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Press Conference at the Nordic, Baltic, U.S. Defense Ministerial, Oslo, Norway

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
July 12, 1999

Press Conference at the Nordic, Baltic, U.S. Defense Ministerial, Oslo, Norway

Norwegian MOD spokesman Runar Todok: Welcome to all from the media and press. We're quite impressed in fact that so many journalists and people from the media could show up at this time of year in Norway, in the middle of the vacation.

First of all, my name is Runar Todok and I'm the press spokesman for Eldbjorg Lower, the Norwegian Defense Minister. We have to make an apology for yesterday, because some of you might have been at Gardermoen. We had a bit of a misunderstanding with the security police up there, so that the photo opportunities were less than we hoped for, but we hope you can forgive us for that.

We have about half an hour for the press conference, and since so many of the ministers here haven't seen you before, I will beg you to state your name and your media when you pose your questions. And with those few words I give you Norwegian Defense Minister Eldbjorg Lower, Norwegian Defense Minister.

Norwegian Defense Minister Eldbjorg Lower: Thank you. Summing up our meeting, we have been given a very informative and stimulating presentation by the United States, and a follow-up to the summit decisions. I believe it was particularly useful that the lessons learned from Kosovo can be so directly linked to the requirements identified in the Defense Capability Initiative. The DCI will, in my view, have a far reaching impact on the defense planning in Alliance and Partner countries alike. The three Baltic states have provided us with highly informative updates on the progress in developing their defense structure, pointing out the continued relevance of the Kievenaar study.

A very important point in this context was, in my view, the recognition of the need for full public support as the basis for all defense efforts. Similarly, the need to give priority to the establishment of credible national defense structure is very pertinent. It is encouraging to note the considerable progress in the defense planning process in the Baltic states, and the emphasis on linking these to the guidelines and recommendations currently developed by NATO. I would also like to note the need for the Baltic states to take increasing responsibility for the ongoing cooperation programs. We also had a very good discussion on how best to re-engage Russia in the European cooperation on security and stability. There was full agreement that general security and stability throughout Europe could not be obtained without the participation of Russia, and that we must spare no efforts in trying to get Russia back to cooperating with NATO. Thank you.

Spokesman Todok: Let me open up the floor for questions.

Q: To the three Baltic ministers: could you give us some estimate of when you think you will be ready to offer yourselves for acceptance in NATO, and could you talk a little bit more specifically about how best you will engage Russia in further cooperation.

Latvian Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis: Thank you for your question. I'm Girts Kristovkis, I'm Minister of Defense of Latvia. If I understood your question exactly right, then I must answer that we must be ready for the next wave, this is our strategy in the Ministry of Defense and in our government. What does this mean that we must be ready? We must be ready to fulfill the requirements of NATO interoperability, compatibility, to have also a Western type military structure in our planning, programming and budgeting system. This means we must be trustful and reliable partners to NATO, now that we are candidates to NATO, we really want to become a trustful reliable partner, and I think that our government will do everything we can during the next two or three years to fulfill that mission. Thank you.

Estonian Defense Minister Juri Luik: I'm the Estonian Defense Minister, my name is Juri Luik. I agree with my Latvian colleague that we hope to be ready for the next round of enlargement which will most likely occur in 2002, and we will try to put up the best candidacy we can. We have received a lot of good advice from our friends in the alliance, especially I would note the study by the U.S. Defense Department of our defense forces. There are some very practical, realistic proposals in terms of planning, budgeting, command and communications, and we are in the process of doing that. This is not only because of NATO, but because this is how the modern army works. This is useful for our Latvian Ministry of Defense, and I think in that spirit we are preparing ourselves for the Alliance. When it comes to Russia, we are making constant efforts to improve our relationship with Russia, and both in economic terms and political terms I think we have achieved a lot. I think the Baltic-Russian relations are normal at the moment. We have had our problems but they are normal at the moment, and we haven't seen the fact that we are seeking ways to gain NATO membership in any way hampering our bilateral relations with Russia. Thank you.

