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Joint News Conference with Secretaries Rumsfeld and Hoon

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
March 21, 2001

Wednesday, March 21, 2001 - 10:34 a.m. EST

(Joint news conference with Secretary of State for Defense Geoffrey Hoon of the United Kingdom)

Rumsfeld: Greetings.

The minister and I have just had a very productive meeting with some of our associates on both sides and discussed a full range of issues that are of importance to both of our countries and to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as well. We talked about our common interest and efforts in the Balkans and in Macedonia. We talked about missile defense and the European Defense Initiative. We talked about several other subjects which I'm sure you'll all probe and explore.

And we're happy to be here. And the minister has a statement to make. And then we'll be happy to respond to questions.

Hoon: Thank you.

I'm delighted to be back in Washington to renew our contacts with our closest ally. I was particularly pleased to meet the secretary again following our discussions in Munich last month. I also appreciated the opportunity to call on a number of old friends on the Hill. I will be seeing Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice later today.

Yesterday I had the opportunity of seeing C-17 and to be briefed on the progress of the Joint Strike Fighter. Both are key projects, as far as the United Kingdom is concerned. We're taking delivery of our first C-17s in May, giving us for the first time a dedicated strategic airlift capability. We also recently committed $2 billion to JSF development. The project will strengthen the United Kingdom and European capabilities whilst promoting cooperation and interoperability across the Atlantic and within the alliance.

In our discussions this morning, we reviewed recent developments in the Balkans and in Macedonia. I explained the efforts the United Kingdom is making to address the crisis. These include sending military advisers to assist the government in Macedonia and to assess the situation on the ground. We spoke also about missile defense and affirmed our understanding of the U.S. threat assessment. I emphasized the United Kingdom's support for the administration's wish to consult allies and promote international stability. I confirmed that the United Kingdom would want to be helpful when decisions are taken on how the U.S. intends to move forward.

On European defense, I confirmed our commitment to the approach agreed between the prime minister and the president at Camp David. I explained our determination to develop the details of European defense in a way that will reinforce the alliance, strengthen NATO's capabilities and enable Europeans to do more in crisis management, including when NATO chooses not to be engaged.

The United Kingdom's commitment on the C-17 and JSF projects demonstrates the emphasis that the United Kingdom places on the need above all else to improve military capabilities in Europe, which we will be taking forward in a second capabilities conference this autumn. It is this more than anything else, the commitment to capabilities, that guides our approach to European defense.

Thank you very much.

Rumsfeld: Thank you.

Questions? Yes, sir?

Q: Gentlemen, I'd like to ask you both, briefly and pointedly -- Lord Robertson announced today a series of measures by NATO to improve on -- to more tightly control the border between Macedonia and Kosovo. Are either of you gentlemen -- number one, are your countries willing, number one, to send troops, perhaps, to Macedonia in any last-ditch effort to stop the violence there, or to provide direct military equipment to the Macedonian government?

Rumsfeld: Well, I can respond for the United States. We have no plans to send troops to Macedonia. There are, as you know, a series of things that the United States and General Ralston, through NATO and -- that NATO had and are doing with respect to the difficult situation along the border. But the answer to your question is no.

Q: How about military equipment?

Rumsfeld: The -- I would not want to say there hasn't been any, but to specify precisely what type of military assistance has been provided, I'm -- I would have to think that through very carefully. I know there are some things that we are doing and have been doing, and of course we do have small numbers of American forces in Macedonia.

Q: Just to follow up --

Q: And Mr. Hoon -- I'm sorry. Mr. Hoon, if you --

Hoon: Well, we have had, as I mentioned, a military adviser in Macedonia for some time. We are increasing the advice and help that we can give in that respect.

Obviously, the key on the other side of the border is making sure that -- I'm trying to find the right word here -- the extremists, I'm tempted to say, cannot use the border as a way of passing and re-passing, avoiding both action by the Macedonian government and obviously avoiding action by KFOR. So we do need a more vigorous patrolling on the Kosovo side of the border, and that's something that we are looking at.

Q: And how about troops? How about troops and direct military aid to Macedonia?

Hoon: That's not something that is on the agenda for the moment, because, clearly, it is a matter for Macedonia, in the first place, to resolve. But clearly, were Macedonia to make a direct request for assistance, then we would be willing to consider that.

