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Media Availability Following Meetings with Marshall Sergeyev in Helsinki, Finland

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
June 21, 1999

Media Availability Following Meetings with Marshall Sergeyev in Helsinki, Finland

Secretary Cohen: Okay. As I indicated in concluding the negotiations for today-it was a very long day, but a very good day. We had extensive discussions that covered the full range of the issues that affect the Russian presence and participation in KFOR: we talked about areas of operation, we talked about command and control, we talked about Pristina airport.

I also took the occasion today during much of the afternoon and evening to discuss all of this with many of my colleagues in NATO. I talked with Secretary-General Solana, I talked with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, I talked with General Clark, and so it has been a day of long distance communications, I should say. We did have one example where the telephone system was overloaded, and had to get replacements...[phone rings]...it's here right now!

And so it's been a very productive day. I was pleased with the atmosphere, it was businesslike but quite cordial. I believe that Minister Sergeyev also indicated he was pleased with the progress that was made-he pointed out it was made in all areas of our discussion. Some progress faster in certain areas than others, but generally it was progress in all areas. So we hope to continue our negotiation and discussions tomorrow. We will have continued technical consultations for the next hour or so with some of our experts and then would expect to resume roughly 11 o'clock tomorrow morning. We also expect Secretary Albright will be arriving-her counterpart is already here-and they will perhaps have discussions sometime during the course of the day tomorrow as well.

But we hope to be able complete the discussions by tomorrow and then to have an appearance at the NAC-D-or the NATO North Atlantic Council-on Friday, and if we're able to reach an agreement, that will be able to be ratified or approved at that time. If not, then further discussions will take place, but overall I can just say I'm very pleased with the way in which progress has been going today.

Q: Where are you headed, which direction are you headed, sir, in terms of an arrangement for the Russians, give us some idea of where you are headed.

A: I can't give you any idea at this point because we're not there yet. We have general understandings of each other's positions, we've had some agreements in some areas, but until the entire package, as such, is resolved, there can be no agreement. I know some are reporting that an agreement has been struck-that is not the case. We have had a series of issues raised, we've examined them, we've offered options, they've offered options, and we are in the process of trying to resolve them. But there has been no agreement, and we expect to continue these discussions tomorrow.

Q: Do...have a mechanism by which they could be deployed with a unified NATO command and control?

A: We have indicated that a unified command and control structure is imperative, and that we are seeking ways in which the Russians can participate effectively within that command and control structure, and we'll continue to work difference formulations of it, but there has to be a unified command structure. I think that that's clear.

Q: Did you find you made significant progress on that point?

A: I don't want to single that out as one point of progress compared to the others. I think, overall, the tenor was good. Again, it was businesslike-we laid down specific proposals, they presented their specific recommendations, our experts met-in the meantime, I consulted with many of our allies and...because there's nothing that I could do here anyway. Assuming that an agreement is to be reached, that agreement would have to be approved by NATO at the North Atlantic Council. Until that takes place there can be no agreement, and so I am here to help bring about a successful conclusion of the differences. President Yeltsin gave instructions to Marshall Sergeyev, President Clinton gave instructions to me to see if we couldn't find creative ways to resolve these differences. That's precisely what we're seeking to do now, and I think good progress has been made, and hopefully it will be able to be concluded tomorrow, but it may take longer than that.

Q: Mr. Secretary, two questions, two questions. Sergeyev indicated that progress has been made on several roads. He said we made definite progress on one road-progress on one road is quite substantial. Can you give us any idea what road that might be, the progress?

A: No.

Q: All right. If you reach agreement tomorrow, do you expect to have a press conference here tomorrow, or will you wait to make an announcement?

A: I would expect it there's an agreement tomorrow on all issues, that we would obviously have a press availability. But then again, it would have to be contingent-if we were to reach an agreement tomorrow, than we still have to go to the North Atlantic Council. But I would assume that if we are able to resolve these differences in ways that were satisfactory to both of us, that we would be in a position to make a positive recommendation to the NAC, and that would be received in a positive fashion. But I cannot make a commitment on behalf of the NATO organization till such time as all the facts are laid out and there's an opportunity for all the members to participate in the resolution and the formal NAC meeting on Friday.

Q: Secretary Cohen, you described a general understanding on some areas. Can you be a bit more specific on what those areas are, and number two, it sounds like where you were yesterday is different from where you are today. Tell me where you are...

A: I was in Washington yesterday, and I'm in Helsinki today...I think that we are in a different position than we were yesterday. As a result of the meeting between Minister Sergeyev and myself and our respective teams, I think we have narrowed some of the differences, I think there's greater clarity and understanding of what issues remain to be resolved, I think there's an essence of good will. Marshall Sergeyev reported out that he was under instructions to try to come to a resolution as quickly as we can, and I am under the same instructions. And so, yes, we're different today than we were yesterday, and hopefully tomorrow will be even better.

Q: Can you talk about those areas, the general understanding of some areas, what are those areas, or you tell me what their side is talking about.

A: No. I think it would be best if we wait until the entire, all of the issues are fully resolved, and then there can be a complete statement made. To take one element out and portray that as a major success...then I think that gives you a distorted picture, so I think the best answer I can give you is to wait until tomorrow or the next day if necessary.

Q: Mr. Secretary, do major obstacles remain?