Lithuanian Defense Minister Ceslovas Stankevicius: I am Ceslovas Stankevicius, the Lithuanian Defense Minister. I can briefly say that in our preparations, in our developments we have a plan, we are executing it, we are financing it, and we are working in accordance with the requirements and recommendations which we have in the excellent Kievenaar study and in other documents. We have already achieved essential progress and we are determined to work hard in this direction including the increasing financing for defense needs and development of the structure for personnel training and also for participation in peace operations or peace actions and advanced PFP programs. With regard to Russia's relations, I can say that Lithuanian-Russian relations developed very smoothly, and recently on the 29th of June the Prime Minister of Lithuania visited Moscow and some new agreements were signed, including the agreement on regional cooperation with Kaliningrad, and I can firmly state that there are no indications that our objectives to join NATO and our active support of Kosovo operations will harm our good neighboring relations. Thank you very much.

Q: Secretary Cohen, I'm Jamie McIntyre from CNN. I avoided asking the first question because I'm slightly off the subject, but in the area of India and Pakistan, is there any indication that India and Pakistan are preparing additional nuclear tests, and what is the United States doing if anything to try to head off that possibility.

Secretary Cohen: Well, I'm not in a position to comment on whether they are preparing additional tests. It is clear from recent conduct on the part of both, that they have been determined to develop a nuclear capability. One of the things that we have tried to do is to dissuade them from further development. We think that the tensions demonstrated there by the most recent events, indicate that it's important that there be a peaceful resolution to the situation in Kashmir, that great caution and prudence be exercised, and we have encouraged both sides to try to resolve the situation in a peaceful fashion. But the development of the nuclear capability is certainly something that is a concern to all nations.

Q: I'd like to ask you all, where do you see the security threat currently to this region, is it Russian, or is it coming from elsewhere?. And also why is the Defense Minister from Iceland not present?

Eldbjorg Lower: Iceland has been represented in the meeting but had to leave, but it was the Minister, his name was...

(Member of the Icelandic foreign service in the audience explains particulars - inaudible.)

Swedish Minister of Defense Bjorn von Sydow: I am the Swedish Minister of Defense, and our view is that in the Northwest of Europe there is really no aggression or current threat to sovereignty. However in the long run of course one can never know, and that's the reason why we have to have armed forces also in this part of Europe. They are to be, I think, in more or less all countries restructured in a way that we can participate in endeavors like in Bosnia and in Kosovo, and there are areas in Europe which can implode in a way that the former Yugoslavia did, and for that reason it is an overall interest I think for all of us that we can use our resources in a way of promoting collective security on this continent. Thank you.

Q: My name is Jim Randle, Voice of America radio. Mr. Cohen, can you confirm a published report that some Yugoslav troops were seen headed for Montenegro, and how does the United States and NATO view what appear to be Montenegro's attempts at seeking independence from overall Yugoslavia?

Secretary Cohen: I can not confirm any reports of Yugoslav forces moving into Montenegro. I have seen no such reports as of this time at least, and so as I have indicated in the past -- it would be a major mistake for Milosevic to consider sending troops into Montenegro for the purpose of, in any way, undermining the leadership there or starting another conflict. I think that the people in Serbia have learned that he has brought them great destruction, death and depravation in the past 10 years and they should have had enough of it. I think the demonstrations that are surfacing day by day in larger and larger numbers, reflect the fact that the Serbian people are starting to question what he has done to them and where he is taking the country. With respect to Montenegro, it has exercised a certain degree of autonomy in the past and it is part of Serbia and I don't see any effort on part of the leadership to say they want independence at this point, and I would expect that they would continue to operate within the Yugoslav cell.

Q: John Diamond from AP for some of the Baltic Ministers perhaps -- in your public discussions, what are you saying in terms of the expected duration of the deployment of your troops in Kosovo?

