Wednesday, February 23, 2000 - 11:00 EST
Foreign Press Center Briefing on Defense Secretary Cohen's Recent Trip to Morocco and South Africa
Moderator: We are pleased to have with us once again Mr. Ken Bacon, assistant secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, who will brief today on the record.
Secretary of Defense Cohen returned last week from a trip to the African continent, specifically, Morocco and South Africa. Mr. Bacon will begin the briefing today with some details from that trip. Thank you for being here, Mr. Bacon.
Mr. Bacon: Thank you. I'm glad to be here again.
Let me just take a couple of minutes to bring you up to date on Secretary Cohen's latest trip, which, as was just stated, was to Morocco and South Africa. We were also supposed to go to Nigeria, but unfortunately, because of a weather problem, we didn't make it. We do now plan to go Nigeria in March. I think the second week of March. So we'll complete the trip, but it'll just be in two parts.
We have one of our oldest treaty relationships -- in fact, our very oldest treaty relationship -- with Morocco. Morocco was the first country to recognize the United States after our independence. And it's a very solid and warm relationship. The secretary met with King Mohammed VI, who's young, dynamic. The king recently rose to the throne following the death of his late and revered father, Hassan II.
The talks there were very warm. We discussed an enhanced security relationship that would involve more exercises, more complex exercises and a better dialogue between our two forces.
I want to focus more on sub-Saharan Africa than Saharan Africa, not to be dismissive of Morocco, but as I say, it's a very established relationship that's continued for some years and will continue. We see Morocco as the key to stability in Saharan Africa and -- one of the keys to stability in Saharan Africa, and we will continue to work well with Morocco.
We went down to South Africa, and it was Secretary Cohen's second visit there. I want to talk a little bit about our relationships with countries in sub-Saharan Africa and why he was making a trip both to South Africa and Nigeria.
Obviously, South Africa and Nigeria are key to peace and stability on the African continent, a continent where peace and stability have been long talked about but rarely seen. And we hope that we can develop good defense relationships with both of these countries, not defense relationships that will mean increased weapons sales, because that's not the point of our defense relationships, but rather to develop capable militaries that operate under civilian control, that can provide the security and defense skills needed for the country to meet its needs but also leave plenty of money for economic development and other steps that we think are key to long-term stability on the continent.
We hope to work with these militaries so that they will support democratic governments in both Nigeria and South Africa, so that they will recognize human rights and operate under international norms of acceptable behavior for militaries, and also so they can be, as I said, not only stabilizing forces in their own countries but help participate in regional peacekeeping or stability-generating operations.
And to that end, we have several multinational programs in Africa. One is called the African Crisis Response Initiative, which is actually a State Department initiative to train peacekeepers in Africa. We're in the process now of training battalion-size units in seven countries to be able to participate in peacekeeping operations in the continent or elsewhere. Morocco is not part of this, but Moroccan forces, which are very good, do already participate in peacekeeping operations in both Kosovo and Bosnia, and have been very good members of those peacekeeping forces, SFOR and KFOR. But we want to develop the capacity, the capability to do peacekeeping within Africa, so we have the African Crisis Response Initiative.
We also have something called the African Center for Strategic Studies, which is basically a moving school. It had its first session in Senegal in November; its next session will be in June, I believe in Botswana. And it concentrates on teaching representatives from African countries three basic areas. One is how to develop strategic visions, strategic plans for their militaries; two, how to budget to meet those plans in an acceptable way; and three, civil-military relations, or how to maintain civilian control over the military. We had representatives of 43 countries at the first session in Senegal in November, and we would hope to have as many representatives, or more, from more countries at the next session in Botswana.
There are also, of course, bilateral initiatives that we undertake. Tomorrow, starting in Cape Town, there will be a meeting, a three- or four-day meeting involving relations between the military and parliament, to work with parliamentarians in South Africa to teach them about budgeting; how do you devise a defense budget, how do you monitor how the money is spent, how you set up programs. This is something that we know, from experience here, our Congress spends a heck of a lot of time on and has been doing for a long period of time. But in new parliaments, such as the South African Parliament, newly democratic, truly democratic representative parliaments, there is a great desire on the part of parliamentarians to learn some of these important technical skills. And when Secretary Cohen was in Cape Town, he met with the defense committees of parliament to discuss some of these questions with them. And this group that will be starting tomorrow, and is led by a former congressman, will get down to sort of brass tacks and some of the real details of budgeting and monitoring military spending and performance.
