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Press availability with Secretary Cohen, United States Embassy, Athens, Greece

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
July 14, 1999

Press availability at the United States Embassy, Athens, Greece

Secretary Cohen: Good morning. I have just returned from a very good meeting with Prime Minister Simitis. Greece and the United States have been allies for 50 years. We are bound by common values. We have long worked together on important security and defense issues and now we are working together to create stability in the Balkans, because we both want an enduring peace to replace the bitter fighting that has occurred there. Greece has helped to provide humanitarian assistance to the Kosovar refugees during the conflict. It is now allowing the port of Thessaloniki to play a role in the stabilization and the reconstruction of Kosovo. Greece will play a very important role in that reconstruction effort, and, as the Ambassador mentioned yesterday to me, the United States will be opening up a commercial office in Thessaloniki to encourage investment into the reconstruction effort itself.

Greek and American soldiers are now serving shoulder-to-shoulder in KFOR, the Kosovo peace-keeping force. There are many other areas of increased cooperation between our countries, which include working through the Southeastern Europe Ministerial process to creating new security structures in the Balkans, and again, Greece is playing a leading role in that effort.

We are also exploring new ways to improve relations with Turkey. The recent talks between the Greek and Turkish foreign ministers is, I think, a very important step. Based on my meetings yesterday and again here today, I must say that I leave with great confidence that Greece and the United States are entering an even stronger relationship and partnership for the future. I am very encouraged about how we are going to proceed into the new century, working together side-by-side and shoulder-to-shoulder.

With that, I would be happy to entertain your questions.

Q: Mr. Secretary, Turkey has said that it will resist any U.S. pressure for concessions in resuming talks on the Cyprus situation. To what extent are you planning to pressure Turkey and to what extent did you apply any pressure to Greece to restart that process to settle the situation?

A: First of all, the United States does not intend to pressure anybody. What we do is to encourage Greece and Turkey to find a way to resolve disputes that have been pressing for some time. We would leave it up to the Greek government and the Turkish government to resolve their differences. The United States does not seek in any way to become an arbiter or in any way to pressure either government. This is something that must be resolved by the two countries.

Q: Do you get any new information about the Greek-Turkish dialogue that is about start next week? What's your expectation of this?

A: I don't have additional information about the dialogue that will take place. As I indicated, the meeting that occurred between the foreign ministers was an important first step. There have been military-to-military contacts between the Turkish navy and the Greek navy. That is important as well, and we would hope to see that extend to other services. But I think the more dialogue the better-as long as there are talks and discussions, those have the capacity to reduce tensions and to find a reasonable and peaceful resolution of disputes.

Q: Mr. Secretary, Greece and Turkey are both in the process of buying billions of dollars of U.S. weapons. As you are trying to balance the need to bring NATO allies up to a higher level of capability, how do you balance the concern that these NATO allies might use these weapons on one another?

A: Greece and Turkey are both NATO allies. They have worked together; aside from disputes that have occurred over the years, they nonetheless have remained very valuable, vital members of the NATO alliance. To the extent that Turkey needs to modernize its forces, the Untied States will compete along with other major producers for weapons systems. The same with respect to the Greek government. The Greek military is in the process of modernizing itself, and we hope to be able to compete on a very level playing field with other competitors. But each country understands what is involved. They are both very important contributors to NATO's security and they have functioned well over the existence of NATO.

Q: What form of Greek-American cooperation on matters of terrorism will satisfy you?

A: As I indicated yesterday, all freedom-loving people should be opposed to any acts of terrorism. We are opposed to the terrorism that takes place in the United States. We have had some major incidents which have caused horrific damage, such as the attack that was leveled against the World Trade Center some years ago and the attack that destroyed the FBI building in Oklahoma. We are concerned with acts of terrorism directed against our citizens, and I would assume that Greek citizens are also concerned about any acts of terrorism, because terrorists are totally anti-thetical to our democratic values which we share. Terrorists seek to instill terror and portray to the people that the government cannot protect them. Greek citizens do not want that, American citizens do not want that, so to the extent that we can share information about how we can combat terrorism, then we should do so. I might point out that President Mubarak recently visited Washington, and during his press conference with President Clinton, the major point he was trying to make is that all of us have to cooperate. Egypt, everyone, the United States, European nations, NATO countries--all of us have an interest in stopping the spread of international terrorism. So freedom-loving people will cooperate to prevent that from taking place, and that is all we ask.

Q: Just a follow up to the terrorism question. Were you given any assurances by Greek officials in terms of actual steps they plan to take?

A: I believe that the Greek government is just as concerned as the United States government about terrorist activities. They do not want to see their citizens subjected to terrorism, and they will take whatever appropriate measures are necessary to protect the citizens of Greece. So I am satisfied that there certainly is that commitment and I feel more encouraged than ever before that because this subject matter is now raised to the level of many, many countries discussing it-discussing it in the context of the spread of weapons of mass destruction. This is something that all of us have to contend with in the future, when terrorist groups acquire biological, or chemical or indeed, even nuclear capabilities. That will pose a threat to societies across the globe. So I am satisfied that the Greek government certainly is committed to fighting terrorism and will take appropriate steps to protect its citizens and all who come to Greece.

Q: On weapons sales, has there been specific agreement or any movement on the Apaches and Kidds, or it is just talk right now?

A: Just general discussions. I did not come here with any list of weapons systems as such. We simply had discussions about the need to have effective competition on the major countries that are seeking to compete for sales here, but we did not discuss specific systems.

Q: But the four Kidds are still - [inaudible]

A: That decision has yet to be made. That is a still a matter for resolution. No decision has been made yet.

Q: How do you view the new role of NATO after the war in Yugoslavia, and also, specifically, Greece and Turkey's role within it?

A: The question is about the role of NATO following Kosovo. It is my hope that we will not see any more Kosovos. It is my hope that the world will see the benefit of resolving ethnic conflicts in a peaceful and responsible fashion without resorting to violence. As far as NATO is concerned, I think that the conflict in Kosovo demonstrated several things. It demonstrated the value of having cohesion and solidarity within the alliance itself. That Mr. Milosevic had contemplated that that alliance would fracture and break and he would be able to carry out his campaign of ethnic cleansing, of killing thousands of people solely based upon their religion or ethnic background, that he would do so with impunity, because NATO simply could not maintain its solidarity. He was wrong. And so that was one of the major lessons, when there was solidarity and a commitment on the part of 19 democracies not to tolerate something that we thought had been removed from human activity at the end of World War II. That solidarity is important.

The second thing it also demonstrated was the capability of our respective forces. I say that in a positive way and a way to point out that there is a growing disparity between the technological capability in the United States and that of some of our NATO allies, that we devote much more in the way of resource development and procurement than some of our European members of NATO, and that gap should not be allowed to continue to grow. We have to narrow that gap, and that means there has to be a commitment as there was at the Washington summit for investment in what we call defense capabilities. That means [NATO partners] will modernize forces in a way that will have secure communications and effective weapons systems that will be much more rapidly mobile and deployable. Those things have to take place, and all the NATO countries understand that. It is our hope that there will be no more Kosovos, that this will be a good lesson for all concerned, that the way to resolve conflicts in the rights of ethnic minorities is through a democratic process, and not through any brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing.

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