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Media Availability Secretary William Cohen and French Minister Alain Richard

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
February 23, 2000 4:05 PM EDT

Thursday, February 23, 2000 -4:09 p.m.

Media Availability with Minister of State for Defense Alain Richard, of the French Republic

SEC. COHEN: Good afternoon.

Q: Good afternoon.

SEC. COHEN: It's an honor to welcome Alain Richard back to Washington. Nearly two years have passed since Minister Richard and I held a joint press conference in this very room. Since then, France and the United States have worked together to maintain security in Europe, and we've worked together to strengthen the combined defense capability of North American and European allies.

When diplomacy failed to convince Milosevic to stop attacking Kosovar Albanians, France, the United States and the other NATO allies drove Yugoslav forces from Kosovo. Now our forces are serving together in KFOR, just as they have been serving together in Bosnia since 1995. French troops are stationed in the most difficult sector in Kosovo. Recently several French soldiers were injured while working to maintain order in Mitrovica.

At our meeting today, we reviewed the developments in Kosovo. We agreed on the importance of maintaining order in our sectors while the international community works to expand a police force. Over the last few days, NATO forces -- NATO-led forces have shown their determination to quell the violence in Mitrovica. It should be clear to both the Serbs and the Kosovar Albanians that they will not achieve their goals by opposing KFOR or by fighting with each other.

The Kosovo crisis illustrates the United States' commitment to Europe's security. The U.S. has provided the largest force in the air war against Yugoslavia, and the U.S. continues to make the largest contribution to KFOR.

Since our last press conference here, NATO has launched the Defense Capabilities Initiative, an ambitious program to make allied forces stronger, more modern and more reliable.

One of the reasons that the United States supports the European Security and Defense Initiative is that it's going to help our European allies to meet these important goals. And just as the NATO alliance benefits when the United States boosts its defense spending and modernizes its forces, the transatlantic partnership will benefit as European members strengthen their forces.

A French general helped the United States to win its independence, and the United States and France have been friends ever since that time. And so I am delighted to welcome you here, Alain. And our alliance remains strong. We are determined to work together for peace and stability in Europe.

MIN. RICHARD: I don't want to make long opening remarks, and I want simply to thank very sincerely my colleague and friend, Bill Cohen, about this new encounter and all the contents of the discussions we had, including with other partners within the Pentagon yesterday night -- yesterday evening, I mean.

And I completely agree with what Bill has been saying about both the partnership and actual events in action in Kosovo and the Balkans, in general, with some results. We had already results about stopping ethnic cleansing last year by the strikes. We have already achieved some beginning of political organization within Kosovo, within the frame of the resolution. When we look back at Bosnia, where the prospects were fairly dull three or four years ago, some other progress has been done too.

So this determination and continuing action, with clear political -- (word inaudible) -- between allies, with the desire, with the willingness to have a better balanced and more equitable cooperative situation down in the Balkans, is a good example of the kind of collaboration and new impetus for the alliance we are working between the Europeans and the Americans. So I'm also very glad to be here now to answer your questions in accordance with Bill.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I'd like to ask you and the minister, Reuters has a report today from Brussels quoting a senior NATO military official as saying that NATO commanders in Kosovo are almost shouting for urgent reinforcements, saying that they don't have enough troops. They have 30,000 NATO troops now in Kosovo. And that the Permanent Representatives to NATO virtually agreed today to send more troops.

Number one, is the United States, and France, prepared to put more troops into Kosovo now? And if you have to put more troops in to keep these people away from each other, what does that say about the prospects for their permanently ever living together in peace?

SEC. COHEN: Well, first of all, Minister Richard has indicated that the French are in fact prepared to put additional forces into Mitrovica.

Secondly, the commanders will make an assessment in terms of exactly how many forces, additional forces are needed beyond the additional French contribution, what the composition will be -- light infantry, mechanized -- exactly what is required.

And that assessment will be made in the near future and completed.

With respect to this particular city, it remains one of the more difficult areas in Kosovo. To say that because there are difficulties there and because passions are running high there that this does not speak well for everything else that's been done I think is a misreading of what has been accomplished. As Minister Richard has pointed out, if you look at what has taken place during the past year, you will find enormous progress has been made. And yes, passions still run high and are likely to run high for some time. But we have also seen in Bosnia that passions ran high. And contrary to, perhaps, expectations we have seen a rather significant reduction of the size of the force of NATO, of SFOR over the last three years, four years.

And so we intend to make sure that everyone understands that this mission is going to be successful, that we intend to continue to pressure all of the countries who have made pledges as far as their contributions in terms of money and manpower, that they measure up to those contributions, that we see an enhancement of the police force as quickly as possible, because that also is critical to having a successful outcome. And we are working together to produce those results.