Finnish Minister of Defense Jan-Erik Enestam: I am Jan-Erik Enestam, the Minister of Defense in Finland; we have decided to send a tank to Kosovo and we are prepared and we are ready to be there by the end of August.

Q: How long do you intend to be there once you are there?

Finnish Minister of Defense Jan-Erik Enestam: As long as it is necessary. I think they will stay longer than a half a year.

Swedish Minister of Defense Bjorn von Sydow: I am Bjorn von Sydow, Minister of Defense Sweden: From the Swedish side of the answer, we are also preparing to deploy tanks in Kosovo for the times as indicated by my Finnish colleague.

(Unintelligible question.)

Q: I can rephrase the question. Is there a concern that the troops will be there indefinitely, that this will be years and years before some sort of civility can be achieved?

Danish Minister of Defense Hans Haekkeurp: I am Hans Haekkerup, Danish Minister of Defense. I think we have to be there for quite a long time and we are prepared to do that.

(Unintelligible comments.)

Q: To the Baltic Ministers and Secretary Cohen, could you address the fact that you all will be involved in NATO and since you were all involved in politics I assume during the Soviet era, personally what does it mean to you and do you ever wake up in the middle of the night and go "wow" - could you talk about that? And then could you speak more specifically about how you propose to engage NATO and engage Russia in talks with NATO. I know you are talking to them, but have you laid out a plan for exactly what you need to do?

(Unintelligible comments.)

Estonian Minister of Defense Juri Luik: I was a student during Soviet times. I was not involved in Soviet politics... I didn't have that experience, but the fact that the Baltic states today, I believe are serious candidates to NATO and their membership application is on the political agenda in the United States and in other NATO countries is a great achievement. This is great for the Baltic nations. At the same time, as you know, we are also moving ahead with another major European organization which is the European Union, where for instance, Estonia hopes to be a member on the first of January, 2003. Thank you.

Latvian Minister of Defense Girts Kristovskis: I just want to add that until the time we were independent, there was a policy of communist regime and therefore we couldn't get normal information about NATO. At the same time, we were strong enough and did not believe this policy or strategy of communists. Therefore we immediately, when we could, started to organize our facilities to view and have a normal democracy. That is why I think we are already open and understand NATO aims. NATO is an organization which provides security for all.

(Unintelligible comments.)

Secretary Cohen: Let me just add a footnote to what has been said. I can't say that it has been the so-called The End of History, as Frances Fukuyama wrote several years ago about the spread of western capitalism across the continent, but I think what we are seeing is the end of an era and the close of the cold war. And we have seen an end to secrecy and oppression, and what this meeting represents really is a desire upon people all over Europe, throughout the world, to have personal freedom, to enjoy free markets, to have open minds, and generous hearts . That is what I think represents this meeting: exchange of ideas, exchange of ideals, expression of common interests, expression of common hopes for the future. So in that sense, we are seeing remarkable changes taking place on a daily basis. I think all of us wake up each morning with an expression of wonderment and hope for the future.

With respect to how we engage with Russia. We engage Russia by treating them with respect and by pursuing every opportunity and avenue that we can, for dialogue and communication with them. The experience that I had in Helsinki a few weeks ago was a good example of how, when people can sit down across a table and negotiate an acceptable conclusion at an impasse, bodes well for the future. My meeting with Marshall Sergeyev in the beginning of August, again, is another attempt on my part to discuss issues of mutual concern and issues that transcend our individual countries with interests that promote stability and peace. So I think each of us on this platform will explore ways in which we can engage Russia in a constructive and positive fashion. Understanding that that engagement must be reciprocal in nature, and that we expect to be open to the exchange of ideas and we hope that Russia will be equally committed to such an endeavor.

(Unintelligible comments.)

Norwegian Broadcasting Company Stine Nevisdal: I am with Norwegian TV. Mr. Cohen, are you satisfied with the Norwegian role in NATO?

