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DoD News Briefing: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
July 09, 1997

Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen

Mr. Bacon: The Secretary wanted to talk to you for an hour tonight but I told him that ten minutes would be appropriate to give you sort of a lay-down of the Madrid part of the trip.

Q: What's the toughest thing you're going to face at Madrid?

Secretary Cohen: I think the plenary session we will have, which either the French or the Germans or the Italians or others will try to talk for Slovenia, Romania; but I don't expect it to be tough. We had this meeting in Brussels and I indicated very clearly what the decision is going to be, as far as the US is concerned, and, privately, most understood that this is going to be the result. Obviously the Italians would like to have Slovenia; the French would like to have Romanians; but ultimately they will arrive at the consensus for three. I don't expect it to be very tough -- very contentious.

Q: So privately they understood the US position and pretty much accepted....

A: First of all, I think all of us have been impressed with Slovenia and Romania and as we said, it's not a question of "no", just "not yet." Romania has been at it less than a year. Slovenia is making great progress. It's really one of saying, "come it a bit further." The other three have been engaged in the Partnership for Peace program for some time now, and they're much further advanced. I think that we are favorably disposed toward Slovenia, Romania in terms of their future accession if they continue doing what they're doing than I would not foresee a difficulty....

Q: But going into the Summit, you don't see it as a resolved issue, you think it's still going to come out even though the President has been so adamant?

A: I'm not sure. It's my first meeting. I suspect there will be some debate about it but what I gathered in Brussels was that most had indicated that since we had made it very clear that this was our position that that was likely be the result.

Q: What's your readout on what the French did on Thursday, saying, "Okay, fine, three, but then forget reintegration?"

A: We've been negotiating for some time with the French. We would like to have the French become fully integrated, but we have also been trying to work out an arrangement that would accommodate their needs. That was put on hold as a result of the elections, and then following the elections there was some indication that the new minister, Richard, they seem to be interested, at least, in opening the negotiations again. But I think it is too soon following the elections and it is unlikely that there will be any resolution of this just now. Hopefully that will be done and we can reach some kind of accommodation or understanding by December. We'd like to see it by October, November but by December -- that time frame. If they are gong to come in they'll have to come in by that time; if they're not, then we'll have to just proceed. A decision will have to be made by that time.

Q: On reintegration. But what do you view the outstanding issues to be with the French besides AFSOUTH and ...?

A: I think that's it.

Q: That's really what they still want?

A: Yes-- or some arrangement whereby they can have a greater role than currently they have.

Q: What are we willing to give them?

A: General Shali has made a number of proposals to try to bring them closer to achieving what they'd like to have. We can't afford to give up AFSOUTH at this time. We're not going to split it so it is bifurcated because that would lead a weakening of the command structure. But he has proposed several options which would give them a greater participatory role. Both the Germans and the Italians have indicated "come on in" and let's just defer the decision 5 or 6 years and then leave it open without prejudice and then re-evaluate at that point. That would mean it could be the United States; it could be Europeans; it could be the French; it could be anyone. That was a German proposal and an Italian proposal but they have chosen not to accept that .

Q: What are some of General Shali's proposals?

A: I'm not sure they were made [public]. I think they are still subject to negotiations. Its basically trying to accommodate them, to give them a greater participatory role.

Q: A greater participatory role in-- generally, in NATO, or in AFSOUTH?

A: Generally, in NATO.

Q: What about in AFSOUTH?

A: AFSOUTH, we think, has to remain with the US for the time being.

Q: "For the time being", in other words, is this the five year formula where...?

A: This is the German/Italian proposal that, kicking down the road for five years or so, and then see who is contributing which assets; who should be in control? But we said without prejudice, namely that it could be us; it could be European; it could be the French; it could be rotational. It would depend upon who is contributing to the command.

Q: But they've rejected that?

A: So far.

Q: Does the US support the German/Italian proposal?

A: Yes.

Q: We do?

A: If Italy stays with us for the next five or six years and then it's without prejudice.

Q: If the French decide not to come in by December, then what happens? Are they out for...

A: I think it complicates the matter for them, because we're moving forward and we're going to go forward with the ratification process next year. I just think that it puts them further outside of NATO at that point.

Q: By ratification you mean the new structure?

A: Yes. We're going to be focusing on that, so you're going to have a situation in which three members will be coming into NATO itself and the French will still be, not completely outside, but they won't be fully integrated. So you're going to have them somewhat left behind if they don't come in.

Q: But there's nothing to prevent them from coming in at a later date?

A: No. It would be better if they came in sooner, rather than later.

Q: May I ask you something on a another subject? These reports that are swirling around about Karadzic -- arresting him. The CIA talking to Special Forces about the possibility of doing (inaudible)-- apparently nothing has been decided. Can you tell us anything on that at all? Any progress been made?

A: It has been the Administration position for some time now that we would like to help strengthen the International War Crimes Tribunal. Beyond that-- intelligence matters-- we don't discuss it.

Q: Would you say you're moving closer?

A: I wouldn't say anything.

Q: How about more generally in the problem of Bosnia. You've got until June of next year in order to resolve the situation internally. Do you feel that internal civilian situation could be resolved with people like Karadzic still at large? Is that a problem that has to be resolved now?

A: He is obviously not contributing to the progress on Dayton. I think he is probably doing, behind the scenes, his best to unravel it. He has not been a positive factor.

Q: So would you say that is a problem that has to be resolved before June?

A: As long as he is going to be exercising influence he is going to continue to present a problem.

Q: Do you think you can even get significant improvements in the civilian aspects of rebuilding, politics, the whole bang, with him still around?

A: A lot depends on what else happens. Whether or not there is going to be any economic assistance going to the Serbs. Whether they are going to be a beneficiary of the other parts of Dayton. We can't quite have it both ways. So we'll have to see. But there is a lot of progress being made. You've been there recently. There's a lot of progress.

