(Joint media availability at the Pentagon with Minister of Defense Frank de Grave of the Kingdom of the Netherlands)
Cohen: It's my pleasure to welcome Frank de Grave on his first visit to the Pentagon as minister of Defense from the Netherlands. The United States -- (audio break) -- as nations with deep cultural, historical and political ties, and as NATO allies. On the first night of Operation Allied Force, an F-16 from the Royal Netherlands Air Force shot down a Yugoslav MiG. And F-16s from a joint Dutch-Belgian task force flew close to 2,000 sorties during the victorious 78-day campaign.
Operation Allied Force taught all NATO members that we have to improve our forces as -- if we're going to remain strong in the 21st century as we have been in the 20th.
Under the minister's guidance, the Defense Ministry has issued a white paper last November, outlining ways to improve the effectiveness, mobility, and the survivability of forces. And like many of our European allies, the Netherlands is going to find it difficult to make extensive force improvements at current funding levels. But I was pleased by the Dutch Cabinet's decision to add money to defense this past year.
The Dutch goal is clear, and that's to produce a military as strong and swift as Holland's Olympic swimmers. And I am told that you now have won some five gold medals.
De Grave: Yes!
Cohen: For the past 25 years, the United States and the Netherlands have worked together in the F-16 multinational fighter program, and now we are working together in the demonstration phase of the Joint Strike Fighter program.
At our meeting today, we discussed a wide range of topics, including the important role that Dutch peacekeepers play. In particular, we did discuss the possibility of Dutch participation in the U.N. Mission in Ethiopia/Eritrea, which would be a significant contribution to this important mission. The strong security partnership between the United States and the Netherlands, whether in the Balkans, the Horn of Africa, or in the war on drugs in the Caribbean, around the Dutch Antilles, it makes an important contribution to a more stable world.
De Grave: Thank you, Bill.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, this afternoon, in an atmosphere of friendship, my colleague William Cohen and I discussed a number of defense issues of both national and international importance. And let me focus my remarks on two of the issues of current interest: first of all, the proposed United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea, UNMEE, and secondly, the successor of the F-16 aircraft.
Let may say that I am really pleased that Secretary Cohen has emphasized that the United States, as a permanent member of the Security Council, has closely united itself with a successful deployment of the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea. I take his statement that the United States is in favor of a permanent role for the Netherlands as an important political signal. The same goes for the fact that my American colleague has left no doubt that UNMEE developments will be closely monitored in his country, and that U.S. participation of a military operational nature in certain circumstances has not been ruled out of the question.
For my side, I stressed that the decision-making process regarding a Dutch contribution to UNMEE is still on the way. The willingness -- the possible willingness of Canada to participate with armored infantry company is an important fact. This does not preclude the need for meaningful and numerous consultations on both the national and international level before the decision-making process about a Dutch contribution to UNMEE can be concluded in a careful, responsible manner. I intend to pursue this matter tomorrow and Wednesday during my meeting with Kofi Annan and other high U.N. officials in New York, as well as with my Canadian colleague, Art Eggleton, in Ottawa on Wednesday.
Now, some remarks on the F-16 fighter attack aircraft. Let me limit my remarks about the succession, the decision-making process about this important, complex portfolio demands a long-term perspective, and in the Dutch view, apart from the replacement of the F-16, for which several types of aircraft are under consideration, extending the life cycle of the main weapon system of the RNLAF, or Netherlands Air Force, is also a possible option. Many operational, technical and financial questions remain. I raised some of these questions this afternoon during a very informative meeting at the JSF office. These questions must be answered before it is possible to proceed to a careful, considered decision, but we are well aware of the importance of the decision also for future joint operations.
Q: Mr. Secretary, reports from the Western governments and from the opposition in Yugoslavia indicate that President Milosevic has been badly defeated in the election. His side, of course, is claiming victory. Is the United States -- or, are the United States and the U.N. -- prepared for any problems he might cause in Yugoslavia, including Montenegro?
Cohen: Well, I think that it's clear from the voting to date that there has been rather substantial support on the part of the people of Yugoslavia for a change in government. Apparently, according to the vote count to date, the people want Milosevic out, and certainly the international community, I think, would welcome that result.
In terms of what action, if any, is taken, we would hope that Milosevic would certainly accept the judgment of his citizens and abide by the decision. Beyond that, I think, it's only speculation to say what action, if any, would be required. We would expect that he would abide by the decision of his own citizens.
Q: You and others have warned repeatedly he should not cause trouble in Montenegro. Does that stand?
Cohen: We have indicated that Milosevic should not try to destabilize Montenegro.
Q: Mr. Secretary, is there any --
Bacon: Do we have a question from the Dutch press? Yes.
Q: Mr. Secretary, five years ago the Dutch had a battalion in Bosnia which was without any defense when the Bosnian Serbs attacked the Muslin enclave of Srebrenica. What will happen in a worst-case scenario in Eritrea or Ethiopia, where the Dutch have troops there? Will the U.S. give any military assistance, and did you discuss this subject?
Cohen: Well, we discussed the subject of the U.N. peacekeeping mission, and there would be a Chapter Six that would be a peacekeeping mission and a peace agreement between two forces, as such, or two countries. And we would anticipate that if it's peacekeeping, there would be no need for discussions as you've raised, and that all contingencies certainly would be taken into account by the Netherlands forces as well as other NATO members -- U.N. members, rather.
Q: Yeah, but what if, in a worst-case scenario? Will there be any assistance of the U.S. government and the U.S. Army?
Cohen: Well, I think it's premature to speculate in terms of what would be required. We would anticipate that it would be a peacekeeping mission and no need for any consideration beyond that. But obvious planning would always be done by any of the militaries who are involved in a peacekeeping mission.