A: There are some differences that have to be resolved, yes, otherwise we would have concluded this evening.

Q: Mr. Secretary, the Russians, as we all know, have been asking for their own sector in Kosovo. From what we understand from diplomatic sources, there has been talk about giving them a zone of responsibility. Can you explain-those sound like the same things to me-what's the difference?

A: Well, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs talked about this the other day during a press availability where he pointed out there can, in fact, be a zone of responsibility within a sector. This is something that could be worked out, but the command structure still has to be under a unified command under KFOR. So there are different formulations that can accommodate-we believe-what the Russians require. And we want to make it very clear, we want them as part of KFOR, we want them as an active partner in KFOR. They have indicated that they are eager to participate in the peacekeeping mission, and so we're just trying to find formulations that will accommodate their needs as well as maintain the strict command and control requirement.

Q: Do you think it would be helpful to have a Russian presence, say, in the northern sector, where many of the Serb shrines and populations are?

A: I really don't want to comment in terms of what sector that we're going to arrive at. I think we have to wait until tomorrow to see what the best result will be for all concerned.

Q: You're saying that you're in a different place today than you were yesterday...but can you talk about the impact of the presence of the Russian troops in Pristina on the negotiations from where they were a week ago to where they are today? What impact does that have on...

A: It's had no major impact because there's been a very small presence of the Russian troops. As General Jackson has indicated, we are continuing to flow NATO forces very substantially into Kosovo, the soldiers who are at the airport are there-they are small in number. We will try to accommodate, work around that, to reach a resolution of the issue. General Jackson indicated we have no need of the airport in the area. So in the short term, we can fulfill our mission without having access to that. We expect that that will be one issue that will be resolved fairly quickly.

Q: So was it an obstacle, or was it helpful in pushing something to a conclusion?

A: I think that there's been an element of confusion introduced as a result of what I would call a premature introduction of the Russian forces in that matter, because it wasn't synchronized. And so, whenever you have a lack of synchronization you're going to have some confusion. But we think it was important that the first troops to arrive, in fact, had KFOR on their vehicles and want to be a part of KFOR. But the fact that it wasn't coordinated in the fashion that we think it should have been created some temporary confusion on the issue of their presence, but they and we expect them to be fully incorporated into the KFOR mission.

Q: I understand that there has been talk about probably creating a Finnish sector and have the Russians work under that. Has that been discussed at all, and can you shoot that down, or is that true?

A: No, I'm really not going to discuss what the options are. There were a series of options that were discussed, and I think it would be inappropriate to which ones were taken up, in which category, in what order, what progress if any has been made or not made...I think that would give an incomplete picture. Just let me say that we're looking at a variety of options-one in which the effectiveness of the command and control is a paramount issue, how the Russians can play an important role in KFOR and to satisfy their concerns-trying to work that out requires a lot of technical integration. That's the reason we have the experts who are still meeting as we speak. And so tomorrow we'll have more to say and more to do.

Q: Does the demilitarization of the KLA factor into the Russian calculations of what they want to do there?

A: Well, I think the demilitarization factors into KFOR, period. That's part of the mission to have a demilitarization so there can be a safe return of the refugees and a safe presence as far as the Serbs are concerned. We want to make sure that all who are in Kosovo feel safe and secure. So a demilitarization is a part of-a key part-of the entire KFOR mission.

Q: Can you tell us if you reach an agreement or if you do reach an agreement that will be accepted by and understood by all facets of the Russian government-military, political?

A: Well, that is the reason that the foreign minister is here, so he can communicate that to the foreign minister, and to his superiors. That is the reason, I would assume that Minister Sergeyev is reporting back directly to his superior, and he will, I'm sure communicate whatever developments occurred today to President Yeltsin and to others. I will do the same with President Clinton at an appropriate time. We have kept everyone in complete-as best we could-in complete communication, aside from a minor breakdown. But it's been going very well. I would say we're quite pleased with the progress that's made, and we have more to do.

Q: Because I'm based in Moscow, I see this all through the eyes of the Russians, and they would argue-contrary to what you said-that their going to Pristina airport has had a very important effect, because it's gotten you to have these talks with them about Russia's role, and they would argue that this never would have happened had they not taken the initiative and gone to Pristina. Do you think that's right?

A: To the contrary-as a matter of fact, Strobe Talbott was in Moscow for many days engaged in discussions with the Russians because we were trying to work exactly the role for the Russians. So the notion that somehow they were not going to be consulted is completely contradicted by the fact that Deputy Secretary Talbott was there. So I think there's no merit to that particular argument. I think that...

Q: But they would say that it gives them a chance to operate from a position of strength...

A: Well, again, I would point out they have a very small number of troops who are there. We have large numbers of NATO forces who are in Kosovo now. The important thing is that the Serbs are moving out consistent with their agreement, that the KFOR forces are moving in, and that we are working with the Russians to resolve how they can play an effective role for themselves and for the KFOR.

Q: Did the Russian foreign minister take part in these talks?

A: No, it's been strictly defense ministers.

Q: How much time did you spend just you and Sergeyev? You're talking about seven hours. Can you give us a break down in time for you and Minister Sergeyev?

A: There was a good meeting initially, lasted perhaps an hour and a half or more, then we had a break. Most of that time was spent communicating on the phone back and forth, and then we had a concluding meeting, but we kept in touch during the course.

Q: Thank you.

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