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Media Availability with Secretary Cohen and German Minister of Defense Ruehe

Presenters: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and Federal Republic of Germany Minister of Defense Volker Ruehe
May 20, 1998

Secretary Cohen: Thank you very much for your patience.

It's a pleasure to welcome a long time and very good friend, Volker Ruehe to Washington once again. We have spent a considerable amount of time talking about a wide range of issues. About NATO enlargement, we are pleased to learn how closely Germany is working with the Czech Republic, with Poland, Hungary, to help prepare them for NATO membership. We agree that NATO is central to stability in Europe. We talked about the progress being made in Bosnia. We are pleased that Germany is going to maintain 3,000 troops in Bosnia. We also looked very closely at Kosovo. We agree that both sides must reach a political solution. These and other subjects were discussed in some detail.

We have, as you know, a long-standing relationship with Germany. We had occasion last evening to celebrate and commemorate that friendship, both on a national level in terms of our countries, but also on a personal level with Volker and myself.

Mr. Minister, would you care to make a few remarks?

Minister Ruehe: Thank you very much, Bill.

Well, I can only say that we don't really have a problem between our two countries. Between the two of us. And I looked back some years ago when we did have a problem when Germany was not ready to be part of international missions. This has changed completely and we have developed fine consensus on this in Germany, which enables us a few weeks before the German general elections in June, to make a probably 90% supported decision in the German Bundestag to maintain our troops without any reductions in Bosnia for the on-going mission. And I think this is a very good situation. With regards, indeed, the project of opening NATO for the new democracies, this is a process that's very close to Germany and I think the Bundeswehr is playing a very important role.

In the beginning of September, I will go to Szczecin, and together with my Danish and Polish colleague, [to] install -- the buildings are going on already -- an integrated core, military core between Germany, Denmark and Poland, which will come into effect by April next year when at the Washington summit, Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary will be integrated into NATO. And anybody who looks at the history of this century and the history of Pomerania, of Szczecin understands that this is something very extraordinary, very good news and it shows that we're very successful on building the new security order in Europe for the 21st Century. And all of us are agreed that Europeans have to play a stronger role in order to keep the Americans in Europe and we want them to be there, also, in the 21st Century.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I have two quick questions on ships. General Krulak said this morning that the BELLAU WOOD ARG is being moved close to Indonesia just in case the military is needed for emergency evacuations. Can you comment on that? And number two, has a decision [been] made on whether the INDY will be removed from the Gulf as scheduled on the 27th, leaving a gap between its leaving and the arrival of the others?

A: (Secretary Cohen): Let me respond to the second question. No decision has been as far as the INDY is concerned in terms of whether it will leave on schedule or will stay on an extended mission. The President will review this matter in the next, hopefully, few days and perhaps by next week, and make a determination in terms of what our force level will be in the Gulf for the foreseeable future. But no decision has been made. The President has not yet been presented with options to review. And until such time as he does make that decision, we will continue to maintain our current force levels.

With respect to the other question, the ARG, as such, will remain nearby Indonesia; at least be prepared to conduct whatever mission it might called upon. But that's the state of affairs right now. It will be there until such time that we decide whether it will continue on and participate in COBRA GOLD.

Q: Should Suharto (inaudible) to avoid (inaudible)?

A: (Secretary Cohen): Well, that's a decision that certainly, I can't make or recommend that Suharto make. That's a decision that he and his officials will have to come to in dealing with their own people.

Q: Secretary Cohen, Congress is scheduled to hold hearings tomorrow on the question of whether the decision to allow U.S. satellites to be launched from Chinese missiles resulted in a serious technology transfer to the Chinese that has national security implications. What is your assessment?

A: (Secretary Cohen): Well, Congress has every right to conduct an investigation of this matter. Since the issue is now under investigation by the Justice Department, obviously I'm restricted what I can say about it. But Congress has authority to conduct its own investigations. I'm sure they will.

Q: Did you also speak about the (inaudible) process of NATO enlargement -- which new democracy could be the next Slovenia, for example?

A: (Secretary Cohen): We have always taken the position that the door to NATO remains open. That that door is at the top at a very steep set of stairs. That each country which would seek to gain admission through that door has to climb. No nation is precluded by geography, but it's a very steep walk that they have to -- or climb, I should say, they have to make. There is no promise to any country for admission in the future. It will depend upon NATO reaching a consensus. And so what we say is that the door remains open, but there is no predisposition toward any country, Romania, Slovenia, any other country. There are a number of countries who obviously are working very hard to reform their internal procedure, to reform their militaries to qualify for NATO membership. And we would continue to encourage them to proceed on that path, but there is no promise for a time certain or any country specific that would be admitted in future sessions.

Minister Ruehe: We're agreed on this. I mean, we're taking in three countries by April next year -- Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary. They're working very hard, but NATO has to digest this. And so we have to look very thoroughly, I mean, the qualifications of other countries and not be under pressure of time with regard to the decisions. But in principle, it's very clear it's a successful policy and it will go on, the opening of NATO. But under no time pressure.

Q: Mr. Secretary, do you believe that India was able to thwart U.S. satellite surveillance and have any steps been ordered so that that doesn't happen again?

