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Updated: 14 Jan 2003
News Briefings

Background Briefing


Tuesday, October 03, 2000 - 2:24 p.m. EDT
Subject: SecDef's Upcoming Trip To Tunisia, Greece and the United Kingdom
Presenter: Senior Defense Department Official

Senior Defense Official: Afternoon.

This is a three-part trip. The secretary will go first to Tunisia. He gets there Friday evening. He will meet on Saturday with the defense minister and with the president. He will then go from there to Greece. He will have a chance to have meetings with the Greek minister of defense. He will be in Greece for the Southeast European Defense Ministerial, which starts on Sunday evening with a dinner with his co-ministers -- there's a total of 10 now because we're adding Croatia.

The Southeast Defense Ministerial, or SEDM, itself is Monday morning. He will have a chance to meet with the Turkish minister of defense in a bilateral in the early afternoon and then leave and arrive in the United Kingdom in Birmingham for the NATO Defense Ministerial Informal. There's a reception that evening. The meetings itself -- they begin on Tuesday; there's a ministers dinner Tuesday evening; more meetings on Wednesday and then he'll be coming home.

In terms of the overall objectives: with respect to Tunisia, he's been there before. He's received his counterpart -- counterparts -- both the current minister of defense and the previous minister of defense -- here. Some of you may have been in Tunisia with the secretary, I'm not sure, but you may know we have a rather extensive defense program with them. We do 12 to 14 exercises a year, they have an air range that we use quite extensively, they receive IMET [international military education and training], they get a small amount of FMF [foreign military financing] and drawdown. They are on the Security Council and, therefore, are very much involved in the Security Council issues, and of course at this point it would include the peace process. We have -- they are also part of NATO's so-called Mediterranean dialogue, which NATO has with the countries of the Mediterranean for issues like peacekeeping, civic emergencies, environmental issues. And they will come to the opening session of the Near East South Asia Center, which will take place here in Washington at the -- (to staff) -- October 31? -- October 31 and November 1st and 2nd.

At the Southeast Defense Ministerial -- this is the fifth such ministerial and the fourth that Secretary Cohen has been a participant in. I think you all know that the broad ideas of the ministerial were to increase transparency among the countries, to enhance actual multilateral cooperation, to help on civil-military relations in these countries.

There is a peacekeeping unit which has been developed, a Southeast European brigade, which is ready to actually take place, and potentially will be in Bosnia next year. It is not -- that's not official, but that's my expectation that may occur. They've developed an engineering unit which will have an exercise in Albania next year, next calendar year, and do some road building, which, for those of you who have been in Albania know, is quite useful. And they are developing a simulation network which builds on the Partnership for Peace simulation network, which will allow us to do exercises and exchange information.

Croatia will become a member of the Southeast Defense Ministerial at this meeting. Of course, you're all well aware of the changes in Croatia. They've recently become a member of the Partnership for Peace.

In Birmingham, we will have a series of issues. The defense ministers will focus, I would say, on two broad sets of issues. The first is the overall transformation of NATO, which has started with the Defense Capabilities Initiative in NATO and the ESDI effort amongst the Europeans. In general, we think both these are going forward reasonably well.

The secretary will talk about the importance of ministerial guidance, which is put out every two years, so this will be the first ministerial guidance since the 1999 summit that will reflect the ideas in the Defense Capabilities Initiative -- more mobility, more lethal forces, more logistics away from home. He will talk with his fellow ministers about ESDI. Again, that's going reasonably well. It's a process, of course. And one of the things they will focus on is ensuring that the NATO and EU planning processes work together.

A second broad area, of course, will be the Balkans. Obviously, we have forces in Bosnia and Kosovo, and obviously we have the elections that just occurred in Serbia.

Along the way, of course, he'll have a series of bilaterals. He'll see the secretary-general of NATO, some of his other ministers. He'll have a chance, of course, in Greece to talk to the Greek minister, he'll have a chance to talk to the Turkish minister and others.

So let me stop there, and whatever questions you have.

Q: Is he going to be signing any agreements, any sort of MOUs with anybody along the way?

Senior Defense Official: Not in NATO. Let me just sort of work my way backwards here. Not in NATO, not in Tunisia. It's possible we'll have something in Greece, but nothing -- that's not the purpose of the trip. So that's not the focus, really.

Q: During his visit to Greece, is he going to discuss bilateral issues with the Greek Minister of Defense, Mr. Tsohatzopoulos?

Senior Defense Official: Yes, he certainly is. And --

Q: (Off mike) -- idea?

Senior Defense Official: Greece is not only a NATO ally but it's also an important country as a regional power in the area, in the Mediterranean. The secretary has had extensive discussions over a number of years with the minister. They have good personal relations.

One of the things they will talk about, of course, is the Southeast Defense Ministerial itself and their views. Greece, as some of you may know, has the chairmanship of the political-military steering committee in that organization. And what that has done is it's allowed the countries to work together, not only on the military level, but also, if you will, at a strategic level.

