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Joint Media Availability w/Secretary Cohen and Minister Ananiev

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
July 20, 1999

Minister of Defense Georgi Ananiev, Republic of Bulgaria

Secretary Cohen: Good afternoon.

I am pleased to welcome Minister Ananiev to the Pentagon. We have met on two prior occasions, both in Bulgaria, but this is his first visit to the Pentagon.

At our meeting, I thanked the Minister for Bulgaria's support of NATO's operation during ALLIED FORCE. Bulgaria stood firmly with NATO during the conflict. It is now working with NATO to help rebuild Kosovo. It plans to send a 40-member engineering platoon to Kosovo soon. Deployment of this platoon flows from Bulgaria's commitment to fostering regional cooperation and building ties with NATO institutions.

Bulgaria is the host of the headquarters of the multinational peace force created by the Southeastern European Defense Ministerial, and over the past two years Bulgaria has taken very important steps toward economic and legal reform. It's also working to streamline and modernize its military, and today I gave the minister a U.S. assessment and action plan to help guide Bulgaria's military reform.

This assessment recommends that Bulgaria concentrate on improving training, the quality of life for soldiers, while enhancing logistics, command, control, and communications. I am pleased to report that Bulgaria is already following the path outlined in the assessment as it works to become an active participant in Europe's new defense architecture.

Minister Ananiev: I will be very brief.

First of all, I would like to thank Secretary Cohen for the invitation he extended to me to visit the U.S., and much more concretely, to visit the Pentagon. And I would like to say that this is the first visit of a Bulgarian minister of defense upon the invitation of the Secretary of Defense of the U.S. to the Pentagon.

I would also like here to thank you for the assessment that was done by Secretary Cohen in connection with our policy and in connection with the position we have taken as far as the Kosovo crisis is concerned. Indeed, we suffered a lot of economic losses but these were not only economic losses for Bulgaria. A great number of countries, not only from the region, suffered economic losses. What is really much more important is that the Kosovo crisis -- there is a solution and settlement for the Kosovo crisis. I would like to share with you a very brief episode from these military actions that were taking place in Kosovo.

There were several rockets or missiles that fell on our territory, and one of these rockets was quite close to Sofiya. It fell over the roof of a house. The reaction of the people who were inside, they were saying in fact it is nothing, it is nothing serious. It is not that dangerous. What is really dangerous is what is happening to the Kosovar Albanians, and what really matters is that here we are safe and sound. These people living in that country, they would think that they were supporting the position of the Bulgarian government. The position of the Bulgarian government at that moment was,we are expressing our solidarity with the efforts of the international community to find a settlement to the Kosovo crisis.

Q: Earlier today, the Senate committee, or the House committee, you said that they purposely kept you in the dark on the F-22. Has this ever happened before that you know of, that a committee worked that hard to keep you out of the loop and keep the whole Pentagon out of the loop on a premier weapon system? And secondly, why do you think they did? Certainly, you've talked to them by now.

Secretary Cohen: I appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee today, and during the course of the question about the F-22, I pointed out that neither I, nor anyone in this building or anyone in the service, the Air Force, was aware of the effort underway on the part of the committee.

The purpose was quite obvious, I think, and that is to avoid any public discussion, public debate, and any ability of the Air Force or contractor to respond to questions raised about the system.

So it was something I think [that] is unprecedented. I'm not aware of any time in the past, not only during my tenure, but any time in the past, where a committee has undertaken to, in effect, terminate a major weapons program without discussion and debate and public deliberation.

Q: Just to follow up...

Q: Why do you think they handled it that way? There's the public debate issue, but isn't there a broader budget cap issue that is going on between the Administration that may be in place here by trying to hold this crown jewel hostage?

Secretary Cohen: There may be other motivations involved as far as playing with budget caps, but my reaction is that this was done in this fashion in order to be able to recommend the termination of a major program without any countervailing arguments or pressure coming from the contractor, the Pentagon or the White House. So I can't really comment in terms of whether there were other motivations, whether this is going to be an item, a crown jewel held hostage for other negotiations. That's something that we'll have to see at some future time.

Q: Are you confident the F-22 will be saved?

Secretary Cohen: I am confident that the F-22 should go forward. Whether or not there's going to be bipartisan support and bicameral support for its termination remains to be determined. But I think that, as I indicated in today's testimony, while I'm always happy to try to look at arguments being raised about any system, it seems to me that we also have to look at the performance of the F-15 and F-16 and how they work in an integrated fashion, because we find the same rationale, at least in my opinion, that we will need for total air superiority and dominance for the future.

