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Secretary Cohen's Press Conference at the American Embassy, Brasilia, Brazil

Presenter: Defense Secretary William S. Cohen
May 27, 1998

Secretary Cohen: This is my first visit -- my wife Janet, who is here in the first row -- it is our first visit to this great nation, and I can assure you, it is not going to be our last. During our all-too-brief stay here, I have had the opportunity to meet with the Armed Forces General Staff Minister, the Air Force and Navy Ministers, the acting Army Minister, the Secretary of Strategic Affairs and the acting Foreign Minister. And I have just had the honor of meeting with President Cardoso. He is one of the most outstanding leaders of this hemisphere, and one of the world's most respected international statesmen. We had a far ranging conversation and one which I will treasure.

I came to Brazil to listen and to learn. This nation is the world's third largest democracy, the United States and Brazil are major trading partners, and our two nations enjoy excellent military-to-military ties. And indeed our overall relationship with Brazil is certainly one of America's most important bilateral relationships.

I have listened and I have learned a great deal in a very brief time. And perhaps most important and most instructive was the comment made to me by a distinguished Brazilian General, and echoed by his colleagues and his counterparts not only here in Brazil but throughout my trip to this continent. The General said: we cannot have the luxury of a South American conflict when there are so many transnational challenges that we must face together. And this, in fact, has been a focus of my discussions in Brazil. We talked about non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and here let me pay particular tribute to the leadership shown by Brazil in response to the nuclear explosion that occurred in India, [an action] taken by the Indian Government. Brazil not only matched its words, but it matched its words with deeds. When I left law school many years ago I received a gift that had three Latin words on the very end of the back of the gift: "vertute non verbis," that's "deeds, not words." I would change that in the case of Brazil to "vertute et verbis," "deeds and words." And you have indeed sent a strong signal that proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is something that your country is strongly committed against. So, from non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to international challenges on this continent, Africa and elsewhere, the United States and Brazil are cooperating closely to address these issues because they are emerging as the new challenges to the national security of our two democracies.

Brazil has demonstrated its leadership in addressing these issues, and my first visit here gave me the opportunity to express my deep appreciation to President Cardoso and his colleagues for that leadership, and for their contributions to peacekeeping efforts in this hemisphere and around the world. And I hope that my visit helped to further solidify the strong ties which General Wilhelm, our Pentagon colleagues and I enjoy with our Brazilian counterparts.

And now, we would be happy to entertain your questions.

Q: You touched on weapons of mass destruction, and you mentioned the Indian nuclear blast, and there have been reports from Washington intelligence sources that the U.S. now know that Pakistan is prepared to conduct a nuclear test. Whether it decides to do so remains to be seen. Does the U.S. now have evidence or indication that Pakistan is indeed prepared to do so, if it decides to do so?

A: (Cohen): It is my policy never to comment about intelligence reports, but let me say that we have followed activities in Pakistan very closely, we have been in very direct contact with Pakistani officials, and we are encouraging them not to emulate India and engage in the explosion of nuclear devices, and we hope that our diplomacy and that of our friends and allies throughout the world will be persuasive in dissuading them from following India's example.

Q: Mr. Secretary, what would you say to the Pakistanis, now, to make them reconsider if they are planning a nuclear test?

A: (Cohen): I would say to them that they have an opportunity to set an example that would be welcomed by the world community, that yes they could try to follow suit and duplicate what the Indian government has done, but that would certainly not redound to their benefit internationally. It would not redound to their benefit domestically because under U.S. law there would be the requirement for sanctions to be imposed, and given their current economic situation, that would certainly have a fairly severe impact upon their citizens. So they have an opportunity to demonstrate to the world that they can indeed exercise the kind of restraint that a country of its size and nature and role in the world should be capable of exercising and hopefully will.

Q: I would like to know if the US has a formula to avoid the possibility of arms sales to Latin America creating an arms race on this continent?

A: (Cohen): First of all, the United States is not interested in contributing to any arms race in Latin America or elsewhere. We believe that Latin American nations, Brazil, Chile, Argentina and others are democracies, and have not only the ability but also the obligation to provide for their individual defenses, and so to the extent that a democratic nation wishes to call upon the United States for any sort of military cooperation, we are pleased to do so, but we are not in any way eager to contribute to an arms race. We do not believe an arms race will take place and to give an example, when the issue was raised just whether Chile was going to acquire any sophisticated aircraft, President Menem indicated that he had absolutely no difficulty with that whatsoever. So there is no question of suspicion or distrust or conflict. As a matter of fact, as a result of the efforts that have been undertaken by leaders such as President Cardoso and Menem among others, the likelihood of such an arms race is seriously diminished and virtually non-existent.

Q: I would like to know what is the project that the U.S. has in terms of defense cooperation with the countries of Latin America, and I would also like to know what was the content of your discussion with President Fernando Henrique?

A: (Cohen): We have a number of military relationships with the countries of Latin America. We try to exercise together from time to time; we share information with each other; we are trying to learn how to deal with transnational types of problems-problems that transcend national borders: the flow of illegal drugs, international terrorism, the flow of immigrants, all of the kinds of problems that will confront Latin America and the U.S. and countries at large . These are the types of military relations that we have, and a very good one with the military here in Brazil.

With respect to my conversation with your president, we discussed a variety of issues, but most of the conversation pertained to the creation of a ministry of defense, how complicated it is. The President gave a very personal rendition as such, or at least invocation of his own experience in the past and how he understood his relationship with the military, how he related to it, challenges in dealing with the Congress of your country; a far ranging discussion that pertained to the ministry of defense which he has advocated creating or will be created sometime in the future. We also discussed President's Cardoso trip to Washington to meet with President Clinton and that he is going to be sharing a weekend at Camp David, how much he was looking forward to that visit and how much President Clinton is looking forward to that visit. Among other subjects, we discussed the threat of biological weapons, what a very small amount of biological substance can do in the way of damage to individual countries and collectively to countries all over the world. Contrary to any press speculation, there was no discussion about arms.

Q: I would like to know if you have any definitive proposal on the creation of an anti-drug center in Panama, that has recently been discussed?

A: (Cohen): We did not have a discussion pertaining to that.

Q: With regard to the transnational problems that were raised here, the United States has agreements with Peru, Bolivia and Colombia whereby military personnel from the United States operate in the anti-drug activities in those countries on the basis of agreements. Do you see any possibility or any necessity of military personnel from the United States operating in a similar capacity in Brazil?

A: (Cohen): The answer is that I do not believe that we have any plans. Should Brazil feel it would be inclined to invite the United States to share information on the flow of narcotics throughout the hemisphere, we are happy to do so. But there has been no plan and no intention to have such an arrangement that I am aware of.