Q: Before the minister comments, is the United States ready to put more troops in if necessary?

SEC. COHEN: Well, we're going to see what the commander requests. Again, we have quite a contribution made to date. We will see what is required and await that decision.

MIN. RICHARD: One first comment is that ever since we entered Kosovo together in June the level of cooperation and of complete solidarity between all the members of KFOR, and especially between the nations responsible for the different brigades, has been exemplary.

And I think we are perfectly satisfied with the cohesion of KFOR since it's in charge there.

Second, a reserve, a strategic reserve, had been prepared, and this shows that the planning for KFOR had been coherent and had been long-sighted, since now we may have to use part of this reserve. So it's simply no more military business to decide whether a part of this reserve is going to be mobilized for probably a limited time, but to decide to make the real provisions so that we take control of the situation there. We had already an increase in violence in August, September, in different spots in Kosovo, especially in Mitrovica, and we could overcome it. We are going to do the same this time, whatever it takes.

Q: So you do plan to put more French troops into --

MIN. RICHARD: Yes, we have a component in the strategic reserve, and we are open to devoting it to this task.

Q: Mr. Cohen, can you -- sorry, if I could just follow, Mr. Richard, can you say how many additional troops is France prepared to send?

MIN. RICHARD: Well, we have one battalion within the strategic reserve, and if, up to the size of one battalion, this is required, we are going to open this possibility.

Q: Pardon me, but what is the size of a French --

MIN. RICHARD: Six, seven hundred.

Q: Six, seven hundred?

Q: And these are French troops?

MIN. RICHARD: Yes. Genuine French troops. (Laughter.)

Q: Mr. Cohen, if I might, sir, ask about the Chinese white paper that's caused such a stir in the last couple of days --

Q: Can we finish on Kosovo?

Q: Yeah.

Q: Oh, I'm sorry.

Q: I'm sorry. Can we just finish on one topic?

Mr. Cohen, could you tell us what your assessment is of the reports we've seen in the last several days that -- and the minister as well -- that Milosevic is causing trouble, specifically, that he's trying to influence events in Mitrovica, and these reports that we've seen about a buildup of both MUP and VJ along Serbia's borders? Do you have some concerns that they may be trying to cross the border eventually and stir up even more trouble?

SEC. COHEN: Well, I believe that Milosevic will take every advantage of every opportunity that he can. And one of the reasons that it's important to demonstrate to Milosevic that he is not going to be able to violate the terms of the agreement is the augmentation of that force to put down this violence and to increase the kind of border checks and security, and make sure that there's not this kind of infiltration taking place, which is designed to either undermine or subvert the peace process. And so we will send that signal to him. The allies, I believe, are absolutely united on this issue.

And we also have to send the signal to the Albanian Kosovars that we expect them to abide by the terms of the agreement as well. So with this robust reinforcement, we think that we will send the right signal. And then to continue our efforts to get the civilian implementation in place. And that is something that's been lacking. We need to do more. I know that Secretary of State Albright is talking to her counterparts on a regular basis. She'll be meeting with them in the next two weeks to get the civilian side of it energized.

Q: Could I just follow up for one moment? You call it a "robust reinforcement." In your own mind -- either of you gentlemen, please -- do you have any sense of overall -- although it's early -- what kind of numbers are involved? And do you foresee a fundamental change in U.S. military posture in Kosovo? In other words, would U.S. troops simply reinforce only in the U.S. sector, or are you considering having U.S. troops reinforce across the province?

SEC. COHEN: Well, the reinforcement at this point is in the French sector, in terms of the additional battalion that will go there, and then whatever other forces are required from the reserve, should it be necessary. We, frankly, don't anticipate this is going to be a long-term problem but, rather, a flashpoint that has erupted in the last few days or weeks. And that's the reason why we think that a greater show of force and a greater capability is going to be essential in order to send the signal that this is going to be stopped. We don't anticipate reinforcing Americans in the American sector, as such, at this point, so this really is a reinforcement in that region for a short period of time.

Q: But you do anticipate -- perhaps I misunderstood -- the possibility of sending additional U.S. troops to reinforce in the northern sector?

SEC. COHEN: No, the question was whether any U.S. troops would be involved in the reinforcement into the French sector in Mitrovica, out of the strategic reserve. We don't know the answer to that yet, in terms of what the composition is going to be, whether it's going to be light forces, or what they might be.

Q: Will the U.S. troops that are there now stay until the French reinforcements arrive?

SEC. COHEN: They are due to leave in a short period of time. I can't give you a specific time line on that --

MIN. RICHARD: A few days.

SEC. COHEN: -- but we expect that French forces will be able to move in fairly quickly.