So, with that introduction of what Secretary Cohen did when he was in Africa, and by implication, some of the things he'll talk about when he goes back to Africa to finish with Nigeria next month, I'll take your questions on Africa or any other topic, since I don't see many Africans here.
Moderator: Before we start, just a reminder to wait for the microphone and state your name and news organization. And we'll start with Morocco, the front row.
Q: Azzam Alem. I am with the news agency of Morocco. Mr. Bacon, if the stability and security in Africa and the Mediterranean will be discussed with the French defense minister?
Mr. Bacon: The question is, "Will the stability in the Mediterranean and issues in the Saharan African region, the Maghreb region, be discussed with the French defense minister today?" Secretary Cohen is meeting with Alain Richard, the French defense minister.
Yes, that will come up, I am sure. I don't anticipate it will be a major issue. But the French, of course, along with the Italians and the Spanish members of NATO, have been very interested in Mediterranean stability. And the French because of their historic interest in the Maghreb also are very interested in that.
I am sure that Secretary Cohen will give a brief report on his trip, to Minister Richard, in the course of their meetings, which involve a private meeting, a larger plenary session and then a dinner tonight. So I would expect they would talk about that.
Moderator: Back in the back? Let's go with Malcolm --
Moderator: -- from South Africa.
Q: Malcolm Brown. I work for Feature Story News, in this context supplying the South African Broadcasting Corporation.
The ACRI in particular has proved a controversial project and not universally popular in its approach. Do you feel that Mr. Cohen's visit has served to allay any concerns of African nations on that subject?
Mr. Bacon: Well, of course, the only nation we visited that has specific concerns about it is South Africa. And the purpose of his visit was not to convince South -- he did not go to South Africa, to either Cape Town or Pretoria, with the goal of convincing South Africa to participate in ACRI. We know that the South Africans have chosen not to participate. That doesn't mean they are not interested in stability and peacekeeping.
And one of the things Secretary Cohen did was meet with Nelson Mandela to discuss the Arusha process with him. He has just taken over, as you know, the efforts to broker a peace agreement in Burundi. And President Clinton spoke by videoconference to the delegates at that conference yesterday.
I think that the South African interest in stability throughout Africa is very well known. They are very concerned about what's happening in the Congo, and they are very concerned about what's happening in Burundi obviously, and elsewhere.
A lot of our discussions dealt with two specific issues. First was AIDS and ways that we could -- we, the United States -- could help South Africa deal with the AIDS problem. And the second was the impact of the torrential rains and severe flooding that's taken place in the eastern part of South Africa and in Mozambique. And Secretary Cohen offered to provide some water purification equipment -- to loan it, bring it down and set it up -- because potable, or drinkable, water is something that is always in short supply in flooded areas. So our militaries now are working on aid or help that we can provide on a temporary basis to deal with the floods.
We also talked Secretary Cohen and Defense Minister Lekota talked some about training. There will be two major training exercises involving American and South African troops this year -- one in South Africa and one in Germany, actually. And there will be another major exercise -- at least one major exercise -- next year, as well.
So those were the three major topics of conversation. We did talk with President Mbeki about the ???usaka process and the efforts to bring peace in the Congo and we also talked, as I said earlier, with President Mandela about the Arusha process.
Moderator: Your name.
Q: Hi, I'm Janine Zacharia from the Jerusalem Post. I have a two-part question related to Israel and U.S. bilateral defense ties. Right now there's a delegation of top advisors to Prime Minister Barak here to discuss bilateral U.S.-Israeli ties, and I'm wondering, one, how the stalemate in the Syrian track is affecting discussions on the U.S.-Israeli bilateral defense ties and discussions of a defense treaty?
And also, how continued Israeli sales to China, especially now with China back in the headlines, which the U.S. has expressed concern about, could affect improved bilateral U.S.-Israeli defense ties?
