United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

News Transcript

Press Operations Bookmark and Share


Joint Press Conference with Secretary Cohen and Italian Minister of Defense Andreatta, Rome, Italy, 10 Jun 98

Presenters: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and Minister of Defense Beniamino Andreatta
June 10, 1998
Secretary Cohen: Minister Andreatta, I want to thank you for your warm reception and hospitality during this very productive visit to Rome.

I appreciate the opportunity to meet with the Italian leadership and continue the important work that has provided such a strong security relationship for our two nations.

Italy and the United States are NATO partners and partners in the very important operation that is giving peace a chance to take root in Bosnia. I want to thank Minister Andreatta publicly for Italy's role in the Stabilization Force.

Italy's willingness to lead the Multinational Specialized Unit under SFOR will be essential to promoting the safety of the troops in Bosnia as well as civilians caught up in civil disturbances. In fact, Italy has taken a leading role in efforts to enhance security and stability throughout Southeast Europe -- and we welcome this.

Minister Andreatta and I have met many times since my first visit to Rome as Secretary of Defense in March of 1997, including our recent visit in Munich, this past February, and again during his visit to Washington just last month with Prime Minister Prodi. Through these many meetings and countless telephone conversations, we have fostered a shared commitment to transatlantic and regional security cooperation.

As President Clinton stated during Prime Minister Prodi's recent visit: "Transatlantic solidarity remains the indispensable cornerstone of the U.S. -- Italian relationship and the basis for a Europe secure, prosperous and free."

Our meetings today helped underscore that solidarity and our bilateral relationship. We had an opportunity to talk about the challenges of reshaping NATO as we assume new missions and work towards increased interoperability. We discussed increased training opportunities including growth of our Partnership for Peace program.

We discussed Kosovo and our concern for the human rights of the Kosovar Albanians, and the stability of neighboring countries and the Balkan region.

Minister Andreatta and I now go to Brussels for the NATO defense ministerials where we will continue to address these issues and others that face the alliance now and in the coming years.

I want to thank Minister Andreatta, again, for his warm reception and hospitality for this very productive visit.

Minister Andreatta: I want to express the appreciation that all the European Defense Ministers have for Secretary Cohen's approach, his style, his culture deriving also from his long parliamentary experience. This has been very important for renewing and reaffirming the ties between the US and Europe in the defense sector. Let me underline that in the worst times, in the most interesting times as it were, the solidarity between the US and Italy becomes, in fact, even more apparent and even stronger.

We are convinced that defense and security organizations, such as NATO, are absolutely irreplaceable to guarantee peace in the whole world. In those areas where non alignment has its deepest roots, in areas like the Indian sub-continent, in Yugoslavia where the discipline that derives from long cooperation in the international security organizations like NATO does not exist, it is easier for conflict to explode. This is why the Italian government is profoundly committed to the enlargement of NATO .

All of us recall the tragic events in Budapest, Prague, Warsaw, the popular revolts and the feeling of impotence as we watched that happen. If Europe is unwilling to extend the range of its security, it would, in fact, renounce any sort of political project. It would be reduced to being a society of shopkeepers, at best able to address a few issues of commercial regulations. Not responding to the need for security coming from peoples in Central and Eastern Europe, it would mean giving up any political ambition for Europe.

After eight years we find that at the top of our agenda there is still the problem of building peace in the former Yugoslavia. And for the first five years in which we had to address this problem we were too divided, too timid. We were fearful of using all the instruments at our disposal, both diplomatic and military , to try to make peace emerge in this unfortunate area. We do not want to continue to make these mistakes.

We find it scandalous that weapons of war , artillery, tanks are being used against people who are seeking justice. The use of these weapons is an implicit recognition that this is in fact an international war and not a civil war. In Helsinki in 1974, we established firmly the principle of guarantees of international borders and also of self determination of peoples. Both these principles have to be applied in the case of Kosovo.

Tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow, we will be speaking at NATO about accompanying measures, the measures that we will utilize if diplomatic and other means prove insufficient in this effort. We will be aided by the bitter memory of the four or five years in which our action was insufficient.

Q: To both gentlemen, could you tell us please what were you able to agree on a position in terms of potential military steps in Kosovo and also if it would be possible for the United States to make use of its military forces based in this country, should any type of military action be ordered by NATO?

A: (Cohen): If I could answer first, we did not seek to take a position in terms of what response would be required in order to bring about a peaceful solution in Kosovo. We did agree that this is going to be at the top of the agenda at the meeting of Defense Ministers. We did agree that a political solution is the best outcome, that we should explore every alternative, also including the potential use of military force. And we expect to take this up, to discuss it in some length in Brussels. As far as the United States is concerned, we obviously will want to consult very closely with key members of Congress and we are in the process of doing that. But our role today and our goal today was to simply exchange views on how we can bring about a solidarity and a consensus of action in the future.

A: (Andreatta): There is a common vision on the part of the leaders of many NATO countries that we have to offer reassurances to the countries that are threatened by the flight of refugees, by the extension of conflict stemming from Kosovo; countries such as Macedonia and Albania, for example. We would need to offer them support in civilian areas, in military areas, also to face the influxes of refugees and military threat. The agreements that can be reached in NATO regarding the use of military means, if diplomatic and political efforts fail, can only support and reinforce the efforts to bring about a political solution.