He will talk also about the Mediterranean. We have had some discussions with Greece on expanding cooperation in the Mediterranean. We're looking at doing things on a multilateral basis, for example, on environmental issues, as we have done in some areas of the world, search and rescue, and those kinds of things. And we'll talk about that set of issues.

We have, of course, direct bilateral relations. The Greeks are interested in a number of new U.S. systems. They haven't made a decision, but the Joint Strike Fighter would be one example. When the deputy minister of defense was here, he looked at the Joint Strike Fighter simulator at one of the companies. Of course, Greece is buying F-16s and various other American systems. So they'll have a(n) opportunity to talk about all these.

Q: And what about Greek-Turkish relations in connection with the CBM [confidence building measure] over the Aegean in the framework of NATO?

Senior Defense Official: We have supported any progress that Greece and Turkey can make on any set of issues, not only these particular CBMs, but in any arena at all. Obviously, we are pleased. There have been a lot of discussions between, for example, the Greek foreign minister and his Turkish counterpart. And they have led to a good set of relations, sometimes call earthquake diplomacy. But in any event, I think things are much better than they've been previously. The more that can be done with respect to CBMs, the better it is. It has to be for Greece and Turkey to decide. We can't decide. So if the minister has something that he's interested in us helping on, we will try to be responsive. But that's an issue between the two countries.

Q: On Serbia, on the elections in Serbia, will the secretary try to forge some sort of a common approach to dealing with Serbia in his talks with both the NATO and the Southeastern European defense ministers? And what sort of position will he be staking out on that?

Senior Defense Official: I think we've already seen a common position. The broad position is that the results of the election ought to be abided by. And I think that all the countries in Europe, certainly those who will be at the -- both the Southeast European Defense Ministerial and the NATO countries, agree with that. So it's -- I think the common position is already there, both on an individual basis, EU basis, there's been a lot of said.

Q: Going back to Greece and weapon systems, will there be discussion of the M-1 tank? Greece is interested in purchasing a number of tanks. They're looking at six candidates, including the American M-1.

Senior Defense Official: Right. And that's an issue that the Greeks are right in the middle of their decision-making process. We certainly support U.S. systems, and we think it would be a great decision for Greece to make that determination. And if the minister wants to talk about it, we will certainly be ready to do so.

Q: During the last NATO ministerial, national missile defense was one of the subjects. Do you expect it to be a subject at this informal talk?

Senior Defense Official: It's possible it will come up. But I think it will be less likely because of the -- number one, the president's decision, which does not take the issue off the agenda, but gives a little bit more time for it to be determined, both here in the U.S. and for other countries to react; and just because of the way the ministerial is structured, with a greater focus on the DCI kind of issues, the SDI kind of issues, the Balkans, NATO, Russia.

Q: Going back to Serbia, will you be doing any discussion of, you know, Balkans after Milosevic, with the defense ministers? And is there a security dimension to this that you may also be discussing? For instance, Montenegro; you know, there were concerns that he might use a move on Montenegro as a --

Senior Defense Official: I will be delighted to be in a position of the Balkans after Milosevic. Maybe you have sources that I don't yet.

I think that what the ministers will be doing in substance on this particular issue is making sure that they have exchanged views among themselves as to where their governments have already stated that they are. I mean, the important thing here is to allow the results of the elections to actually take effect. Everyone knows that, both outside and inside Serbia. And I don't think that they will, on that particular issue, be going beyond that.

Q: Is there anything they can do together to increase the pressure on Milosevic to respect the results of the elections?

Senior Defense Official: It's possible that they will talk about that, but I think right now the pressure already comes from the heads of state and from the various institutions, like the EU.

Q: Secretary Cohen met with the Slovenian defense minister last Friday --

Senior Defense Official: I'm sorry. I just didn't hear you.

Q: Secretary Cohen met with the Slovenian defense minister. Can you provide any insight into that meeting? Anything come out of it or --

Senior Defense Official: Sure. (Pause.) Just bear with me for second, and I'll remember the meeting. Okay.

The -- we have a done a -- one of the key elements for Slovenia is, of course, its desire for NATO membership. And amongst other things, it seeks to improve its military. When Slovenia was created as a country, of course, it had a very limited military capability.

In that connection, the U.S., on a bilateral basis, has done a so-called defense assessment, which was done through a combination of OSD and the Joint Staff and EUCOM. We gave the defense assessment -- that defense assessment was done working with the Slovenians. It's a combined product. But we gave that formally -- Secretary Cohen formally gave that to the defense minister, and that was an important element.

The Slovenians have been working very hard in the Partnership for Peace and on a multilateral -- well, both bilateral and multilaterally with their neighbors to do as much as is possible for regional sets of issues. They're in the Southeast European Defense Ministerial. They have a peacekeeping unit that they're working on with Hungary and with Italy. They give NATO very good access, through Slovenia, into Hungary, and all those kinds of issues were discussed.

We also did discuss the Balkans sets of issues, including what was going on in Serbia, which was relatively more recent at that time.

Thank you very much.

Q: Thank you.

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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