Q: Just to follow up on the troop question, the North Atlantic Council today endorsed the call for additional troops for KFOR, for the forces in Kosovo. Well, can each of you answer whether the United States or the United Kingdom is considering sending additional troops to reinforce the peacekeeping forces in Kosovo?

Rumsfeld: The United States is not. I have not seen the report that you're referring to, and I don't know precisely what was -- what NATO said, or who in NATO said it.

Q: Well --

Q: Lord Robertson.

Q: Yeah, Lord Robertson.

Rumsfeld: Well -- and he is calling for what in Kosovo?

Q: For additional troops, for reinforcements for KFOR.

Rumsfeld: Well, there's two ways you can look at that. One would be additional troops into Kosovo. The other would be the reinforcement of troops in Kosovo by troops in Kosovo.

Q: He's talking -- (off mike).

Rumsfeld: That -- well, I don't know that. I just haven't seen that that I could be sure of that. But there have been, on any number of occasions, movements of troops within Kosovo to reinforce in areas where there were difficulties at times when there were not difficulties in the areas where the troops were moved from.

Q: Mr. Secretary --

Hoon: We would strongly support that approach because we believe that it's very important that we use the forces that we have in Kosovo effectively. And that means -- and British forces have been prepared to do this on a number of occasions -- that means moving them into those areas of difficulty where they can then use their expertise to best effect. So we do think it is about making sure that we use the existing forces in Kosovo most effectively.

Q: Secretary Hoon, if I can just follow up to that. There's been some criticism in Britain of the U.S. forces in the U.S. sector not vigorously patrolling, and perhaps being too adverse to casualties. Do you share that criticism of the way the U.S. is patrolling its sector?

Hoon: No, I don't. And indeed we discuss, regularly, the way in which the forces that are already in Kosovo should be used. And the U.S. have been engaged, for example, along the GSZ in vigorous patrolling. We recognize the risk to them and the risk to all KFOR forces.

Q: Mr. Hoon, in your discussions this morning with Secretary Rumsfeld -- you do support the Joint Strike Fighter and yet, as you know, the secretary is doing a total review of our weapons systems and capabilities. Has he expressed to you definitively, or do you understand definitively that the U.S. will go forward with the Joint Strike Fighter?

Hoon: He's here, you ask him. (Laughter.)

Rumsfeld: He has a tendency to do that. (Laughter.)

Hoon: I know. Well, I have a tendency not to respond. (Laughter.)

Q: Mr. Secretary?

Rumsfeld: Yes.

Q: No answer from either one of you gentlemen?

Rumsfeld: Well, you know where we are as well as I know where we are. We're reviewing the various pieces of the Defense programs, and that's not something that we've --

Q: (Off mike.)

Rumsfeld: -- and go ahead with the JSF.

Hoon: I was very impressed with what I saw. It's an important project, as I indicated in what I said to you at the outset. It is an important project for the United Kingdom.

Q: Mr. Secretary, if I may ask a question back to Kosovo for a second?

What's the latest information on the buildup of rebel forces along the border there with Macedonia? What's the latest today?

Rumsfeld: The problem I have with that -- I'll be very honest -- is that the latest ones I've seen are classified, and I am not in a position to declassify them. And secondly, almost always the earliest reports prove not to be exactly right --

Q: Is it concerning --

Rumsfeld: -- and they tend to be the best someone can provide at that moment, and then, if you wait six hours, you tend to find additional information which is more helpful.


Q: In the course of these reviews, how important is the industrial impact of the review? For example, the industrial impact of, say, a termination on JSF, the international impact on that?

Rumsfeld: There's no question but that in reviewing things you have to look at capabilities, you also have to look at the impacts on your friends and allies and, indeed, you have to look at the impact on an industrial base.

Q: Mr. Secretary?

Rumsfeld: Yes, way in the back.

Q: Mr. Secretary, even if you can't be specific about the reports you've seen about the buildup, can you at least give us sort of your sense and your view at the moment about whether or not you do have a level of concern about what's going on and just how concerned you feel the U.S. ought to be?

Rumsfeld: Well, there's no question but that when you see -- in that part of the world you see clashes between people who don't like each other, that one has to be concerned about it. I'm reluctant to characterize it, but there's no question but that if you see this type of activity taking place over a sustained period of time, that you have to be aware of it and concerned about it, and certainly the government of Macedonia is.

Q: Do you feel its destabilizing?

Q: Mr. Secretary, do you consider the future and the stability of Macedonia a vital security interest of the United States?

