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Secretary Cohen's Press Briefing Enroute to Buenos Aires, Argentina, 22 May 98

Presenter: Defense Secretary William S. Cohen
May 22, 1998 9:35 PM EDT

Q: (Inaudible) Arm sales... is that your intention? To sell to anybody and everybody?

Secretary Cohen: Well, that is not correct. What we are looking at is a Latin America that is very different from the Latin America of yesteryear. In virtually every country in Latin America, there is now a democracy. Each democratic society has an absolute right to provide - an obligation to provide -- for its own national security interest. To the extent that any of these countries are interested in turning to the United States to supply their needs, then we have established as a policy, we are willing to take it on a case-by-case basis, to make a determination whether or not we would be interested in furnishing equipment. We would determine whether it would be -- in our own judgment, be in our mutual interest to have such a relationship. I don't think that whatever they want anyone is going to let them have. We are interested in having a strong bilateral relationship with each of the countries in the region. But we will take each case up on a case-by-case basis. And that is a policy that was initiated and changed under Secretary Perry and Warren Christopher. It has been reaffirmed by President Clinton, Secretary Albright and myself.

Q: I take it that you are not trying to change it? Cohen: Not at all.

Q: Do you think that this will reflect (inaudible).

Cohen: No, I think that all of the countries will look to see what they need, make an assessment -- I would expect a rationale assessment -- of what they need for their own individual security, and hopefully, regional security. To the extent that the United States can provide them with what they deem to be in their interest, then we are in a position to do so. But we have to examine each country on a case-by-case basis, not just a wholesale, "let's-see-what-we-can-sell-there." And that has been a policy of the President, and that will be the policy.

Q: Will you discuss arms with these three countries that you are going to?

Cohen: If it comes up in the course of conversation. But that is not my mission down here. This is my first trip, I'm looking forward to establishing solid friendships with my counterparts. I have met President Frei of Chile, and I know Minister Dominguez, and so I'm looking forward to building the friendships that I have initiated.

Q: What do you say to the Argentines who are in no position to (inaudible), who can't afford to buy fighter jets when you want to sell them to the Chileans who, in fact, can afford them (inaudible)?

Cohen: These two countries have made enormous progress in reconciling their differences in recent years. They are cooperating and trying to help with the dispute between Ecuador and Peru. They are, I think, trying to approach their security needs in a regional context. I don't think that it is a question of one country feeling that somehow, any arms sale to a neighboring country is going to put them in jeopardy. I think each country understands that we are promoting our ideas. To the extent that we can help modernize their forces, if they need it and can afford it, then we are prepared to try and do so. You have to remember that there are many countries who are eager to sell weaponry in the region. I think each country, again, has to make an intelligent assessment of what they need and what they can afford. We are not trying to sell expensive, sophisticated equipment to countries that cannot afford it. That is not in our interest to do so. If they cannot maintain it, and they are expending a lot of their resources that could be more properly used for other purposes, it would not be in our long-term interest to try and promote that.

Q: Mr. Secretary, in recent days, Argentina appears to have concluded their investigation into a bombing some years back. They have expelled some Iranian diplomats and pointed the finger at Iran. I was wondering if there has been any connection between that bombing in Argentina and the Khobar Towers bombing?

Cohen: I'm not aware of any. As a matter of fact, I saw a report today that one Saudi official, I don't know if he was named, claimed that the bombing which took place in Saudi Arabia was perpetrated by Saudi nationals. I don't know the validity of that statement, and the reliability of it, but I'm not aware of any connection of the bombing that took place in Argentina and that that took place at Khobar.

Q: In terms of the Khobar Towers investigation, is that anywhere near completion?

Cohen: Not as far as I know. I saw Director Freeh just this past week. We did not get into this issue in any detail. But the investigation is still open as far as he is concerned.

Q: Do you plan to discuss terrorism with President Menem? The possible cooperation in combating terrorism?

Cohen: I think that this would be part of the nature of our relationship that we have established -- that would be the sharing of information, to the extent that terrorism, on an international level, ought to be of a concern to Argentina and also to the United States. We are very concerned about the spread of international terrorism. So yes, I hope that we would share whatever information that we have with them as well, and whatever information that they have provided to our authorities.

