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Joint Media Availability with Secretary Cohen and Minister Kuzmuk

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
March 31, 2000 10:50 AM EDT

Friday, March 31, 2000 - 10:50 a.m. EST

(Media availability with Ukrainian Minister of Defense General Colonel Oleksandr Kuzmuk. The minister's remarks are provided through interpreter.)

Secretary Cohen: Good morning. I'm happy to welcome my friend Oleksandr Kuzmuk back to the Pentagon. We met last year at the beautiful Crimea on the shores of the Black Sea, so it's appropriate that today we're now meeting on the banks of the Potomac.

The Ukrainian and the U.S. militaries have developed a very close relationship since 1993. Last year we had 120 military contacts. We anticipate about the same number this year. The exercises that our units have performed together at the Yavoriv Partnership for Peace Training Center in Ukraine and elsewhere have produced very tangible benefits. This is clear from the ability of our troops to work together in Kosovo, where Ukrainian peacekeepers are making an important contribution.

Our forces are about to hold three major exercises that illustrate the breadth and depth of our relationship. In May the California National Guard will participate in a disaster relief exercise in Eastern Ukraine. In June our Navy will participate in a NATO maritime exercise in the Black Sea. In July U.S. troops will return to the Yavoriv Training Center for Peace Shield 2000, a major multinational peacekeeping exercise.

Over the last year we've also developed some very important joint programs on military education and training, on military medicine, on counter-proliferation, on defense economics and budgeting. And as part of the effort to build a smaller, more efficient military, Ukraine has created NCO training academies for ground and air forces, and new training for platoon sergeants.

And today we reviewed our past accomplishments. We discussed ways to improve cooperation in the future, and the demonstrated ability of the United States and Ukrainian troops to work together means a brighter, more stable, more peaceful future for Europe.

Minister Kuzmuk: Thank you. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

Secretary Cohen very finely spoke to you about our intentions and about the things which we did for this time.

I would like to mention the fact that we meet each other every year, and we use all the possibilities to find the new prospective of cooperation and to mention the prospectives for the improvement of the situation and stability.

During the meeting in the Pentagon, we summarized our activity in the last year and regarded the prospective of the expansion of our possibilities. Thank you.

Secretary Cohen: Charlie?

Q: Mr. Secretary, I wonder if I might ask you briefly about Taiwan. The Washington Post reports today that a new classified Pentagon document says that Taiwan is perhaps now more vulnerable to attack because of its isolation and the fact that it can't practice with other countries using its weaponry.

I wonder if you might comment on your concerns on that, and if not, have you, in CINCPAC and the Pentagon, changed your assessment that China is not now militarily able to attack and take over Taiwan?

Secretary Cohen: Well, as I read the report of the news account in the Washington Post, I believe it said it was a "highly classified" report. Given the fact of its high classification, I am not really in a position to comment publicly, other than to say, as I read the report that -- in the newspaper, it appeared that Taiwan is still very capable in terms of its military capability, but that there are recommendations that there are always recommendations for ways to improve its capability through training and exercising and other types of activities.

But we conduct a number of reports, consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act, to assess Taiwan's defense capabilities, and report accordingly. And that will continue in the future.

Q: Could I ask -- you have repeatedly said -- and CINCPAC and others in the Pentagon said that you do not feel that China is now capable of attacking and taking over Taiwan, invading it.

Secretary Cohen: What we have said is that Taiwan should not seek independence, and that China should seek to bring about a reconciliation through peaceful means and not through military means.

Q: But have you changed your assessment that China is not now militarily capable of taking over Taiwan?

Secretary Cohen: Well, I'm not going to comment in terms of what the relationship is. I'm satisfied that Taiwan is still a very capable -- has a very capable military.

Q: Are you close to making a decision --

Staff: Excuse me just a sec. Is there a Ukrainian journalist who would like to ask a question? A Ukrainian journalist? Yes.

Q: (Through interpreter) This is a question for Secretary Cohen. Did you discuss the possibility of increasing funding or continuing funding to Ukraine for its contingent to work in KFOR?

And a question to Minister Kuzmuk. If the United States does not plan to further assist the financially the Ukrainian contingent in KFOR, what will Ukraine do then?

Secretary Cohen: The answer is yes, we did discuss ways in which the United States and other allies might contribute to help Ukraine to continue a peacekeeping presence in KFOR. There are a variety of ways that can be accomplished. We think it's important that Ukraine continue its peacekeeping mission, and we will work with Ukraine and other allies to see how that can be accomplished. We also have indicated that we have a foreign military financing program which largely should be devoted to modernizing Ukraine's military and to help it accomplish its reforms.

And so we will continue to search for ways in which we can help Ukraine nonetheless maintain a peacekeeping presence and function in Kosovo, in conjunction with their Polish friends, as well.

Q: (Off mike.)

Minister Kuzmuk: Having sent our troops to Kosovo, Ukraine took into account the following principles: Firstly and foremost, that this is an honor -- an honorable duty of ours as a reliable partner. Secondly, the (inaudible) contingent is necessary in such a composition which is necessary to accomplish the operation. Thirdly, the desire should meet the capabilities of the state.

The Ukrainian military contingent, shoulder by shoulder, operates in Kosovo with our friends. It is composed of the helicopter and infantry units. In summertime this year, we plan to provide the rotation. Instead of Ukrainian contingent, we decided to send there the Ukrainian Polish battalion, which was created exactly for these goals. They were pleased at our American colleagues for major support to supply Ukrainian contingent, Ukrainian peacekeepers. When the time came when there is a necessity to determine the further participation of Ukrainians in Kosovo, we concluded that more effective it will be the Ukrainian Polish battalion.

Concerning the helicopter detachment, we will decide this question with NATO. And probably it will come home after the rotation.

Q: What is your reaction, Mr. Secretary, to the complaint filed by the highest-ranking officer in the Army, Lieutenant General Claudia Kennedy, that she was sexually harassed, physically assaulted if you will, in her office here in the Pentagon?

Secretary Cohen: Well, I just became aware of the complaint as of yesterday. I have not had any discussion on the subject matter. And frankly, since a complaint has been filed, I am not in a position to comment, other than to say:

We maintain a zero-tolerance policy, that no harassment at any level is going to be acceptable or tolerated, and that the process should go forward and will go forward.

Q: Are you going to grant Taiwan's request for --

Q: Is the Defense Department considering taking over the investigation --

Q: (Inaudible) -- and how does work?

Secretary Cohen: (Inaudible.)

"This transcript was prepared by the Federal News Service, Inc., Washington DC. Federal News Service is a private company. For other defense related transcripts not available through this site, contact Federal News Service at (202) 347-1400."

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