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DoD News Briefing: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
March 10, 1997 2:00 PM EDT
Honorable Malcolm Rifkind, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, to the Pentagon.

Secretary Cohen: Good Afternoon. Malcolm Rifkind visited the Pentagon many times as Great Britain's Defense Minister, and it gives me a great deal of pleasure to greet him today as Foreign Minister. I've just returned from Europe. It was clear from my meetings during the trip and my conversation with Minister Portillo, prior to that departure, that the NATO allies are committed to leaving Bosnia in June of 1998.

Minister Rifkind and I are going discuss the steps that can be taken between now and than to strengthen the foundations for stability in Bosnia. We're also going to discuss the importance of enlarging NATO. Earlier today, Minister gave a very important speech on this subject. We will discuss the current efforts by NATO Secretary General Solano, to negotiate a NATO-Russian charter. Minister Rifkind, welcome back to the Pentagon.

Minister Rifkind: Thank you very much indeed. I'm delighted to be back here at a time when Secretary Cohen is responsible for the defense of the United States. We have met on previous occasions at conferences in Europe and we have always found a very strong measure of agreement.

I recall when I was the United Kingdom's defense secretary, that the relationship with the links, the common understanding, the common beliefs, between the United Kingdom and the United states on defense issues were incredibly close, and I believe that that continues up to and including this day.

On Bosnia, we've been working very, very closely together, recognizing the tremendous leadership that the United States has provided, which has lead to over a year of peace in Bosnia. That's something which continually needs to be worked upon, to achieve these results, and continue for many years to come.

I'm also here to (inaudible due to plane passing overhead) the NATO Alliance and the prospect of new members of the NATO alliance; and I believe that the United Kingdom and the United States have a very strong identity of view in wishing to see an enhancement of stability and security in Europe through the enlargement of the alliance and at the same time, seeing the closest cooperation between Russia and NATO through the charter that is currently being negotiated.

So this is a good time to be in Washington, and I look forward to the talks that I'm about to have. Thank you very much.

Q: Secretary Rifkind, given the history of Bosnia, and the transition from IFOR to SFOR, do you think it's timely and even appropriate for the United States to be saying the Western forces will leave Bosnia in the middle of next year and not return.

Minister Rifkind: I believe it's highly desirable that there should be an exit strategy, that we should have a finite end to the international military presence in Bosnia. I believe that that is something we need to work towards. We've already got an SFOR that is only half the size of IFOR. We want to see that further reduced during the period of its deployment in Bosnia. We want to see the military role transferred to a policing function, which should increasingly be the responsibility of the Bosnians themselves. So I see a long term need for economic help to Bosnia. I see a long term need for other forms of cooperation and support. But I believe that Britain, the United States and other countries, wish to see an early departure international military presence, because that is something that no country should have to live with for other than the minimum period required.

Q: Mr. Secretary, while you investigate the claims of one researcher that Gulf War illness might be contagious, do you see the need for any precautions to be taken to prevent the spread of any Gulf War illness?

Secretary Cohen: First of all we've found no evidence -- we know of no evidence -- that the Gulf War illness is contagious. Obviously, of the 80 research projects underway, we will focus on all of the issues that have been raised, but by this time I can say that we've seen no evidence that it's contagious, and all precautions that can be taken have been taken. We will proceed to treat this like any other question about illness.

Q: Mr. Secretary, if the Europeans decide to remain in Bosnia militarily would the United States also retain U.S. forces there?

A: I was hoping that Minister Rifkind could comment on the eighteen-and-a-half second gap that you all experienced as the plane was going overhead. He discussed that entirely while the plane was overhead.

The answer is that we are in Bosnia together as NATO. We will leave together and there's been no contemplation of any force beyond that time.


Press: Thank you very much.

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