There are many systems being produced today that can challenge the capabilities of the F-15. The technology is proliferating at a fairly substantial pace. So if we want to give our pilots that kind of air dominance in the years 2005 to 2015, it seems to me that we ought to continue with the F-22.

The second point I would make is, if it's the cost factor involved, then we have to try to calculate what the increase in the cost of the Joint Strike Fighter is going to be if, in fact, there is now going to be an attempt to replicate some of the capability of the F-22 in the Joint Strike Fighter. There is likely to be a substantial increase in cost for that particular project.

The third point, of course, is that there will be very little in the way of control over this escalation if this is the aircraft that's going to perform all the multi-missions.

So I think it's a serious step. It's one that always should be open for debate and discussion, but I certainly would have preferred to have the questions raised by the committee, raised to me directly or through an exchange of information as opposed to being presented with a fait accompli.

Q: Sir, do you believe that the Chinese, the PRC government is truly highly incensed with regard to the statements of the Taiwan government recently, and that not only do they have, did they reserve the option to take military action, that there is a high risk now of military action that might involve the United States in protecting Taiwan?

Secretary Cohen: I believe that the Chinese are truly incensed at the statements, but I also believe that we are awaiting full clarification on the part of Lee Teng-hui , and that the Chinese are also watching to see what the implications are of his statement, and indeed, the reaction of the United States and others.

We have reiterated that we support a one China policy. We have also reiterated that it's important that any discussions between China and Taiwan also be conducted in a peaceful fashion, and that there should be no military attempt to overwhelm or launch attacks against Taiwan.

So we think there is an opportunity to have this issue resolved in a peaceful fashion. That's what we have urged.

Q: Mr. Secretary, just to follow up, sir. Will the U.S. defend Taiwan if there is an invasion by China as they have been threatening in recent days?

Secretary Cohen: What we have indicated is we support the Taiwan Relations Act; that we continue to urge dialogue between mainland China and Taiwan, and that remains in place.

Q: Iraq has said that 17 civilians were killed in a U.S. airstrike over the weekend in southern Iraq. Reporters today were allowed to tour the area and saw craters in a highway where the Iraqis say civilians were killed in passing cars.

Is there any evidence that any U.S. ordnance went astray in that attack?

Secretary Cohen: We have no evidence that any civilians were killed by this particular operation. Once again, Saddam continues to pose a threat to our pilots. We will respond accordingly. We have received no indication that civilians were hit.

Q: Is this then a bogus claim on the part of the Iraqis?

Secretary Cohen: I don't put much faith in anything that Saddam Hussein reports or says. So I can't confirm something that we have not been in a position to identify. The fact that he would claim this really doesn't hold much weight as far as I'm concerned. Whether there's any collateral damage or any civilians that were placed there or in that place. We went after a military target. We have no information that would indicate that the missiles fired went astray. So I can't really confirm or reject what has been suggested. We have seen no evidence of it.

Q: Mr. Secretary, do you, back on the F-22 -- do you reject the premise, then, that this could be a choice between more benefits and boots on the ground or the F-22?

Secretary Cohen: I think what we have to do is to look at what the future is likely to produce in the way of threats. We have always in our procurement programs had to balance current readiness and current programs against future capability. That's the reason we had the Quadrennial Defense Review that made this analysis and the kind of trade-offs necessary. We reduced the number of the buy on the F-18E and F model. I reduced the F-22 by a full wing, and indicated our support for the Joint Strike Fighter, but to have the full complement of that.

I think we make a mistake in taking a short term view and saying that we won't face these kinds of threats in the future and we're unwilling to spend the resources necessary to produce the superior technology.

We have just seen that the B-2 bomber was able to carry out a mission that no other aircraft could under an all weather environment. So what we want to do is to produce the best possible technology for the men and women who are going to be serving and offering up their lives in the service of their country, to give them the best possible equipment.

It is my belief that we can continue to accommodate the current needs with our projected needs.

I was again, surprised by the effort to kill this program, and hope that it can be resolved in a responsible fashion.

Q: Mr. Secretary on the China and Taiwan situation, are you contemplating sending any additional naval forces to the area?

Secretary Cohen: Not at this time.

Q: Is there a carrier there yet, or...

Secretary Cohen: No.

Q: How soon do you know, or when...

Secretary Cohen: We have a normal rotation of forces in the region, but we don't contemplate any additional forces at this time.

Press: Thank you very much.

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