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DoD News Briefing: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
July 17, 1997 11:20 PM EDT

[This media activity follows an Honor Cordon welcoming President Eduard Shevardnadze, of Georgia to the Pentagon and the signing of an agreement on Cooperation in the Area of Prevention of Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Promotion of Defense and Military Relations.]

Secretary Cohen: Two weeks ago we celebrated the Fourth of July, a time when we recall the great hopes and great challenges that filled those days when the United States was a newly independent state. Today it is a great honor for me to welcome President Eduard Shevardnadze of the newly independent state of Georgia. A man whose courage and judgment and vision has helped Georgia navigate the great hopes and great challenges of newly won independence.

One of the great challenges for Georgia and all the newly independent states is confronting the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Today we're taking a historic step of extending the cooperative threat reduction plan and program and other defense cooperative plans to Georgia.

The CTR program has forged broad ranging programs in the former Soviet Union to help reduce the risk of proliferation. The extension of this program is going to ensure that Georgia remains a "sturdy brick" in the wall holding back the spread of weapons of mass destruction. We also look forward to a steadily growing and expanding defense relationship with Georgia. We intend to build upon the bonds of trust and confidence between us -- Bonds that have been strengthened by Georgia's active participation in the partnership for peace. We will continue our military contact program and bilateral trading partnerships.

For 2,000 years Georgia has been denied the lasting fruits of independence and has to often suffered under oppression and tyranny. Six years ago, the people of Georgia chose a new path, the path of independence and freedom. Now Georgia is embracing its new found independence and is reaching out to join the community of free nations. With ready hands, the people of Georgia are setting about the hard work of making democracy work. Today the United States is proud to join with Georgia in making their democracy work and making our world safer.

And now I'd like to yield to the very courageous and visionary President of the country of Georgia, President Shevardnadze.

President Shevardnadze: Dear Secretary, Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to thank you for those wonderful words that you just said, and for this very cordial meeting.

I had a meeting with the American businessmen this morning. It was a big audience, a numerous audience, where I did say that if not for the humanitarian and economic assistance that emanated from the United States, Georgia would not have survived. And if on our planet, yet another country emerged with full fledged democracy, this is your merit. You have done a lot for this to happen.

Mr. Minister, we have signed a momentous, a very important agreement this morning, in the field, which is very sensitive and very important. The field, which is military cooperation, and you know that we cooperate within the framework of the program which is called partnership for peace. Georgia is one of the founders of the Euro-Atlantic partnership counsel and one of the members of this counsel. And whatever we've been doing so far, it's the beginning probably of big, great cooperation in the future.

I should also like to underscore that, the only kind of military cooperation, that really has prospects is the one that takes into account, peace and democracy, I mean peaceful and democratic development of the world which is aimed at this. However, whatever our cooperation may be in the field of military technical assistance it will never by directed against any country in the world. I thank you very much. I wish successes to [a] great America and to its glorious forces.

Secretary Cohen: I have a brief statement to read in conjunction with another matter. (Secretary reads statement regarding the nomination of General Henry H. Shelton as the next Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff. )

Q: Secretary Cohen are you concerned at all that the nomination of a third consecutive Army officer might cause any problems at all with officers in the Air Force Navy and Marines?

A: None, whatsoever.

Q: Did you choose him because of his special operations role and the portending role they may play in Bosnia in snatching war criminals?

A: No. I chose him because he's the best candidate to lead as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, following in the footsteps of General John Shalikashivili.

Q: President Clinton said today that he wouldn't have a... that the jury's still open to troops in Bosnia. Do you still oppose the continued presence of U.S. troops in Bosnia after the SFOR mission ends.

A: I think there'll be time enough to talk about Bosnia after we conclude (inaudible).

President Shevardnadze: Since I am present at this very emotional, I would say, affair, I want to tell you that I am proud that I am, in some sense, you know, a fellow countryman of John Shalikashvili; that he has performed his duty with duty with dignity in the United States of America and for the United States of America. But how can I return to Georgia now? What they will say in Georgia now... They'll say that he specially came to Washington so that, you know Mr. Shalikashvili would retire. (laughter).

General John Shalikashvili: Thank you Mr. President.

Press: Thank you.

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