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Secretary Cohen's Media Interview by Traveling Press en route to Nigeria

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
April 01, 2000

Friday, March 31, 2000

Secretary Cohen: This is a trip that has been long in planning and long delayed. The last occasion we had coming from South Africa, we were planning to stop in Nigeria and weather prevented us from doing that. So I had to reconstitute the plan and this is part of it. But I'm looking forward to meeting with the Nigerian leadership. I've had two meetings with President Obasanjo, twice in Washington now. I've also had phone conversations with him during the last year or so. This would be an important meeting because we regard Nigeria as being one of the real important African states along with South Africa, but certainly Nigeria and South Africa are two key states. Not only is Nigeria important for West Africa, but also for the entire sub-region. And so, what we hope to do is to continue this assessment that we are making, in terms of how Nigeria can make changes in its military structure to modernize, to update it, and to bring it into the new century as such. But also to institute the kind of reforms that will have civilian control over the military, and to do that in an institutional basis. We have a study program that's been underway, that we have agreed that the United States would pay for half of the cost of this program which is some 7 million dollars, and we have committed 3 and a half million to that. There is now a supplemental request pending before their legislature and we are hoping that will receive positive support. That will be a continuation of the program that is now underway. So what I hope to do is to meet, not only with the President and his entire leadership, but also with defense committees in the legislature; to have an opportunity to talk about ways in which we can strengthen our relationship, establish their continued participation in the African Center for Strategic Studies, to get them to participate in that as well as the African Crisis Response Initiative. So these are some of the subjects I'll be talking with the leadership.

We want to reprofessionalize their military. They've had a long period of 16 years where they haven't had democratic rule as such, and there's been a lot of neglect of their military and we want to reprofessionalize it, to see if we can help them do that.

Q: Can you see Nigeria playing a more important role in the future in terms of providing, not only peacekeeping, but as a security anchor in that part of Africa which has had so many problems?

Secretary Cohen: They have played a key role in peacekeeping, as a matter of fact, they have kept their Nigerian forces as part of the ECOMOG longer than perhaps they had anticipated, waiting until the United Nations can undertake that observer mission, and keeping their forces there. So I think they will continue to play an important role in peacekeeping missions. Also, again, if they can reprofessionalize their military that will make an important contribution, to stability and security throughout the region. And again, I will point out that we think Nigeria and South Africa will be two of the prominent African countries who will play a very key role in helping to provide the kind of stabilization we are hoping for.

Q: Do you see more IMET coming up, and do you see more military-to-military contacts, and can you ever envision a time when U.S. Forces might be over to help train the Nigerian military?

Secretary Cohen: That is quite a ways in the future. Obviously, the more educational opportunities we can have with the Nigerian military, the better, and we hope that can be achieved in the reasonably near future. Education would be a key element of that.

Q: Do you envision discussing the sort of civil violence that has been going on in Nigeria between the Christians and the Muslims, and how stable a country is it right now?

Secretary Cohen: Well, no one is more concerned about that than Obasanjo. It is up to him, obviously, to get control of the situation. Right now you have a situation with the police, perhaps they are either insufficient with their training or arms, or their ability to deal as effectively with the kind of violence that has been occurring. But the military has played a role in trying to maintain order and stability. Hopefully, what you want to see take place is the police able to upgrade their own capabilities to deal with any kind of domestic turmoil, and I think that is the view of the military as well. Just like we don't want to be engaged in peacekeeping missions and police activities, I suspect their military also would like to see the police undertake the riot control and public disturbance, that is not really the best function for a military, and I think they understand that as well. It's just they've got to get additional funding and their economy will have to function in a much more effective way and get control of their budget. That is something I'm sure the president is concerned about, and he has been taking a leadership role in eliminating corruption, trying to bring a civilian control over the military itself. I think he's one of the real visionary forces in Nigeria, he's been out front on these issues and we want to support him.

