Monday, July 24, 2000 - 10:30 a.m. EDT
(Media Availability with Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and Minister of Defense Serzh Sarkisyan of Armenia)
Cohen: The agreement [1.1 MB .pdf] that Minister Sarkisyan and I have just signed is important for two reasons. It will help Armenia to improve its customs and border patrol services in order to control the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
In addition, the agreement will strengthen cooperation between Armenia and the United States.
In working together to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the United States will provide Armenia with $300,000 of equipment and training. The equipment will include nuclear and contraband detection kits to help Armenian authorities to prevent the unauthorized transportation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and components.
We have similar agreements with nine other countries that want to work with us to control weapons of mass destruction.
Earlier this year we agreed to assist Armenia with demining, training and equipment to help clear landmines left by the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh with Azerbaijan.
The U.S. supports the ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan and encourages negotiations between the presidents of the two countries to reach a durable peace settlement.
This is Minister Sarkisyan's first visit to the Pentagon and it has given us the opportunity to discuss a range of mutual security interests, and we're delighted to have him with us.
Sarkisyan: It is true that this is the first visit of an Armenian defense minister to the United States of America, and I am glad that during this visit a document will be signed which will prevent the distribution and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Armenia is against proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the government of the Republic of Armenia understands the region it is in.
We also discussed a very important issue with the Honorable Mr. Secretary, which is the issue of humanitarian demining, and we found some areas of mutual interest. We believe that after the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh is solved, the military cooperation between Armenia and the United States will get started and will start. We hope that the settlement of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh will come soon.
Thank you very much.
Q: Mr. Secretary, I'd like to ask you a question about national missile defense.
The reported offer by North Korea as described by President Putin to abandon entirely its missile program if it gets international assistance in launching space satellites, does that influence in any way your thinking about the need for national missile defense?
Cohen: It's unclear to me exactly what the offer is. It is still fairly ambiguous in terms of the scope of the proposal, and it would require a great deal more clarification before I could comment that it was a positive proposal or not.
I have to also take into account that their top negotiator in Kuala Lumpur recently also made the statement that our missile policy is to develop, to produce, and deploy powerful missiles continuously.
So we have to weigh one statement against the other and get clarification before any judgment could be made about the validity and indeed the advisability of the proposal.
Q: Can you say how close you are to making a recommendation about the U.S. national missile defense program?
Cohen: Within about three or four weeks.
Q: If I could ask you a question on another subject.
The name of former Defense Secretary Richard Cheney has come up now as a very likely prospect to be George Bush's running mate. I was wondering if you served at all with Cheney, if you could comment on him? And just generally, whether serving as secretary of Defense, do you believe qualifies one to be a vice president of the United States?
Cohen: I think I have an inherent conflict of interest.
First of all, there are at least two candidates whose names have surfaced recently. That of Jack Danforth, of course, as well as Dick Cheney. Both individuals would, I think, be highly qualified to serve as a vice president.
With respect to Dick Cheney, I have worked with him over the years, both in the Congress -- we served on the Iran Contra committee together. I worked with him when he served as secretary of Defense. As you know, he also was chief of staff in the White House itself. So I think that he brings enormous qualifications to the position.
I think either he or Jack Danforth or some of the other candidates who have been mentioned, Senator Hagel and others, also would be highly qualified. But those two individuals, Jack Danforth and Dick Cheney, would be very top candidates.
I would assume that Vice President Gore would also be inclined to name someone of comparable capability and would expect that he'll do so in the near future as well.
Q: Is there any U.S. troop involvement in your agreement with the Armenians signed here today?
Cohen: No. There is no troop involvement. It pertains to the transfer of equipment and some training, but not on any troop involvement.
Q: Who will conduct the training?
Cohen: Our military people will advise the customs pertaining to -- We actually will deal with the customs and border control, as such. We do not have a military-to-military relationship with the exception of dealing with humanitarian demining and other types of military-to-military cooperation dealing with promotion of democratic institutions, rule of law, and civilian control of the military. [Clarification: Training will be conducted by U.S. civilian personnel from the Department of Defense, Customs Service and FBI.]
So we do have contact in those exceptions that are carved out under Section 907, but those are the only exceptions that we have.
This, as far as the transfer of equipment, it will pertain to border control and their customs people, so that will be where the training and equipment will take place.
Q: Can I go back to national missile defense just for a second?
Q: Has the deployment readiness review begun? Does it have a start date? And have you received the updated national intelligence estimate on the threat?
Cohen: The process has begun. The DRR has not been presented to me yet. I expect it will come to me within the next couple of weeks, then I will make an evaluation of the technical assessment that is done as far as the deployment readiness review. Then present that to the president. So I would expect that within the next several weeks I will be in a position to make a recommendation to the president.
On the other question?
Q: National intelligence estimate?
Cohen: I have seen a draft report. I have not, I don't believe it's been finalized. It has not been sent to the Hill yet, but I expect that will take place soon.
Q: Does it in any way downgrade the threat from North Korea or have a longer timeframe for that threat, given the events of the last year?
Cohen: I'd rather wait until the report is actually finalized and then sent to the president and to Capitol Hill.
Bacon: Are there any questions for the Armenian Minister of Defense?
(No audible response)
Bacon: Thank you very much.