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Media Availability with Secretary Cohen and Minister of Defense Tevzadze

Presenters: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and Minister of Defense Lt. Gen. Tevzadze of Georgia
December 10, 1998

(The following media availability occurred after a full honors arrival ceremony hosted by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen welcoming Minister of Defense Gen. Lt. Tevzadze of Georgia to the Pentagon.)

Secretary Cohen: It gives me great pleasure to welcome Lt. Gen. Tevzadze to the Pentagon. Although this is his first visit to the Pentagon as Minister of Defense, he is certainly no stranger to the United States or to the United States military. In 1996 through '97, he attended the command and general staff college at Ft. Leavenworth. And I'm proud to report that he was an honor graduate. The relationship between the United States and the Georgian militaries is strong and it's getting much stronger. Following my meeting last summer, 1997, with President Shevardnadze, we enhanced our military contacts between our countries. There were 19 contacts between our militaries last year and 23 this year. And next year, we expect to have as many as 30 contacts. And I hope to be able to visit Georgia personally.

Our contacts have focused upon the developments of officers and noncommissioned officers and improving the ability of the Georgian forces to participate in Partnership for Peace activities. President Shevardnadze and Gen. Tevzadze have worked to develop a professional military that works comfortably with PFP and NATO countries. And they also want to develop a 21st Century military under civilian control. So I look forward to discussions with the General and his vision for the future in just a few moments.

I think we're prepared to answer any questions you might have.

Q: Mr. Secretary, Iraq flatly refused to allow U.N. inspectors into a building yesterday. Is Baghdad headed for another military confrontation with the United States?

A: (Cohen): Well, as Mr. Butler indicated yesterday, he considered it to be a very serious situation. He also indicated he was going to continue to complete UNSCOM's activities throughout next week. We intend to wait until the completion of his inspection and that of his team before coming to any conclusion about the nature of the lack of cooperation on the part of Saddam Hussein. So I agree with Mr. Butler that this is a serious matter. We also think it's important that they be allowed to complete their mission.

Q: Is Iraq still subject to U.S. attacks at any time without warning?

A: The answer is yes.

Q: Mr. Secretary, have you agreed with the decision to delay a national missile defense by a year?

A: We have under discussion right now what sort of formulation the national missile defense would take, what configuration, what assets would be necessary, what the development timetable is and how it all relates to the ABM treaty. And we hope to be able to make a decision within the next week or two in terms of finally resolving the issue so we can make a proper presentation to the Congress. So there has been no decision made as of this moment.

Q: Was the system even viable enough to move forward on the three plus three timetable?

A: Well, I intend to try to maintain the three plus three timetable. We want to make sure that the testing that's done allows us to proceed in good faith and also to reassure the Congress and the country that we are pursuing a program that is technically sound and feasible. And so, we have known from the very beginning that this is a so-called high risk program. There has never been a program that would really be in a research, development and deployment stage in such a compressed period of time. So we want to try to adhere to the time frames, while at the same time, assuring our country and again, our Congress that this is a responsible course of action. So I'll be able to make a public decision or announcement of decision within the next week to ten days.

Q: Mr. Secretary what's your read about the latest rhetoric out of North Korea and what do you think should happen if the north does not allow inspections of that underground facility?

A: I believe what should happen is [to] allow former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry to return to the United States to consult with the Department, with the President, with NSC and State before making any determination and what course of action should be pursued. I have indicated in the past that I believe North Korea must allow access to not only -- to any site which comes under suspicion for being in violation of the agreed framework. To the extent that they refuse to allow such an inspection or inspections, then I think that calls into question the viability of the agreed framework itself. But I think ultimately, we have to wait for former Secretary Perry to return to Washington and to give us the benefit of his evaluation.

Q: Do you think they currently have missiles that could strike the United States, operational missiles that can strike the U.S.?

A: Well, I wouldn't want to comment what their capability is right now. We're concerned about the most recent testing that we saw take place in August. There may be more tests coming in the future and that would continue to be of great concern to us. Thank you.

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