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Signing Ceremony-Media Availability with Secretary Cohen and Romanian MoD Constantin D. Ionescu

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
March 30, 1998

Monday, March 30, 1998

[This media activity follows an Honor Cordon welcoming Minister of Defense Constantin D. Ionescu of Romania to the Pentagon and the signing of an Agreement of Cooperation in the area of Counterproliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Promotion of Defense and Military Relations.]

SECRETARY COHEN: The agreement that Minister Ionescu and I have just signed outlines the ways that Romania and the United States are going to work together to help stop trafficking in deadly chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

Under the agreement, the United States is going to provide the Romanian border control authorities with equipment, training and services designed to bolster Romania's ability to interdict transfers of weapons of mass destruction.

The spread of deadly chemical and biological nuclear weapons poses a serious threat to the United States and to all peace-loving countries. Romania and the United States realize that we have to do all we can to prevent terrorists or rogue nations from acquiring and using such weapons and this agreement is going to make us partners in that campaign.

The agreement complements actions that we're taking at home to bolster our ability to respond to the use of these weapons of mass destruction. And, as you know, I recently announced a new program to train our reserve component to assist domestic authorities in dealing with these problems.

I want to thank Minister Ionescu and Romania for recognizing the serious threat that has been posed by weapons of mass destruction and for acting to help prevent the proliferation of these deadly weapons. This is just one example of Romania's efforts to promote peace and stability. Let me give you a few others.

Earlier this year, Romania strongly supported our efforts to force Iraq to comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions that mandate the end of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program. It offered to contribute medical and other support to our military coalition in the Gulf and this commitment also showed that Romania's determination to stop the spread of deadly weapons is serious indeed.

Romania is an active participant in the Partnership for Peace program. In fact, it has proposed establishing a regional PFP training center in Romania and we are now reviewing that offer. It has contributed to the stabilization force in Bosnia, the multi-national protection force in Albania and offered future participation in the U.N. force in Macedonia.

Romania is cooperating with the contact group to help solve the problems in Kosovo. Romania is working closely with NATO nations to enhance European security and this is one of the reasons why Romania remains a strong candidate for future membership in NATO.

With that, ladies and gentlemen, let me ask the minister if he would care to offer a comment to them and then subject ourselves to your questions.

MINISTER IONESCU: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Once again, thank you to offer us this opportunity to sign this agreement today. I want to stress that for the Romanian armed forces, the letter of cooperation with the United Stated armed forces are the most important and I believe that we can play for the region, that we are allocated a very important role and we have from that respect and the support of the United States.

I will say also that this is just a step forward, this agreement is a step forward, in our bilateral collaboration and, once again, thank you very much, Mr. Secretary.

Q: Mr. Secretary, could we ask you about the report that you're planning to send to Congress on Cuba? Do you believe that there is a lessened security threat there?

A: First of all, I have not had an opportunity to review the report. That's an intelligence report which has been prepared, but which I will take the next several days to review before offering any comment on it. The report -- it is my understanding it is completed and it should arrive at my desk today and then I'll have an opportunity to review it in the next several days and then make comment on it.

Q: Secretary Cohen, tomorrow the Air Force will release the report on the crash of the C-141 cargo plane, the German transport plane last year that killed 33 people. Are you confident that the Air Force is moving quickly enough to install collision avoidance systems that are standard on commercial airliners on military transport planes, including the kinds of planes, for instance, that you travel on, such as the C-17?

A: Well, we have had a briefing from the Air Force and the Air Force has agreed to accelerate the program. I think it's something that needs to be done as soon as it is technically feasible to do and we have requested the Air Force to move as quickly as they can and we believe the Air Force has a program in place that will accomplish that.

Q: Was it dragging its feet on this?

A: I'm not sure it's dragging its feet. There's a problem as far as some of the older aircraft. There is a statutory requirement, for example, that modifications are not to be permitted if an aircraft is to be retired within a five-year period and I have to look to see whether there are any waivers involved in that, but that has been one of the inhibitions.

With respect to new aircraft, however, we need to certainly install the TCAS as soon as possible and the other modification on existing aircraft needs to be done as soon as technically feasible as well.

Q: To follow on Cuba, sir, do you believe, though, that it's time for a reassessment with the relations with Cuba?

A: I really think I have to wait until I read the report before I can make any comment on that.

Q: Mr. Secretary, when might you make an assessment of the Romania's chances to be invited into NATO at next year's summit? (inaudible)?

A: Well, as we have stated in the past, no nation will be excluded from consideration for future NATO membership if it measures up to the high standards that NATO would require. Romania has been very active in promoting interoperability with NATO, engaging in the Partnership for Peace programs, all of the contributions I have mentioned just a moment ago. And it's very clear to me from my observations at the summit in Madrid that Romania enjoys strong support from many countries, and we think it will be a very strong contender for future membership, assuming that the reforms that have been underway continue and that Romania continues on the current path. No one can predict at this point when there will be a future decision made on future countries coming in.

This is a matter of some controversy, as you know, on Capitol Hill. Some would like to impose a moratorium for a period of several years. The administration does not believe that we need to have any artificial delineation or hiatus. That would be determined by NATO itself and the countries who are seeking accession, but obviously Romania enjoys, I think, strong support from many countries and will be a strong contender for future membership.

Q: Mr. Ionescu would like to say a few words about that?

MINISTER IONESCU: For Romania, NATO membership is a strategic goal and we'll fight for membership. I believe that in the moment that there will be some decision to be made [that] we will be invited to join NATO. I also want to mention here the strategic partnership with the United States which is for Romania a very important partnership. Thank you.

Q: Mr. Ionescu, sir, relevant to today's signing, sir, do you have any positive knowledge or, for that matter, suspicions of weapons, especially nuclear weapons, either man-portable weapons or tactical nuclear weapons that might be for sale out of Russia or Bulgaria? Do you have any such knowledge? We have a Customs case in Miami alleging Bulgarian weapons, a weapons sale to Chechnya, a weapons sale to Palestinians. Do you have any corroborating evidence?

MINISTER IONESCU: No, we don't have such a kind of evidence, but the agreement that we signed today, it's actually to prevent such a kind of action. We are very pleased that the United States offered to us such a kind of assistance.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

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