Q: On another subject?

SEC. COHEN: (Confers with Minister Richard.)

Q: Just one more?

Q: Yeah.

Q: Wait a minute.

MIN. RICHARD: Mr. Secretary, if I may add a very short comment, which is that I agree entirely with what Bill was saying about, you know, the analysis we have to do about the dangers on the task of KFOR and our determination to take control -- to keep control. And I agree that there is going certainly to be a short period of violence that we'll be able to control.

I'd like also to add that there is a component of struggle for power in both sides, in those events because we are advancing, we are progressing in some -- in situational arrangements within Kosovo, implying at least the Albanian-speaking community. Maybe there are some positive signs, people representing the Serbs. And it's the hard-liners, both sides, who are working. And this has to do with the struggle for power in Serbia, and this has also to do with the struggle for power over the Albanian community.

Q: On another subject; if I might, go to the China white paper and the stir that it's caused. What's your reaction to China threatening to use force, if a deadline is not met or if there is a prolonged -- or stalling of any kind?

And I would ask the French foreign minister Mr. Richard or French defense minister: Sir, where does France stand on Taiwan? Do you stand with the United States? And have you got a policy on Taiwan; could you tell us?

SEC. COHEN: With respect to the white paper, I have not had occasion to read the, I am told, 11,000 words. But apparently, some of the pages are not exactly white but dark.

But I would say that we are seeing a reversal. This is words and not deeds. And so they are hurling words, and that's quite an improvement over what we saw in past years.

But I have tried to indicate, on each and every occasion, that we expect the discussions to take place in a peaceful atmosphere, that we expect any effort on reunification to be peaceful in nature, and not imposed by either threat or force. That is our policy, and that's one that we intend to continue to maintain.

We support the one China policy, we also support the Taiwan Relations Act, and we expect that the Chinese will seek their reunification under peaceful means and not through either threats of force or the actual attempt to carry out any military activity.

MIN. RICHARD: In one sentence, because precisely I am not the foreign minister, simply the defense minister -- (laughter) -- but I suppose my French colleague would be able to state this policy in one sentence, too, we definitely want the China, continental China-Taiwan relationship to remain a political one with some legitimacy in looking for unification, but basically, uniquely by political means. And we do warn China that it's against their interests to make any kind of threat or any kind of -- play military pressure over Taiwan.

Q: Secretary Cohen, are you giving any consideration to moving U.S. naval forces closer to the Taiwan Straits in light of events in that --

SEC. COHEN: No such consideration at this time.

Q: To both gentlemen, do you share the feel of the British Minister of Defense Mr. Hume that the separate European military force under European unity will undermine NATO as reported in the last issue of "Defense News"?

SEC. COHEN: I -- (laughs). I have not seen such a report. I did have occasion to meet with --

MIN. RICHARD: A picturesque paper.

SEC. COHEN: Pardon?

MIN. RICHARD: A picturesque paper.

SEC. COHEN: Oh, a picturesque paper. (Laughs.) (Laughter.)

I did have occasion to meet with Defense Minister Hume when I was in Munich recently. And I believe that he shares our view that the European Security Defense Identity is important. It can work in concert and will work in concert with NATO, that the concept is that should NATO decide not to engage in any particular activity there would be a separate autonomous capability carried on and exercised by the Europeans. I believe the British defense minister supports that position, and it is consistent with our view.

MIN. RICHARD: I wouldn't comment on this paper because I have not the slightest of ideas of how it can be sourced. But what I know from all our contacts and our agreements with all our European colleagues is that Britain has had a very important role in the development of the European Defense Initiative in connection, in harmony with NATO. And I don't see any change in their policy in the last eight days.

KENNETH BACON (Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs): Pierre.

Q: Minister, did you speak about the European concerns concerning the NMD with Secretary Cohen?

MIN. RICHARD: Very shortly. We had a presentation on that by Pentagon officials yesterday evening. And, well, it's quite clear that France is willing to extend the consultation and the common approach on this particular issue about the risk of the threat and the different implications of developing this system. And this has to take place both within the alliance and also in a specific discussion between our two countries.

MR. BACON: Yes.

Q: At least one member of the French cabinet today, Mr. Secretary, Monsieur Minister, alleges in front of the parliament, I quote, "the diverting of the U.S. defense electronic surveillance system towards economic espionage or business competitors like Airbus, for instance, this is also a discussion in Europe in the parliament." Are you aware of it, and does that pose a problem between good allies?

MIN. RICHARD: I have already said that we don't want to make any comment on the responsibilities of our American allies on their security arrangements and security needs.

SEC. COHEN: And we remain very good allies.

MR. BACON: Thank you very much.

Q: Thank you.

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