Q: Mr. Secretary, a London newspaper, the Sunday Telegraph, reports at length that Libya has purchased No Dong missiles from North Korea, some 50 missiles over the next two years, and has already received its first shipment. Is that true?
Cohen: Well, as you know, I can't comment on any intelligence matters. But we do know that North Korea has been in the business of proliferating its missile technology to a variety of countries.
Q: Mr. Secretary, back to Yugoslavia for a moment. Is there anything the United States can do to pressure Milosevic into accepting the outcome of this election?
Cohen: I don't think it's a question of the United States, it's a question of the international community bringing pressure for Milosevic to accept the vote of his citizens. Now, I think that the international community will look very closely, carefully, and bring whatever pressure it can for Milosevic to provide by the will of its people.
Staff: A question from the Dutch press?
Q: Mr. Secretary, there have been reports that apart from Mr. Milosevic, also Saddam Hussein might try to exploit the upcoming American elections for some kind of venture. First of all, how likely or possible do you think that is? And what would you tell -- what would the United States and the allies do in such a case? What are the scenarios?
Cohen: Who knows what lurks in the mind of Saddam Hussein? As they say, "only the shadow knows" -- to coin an old phrase in the United States. He has certainly tried to exploit our election system in the past. He has miscalculated on each and every occasion in the past. He would be making a serious mistake if he were to try to move during this election period or after the election period. He should comply with the U.N. Security Council resolution, and if he should try to move against his own people or against his neighbors, I think he would be making a grave mistake.
So no one can predict to you what Saddam Hussein will do. I can only tell you that the U.S. forces, the British forces -- we are prepared to take whatever action is necessary to make sure that he does not attack his neighbors or attack his own people.
Q: To follow up on that point, what do you make of the reports late last week that virtually the entire Iraqi military, including the Republican Guard, had dispersed? Does this cause you any concern? Is this still going on this week? What are you seeing?
Cohen: Well, I'm not concerned at this point that we see such actions that would cause us to think that he's preparing for any offensive attack at this point. No one, again, can predict what he is -- what his motivations or what his calculations might be. I can only say that should he choose to move in any kind of an offensive manner, he'd be making a very serious mistake.
Q: And what do you make of the reports he has cancer?
Cohen: Those reports probably date back a number of years. I don't put any credence into the report that Saddam is somehow ill. We've heard those reports before. I've seen no evidence of it. So --
Q: Secretary Cohen, the chiefs are scheduled to testify on the Hill this week about the budget. Are they free to speak their mind and say exactly what they think they need, or have you given them any instructions not to hit the U.S. taxpayers too hard?
Cohen: (Chuckles.) No, the only instructions that I've given to the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is to go up and tell the members of Congress what the facts are. You may recall that back in 1998 the members of the Joint Chiefs went to the Hill, they indicated that they needed -- over the future years, they would need something in the neighborhood of $154 billion at that time, and that the president pledged $112 billion. And since that time, I think, between Congress and the executive and the president, we have actually come up with about $180 billion over those future years for defense planning and spending.
There are still things that need to be done. I think the chiefs will testify that we have addressed some of the readiness concerns. We have addressed the issue of the procurement needs going from that 43 billion to the 60 billion and climbing higher. I think that they will indicate that more will have to be done in the future to address real property maintenance and infrastructure, and that we will need to address some of the shortfalls that they will identify.
But my advice simply is to present the facts to the committee, and beyond that, they are free to say exactly what they feel is necessary in order to protect the American people's national security interests.
Staff: Last question.
Q: The United States is using two Dutch air force bases, on Aruba and Curacao, for the war on drugs. How important are these bases, and will your F-16s there be active in Colombia?
Cohen: Well, we believe the Plan Colombia, of course, is very important to the war on drugs. And we would hope that the Netherlands would continue its forward-operating locations, and would not anticipate they would be affected by the Plan Colombia at all.
Q: Will your F-16s be active in Colombia?
Cohen: We do not plan any active role in Colombia. Our role is counternarcotics training and assistance for the Colombian forces, but we do not have an active role in Colombia.
Staff: Last question.
Q: Secretary, did you discuss with your Dutch colleagues national missile defense? And is it still necessary to clear up the minds of -- you know, the Europeans are still raising some eyebrows, even after the decision the president made on the delay.
Cohen: Why are their eyebrows raised?
Q: Well, in the West, you know, in Western Europe, there are some questions about the necessity of a national missile defense system.
Cohen: We did have a discussion on the subject of national missile defense. And what I indicated, of course, was that President Clinton had made the decision to defer a deployment decision to his successor. But I also have pointed out that this is not a subject that's going to go away. The threat will continue to intensify. The technology will continue to be developed. And we will continue to discuss this with our allies and take into concern their questions, as well as try to deal with the Russians on the subject of having a limited national missile defense system.
So it's a subject matter which has been deferred for the time being, but the research and testing and development will continue. We have conducted only three tests of the 19 that have been scheduled, and so we would expect this to remain a very important issue for our national security, and we obviously will want to continue to communicate with our NAT allies in terms of what their role can and will be in the future.
Q: Mr. Secretary, to follow up, if tomorrow there would be peace between South and North Korea, would there still be a need for a national missile defense?
Cohen: The answer is that missile proliferation continues. It's not confined to the Korean Peninsula. Now, we still have the subject of Iran, which is seeking to develop long-range missiles. I would anticipate they will continue to test their Shahab-3 and -4. There are other countries also who are seeking to develop a long-range capability. In any event, certainly, Saddam Hussein has ambitions, as he had in the past, of one day acquiring a missile capability. So the threat will continue to intensify, and so this is an issue which will have to be addressed in the coming years.
Bacon: (Off mike) -- is over now, but the minister will speak with the Dutch press, or anybody else who wants to speak in Dutch, in the room next door.
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