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Joint Press Availability with SecDef Cohen and Argentine MoD Lopez Murphy

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
May 17, 2000 11:15 PM EDT

Wednesday, May 17, 2000 - 11:15 a.m. EDT

(Joint media availability with Minister of Defense Ricardo Lopez Murphy of Argentina)

Secretary Cohen: It gives me a great deal of pleasure to welcome Ricardo Lopez Murphy on his first visit to Washington as minister of defense. Although he has been on the job only about five months, he has already taken a number of steps to make the military more efficient. He is encouraging the formation of a strong joint staff that will overlap among the services and improve cooperation. It must be Minister Lopez Murphy's training as an economist at the University of Chicago that has made him determined to stretch his military budget as far as possible. And I am pleased to note that the minister and his team are going to be visiting our Joint Forces Command in Norfolk tomorrow. The United States and Argentina have a very strong military relationship and Minister Lopez Murphy and I have determined to keep it precisely that way.

Today there are some 56 Argentine military personnel in the United States serving in staff positions and attending various schools. At the same time, some 25 U.S. military personnel are serving in Argentina. The Argentine and U.S. forces also train together in exercises and our forces work together for stability in South America and peace throughout the world. Argentine forces regularly participate in the force that polices the Iraqi oil-smuggling activity in the Gulf and they are in compliance with U.N. Security Council sanctions, and we appreciate their very strong support in that effort. In addition, Argentina continues to play a major role in U.N. peacekeeping missions and operations around the world. There are some 600 Argentine peacekeepers and observers who are serving in various missions.

At our meeting, we discussed a range of bilateral, regional and international issues and I look forward to continuing our work for security and stability at the defense ministerial in the Americas in Brazil this coming fall.

Mr. Minister?

Minister Lopez Murphy: Yes, we had a productive discussion. We showed a very good relationship and in my assessment, the meeting that I had with the secretary of Defense has been very productive in the sense that we almost agree on every issue we discuss and we have been studying the way we can improve our role in peacekeeping operation and the way we can cooperate more efficiently in a degree of cooperation that, as the secretary mentioned, is very high today.

We are very happy with the degree of integration of our force in peacekeeping operations. And we agree that the area of MERCOSUR [Common Market of the South], the area of -- that we declare as an area of peace is a very important concept for the future; that area is free of nuclear threat, free of biological threats, free of chemical threats, free of missile threats. And we are very proud of being a country in an area of peace, and that is a development that led us to play a role in the peacekeeping around the world, and we share the value and the importance of peacekeeping operations.

Q: Mr. Secretary?

Secretary Cohen: Charlie?

Q: I wonder if I might ask you something briefly about NMD. A number of members of the House -- I believe 36 -- have written you a letter, asking you to postpone a decision on NMD, saying that it's not mature enough. And former top officials John White and John Deutch and Harold Brown have also suggested that you put off a decision and in fact possibly deploy a naval -- the naval system around Korea, so that you could at once protect yourself against Korea, and not anger the Russians. What is your response to these calls?

Secretary Cohen: Well, first of all, Congress -- both the House and the Senate, Democrats and Republicans, have passed legislation mandating that we deploy a national missile defense system as soon as it is technologically feasible. We are in the process of examining whether or not we could deploy such a system.

As we've indicated before, we have been researching, developing a national missile defense program. The president has yet to make a decision concerning deployment. We intend to continue to carry out that research and development with an additional test that will come next month, at the end of next month, and then make an evaluation according to the criteria that the president has set: What is the nature of the threat? What is the level of technology that we have? What are the costs involved, and what are the implications for arms control?

At the appropriate time, after examining the tests, I will make a recommendation to the president.

But I should point out that Congress has strongly favored that we provide this kind of protection to the American people, and we want to at least put the president in a position of having all of the information at his disposal before he decides whether or not it's in the interests of this country to go forward.

With respect to a sea-based system, I will point out that the reason that we decided to do the research and development on the land-based system was because it's become very clear that this is a system that can be deployed the soonest.

We have not ruled out having a sea-based component. Indeed, Admiral Johnson, the CNO, has indicated he would like to make sure that we reserve that option. We intend to reserve that option. And so all of these factors are under consideration at this time.

Q: Just to follow. Will these rising calls from Congress for you to put off the decision in any way play into your recommendation to the president, or will it be based strictly on the criteria that you said he set out?

Secretary Cohen: I intend to base it on the criteria that the president has set forth, the four criteria: threat, technology, cost, and implications for arms control.

Mr. Bacon: Is there a question from the Argentine press?

Yes?

Q: Secretary Cohen, the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Service has recommended that women be allowed to serve on nuclear submarines in a limited capacity. Could you give us your view on that?

Secretary Cohen: Well, I haven't reviewed the DACOWITS report or recommendation. I certainly will review it and then make some kind of a determination, but I haven't had that opportunity yet.

Q: So you don't have a position on whether women could or should serve on submarines?

Secretary Cohen: No.

Q: Back to the first topic --

Secretary Cohen: My concern always has been that we make sure that we can carry out our missions, and that privacy be a major factor to be considered as well. And certainly, when you're discussing submarines, it does present some challenges. But that's something we'll have to review in the future.

Q: Back to the first topic of the national missile defense. Mr. Cohen, the Chinese have been very critical of the United States plans, testing, et cetera. They say that their deterrent is obstructed by having an anti-missile base in Alaska. And they also have said that they're going to get closer to the Russians militarily if we continue the way we're going. How would you reply to these particular fears and criticisms by the Chinese?

Secretary Cohen: Well, I would hope that all of those countries who are most concerned about the willingness of the American people to provide a defense against the spread of missile technology and weapons of mass destruction would contribute to stabilizing the situation by not transferring technology that creates the problem.

But I would say to China, and to others, that this is not directed against them, but there are countries who are acquiring a capability that will pose a threat to the security of the United States, and that the president of the United States will consider -- again under those four criteria -- as to whether or not we should provide a limited form of protection against a limited type of an attack.

We have made it very clear to the Russians this is not in any way directed toward them or can it in any way undercut their strategic deterrent, and we have tried to make it very clear that our goal is to protect us against the kind of nations who would try to intimidate us or blackmail us from carrying out our conventional responsibilities such as we did during the Persian Gulf. That is our goal.

Q: Can this system as envisioned in any way undercut the strategic deterrence of China?

Secretary Cohen: Well, China is going to make its own decisions in terms of how many missiles it will deploy. That will be a decision they will make, and I think irrespective they will make a decision within their own best interests. Whether they go with more or less will be a decision that they will make. But this is not directed against them.

Q: What's your response to members of Congress who want you to stop vaccinating U.S. troops against anthrax until a safer vaccine can be found?

Secretary Cohen: Well, the vaccine that we currently have is safe. That is the only reason, one of the major reasons, certainly, that I advocated that we begin the program upon the recommendation of all the commanders in chief of our combatant commands, upon the recommendation of the chairman and all the members of the Joint Chiefs, that we vaccinate our troops against this potential very deadly threat. And so the vaccine that currently is being used in fact is safe. And that is the reason why the chairman and myself were the first two in line to receive our six shots. We were not prepared to tell our troops that they should undergo any kind of a vaccination program unless we were willing to do the same.

And so my answer is that the vaccine is safe, that the new facility that's being constructed will have to be certified as being fully compliant with FDA standards and to measure up to all the strict regulations that are currently in place before any new vaccine is going to be produced and authorized for distribution.

Q: Thank you very much.

Secretary Cohen: Okay. Thanks very much.

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