Mr. Bacon: Well, first of all, the United States is completely committed to enabling Israel, or helping Israel, to maintain its qualitative defense edge. And our talks with Israel normally take place in that context -- how -- what can or should the United States do to help Israel maintain its qualitative edge?
But now, of course, because of the peace talks, there is a second issue, which is, What would Israel's needs be if it reached a comprehensive peace agreement with Syria? And those are the talks that are going on today. I think it's a little hard without that agreement to know exactly what Israel's needs would be and what our response would be. There have been a lot of stories in the Israeli press, which I and my colleagues have not confirmed, about numbers and compositions of aid packages, and I don't think I'm going to discuss those in any detail today. But obviously, greater clarity in the talks and greater progress would lead to greater clarity and greater progress in the talks that we're holding with Israel on sort of the mechanics of military support.
In terms of Israeli aid to China, we've made it extremely clear to China that we're concerned about this, and it is not a new issue. It's an issue that's been going on for some time, and we'll continue these discussions with Israel.
Q: Does it affect the discussions, though? I mean, is it something that you bring up again with them?
Mr. Bacon: Well, we bring it up, but it is much more likely to have an effect on very specific programs involving technology changes rather than on the general level of support.
Q: Parasuram, Press Trust of India. I was wondering how the Pentagon views the forthcoming visit of President Clinton to India, and whether they've got any input into the agenda of the president.
Mr. Bacon: Well, that's a good question. The last defense secretary to visit India was Secretary Perry in 1994. And I'm not aware that defense issues will be a major element of President Clinton's visit at this stage. I think he is primarily focused on development; and he's also, obviously, focused on reducing tensions between India and Pakistan, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir but also just across the board.
So he'll be certainly briefed up on what our military relationship is with India, which is very minimal, which is another reason -- I mean it's been minimal since the tests. Our relationships were scaled back considerably with India and Pakistan after the tests. And they haven't been rebuilt. So there won't be a lot to talk about in that regard in terms of ongoing relationships.
Moderator: Move over to the other side.
Mr. Bacon: Yes, Mr. Papantoniou.
Q: Lambros Papantoniou, the new Elettheros Typos, Athens, Greece. Mr. Bacon, any developments in Mitrovice, Kosovo, with the involvement of U.S. and Greek forces, too?
Mr. Bacon: I'm not aware of any new developments. The American forces there are about 350 people in Mitrovice. They went on a mission earlier this morning to search for some weapons, and they will continue to operate with the French and the Greek forces. There are some Danish forces there. I think the British Royal Green Jackets are there as well. They've sent in some forces. They'll continue to work with them to search for weapons and to help calm the situation down in Mitrovice. But I would anticipate that the U.S. forces will return to their sector relatively soon. I don't anticipate they would be permanently stationed there.
As you know, the Greek forces operate in the American sector. So I don't know what the plans of the Greek forces are, but I would assume that the American forces will return.
Q: In the recent days Serbia is consolidating forces at its borders with FYROM, and do you consider that there's a threat to the security of Skopje?
Mr. Bacon: I do not see a threat to the security of Skopje.
Q: Mr. Bacon, Nadia Tsao with Liberty Times. I have a question back on China. Deputy Secretary Slocombe told the Washington Post today in an interview that if China said what it has meant in the white paper, the consequence could be incalculable. So could you elaborate what does he mean? And we know there's a trip scheduled by Admiral Blair to China maybe in the near future. Will that have any impact on U.S.-China military exchange?
Mr. Bacon: First of all, let me start by restating our policy.
Our policy is governed by the Taiwan Relations Act. And we support a one China policy, and we support the peaceful resolution of disputes between China and Taiwan. We, as James Rubin at the State Department said yesterday and Joe Lockhart at the White House, reject threats of the use of force to resolve these problems. And the white paper made a statement that China couldn't wait indefinitely for reunification and that indefinite delay could be reason to use force. I mean, I'm just summarizing what the white paper said.
In commenting on that, Undersecretary Slocombe didn't say anything new about our policy, he just said any use of force, which we oppose, would certainly be cause for grave concern here and would lead to unpredictable consequences from China's standpoint, so -- he used the word "incalculable." And it certainly would have a very damaging impact on our relationship with China.