Q: Is there still concern on the part of the military that if there were an attempt to arrest these indicted war criminals that it could have serious repercussions for the troops on the ground?

A: I think there is always a concern about repercussions. But it's hard to speculate at this point. I think it doesn't help to speculate.

Q: Various newspapers have framed differently, but have said there's a snatch-team or some other (inaudible) team-- is the US doing anything, if not directly itself, are there some consultants or some contractors the US is employing to help create such a team or anything we're doing to offer support for the creation of such a thing?

A: The only thing I can say is that the Administration is committed to try to strengthen the War Crimes Tribunal, period.

Q: As a result of the Denver Summit and the statements that were made there, has there been any change in your thinking? Is June of next year still it, no matter what?

A: June of next year is the SFOR mandate.

Q: Is there anything, any factors that you are looking at that could change your mind at this point?

A: It's not my mind. It is the NATO decision. All I've been doing is taking what NATO itself has decided. If you talk to any of the other ministers of defense, prime ministers, they would agree that talking about 'what else should be done after June' is not up to them at this point. They are determined to work with us, and we with them, to put our best efforts forward to make Dayton...

Q: ...Do you think there's going to be any stomach at all for staying past June? If things are going well and people think we should stay?

A: Well, there was a resolution passed in the House of Representatives recently. It didn't show much incentive for that. In fact, I think there were 197 or 198 votes in favor of cutting off funding by December and that's a fairly significant vote. And then you had the amendment that did pass calling for termination. Senator Lott has a bill or an amendment that will be offering or would do the same thing in the Senate. I think the Senate is pretty strong about the end of June.

Q: Would you rule out the use of the military to go after Karadzic? I've noticed you haven't said, as you and others have often said, that this is simply not the job of the military, it's not the mandate of the military. You haven't said that. Do you rule out using the military, aside from any secret talks that might be going on?

A: I'm not ruling in or ruling out anything. It's not my decision to make. There has been no decision made. It has been the position of the Administration that we will do whatever we can to strengthen the War Crimes Tribunal. We hope that some of these criminals can be brought to justice. That's been the position of the President from the very beginning. Nothing has been ruled in or ruled out.

Q: Any decision on the Khobar Tower Report?

A: No, not yet. You were at the Washington Post Editorial Board-- I was going to do it before. I didn't want to come to a decision and then leave, so within probably ten days or so from when we get back I'll have the report finished and make the presentation at that point.

Q: Ten days after you get back or ten days...?

A: Yes. I've got to deal with something called, a Chairman... [Laughter]

I've got to take care of that.

Q: That was going to be our next question.

A: Hopefully next week I'll have a chance to make a recommendation; when I get back, sometime during that week.

Q: ...picked somebody out?

A: I've got to have some time to sit down with the President at some point and talk about some of the candidates.

Q: Have you whittled it down to maybe two top candidates?

A: Not two-- maybe three or four.

Q: Do you anticipate talking to him over the next couple of days in Madrid?

A: I would like to.

Q: Just for the record, could you also narrow it down to what is the top quality you're looking for in the next Chairman?

A: Obviously someone who has had vast experience and certainly with jointness -- that's very important. Someone who can work with his fellow Chiefs. Someone who has my confidence and that of the President; who is highly respected by his colleagues and by people on the Hill. That's another requirement, I think, that would be important. Basically, a sound war-fighter who would give the best advice possible to the President and to me in times of crisis and certainly on a day-to-day basis. Those are generally the qualities you look for in a Chairman.

Q: Is General Clark still eligible since he's been named and approved by NATO?

A: Yes.

Q: I think next week he is having his confirmation hearings.

[Crosstalk]

Q: Have you got a chance to look at the Army's Senior Review Panel report on Aberdeen?

A: Not really.

Q: Have your been keeping abreast of whether or not they are taking this whole thing seriously?

A: Aberdeen?

Q: Well, no, but the aftermath. They went so far in Aberdeen. They went to the trials but we've yet to see what they're going to do beyond that -- are there some institutional changes, personnel changes...?

A: I haven't talked to Secretary West or to Denny Reimer yet. I've been diverted. [Laughter].

Q: Can I go back and ask a NATO question. What do you think is the major point that is going to rise in Congress as this goes forward in the Senate? Is it simply a mater of cost? Is it a budget issue with the Senate? Is it a fundamental issue of political philosophy about whether we should do this or not? What are you facing with the SNOG, as they now call it?

A: I think the sentiments so far, in talking to the members and testifying for them, they are apprehensive that the countries who will be admitted will not measure up to their requirements and ,therefore, that will shift to the United States and so cost is a factor. There is also some concern that by extending the umbrella of NATO there may be some weakening in the center. Of course there are a lot of counter arguments to that. If you don't embrace the countries who are eager to embrace your ideas and the NATO organization, that is a different dynamic of its own. I think that most have expressed is the concern that other countries will not measure up to their responsibilities that we're looking at declining budgets, rather than expanding budgets, that ultimately they will not...

Q: ...do you think that's a valid concern?

A: Sure. I think that the countries who are going to come in need to fully appreciate the fact that they are not just going to be granted admission and then not be required to measure up and it's a message I will send when I speak to the parliament in Hungary, the Czech Republic and later to Bulgaria, but that's something I will talk to both the Czech Republic and Hungary about. Bulgaria may be a candidate some time in the future. But this is something that the Czech Republic will have to measure up to as well as Hungary. That's something that, as soon as this Summit is over, we will be sending teams over saying that this is what has to be done and this is the kind of planning we should do and these are the requirements. The Congress and Senate are going to play it closely as to whether or not the countries are going to be willing to make that kind of a commitment.

Thank you.