A: (Secretary Cohen): Well, again, that's another matter that currently is under examination. I think I should defer to George Tenet and others to make any kind of a statement on that. Obviously, India was very successful in concealing its intent to conduct those tests and the conduct of the tests themselves. But whether or not we need to do more as far as greater coverage, obviously, greater human intelligence would be helpful. But I think that we have the technological capability to determine when these tests do occur. But I think we need greater human intelligence and I suspect that the intelligence community feels that way as well.

Q: Mr. Secretary, the issue of the war criminals in Bosnia is still unsolved. Any progress there? And [Minister Ruehe] may we ask a favor for the German audience, could you answer in German as well?

A: (Secretary Cohen): You don't like my German? (Laughter) With respect to the war criminals, a good deal of progress has been made. It has been a part of Dayton, the Dayton Accords, to say that should war criminals come across or rather, should SFOR come into contact with war criminals in the course of their duties and should the tactical situation permit them to detain and arrest them or have them arrested. Then that's within the Dayton Accords. And we have made significant progress in this regard. There are some 24, 25 war criminals who have been apprehended and are prepared to stand trial. Some of them voluntarily turning themselves in. And so I would say that a good deal of progress has been made and we can expect more in the future.

Q: Did you discuss...

A: (Minister Ruehe): (Speaking in German)

Q: Could you repeat that in English?

A: (Minister Ruehe): You want to hear that in English? You do it, go ahead. (Laughter) I'd be interested.

Some of the war criminals have surrendered voluntarily into NATO's arms and some on an involuntary basis. But they're like fish in a bathtub, as soon as you pull out the plug, they are gone. And I don't see any future for those war criminals. We will get them.

Q: On Kosovo, have either of you discussed or broached the subject on the possibility of a NATO peacekeeping or monitoring force along the border between Albania and Kosovo?

A: (Secretary Cohen): Our position is, the U.S. position is, that nothing is ruled out as far as any option being considered by the United States, but we believe that it must be a political solution. We have indicated in the past that we support greater autonomy for the Kosovars, and we also encouraged Mr. Milosevic to exercise great restraint. But we believe that a political solution is the right course of action. And that's what we're -- bring all of our powers to bear in terms of our diplomacy and seeking ways in which we can have a solidarity of approach on the part of our European allies as well in working together to bring about the kind of pressure that would be necessary to get this settled on a political basis rather than a military one.

Minister Ruehe: The real problem is in Kosovo. The dictatorship, police state and the lack of autonomy. The real problem is not at the border between Kosovo and Albania. There is no danger of Albania being attacked. And also, there's very little -- we have the information, the intelligence -- very little smuggling of weapons from Albania into Kosovo. So we need a political solution, political pressure, economic pressure. And we must look at the military options and the study that is being done by NATO and avoid symbolism, dangerous symbolism. But look at options that could be meaningful.

Q: For Minister Ruehe and also for Secretary Cohen. At present, there are instabilities and armed conflicts in Bosnia, Kosovo, the Middle East, Iraq, Pakistan, India, Korea, Cambodia, Indonesia and Columbia. I can't recall in my lifetime seeing so much trouble around this planet. Do you think that is (inaudible) part of the increasing conflict or is that just coincidence or what do you gentlemen think?

A: (Minister Ruehe): Well, it's some very different conflicts. You cannot compare Indonesia with Kosovo. And I come from a part of the world where there was much more conflict in the past than in the present. I can tell you, we had one and a half million soldiers on the territory of the united Germany; now we have one million fewer soldiers, so the world looks much better then it did 10 years ago. When you weigh these conflicts, we would have loved to have some of these conflicts instead of the big East-West conflict, which we had 10 years ago. It shows when you solve one big problem, the newer ones coming up, ethnic problems, as you can see in the Balkans. But all in all, there's no reason for pessimism, general pessimism.

Q: I was just wondering if you could go into a little more detail about the types of military options that might avoid in Kosovo -- given the situation in Kosovo -- that would avoid symbolism.

A: (Minister Ruehe): I think we have to include in the study, if the situation really deteriorates in Kosovo, measures with regard to Kosovo. We have to study if a no-fly zone is a possible solution, sending observers there is a possible solution. But it sends the wrong signal to pretend as if the real problem is at the border between Kosovo and Albania. But you can do other things, NATO exercises, PFP exercises in Albania are being talked about. Germany will give some material support to Macedonia with some armored cars to enable it to look after its border in a better way. But the real problem, once again, is in Kosovo and not at the borders between Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania.

Q: Secretary Cohen, the U.S. and Great Britain are said to have a special relationship. How would you describe the U.S.-German relationship between the two. Minister Ruehe said there are no problems whatsoever.

A: (Secretary Cohen): It's pretty special to me. We have a very strong relationship with Germany. Our friendship goes back many years. Last evening, we each took occasion, the Minister painting a very historical picture for all of us in attendance of the nature of our relationship. We talked about the Berlin crisis and the Berlin airlift last evening and the kind of commitment the United States made to the people of Germany during that very difficult time just three years after the end of World War II. And so our relationship is strong, it's enduring, and as the Minister has indicated, it will grow even stronger in the future. We intend to remain engaged in Europe. We consider the United States to be a European power as well as a Pacific power. But we have a strong and enduring bond with Germany. So it's a special relationship as well. We have one personally, but I think our countries have demonstrated over the years we have a very strong bond.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

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