Secretary Cohen: We are going to do a separate press conference with Norway. The answer is yes, we are very happy with the very important role that Norway has played in the resolution of the conflict in NATO, its commitments of its F-16's, its commitment of forces to K4, its generous contributions to help the refugees. In all of those ways, Norway has played a very important role in the resolution of the conflict in Kosovo and it is a very important member of NATO, and we look forward to establishing a closer relationship in the future. We are very happy with Norway.

(Unintelligible comments.)

Q: Mr. Secretary, can you please state the U.S. policy on Baltic membership in NATO and address the question that was touched on earlier of whether pursing Baltic membership is going to erode or damage relations with Russia. Are there contradictory relations with Russia versus Baltic membership in NATO?

Secretary Cohen: The United States position has been quite clear that the door to future NATO membership remains open. That there are various set requirements that are set for NATO membership and that we would expect that any country seeking membership would measure up to those responsibilities. No nation, including those in the Baltics, would be precluded either by history or geography, so it really is up to the individual countries to reform their systems and make them more compatible and to be able to be in a position to contribute in security and not just be a consumer of NATO security so there is no exclusion to the Baltic states .... individual members must measure up to those responsibilities. To the extent that this is an issue of potential with Russia, obviously that is part of the reason why all of the voting countries, all of the NATO members, want to engage Russia in a constructive fashion.

Q: This is addressed to the NATO countries. Is there a consensus now on the guidelines on the scope of the aid for Serbia with the demonstrations going on and the call from the opposition for help, and what are the guidelines for help? I mean President Clinton said they are not going to freeze to death, and starve to death, but there is no infrastructure. Is there consensus on that?

Secretary Cohen: I don't think there are any specific guidelines that have been set up as to what kind of aid will be granted to Serbia. President Clinton has indicated that we will not contribute to the rehabilitation of Serbia until such time as Milosevic is no longer in power. That question is more of humanitarian assistance. The United States has always been willing to help people in need of assistance, and contribute to their aid. But we will have to draw some very clear distinctions between those kinds of contributions and assistance that would help rebuild Serbia in a fashion that would simply solidify Milosevic's position. We are unwilling to do that. I think it is clear that Serbia will not be in a position to rejoin the international community until such time as they have new leadership, and not simply the replacement of Milosevic, but a real commitment to democratic reforms, open and free elections, and a commitment to democracy. I think that is the best course for them to be fully integrated in the international community. In the meantime, there are other countries also willing to contribute to their humanitarian needs, but those will have to be defined.

Q: I would like to follow up on John's question just a little bit. As the Baltic nations, particularly, are trying to engage more thoroughly with Europe militarily and economically, and yet at the same time that has to be a concern to Russia. Besides talking to Moscow what else are you doing to find the balance there between closer integration and not annoying a very large neighbor to the East.

Secretary Cohen: Well, really it is a question of the United States wishing to have a positive, constructive relationship with Russia. We have also indicated that NATO has an open door to the extent that we can get Russia to start communicating once again in working cooperatively that certainly puts the Baltic states and others in a position of acquiring or attaining NATO membership with reduced friction. I think it is too early to tell how this will unfold. We have to wait and see exactly what kind of changes and reforms and modernizations the Baltic states will undertake, whether they would qualify for NATO membership in the future. But, in the meantime, I think the Baltic states, the Nordic states, all the European states and the United States are committed to having a constructive relationship with Russia, but that once again will be something that Russia sees as being in its own interest. We believe, I think all of us here believe, that Russia's future really lies with the west in democratic reforms, and committing itself to democracy because we believe that that is the best opportunity for Russia to enjoy economic prosperity. And that in turn will reinforce democratic ideals held by many, but not all, certainly, in Russia. And so the engagement policy is one that will be pursued on track for future membership in NATO.

Moderator: That concludes the press conference.

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