Our law that governs our dealings with Taiwan makes it very clear that we would consider any use of force against Taiwan as a threat to security in the South China Sea area and in Asia generally, a threat to stability in that area, and that we, the administration, would consult with Congress over the appropriate response.
Q: I am Satoru Suzuki of TV Asahi of Japan. A couple of questions about Japan, if I may. According to some Japanese officials, Secretary Cohen is going to visit Japan in late March. First of all, can you confirm that?
And secondly, one of the issues which is expected to be discussed during the secretary's possible trip to Japan is the relocation of the Futenma Air Station of the U.S. Marine Corps. And even though some important progress has been made, one sticking point is Governor Inamine's proposal for limiting U.S. military's use of the new airport in Naha to 15 years. Administration officials have indicated strongly that his proposal is not acceptable, given the uncertainties of the international situation, and so on and so forth. Is there really no room at all for further discussion or consultations whatsoever between the two governments about his proposal?
And separately, Governor Inamine himself has said that he is coming to Washington in April. If any Pentagon officials, any of the Pentagon officials ready to talk with him and listen to what he has to say about the relocation plan?
Mr. Bacon: Well, first of all, I do anticipate that Secretary Cohen will be going to Asia in -- I believe it is in March, and he certainly would stop by Japan on that trip. He visits Japan at least once a year, usually twice a year, as he does Korea. So I anticipate he will visit Japan.
Second, the issue of the Futenma relocation right now is really an issue between the government of Japan in Tokyo and the government of Okinawa, to work out the details. We've made it very clear that we don't believe there should be a limit on security. The reason we have forces in Japan is to provide security to Japan and throughout the Asia Pacific region. And we don't believe that anybody can be certain that security threats will go away in 15 years. And just as you can't limit security, I'm not sure you should limit -- put artificial limits on stationing forces in the area. But that's a view that I stated here before, and it's a well-known American view.
As you know, there will be the G-8 summit in Okinawa, and I hope that tricky issues, such as the relocation, can be resolved prior to the summit, so the summit will be a very good summit.
Another very difficult issue between the United States and the government of Japan involves the incinerator, Atsugi, which is poisoning U.S. naval personnel stationed there. And we have been working very hard with the government of Japan to try to stop that pollution. It remains a very big problem. There have been stories about it in the U.S. press recently -- in the Washington Post, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. I would anticipate that there will be growing political concern in the United States about this incinerator, which is spewing out dioxin in violation of Japanese law and affecting the health of U.S. sailors in the area. So this is another issue that I hope can be resolved very quickly.
Q: But the possible talks with the governor --
Mr. Bacon: Well, I just -- you just informed me that he plans to come to the United States. It's the first I'd heard about it, and I guess I should learn more about the visit before commenting on it.
Q: Can I follow up? How many countries is Secretary Cohen going to visit eventually -- (off mike)?
Mr. Bacon: We're still putting together the itinerary, but certainly Korea and Japan, and there may be some other countries as well. I do not anticipate that he will visit Beijing in March. I would anticipate that he has -- that he will visit Beijing this year, but it will be later in the year.
Moderator: Along the side here. Jim?
Mr. Bacon: Sure.
Q: Jim Flanigan with the Kuwait News Agency.
Mr. Bacon: Yeah.
Q: We're about to mark the ninth anniversary of Desert Storm and the liberation of Kuwait. Are there any reflections on that at this point and the situation with the Iraq?
Mr. Bacon: Well, I think there -- sure. Iraq, nine years after its attack against Kuwait, remains extremely isolated in its area. It is almost a hermit type of regime. It does not have good relations with many of its neighbors. It's continued to be regarded warily or as a threat by many of its neighbors, not just Kuwait. The United States and Great Britain are working together to contain Saddam Hussein from attacking either neighboring countries, such as Kuwait, or from attacking his own people, which he has done from time to time, including with nerve gas. So our containment continues and, I think, is successful.