Q: Shouldn't NATO begin preparing for possible air strikes against Serbia?

A: (Cohen): As I have indicated before, I think that NATO should examine all military options. I would not confine it to air, or land or sea, or any combination of the three. It is up to the NATO to examine the full range of military options and then to present those to the NATO officials, as such, for such decision, but I would not confine it to air or try to engage in premature speculation about what military action, if any, is going to be required.

A: (Andreatta): NATO is a mechanism in which unanimity, the consensus of 16 member countries is required. This can take some time; it is an effort to unify our perception of threat, the problem, and what to do about it, and Friday afternoon we will see how successful we have been in this.

Q: I don't want to flog an old horse on this one, but there are reports out of Brussels today that NATO is to increase its visibility in and around Kosovo in the coming days. Is that the case, has there been a decision to do that, and if so in what form would that be?

A: (Andreatta): Preparatory work is being carried out over the last three days, most recently in a formal meeting of North Atlantic Council at the ambassadorial level. This has provided the first examination, first analysis, of the means that could be used. Going back over the Bosnian experience you can probably identify some of the options that have been identified in this case as well.

Q: What is the likely role of Italy in this intervention? What is the U.S. view of the role that Italy can play and with respect to the Albanian-Macedonian frontier? Will the idea be to in fact block off the conflict or to intervene directly in the Province of Kosovo?

A: (Andreatta): Let me repeat that for our public opinion it is impossible to accept the notion that public order , that police operations would be carried out with the instruments of war: tanks, aircraft, artillery such as we understand by all reports that are being utilized in Kosovo. This would be other than unacceptable in the rest of Europe. This scandal must end and we must seek to develop a unified political position to see if we can develop sufficiently unified political position to bring it to an end.

A: (Cohen): It's important, as Minister Andreatta has said, to end this scandal of the bombing and shelling of innocent people and we will work to achieve that at every level: diplomatic, economic and, hopefully, not military, but not ruling it out either.

But it is also important that the Kosovars understand that whatever action is taken, that it not be seen as an endorsement for a move toward independence. The United States supports greater autonomy for Kosovo. It does not support independence, and so it's important that both sides come to the table to resolve this in a peaceful fashion.

Q: On Cermis: both the United States and Italian governments have affirmed that they will provide an indemnity, claims, reparations to the victims . I would like to have more information about that. Some three years ago US soldiers in Okinawa raped a young Japanese girl. The initial decision on the part of the U.S. was to hold a trial in the U.S., but then under the pressure of public opinion the trial was in fact carried out in Okinawa . Why in the case of the pilots from Cavalese It is being carried out in the U.S.? Was it an issue of insufficient pressure on the part of the Italian government?

A: (Cohen): First, I'll respond about the status of the situation. We are still deeply saddened by what took place at Cavalese. All of the American people share in the grief of the families who lost loved ones during that tragedy. We are encouraging those who have suffered, the families who have lost their loved ones, to file their claims as quickly as possible with the Italian authorities and we have an agreement whereby the United States will fulfill its obligations under the Status of Forces here in Italy. And hopefully that will be moving along very expeditiously, but a lot of the initiatives must come from the families to present their claims.

The second part of the question is that under the Status of Forces Agreement that the country of the sending authority, as such, in this case the United States, under that agreement, would try the individuals involved. Those individuals are under investigation and there are legal proceedings as of this time against both the pilots and co-pilots and the passengers, as such. Those who were in the front of the aircraft and those who were in the rear two seats. They are both accelerating the process right now; so we expect this will be dealt with fairly, openly and with full information and support with the Italian authorities.

As to the Okinawa case, I would have to go back and review the situation there. They were in fact dealt with rather severely by the authorities there. I would have to examine what the situation was as far as we are concerned.

A: (Andreatta): OK. We are accelerating the procedures for the families, those damaged, the loved ones in the Cermis' incident to make their claims. So far, only two families presented in fact requests that include this sort of documentation that allow us to take action on them. Italian Defense Attach‚'s in the countries in which the victims resided will go to the families, meet with them, encourage them to make their applications to rapidly close out the process of the first indemnity of100,000,000 lire, to the families of each of the victims. They will also be assisted in preparing the materials to make further claims for loss. With respect to legal proceedings the Italian Ministry of Grace and Justice has in fact, did point out to Italian authorities the reasons to hold the trial in Italy; The United States government, however, decided to exercise its prerogative under the Status of Forces Agreement, the London Convention as is called in Italy, to exercise primary jurisdiction, I would note this was an accord ratified by the Italian Parliament in 1955. I see no evidence of vindictiveness or an excessive defensiveness or defensive attitude toward the air crew on either side, I believe the results of Italian and U.S. justice in this case will be substantially the same. There is not a vindictiveness on the part of the Italian justice nor is there an excess of defensiveness on the side of the American justice. What I see is a commitment that justice be and I believe in fact that it will be more significant as an example if justice is done by the U.S. judicial system.

A: (Cohen): In Okinawa, Japan, the actions undertaken by those Marines were not taken in the line of duty. Compared to this situation, (Cavalese), this is a major distinction.

Q: If the UN does not give authorization for an intervention in Kosovo or the use of force in Kosovo, does the United States intend to intervene there in any case?

A: (Cohen): The United States does not contemplate any unilateral action. If action is to be taken in a military form, it would be by and through NATO.

Additional Links

Stay Connected