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DoD News Briefing

Presenters: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and Prime Minister Viktor Orban
July 12, 1999

Joint media availability in Budapest, Hungary

Prime Minister Orban: I respectfully welcome you all. I think I should start off with a short inventory: commitments related to the NATO agreement in the years to come and related issues of budget; participation of Hungary in the KFOR tasks; perspectives of the Balkans including latest developments; and the issue of Hungarians in the Vojvodina. These were the four issues we discussed. To sum it up, I can tell you that we agreed.

Q: Could you elaborate on the budget?

Prime Minister: There is no American position on the Hungarian budget. As I just expressed, the Hungarian government will keep that agreement in sight: every year we will increase our budget expenditure by 0.1% of the GDP. We will do that till we reach the 1.81% mark.

Q: Did you discuss the relations with Russia and what were the positions?

Prime Minister: I am very much interested in my partner's opinion on this issue. We just touched upon this issue, it was not among the main points under discussion.

Q: Do you have any suggestions, proposals, requests regarding the Vojvodina -- that is, do you expect America to assume any role in this?

Prime Minister: I would not characterize as asking for help. I just suggested some thoughts to the arrangement of the Balkans. NATO together should have a plan on how to pacify and integrate that part of the world. The point is very clear: Hungarians who are living in Vojvodina and the other minorities living in Vojvodina would like to have autonomy. That's their plan. My point is that this is a legitimate and reasonable request. It would be very good to have an example in that region, where a minority can reach some result in fighting for minority rights without using any form of violence. An obvious possibility is Vojvodina.

Q: Has an increase of Hungarian participation in KFOR been mentioned?

Secretary Cohen: We did not discuss an increase in numbers, but we did in fact discuss how Hungary is contributing to the KFOR mission. That is a very welcome contribution certainly from our perspective, and of all of NATO. Hungary has been a major factor in the successful resolution of the conflict in Kosovo. It is also making an important contribution in the KFOR mission, but we did not discuss numbers.

Q: How did the Balkan war change the defense balance between the United States and Europe (if it did at all)?

Secretary Cohen: It's not a question of changing the defense balance between the United States and Europe; in a sense we are all a part of NATO itself. We fight as a NATO force. What the Balkan conflict as such did reveal is that there is a growing prosperity gap between the capabilities of the United States, because we have been investing more and more in research, development, and procurement than have our European Counterparts within NATO. That should not continue to the extent that there is a failure of European members [inaudible] for research and development and procurement of modern equipment. If there would be a growing gap, it would pose a serious threat to interoperability in the future.

Q: Could you develop us a little more on how you see the issue of the autonomy of Vojvodina in the future? Would NATO or Hungary be taking a lead on that?

Prime Minister: May I just answer in two points. The first is that my conviction is that the issue of Vojvodina should be involved in the negotiations about the future of Yugoslavia. As an independent chapter, hopefully. Let's say that should be part of the stability of the region. The second point is that the minorities living in Vojvodina, among them the Hungarians, has or have their own concept about what kind of form of autonomy and what kind of time frame they think is necessary. What the international community should do is just to take into consideration the ideals worked out by the minorities living in Vojvodina, and to negotiate in a serious form and to guarantee later on that kind of request coming from minorities living in Vojvodina.

Secretary Cohen: As the Prime Minister said, he would like to see Vojvodina handled in a way where the protection of minorities is promoted without resorting to violence, and to promote it in a democratic fashion. And that perhaps could serve as a model for ethnic minorities throughout the region -- as a way in which to resolve conflicts and also to resolve issues that are affecting the autonomy.

Prime Minister: According to the Hungarian standpoint, minorities that live in the Vojvodina (including Hungarians, since their numbers are the highest among minorities) have worked out their ideas and [unintelligible]. All must acknowledge that the minorities living in the Vojvodina do not feel safe under the current legal framework. This is why I think it is legitimate, natural and constructive to promise that the issue of the Vojvodina will be separately guaranteed by the international community as a separate chapter of international harmonization and stabilization. The plans have been created; these are known to the international community. Now it should be time to start serious discussions of these, these should be featured as a separate charter of the stabilization agreement, and international guarantees would have to be assumed. I think this is the solution that could finally set an example for Eastern and Southern Europe according to which no violence is necessary for a minority to get the rights that are due to all minorities in Europe.