We've been less successful -- that is, the world as a whole and the U.N. -- in getting Iraq to comply with the various U.N. Security Council resolutions, including the complete accounting of Kuwaiti MIA/POWs, and including the return of assets or -- to Kuwait. So -- and, of course, we have yet to be able to monitor that Kuwait has complied with U.N. Security Council resolutions requiring it to stop work on weapons of mass destruction. So right now, the big challenge is to get inspectors back into Iraq so they can monitor progress on the weapons of mass destruction program. And that doesn't seem to be on the brink of success at this moment, despite very strong action by the U.N. Security Council, and, of course, that's -- getting inspectors on the ground and verifying that Iraq has stopped work on its weapons of mass destruction programs, that is a necessary precondition to the lifting of sanctions.
Q: Do you feel comfortable that there is a system in place so you can monitor the situation now that -- (off mike)?
Mr. Bacon: No, I don't feel comfortable. I think that the inspectors are necessary, and that's one of the reasons why the U.N. Security Council now is looking for a way to get inspectors back into Iraq.
Q: Malcolm Brown again, this time with a question on behalf of Radio New Zealand. (Laughter.)
Mr. Bacon: Very versatile.
Q: A variety of guises.
As you'll know, the New Zealand government is reviewing the deal to lease the 28 F-16s which were originally destined for Pakistan. My understanding is that New Zealand Treasury officials are here in D.C. at the moment to calculate the cost of scrapping that lease agreement. I am wondering if the Pentagon or the Air Force has presented any kind of sweetener to encourage the deal and whether there is an official view of whether this is desirable, to push the deal ahead, or whether they don't have a view on its desirability one way of the other?
Mr. Bacon: I don't have any knowledge about this specific possibility, so I had better not comment on it.
Q: I am Thomas Gorguissian, Al Wafd, Egypt.
My first question is related to the Gulf security. What is the latest with the missile defense system and your talks and negotiation with the countries?
And the second one regarding the Moroccan visit and North Africa. You mentioned a few times the stability and security threats. Can you a little bit specify what are the security threats in that region? Is there possible conflict between neighboring countries or what?
Mr. Bacon: Okay.
First of all on the missile defense in the Gulf, I think I have to break down the answer into two parts. We, the United States, are working to build theater missile defense systems that can protect our troops and our allies in specific areas, such as -- an area in the Gulf or our troops in Korea, from threats that would come from nearby countries, rather than a National Missile Defense System, which is to protect us from long-range strategic threats.
And our work on theater missile defense is continuing. We have taken the basic Patriot system, which we had deployed in the Gulf during the Gulf War, and modernized that. We are in the process of beginning to deploy the new version called the Patriot 3. But then we are looking at a series of longer-range, more capable systems as well. And we have some more work to do on those, frankly. We are testing them and developing them.
In the course of developing our own system, we have had discussions with a number of allies in the Gulf and also in Asia, including Japan, about a theater missile defense, and those discussions continue. Secretary Cohen will be going back to the Gulf in the next two months, and he'll talk to all of the countries in the Gulf.
Frequently on these trips, we visit Egypt and Israel, as well, and I would anticipate we would this time, possibly Jordan, but we haven't put together the entire itinerary yet. And we'll continue those discussions. But right now, I don't have anything firm or new to tell you about those discussions.
In terms of Northern Africa, I think that so often the threats are instability, rather than specific attacks, although obviously there are some -- there has been tension from time to time between Morocco and Algeria. Morocco is working with the U.N. right now, trying to solve the problem in the Western Sahara.
But with Morocco, which has been a strong friend and ally of the United States for over 200 years, much of what we do is work with the Moroccan forces to help them sustain their capacity to be peacekeepers, their capacity to meet their own military goals, which does, happily, include peacekeeping, as I said, in places like Kosovo and Bosnia.
Q: (Name inaudible) -- the Egyptian Television and Radio News -- (inaudible) -- in Egypt. I have a question regarding the Israeli-American relations. Recently, the Israelis announced that it will be a new treaty between the United States and Israel, including supporting Israel with high technology or new technology for the missiles. Do you believe that kind of treaty will affect the stability in the region and the relation between Egypt and the United States?
Mr. Bacon: Well, I don't have any announcements to make about a treaty at this time, so I don't think it's -- I think we just have to wait and see how talks between the U.S. and Israel develop, and how the peace process develops between Israel and Syria at this stage.
