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Joint Press Conference with Secretary Cohen and Minister Dominguez, May 23, 1998

Presenters: Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and Minister of Defense Jorge Dominguez, Argentina
May 23, 1998 12:00 PM EDT

Minister Dominguez: Gentlemen, good afternoon. First of all, I would like to express, in the name of President Menem, in my name as Minister of Defense, in the name of the Joint Chiefs-of-Staff of the Armed Forces, the satisfaction for the important visit of the U.S. Secretary of Defense to Argentina. During the morning, Secretary Cohen held an important meeting with President Menem. In this meeting they dealt with subjects linked to international defense policy, U.S.-Argentina bilateral relation, the meaning of the non-NATO alliance between our two countries, a review and analysis of all the international peacekeeping programs in which Argentina participates, and what is most important, the importance of the relationship between our two countries was reiterated. Secretary Cohen's visit is the most important visit made by U.S. authorities since President Clinton's visit. This gives an idea of the importance which the Secretary of Defense's visit has for our country. Secretary Cohen has a long career in the U.S. Senate and has contributed as Secretary of Defense to deepening bilateral relations and to supporting common programs between our two countries. Unluckily, Secretary Cohen was not able to visit to our country a few months ago as a consequence of the Persian Gulf crisis, but - we as mentioned - that crisis has served to emphasize the relations between our two countries, because an international crisis has again seen Argentina and the United States working together for world peace, prosperity and stability. So, I would like to give, in the presence of the national and foreign press, a warm and formal welcome to our country to the U.S. Secretary of Defense.

Secretary Cohen: Thank you very much, Minister Domínguez. Let me say what a delight it is for me and my wife to pay our very first visit to your beautiful country. Our only regret is we waited so long to make this trip which was interrupted by a country in the Gulf that had to...took action to postpone this meeting. I'd like to take this occasion to express my sincere appreciation for the kindness and generosity that you have shown to me during the course of this visit. And I also want to express my thanks that you were quick to point out that my visit was the most important since President Clinton visited you earlier. Earlier today I had the honor to meet with President Menem. It was followed by meetings with Minister Domínguez and his staff, at both a working session and also at lunch just a few moments ago. And the nature and the scope of these discussions reinforce to me the breath and the depth of one of our country's most important bilateral relations. Argentina and the United States are working together at many levels: on the emerging transnational issues, which are critical to the national security interests of both of our countries. The cooperation between our nations spans the spectrum to efforts to combat international crime and terrorism to support for human rights within the hemisphere and around the world. The United States and the world, we owe much to Argentina's international leadership and peacekeeping. I take this opportunity to thank President Menem and Minister Domínguez for what they and their men and women in uniform have done to help keep peace in Haiti, Bosnia, the Middle East and elsewhere. And I would repeat that expression of admiration for all that you have done in this regard. And let me just conclude by saying: Muchas gracias for a wonderful time here in your country.

Q: (Reuters): I might ask both of you gentlemen, did you discuss any specifics of possible new U.S. arms sale to Argentina and did you discuss specifics on how the two countries might further cooperate on combating international terrorism?

A: (Domínguez): With Secretary Cohen we have held a working meeting where we analyzed every aspect of bilateral relations, the military equipment purchase programs already in force with the United States - among them, the A-4 AR planes program, which is an Argentine Armed Forces program, and which emphasizes Argentina's aerial capacity. This program is favorably evolving. The first five planes are already in Argentina. The United States will be shipping three other planes in a few more weeks and the remainder are being finished in the Lockheed factory located in Cordoba, under the supervision of Argentine Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defense. This program involves high technology on radars, planes, and Argentina has high expectations regarding the training of its pilots through the A-4 program. This program has been made with the U.S. Government and is having a positive development. We have talked with Secretary Cohen about the Armed Forces restructuring program, which has been supported by the Argentine Congress through the enactment of a law. That program implies multi-investment per year and it is a five year program and we understand that program will involve U.S. military equipment to increase our Armed Forces' operational capability. Regarding international terrorism, we analyzed the subject from a general viewpoint. Our two countries consider terrorism as one of the biggest problems both in the present and in the future, one of the scourges to which we should devote our most careful attention. This has been analyzed during our bilateral relations and will keep on being a central theme of our discussions, both in the area of defense as well as in the area of security of our two countries.

A: (Cohen): I would just add that we spent just a few moments talking about some of the existing programs, as the Minister has indicated, that are currently under way and, while we are both Ministers of Defense, as such, our conversation extended well beyond discussion of armaments. We spoke at some length about the issue of international terrorism, the threat that biological and chemical weapons will pose to open democratic societies, the threat that asymmetrical types of warfare that might be directed toward a number of countries in this hemisphere and elsewhere, the need to maintain information security to preclude disruption of vital services to our respective countries, and ways in which we could, can continue to communicate and to share information in dealing with all of these subjects.

Q: You said this morning at the end of your meeting with President Menem that the United States would cooperate in every way possible to combat the scourge of terrorism. The question is: what are the current possible ways in which the United States is cooperating to combat and prevent terrorism in our region, especially in Argentina?

A: (Cohen): The way in which we are cooperating is to share intelligence, to share information that we may have that could contribute to improving the security in Argentina and this, of course, is not simply a one-way street. We look to Argentina to also share information that it has with us so that we can join our forces, as such, to combat a common enemy.

Q: In the exchange of material for your country's Armed Forces, have you foreseen any line of technical and logistic support for the Argentine Navy?

