last year when I made one of my first trips to the region, members of the press were inquiring as to whether I came bearing arms. And I tried to point out at that time my mission was to establish stronger bonds with the new democracies that had spread throughout the entire region. And that President Clinton indeed had made a policy decision that now that there were new democracies, our policy should be one of reviewing any requests for arms on a case by case basis. That continues to be the policy today, - that we promote peace and stability throughout the region. To the extent that each individual country feels it needs certain types of equipment for its defense, we review that on a case by case basis. But it's interesting to me to have a year pass and then the question be asked why are we not selling military equipment to the region. This relationship that we have, I think, as articulated by Minister Domínguez is precisely the right one. Democracies cooperating with one another, pursuing peace and stability. I thank you for asking the question.

Q: To what extent, sir, Secretary Cohen, would this desire to exchange intelligence with Argentina for help in the fight against drug trafficking and terrorism be used as a way to gather intelligence on domestic matters which is banned by a law in Argentina, by the law of national defense in Argentina?

A: (Cohen): Each country obviously has its own constitutional protections that regulate what government agencies can do in the way of gathering intelligence. But we also have agreements between countries in terms of sharing information that pertain to national security. The international trafficking of drugs, for example, transcends any one country and affects an entire region. Governments can in fact enter into agreements that allow for the collection of information that affect their national security interests and to share that on a multilateral basis. We are very sensitive in our own country as far as the collection and how information is collected in dealing with law enforcement problems or international type of problems with illegal drugs or materials coming into our country. But the information is carefully guarded and is done also to protect the interests of innocent civilians. So it's an arrangement that we have with many countries and we believe that we're able to carry out our national security responsibilities and to reconcile that with constitutional protections of our citizens and those of other countries, including Argentina.

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