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Media Availability/Honor Cordon for Minister of Defense, Republic of Finland

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
March 26, 1998

[This media activity follows an Honor Cordon welcoming Minister of Defense Anneli Taina, Republic of Finland to the Pentagon]

Secretary Cohen: We are here to invite any questions you might have. It's my pleasure to welcome the Minister of Defense from Finland. This is her second visit to the Pentagon. She advised me that on her previous visit it was storming outside and so we did not have an opportunity to present her with the kind of reception that she truly deserved. And today we were able to make amends for the past errors of our weather.

But we are looking forward to a good discussion about our relationship with Finland. They have been very active in the Partnership for Peace program. They have been very active in Bosnia in contributing to our effort in Bosnia and also in Macedonia. So we have a number of issues that we need to discuss and we are looking forward to a good exchange of our evolving relationship with Finland which is very strong.

Q: Mr. Secretary, can I ask, in published reports US officials are saying that the Russians have agreed to sell Yugoslavia tanks, anti-aircraft missiles, MiG-29 fighters and perhaps attack helicopters. Is it true and what's your reaction to that (inaudible) the Russians, have you spoken to the Russians about it?

A: I have not spoken with the Russians on this particular allegation, to the sales of weapons going into Yugoslavia. But this would be contrary to agreements and it would be contrary to the Dayton and we hope that the reports are not accurate. We think it's important that further sales, transfers of weapons going to the region would be counterproductive. What we're hoping to achieve is to encourage both parties to arrive at a settlement, mainly that we do not favor independence for Kosovo. We think it should be granted, obviously, greater autonomy and we think also that there needs to be some encouragement on the part of those who are threatening to turn to violence to return to an atmosphere of calm and reason. So, we're hoping that we can encourage both parties to act responsibly. We do not see a transfer of weapons being in the interest of promoting peace.

Q: Mr. Secretary, did you read the published reports about that the US may suspect that the Mexican military may have been more deeply involved in the drug trade than originally anticipated?

A: I'm in a position to comment on that at this point.

Q: Mr. Secretary, your reaction to the first inspection of a presidential palace; and is the United States now thinking about starting to draw down its force levels in the Gulf?

A: With respect to the presidential palaces, as I've indicated on many occasions in the past, we should not be fixated or mesmerized by the notion that the presidential palaces are going to provide a plethora or wealth of information or materials that pertain to the development of weapons of mass destruction as far as the Iraqis are concerned. I have indicated in the past that while these presidential palaces have -- so-called palaces -- have been off limits to inspectors that we should not have unreasonable expectations that when the inspectors finally are able to enter them that they will find incriminating evidence or any kind of documentation about the activities that the Iraqis have participated in in the past.

What I do think is important, is that the inspectors obviously be allowed to go anywhere in Iraq that they deem is important to carrying out their mission. But for me, at least, it is important to shift the burden of proof back to the Iraqis where it belongs. I think it would be unreasonable for anyone to expect that 20 or 30 or 40 inspectors perusing through an area the size of Wyoming, some 170,000 square miles looking through haystacks for chemically tipped, or biologically tipped needles, munitions, is going to be successful.

I think that it's important they continue to have whatever access they think is necessary to carry out their mission. But the responsibility really rests up Saddam Hussein. He must come forward with proof positive that he has, in fact, made full, final, complete disclosure of all of their weapons, nuclear, biological and chemical. That whatever declarations about their destruction must now be matched with evidence that in fact they have been destroyed. There are great discrepancies between what the Iraqis have claimed they have in their and were destroyed and their proof.

And UNSCOM has yet to be satisfied that it has been anything near a complete disclosure or certainly not an effort made to satisfy UNSCOM that what was claimed to have been done has in fact been carried out. Until that takes place there should be no notion of any relief from sanctions. So that's a responsibility I think that Saddam Hussein and his government have.

Secondly, with respect to any draw down of our forces, we do not anticipate a draw down at this point and certainly not until we're satisfied that we're on a course that Saddam Hussein will not reverse in the near future of once again resorting to delay, stall or any type of obstructionist activities. So, until such time as we're satisfied that these inspections will be carried out uninhibited and without any complications we will maintain our force as it is.

Q: Will you rotate the forces that are already there?

A: Yes, we would plan to engage in rotations as schedules permit. We will also, as I indicated, consider at some future time whether we downsize those forces. But for the time being we intend to maintain our current forces.

Q: Thank you very much.

A: Thank you.