Q: Last year, Argentina was declared a major non-NATO United States ally. What is the practical effect of that? And might the fact that Argentina is this ally distinguish the kind of talks that you are going to have with Argentina as opposed to Chile and Brazil? How does it play out?

Cohen: No. The establishment of this major -- of this non-NATO ally status -- really was a reward in a sense. A recognition rather than a reward. A recognition that Argentina has been very helpful in its peacekeeping efforts. It has been enormously helpful in Bosnia, the Gulf, and other areas. And this was just a -- really a gesture on the part of the United States that we recognize that and wanted to establish it on that basis. It does not convey any major status and should not be construed as such.

Q: My question is about the Gulf situation. I know that there is a decision pending on when the USS INDEPENDENCE leaves the Gulf and I was wondering if the President has decided what to do about the carriers?

Cohen: It is under consideration by the President. We did have extensive meetings this week and I would hope by next week that we would have some kind of response. We laid out a series of options to the President and he has those under advisement at this point. I would hope that sometime in the next week or so that there will be some resolution.

Q: What was your recommendation? Cohen: After the President makes a decision, I will be happy to convey that.

Q: Is Admiral Prueher going to Indonesia? Is that still pending? Cohen: I think that is on hold for the time being. Until things settle down.

Q: Will we reestablish military-to-military relations with Indonesia soon?

Cohen: I think we have to wait to see how things unfold in the near term. Obviously, Indonesia remains a very important country. We are hoping that stability will be realized there and that the new President as such -- Mr. Habibi -- will be able to conduct the affairs of state and have a recovery of confidence in that country. It is in everybody's interest. All of the (inaudible) countries are concerned about what takes place in Indonesia and it is of concern to us as well. I think that it was President Eisenhower back in the fifties, who said, "what happens in Indonesia has an impact in Indiana." That was fairly visionary at that time and it certainly is true today. We are hoping that stability will prevail and that things will calm down and we can, in fact, start to resume a relationship with the Indonesians.

Q: Sir, let me ask a question about the India/Pakistan situation. Is there anything the Untied States can offer Pakistan in the way of concrete security guarantees or assurances to keep them from proceeding with nuclear tests?

Cohen: I think that we have tried to make it very clear to the Pakistanis that we do not believe that it is in their overall interest, or the worlds interest, for them to follow suit and do what the Indians have done. Obviously, this a decision that they will have to make on their own. The political pressure, at the local level, I'm sure is intense. But we are hoping that reason will prevail. I know that President Clinton has talked to, at least twice, to Shariff. There has been a delegation, as you know, that went to try to encourage restraint on the part of the Pakistani. So we are looking at things that perhaps can be offered to encourage them to withhold, but this is something that I think they will have to decide in terms of their own interest. If they were to go forward, then obviously, the same sanctions that will be applied to India will have a much greater impact upon their own economy. It is something that I think that they are looking at, but I think the pressure is intense and we are hoping that reason will prevail and that they will see it as being in their long-term interest to resist. The temptation would be for them to establish that they can conduct a similar test. The long-term interest, I think, would far outweigh that. I think that they would get a good deal of respect from the United States and Congress and others who would see this as a real exercise of statesmanship on their part.

Q: Would you support, in fact, urge Congress to authorize delivery of F-16s to Pakistan as a reward for not testing nuclear weapons?

Cohen: I don't think that the Pakistanis have been treated fairly in this arrangement. On the one hand, they have paid for the aircraft, not had them delivered, and not had their money returned. I think that some equitable solution should be reached in any event, outside of this particular issue. I think that it is something more than simply F-16s. I think that we are talking about a bunch of broader relationships for the region itself. It is in no one's interest to see this kind of a conflict between Pakistan and India continue to boil at any high level. So whatever we can do, I think it should be in a larger context. Not simply will you take -- if we can work out the F-16 -- will that be enough? I don't think that we should approach it with that basis. I think that we have to approach it on what can be done to encourage regional stability, which I think is in all of our interest.

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