But I think that the goal of the United States is very, very clear. One, we want a comprehensive peace process. That's what we've been working for over 20 years. We want an end to the fighting and the friction in the Middle East. And we started with, obviously, the Camp David Accords that reduced tension between Israel and Egypt and we helped to broaden that. This is not the Pentagon's job; it's the State Department's job, and Secretary Albright and Dennis Ross and President Clinton have been very involved in this and will continue to be very involved in this.
But in the course of reaching peace agreements, we've made it very clear that we're wiling to help countries, particularly Israel, meet -- and Egypt -- meet legitimate defense needs. And therefore, we have very large military assistance programs for both Israel and Egypt today. And the question is how would our program toward Israel change in the face of a new peace agreement with Syria? That's still being worked out, and there was an earlier question from the Jerusalem Post about ongoing talks. And because the talks are ongoing I'm not going to get in the middle of them and talk about what the outcome might be.
Q: I mean, regarding supporting Egypt with a new -- (inaudible) -- are you planning for (a list of ?) -- (inaudible) -- from the States. But I am asking, do you have any new cooperation between the two countries beyond -- (inaudible)?
Mr. Bacon: Well, I don't have anything to announce after the talk of the -- Lieutenant General Hatata (sp). He did meet with -- it was actually a counterpart business visit with General Shelton, our Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And he held meetings with other people in the Defense Department. We did talk about a range of military support and cooperation issues, but I don't have any announcements to make on that now.
Moderator: Time for one last one. In the back.
Mr. Bacon: Sure.
Q: Malsam Madasi (sp), Iran Daily. Two questions. First of all, the Israeli defense minister, one of the requests that was in the press says that Hama (ph) cruise missiles, which are long-range missiles, if I understand correctly, precision guided missiles, can you tell us what threat is there that justifies that request, and does the U.S. see that as a justified threat? And also, can you also tell us about Israeli nuclear power, why U.S. does not seem to be concerned about Israeli nuclear arsenal, while really insisting on other militant countries from refraining to, you know, obtain nuclear and other WMD weapons?
Mr. Bacon: First of all, in terms of threat, I think it's most appropriate for Israel to comment on its own threat, how it sees its own threat. But to the extent that there are nations -- Iran and Iraq, among others -- opposed to the Mideast peace process, I suppose Israel might see that as potentially threatening. In terms of the Israeli nuclear program, there was recently a debate about it in the parliament, in the Knesset. I don't have a lot to say -- I don't have anything to say about the Israeli nuclear program. Israel has said that it would not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the region. We have said that we would like all programs to be safeguarded programs everywhere in the world, and we've said that to Israel, as well.
Q: If I could just follow up on that, on the cruise missile question, you are saying that is a security concern of Israel. But since they are requesting U.S. to provide that, doesn't U.S. have to see a justified threat in order to provide that? Or, you know, if they request it, you just abide by that request? I mean, is there any kind of prerequisite to get those kind of --
Mr. Bacon: Well, without getting not details, because I'm steadfastly trying not to get in to details, there are ongoing discussions now between the United States and Israel over what would be an appropriate security enhancement program if there's a peace agreement between Israel and Syria. And because those talks are ongoing, they're continuing, I don't think it's appropriate for me to talk about what might come out of those talks. It's just premature.
Q: A kind of threat that is so long range as to justify -- I mean, Syria is the next-door neighbor. They don't need a Tomahawk cruise missile to attack any part of, you know, Syria, as well as other neighbors. I was just wondering what prompts Israel to request that long-range missile, which has nothing to do, I don't think, with the peace process, with the Syria peace process -- I mean, peace between Syria and Israel. That's what I'm trying to get at.
Mr. Bacon: I understand that. And as I said, I think Israel could most completely talk about the threats it believes it faces.
Moderator: Thank you, Mr. Bacon.
And just as a quick reminder for everybody, the secretary of Defense and the French minister of Defense will have a media opportunity this afternoon at the Pentagon at 3:45. We will also carry that live audio here in the Foreign Press Center for those who would be interested.
Thank you again.
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