Q: How important would you say is this effort to reprofessionalize the military is to the success of democracy in Nigeria?

Secretary Cohen: Well, you really can't have an effective democracy unless you have the subordination of the military to civilian rule. Part of that subordination involves the training of the military to understand what is the military's rule in a democratic society. So, the reprofessionlization of Nigeria's military will be key to that. You really cannot have one without the other.

Q: Reprofessionlizing of the military, does it involve or do you foresee any sale of U.S. equipment to Nigeria?

Secretary Cohen: I don't foresee that. I'm not here on any arms sales mission. We're here to talk about ways in which they can reform internally, what kind of changes have to be made, how to develop the NCO corps and other types of institutions. Having a civil military type of relationship and creating the institution to have that. So, ours is more in the educational and restructuring, but not talking about military sales.

Q: Secretary I'd like to ask you about the Claudia Kennedy case. Are you dismayed by the fact that the Army which has received so much attention on sexual harassment the past few years -- is once again involved in this type of controversy, especially in this case, because it appears that the Army was willing to overlook this complaint of sexual harassment -- even though it was brought by one of their top generals.

Secretary Cohen: I really don't know what the facts are. I don't even know what the allegations are at this point, other than what I've seen reported. So, it is impossible for me to comment on this particular case and if a complaint has been filed, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on it. I would say that, overall, we have made great strides in an effort to eliminate harassment, sexual harassment. And if there are cases that this has surfaced, then they would have to be handled through the appropriate process. I am committed to eliminating any type of harassment. But I can't comment on this particular case.

Mr. Bacon: Let me just say though, that that assumption you made, that the Army has overlooked that is flat wrong. Flat wrong. I can't go into details, but it is just wrong.

Q: It was reported that she filed a formal complaint after this was announced.

Mr. Bacon: The assessment you just made is wrong. When the facts come out it will be clear.

Q: She evidently thought that it wasn't taken into consideration, otherwise, she wouldn't have made a formal complaint. That is certainly the appearance.

Mr. Bacon: It may be the appearance, but it is wrong.

Q: Can we go back to Nigeria for just a second?

Secretary Cohen: Admittedly, there are perceptions here that's made on very little information, and since you aren't giving out any information in this case, people get ideas and particularly when you say there is no tolerance for sexual harassment and yet, here is the top female general of the U.S. army that feels the need to make a formal complaint in a sexual misconduct case, seems to belie that.

Q: The C-130s, Mr. Secretary, that's 3.5 million dollars that you were talking about, is that to help fund the refurbishment of that or is that a separate program altogether? How much are we going to spend on that?

Secretary Cohen: I'm going to have some discussions with them tomorrow and I'll have more information on that tomorrow.

Q: You made some comments on Turkey today on the joint strike fighters. Is there a reason for that announcement in terms of it being related to Greece, Cyprus?

Secretary Cohen: No, it is related to the fact that our ambassador is going to announce it today, and given the opportunity to speak to the American Turkish Council, I should probably make the comment to talk about the kind of bilateral relationship we have with Turkey, and how strong it is. It had nothing to do with Cyprus.

Q: To encourage talks?

Secretary Cohen: That's unrelated. We want to encourage talks, but that has no bearing.

Q: You recently ordered the deployment of some reconnaissance troops to Kosovo. The situation has been tense and there's been concerns expressed about where that is heading going into the spring, are you considering any further augmentation in the U.S. force, or do you see the need, or are there enough troops to handle the situation?

Secretary Cohen: I'm not considering any further increases, it is always possible should the SACEUR indicate more forces are going to be necessary from all countries. But, based on my discussion with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who's in touch, on a daily basis, to make sure we have all the information we need. We see no indications that we need to do that. So, any additional forces beyond what has been requested -- this is a limited number that will help in reconnaissance basis, but we don't think we need additional forces at this time.

Q: Are you going to discuss oil with Nigeria?

Secretary Cohen: I hadn't planned on that.

Thank you.

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