A: (Cohen): I think that the Minister is probably in a better position to talk about requests coming from the Navy. What we have indicated is that whenever it is possible for us to share equipment or to allow the transfer of equipment that is in our inventory that can be transferred, that we are willing to do so. Obviously, that would depend upon the nature of the request coming from the government and from a particular service and whether we have it available to transfer and under what conditions. I think that, as the Minister has indicated in his previous remarks, we have a number of programs under way which are designed to help modernize and improve the defense capability of Argentina.

A: (Domínguez): We have a program involving the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. The program is being analyzed with U.S. military and defense authorities with relevant support from the U.S. Congress, so the Argentine military modernization project is under way. I would like to emphasize that our goal, as far as military modernization is concerned, has as its central purpose to maintain the national defense capability and participation in international peacekeeping missions. We have made it clear to the Secretary about the progress achieved in the region regarding peace, stability. That Mercosur has become a zone of peace. That regional conflicts as hypotheses have been eliminated. And that Argentina is working in the defense area to improve its capability, accomplish the new challenges concerning defense, and to continue to play its role of participating at an important level in international peacekeeping missions. This is the objective that today characterizes Argentine's defense program and we strongly believe that with the programs under way we are in a position of fully accomplishing it.

Q: Did drug-trafficking come up in the meetings and, if so, was there any new consensus? What needs to be done to face this threat? What is your view, Mr. Secretary, on how to advance the region with the militaries in combating this?

A: (Cohen): We touched upon drug trafficking only briefly. Obviously, each country in the region must make a determination on its own how it can best combat the flow of narcotics passing through its country. But, once again, I think the critical answer has to do with the level of communication and sharing of information between the United States, Argentina and other countries, so that a combined cooperative effort can be maintained. No one country can ever hope to be successful in the effort to combat the flow of narcotics and so it takes a comprehensive and concerted and coordinated attack upon the distribution of illegal narcotics and that means we must have greater communication, greater sharing of intelligence at all levels.

Q: Recently Argentina reduced its relationships with Iran. Do you now have evidence that Iran was involved directly in the bombing in 1994 of the AMIA building and do you have any reason to believe that this could happen again?

A: (Dominguez): The AMIA case, as well as the Israeli Embassy case, is being investigated by Argentine Justice. The decisions to be made by the Argentine government regarding these issues is or will be directly linked with the investigation made by Argentine Justice. We cannot anticipate the work of the concerned judge. The Government's goal is to support the judge's decisions according to the firm evidence found about these two crimes which occurred in Argentina for the first time in its history.

Q: Is there a danger that this may happen again? Are you concerned that there is an imminent danger of this?

A: (Dominguez): We have been actively working in the Ministry of the Interior to improve the operational capability of the security forces. The logistic support from the Armed Forces to the security forces has been improved in everything related to terrorism, international terrorism. We have a important support in the information field from the United States. The working meetings we have held with USG officials, with the FBI's director, today with Secretary Cohen, help deepen knowledge about this complex problem and open the possibility of programs which will increase our country's security. So, I am optimistic regarding the future. It is a complex and difficult problem, but cooperation, joint work and coordinated action from the different national and international agencies will help limit as much as possible the problem posed by international terrorism, which is undoubtedly a scourge which the important, civilized countries of the world want to eliminate.

Q: Secretary, what are the main subjects of your visit to Brazil. Will you discuss with President Cardoso the creation of a Ministry of Defense in Brazil, since there are now three separate ministries. And also, what do you think of the continuation of the program of the Brazilian nuclear submarine?

A: (Cohen): First of all, I haven't had the opportunity to visit Brazil. I hope to conclude this regional visit by stopping in Brazil to meet with my counterparts and those in the Defense Ministry. I am really in not a position to comment on any specific system until such time as I have occasion to engage them in a bilateral discussion. But I would hope to convey a similar message of gratitude that Brazil, working with Argentina, Chile, other countries, to try to bring about a more stable and peaceful relationship between all of the countries in the region.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I would like to ask you about the most difficult conflicts that the U.S. sees in the different regions of the world. At least, the most difficult five or six conflicts that the U.S. is studying at this moment and which might occur in the next years.

A: (Cohen): How much time do you have for this press conference? (Laughter) I think that I touched upon a number of them in my prior comments. First, let me say that we in the United States look out at the world and see that a great deal of progress has been made. There is more democracy in more countries, more freedom in more countries... and more opportunity in more countries than at any previous time in certainly recent history, and perhaps in all of history. So, there is a great deal to be optimistic and hopeful about. If you consider what has taken place here in Argentina in just a ten year period, you can see that the reason why hope should spring eternal. With respect to threats that we in the United States are likely to face, they are threats that will be shared by much of the world. There is the threat of missile proliferation, more and more countries are acquiring medium to long range missile capability. The nuclear explosions in India are a step back from the progress that was being made and runs the risk that other countries will try to follow suit. So that is a threat that not only affects the United States, it affects the world at large. The threat of regional instability, we know has implications for many countries. You could see the reaction from the instability in Indonesia, not only on the countries of Southeast Asia, but on marketplaces across the globe, and, so, to continue looking at asymmetrical threats such as biological, chemical weapons, we know that virtually every country is susceptible to these types of attacks. The serin gas attack in Tokyo could just as well have taken place in any city in the United States or, indeed, in Argentina. So, today as we talked about technology continuing to shrink down the size of globe, the threat of transnational types of attacks will have implications for all our countries. And that is the reason why it is so important for us to maintain the kind of deep friendship and cooperation that we have established with Argentina and other countries. To be able to combine so much talent, efforts and resources to be able to combat these threats which involve us all.

Thank you.

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