Rumsfeld: Certainly the region is important or we would not have forces in the region. It is --

Q: Do you --

Rumsfeld: Those are decisions that are made by the president of the United States, not me.

(To Hoon) Do you want to comment on that?

Hoon: Well, all I would say is that Macedonia has been a very successful state, arguably the most successful of the states of Former Republic of Yugoslavia. And, clearly, having expended such effort in Bosnia and in Kosovo to try and provide stability that for that deeply troubled region, we would not want to see Macedonia as another tinderbox.

Q: So what do you do -- short of sending troops in, which you say you're not going to do, what do you do to address the problem of not letting this instability get out of control in Macedonia? What needs to be done?

Rumsfeld: Well, there are a great many things being done. The United States and NATO allies have been working with the government of Macedonia for some period.

And as the minister indicated, there is a renewed effort to see that the patrolling along the border of Macedonia is improved and strengthened, and there is various types of advice and assistance that's being provided.

Q: Mr. Secretary --

(Cross talk.)

Rumsfeld: Let's try somebody who hasn't had a question yet. Yeah?

Q: I have a question for you with respect to JSF. Has the U.K. made a final decision on the Joint Strike Fighter for the future carrier -- what's it called? -- the future carrier-borne aircraft? And if so, has the decision been made whether the CTOL or the STOVL version? And the third part is, if the program goes forward like it is, what percentage does the United Kingdom want to weigh in on choosing the contractor?

Rumsfeld: Goodness gracious!

Hoon: (Laughs.) Well --

Q: She's good, too.

Hoon: Well, we have made --

Q: (Off mike.) (Laughs.)

Hoon: We have made it clear that the Joint Strike Fighter is our preferred option for the carriers that we are committed to building. The other questions in fact are questions that we will have to discuss once the review the United States is conducting has been completed, and once we are in a position to take forward what I believe to be an exciting joint program.

Q: What about the STOVL or CTOL version?

Hoon: That's still in the program. It's still something that has to be resolved. It's obviously subject to the review.

Staff: The gentlemen have time for about one more.

Q: Secretary Rumsfeld, given the strong support the British have laid out for the Joint Strike Fighter, can you say somewhat definitively that it's unlikely the program would be cancelled, based on the review --

Rumsfeld: If I start doing that on things that I haven't studied, now would that be prudent?

Q: Well, you could --

Rumsfeld: No.

Q: You could say nothing -- (laughter) --

Rumsfeld: It would be wrong. It would be imprudent, unwise.

Q: You have some insights, though --

Rumsfeld: We have lots of pieces of the puzzle that are moving down the train track, and we're looking at them all, and when we're ready to opine, we shall do so.

Q: Is that question, though, being looked at?

Rumsfeld: Yes?

Q: Secretary Rumsfeld, do you agree with the Bush government's position that the ESDP is a good thing, that it's going to enhance European capabilities, and that it will strengthen NATO?

Rumsfeld: I have commented on this on a number of occasions, and we have talked about it now on two occasions, at some length.

And as the minister indicated, the goal of the European Defense Initiative is to improve the capabilities of NATO in Western Europe. And the president has spoken as to the United States government's position, and I have indicated and we have discussed the fact that there are a number of details to be worked out. And it's important to me to see that those -- for the U.K. and the United States and other NATO allies to work to see that those details are worked out in a way that is satisfactory to the alliance and that ends up with a strengthened alliance.

Q: Do you think it's on track to do that?

Rumsfeld: Well, as I say, the devil's in the details and they have to be worked out. Certainly the minister has indicated his intention to be attentive, I've indicated my intention to be attentive, and that ought to be a good start within the NATO alliance.

Q: Mr. Secretary --

Q: Mr. Secretary -

Rumsfeld: The minister had a word.

Hoon: All I was going to say is that we've made it absolutely clear that those details are details that we have to get right and to ensure that European defense is wholly consistent with improving capabilities in a NATO context. That's something that the prime minister and the president stated categorically at Camp David.

Rumsfeld: The minister has some meetings and I'm in the midst of a conference call, so we'll have to excuse ourselves.

Hoon: Thank you all very much.

Rumsfeld: Thank you.

Q: Thank you, sir. Thank you, Minister.

"This transcript was prepared by the Federal News Service, Inc., Washington DC. Federal News Service is a private company. For other defense related transcripts not available through this site, contact Federal News Service at (202) 347-1400."

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