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Secretary Cohen Press Conference at the U.S. Embassy, Brasilia, Brazil

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
November 15, 1999

Press Conference at the U.S. Embassy, Brasilia, Brazil

Opening Statement: I would like to thank Defense Minister Álvares for hosting this short but important visit.

I've had a very productive set of meetings with President Cardoso, Minister Álvares, the chiefs of military services, the leadership of the Senate, and, after this press conference, I will be meeting with the Foreign Minister Lampreia.

During the course of our meetings, I stressed that the United States considers Brazil to be a major power that is a key to stability and prosperity in South America.

I also congratulated President Cardoso for establishing a new Ministry of Defense and placing the military under the control of a civilian Defense Minister. The United States considers the civilian control of the military an important foundation for any democracy.

Today, Minister Álvares and I signed an agreement to create a Bilateral Working Group for Defense. This is similar to the bilateral groups that we have established with four other sovereign countries in the region: Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Mexico. This group is going to provide a forum for us to discuss defense and security issues of mutual interest.

The Brazilian Minister of Defense and the United States Secretary of Defense will meet annually alternating between our countries. The first meeting will take place in the United States next year, and I look forward to hosting Minister Álvares in Washington at that time. And I also look forward to returning to Brasilia next October for the fourth Defense Ministerial of the Americas. Brazil's willingness to host this meeting is another sign of its leading contribution to regional stability.

And with that, I will entertain your questions.

Moderator: We would request that you identify your newspaper first and wait for the microphone.

Q: Marta Correia (TV Record) - What is your opinion with respect to the participation of the armed forces in combating narco-trafficking? In the Brazilian Congress there are some members of congress that defend the participation of the military in this effort, whereas the commanders of the military forces are genuinely against this. I would like to know your opinion.

A: Well, first let me say that I believe that Brazil must decide this issue for itself. It would be entirely inappropriate for me to try to urge one result or another. I think that all countries in the region are concerned about the influx and flow of drugs across national territories, but this is something that each country must decide for itself, how it wishes to combat it. Using internal police or using its military is going to be up to the individual countries, and that is particularly true for Brazil.

Q: Marta Correia (TV Record) - Removing Brazil from the equation, in your personal opinion, do you think that the military forces have an active role to play in combating drugs?

A: Each country must decide how to use its forces consistent with its constitution. In the U.S. we have a separate constitution in which we prescribe the role of the military in internal matters. Each country may have a different interpretation of what its military's appropriate role is. I would point out that the U.S., for example, is helping Colombia in its counter-narcotics effort, but we do not allow our military to take an active military role in Colombia in dealing with its internal policies. We have provided assistance; we will provide equipment to the extent that we can, but this is something that must be decided and dealt with by Colombia by way of example. So each country must decide for itself. But it is the U.S. position that this must be determined on a sovereignty basis within each country.

Q: Gioconda Brasil (Globonews) - President Fernando Henrique said yesterday that we will never win the war on drugs unless all the society is involved in this effort together with the government. Otherwise we would lose this battle. Do you feel that Brazil has erred anywhere in its efforts to combat drugs?

A: I think the issue of illegal narcotics poses a threat to all freedom-loving people and all democratic societies, wherever they are located. The flow of drugs can end up corrupting government; it can corrupt the people who live in the regions where these drugs are coming in; it can lead to organized crime, terrorism, illegal migration. I think each country has to recognize the importance of this subject matter and then try to act cooperatively on a regional basis, if possible, to share information, to share intelligence, to share techniques, and how to combat the flow of illegal drugs coming into their countries or to the region. But I think that Brazil certainly recognizes the dimension of the problem. This is a subject matter that came up at virtually every one of my meetings and was initiated by the Brazilian authorities that recognize the nature of the problem and want to find ways in which there can be a sharing of information and to take advantage of a cooperative basis on bilateral with the U.S. certainly, but on a regional basis throughout the Hemisphere.

Q: Marcus Ibarra (Reuters) - Can you give us details on the issues you expect to be discussing with the Brazilian minister on this forum that is being created with the agreement signed today?

A: One of the many benefits of having this bilateral working group is to explore areas of mutual concern as far as security is involved. One way to help in the transformation, for example, in creating a ministry of defense is to share experiences that we have had, and how we have evolved in creating joint services, other types of programs, and budget and planning. All of these activities are very complicated, and we have had experience in dealing with them so we can share what our experience has been and the Minister of Defense can share his experiences as well. So really, the agenda has not yet been drawn up, but the signing of the document allows us to now have a delegate as such appointed to carry out and setting up an agenda for our respective meetings, and so, it covers the entire security arrangements between our two countries and how it would work.

But it also will be helpful in identifying shortcomings or deficiencies and requirements that need to be fulfilled and how the United States might be in a position to help. But it basically is a forum where we can discuss issues of mutual concern and is entirely voluntary and reciprocal in nature.

Q: Jamil Chade (Gazeta Mercantil) - Good afternoon. How would you define defense today in the American context? Is this forum the right one to discuss issues such as conflicts?

A: The Bilateral Working Group?

Q: Yes.

A: I think that the Defense Ministerial for the Americas will be a very appropriate forum to discuss issues affecting security throughout the hemisphere. I think - as far as the Bilateral Working Group - it really is bilateral in nature in terms of what requirements each of us have, how we can be helpful. But that discussion in terms of conflict would come in a different forum.

The first part? Oh, how do I define defense? How much time do we have this afternoon to discuss it? There are many challenges facing all of us in the future. Each country, of course, is concerned with protecting its territorial integrity, protecting its sovereignty, of promoting democracy, of the freedom of its people, ensuring their safety and prosperity. Defense plays a major role in helping to secure all of the above.

There are many facets of defense, one of which would include, for example, trying to promote stability and reduce tensions through instability. In this case, Brazil has played a very important role in helping to reduce tensions throughout the region. MOMEP was a particularly important role for Brazil to play in reducing tensions. Brazil's participation in East Timor peacekeeping is another example of an issue that involves security, even though it is far removed from the shores of Brazil as such. Nonetheless, that is also an important element of security. Promoting stability and, hopefully, prosperity elsewhere will have an impact ultimately on one's own country.

The other issue to be involved or be concerned about is computer types of terrorism, computer attacks upon one's infrastructure, terrorism through the use of chemical or biological weapons. These are just some of the kinds of threats that defenses are design to protect our people against in our individual society. So, to the extent that we can cooperate together, share information, share technology, share intelligence,we can promote the goals of protecting our people through an adequate defense.

Moderator: Unfortunately this will have to be the last question.

Q: Carol Rosenberg (Miami Herald) - In your talks today, did you discuss whether Brazil could take a more active role in assisting Colombia and President Pastrana? Can you give us an idea of what those suggestions might be?

A: We did discuss the situation in Colombia. I believe that all concerned want to be as helpful as possible to President Pastrana. But it is also the judgment of all concerned that this is something that Colombia must solve for itself. It will require diplomacy. It will require very strong efforts in the part the Colombian Government and the people. But this is something that Colombia must resolve for itself. It cannot be through external forces. So, I think there is recognition of the danger of the flow of drugs coming from Colombia into neighboring countries. But there is a consensus - without exception of opinion - that this must be resolved by the Colombians.

Moderator: One short question...

A: Very short?

Q: Antonia Márcia (Rede TV) - I would like to know if you see the October meeting of the Fourth Assembly of the Ministers of Defense of the Americas as an opportunity for the creation of some type of an international police force that would have the task of combating drugs in Latin America.

A: Well, I am not in a position to comment in terms of what the agenda will include. But, surely, all of the countries in the Hemisphere are concerned about the flow of drugs. But I dare say, they also would be moving very cautiously in terms of any kind of a multinational police force. I think that most of the countries want to find ways to cooperate, to help each other in combating this effort, this flow of drugs. But I think it is premature for me to say what form that will take. I think the forum itself will be a discussion, a forum for the subject matter, and we will have to wait and see what kind of recommendation will come out of it. I do know that there is a genuine concern about how narcotics can in fact undermine the very democracies that are now flourishing. And so, I am sure that it will be discussed, but I cannot say at this point whether or not there will be a recommendation for any kind of a multi-national or international police force. I think that is something that would states, most countries, would be reluctant to take a step toward at this point.

I would also add that I think there will be a great concern raised about any issues of sovereignty, because maintaining the security of one's country is a sovereignty issue. I believe that most of the countries involved will want to cooperate on a regional basis, but that would mean also maintaining the sovereign integrity of their own police forces, their own armed forces. And I think that they would be quite hesitant to talk about an international force because of the sovereignty issues involved. But it certainly is a subject that will be discussed.

Thank you.


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