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Secretary Cohen's Press Briefing Enroute to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., June 16, 1998

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
June 16, 1998

Q: (Inaudible)

A: Yeah, sure. Unclear what has happened in Moscow. I am told the meetings went well. I don't have information to confirm that Milosevic is going back to Belgrade with any commitment to go to the bargaining tables. And so, there's speculation, but I don't have any means of confirming it yet. But I think obviously, a message -- strike that word obviously. I keep saying "obviously" so many times, it's like "frankly".

It was clear to me from Sergeyev's comments that President Yeltsin was going to deliver a very strong message to Milosevic. I assume that he has done so in spite of some of the comments coming out of Minister Sergeyev. I assume that that went forward as planned. Sergeyev indicated to all of us that it was going to be a very straightforward and strong message to try to resolve the situation. Beyond that, I guess we'll have to hear from General Shelton how it went. I have not talked to him by phone and I'm going to try to do so when I get back to Washington.

Overall, I thought the trip was a success. There was a strong expression of unanimity as far as dealing with Kosovo immediately, not allowing it to languish and engage in endless debate. I was surprised at the strength of the convictions that were expressed by all of the members who were there, including all of the EAPC members. This was an extraordinary sight to see some 43 or 44 countries sitting down at a luncheon table with Minister Sergeyev sitting there and listening to their comments, expressing support for what NATO had expressed.

By the way, as far as I can recall, I believe that a press release was put out on Saturday by NATO -- NATO headquarters -- that indicated that the exercises would start on Monday. So there was a press -- they put out at that time. It was a bit hard to understand why there was any misunderstanding on the part of --

Q: (Inaudible)

A: All I know is it was very clear from all the statements that were made by individual members, there was a sense of urgency. There were several press conferences. Solana, Secretary General Solana had two. I had two. I believe Minister Ruehe had at least one. Robertson. It was very clear you all were asking us is it going to be Saturday, is it going to be Sunday, is it going to be Monday. And we indicated as soon as it could be put together. I think at the last session I indicated it was probably closer to Monday rather than Sunday.

Q: Sunday or Monday. Yeah.

A: So there was every opportunity for the Russians to understand it was going to take place very, very soon. So, it may be that he left early. It may be that he was not well served by those who were following the situation there. But sitting in that room during the PJC meeting, it was very clear from all of the comments that there was a conviction on the part of the NATO members that this had to stop and that they were supporting the --

Q: (Inaudible) from General Short or anything in terms of preparations for a potential second round of exercises or a live fire?

A: I have not. No. I suspect that we'll know more about that the next day or so in terms of any kind of preparations like that.

Q: Is that a possibility though?

A: I think a lot will depend upon what the reaction is from the meeting that Milosevic had with President Yeltsin. I think if there is progress there, there's an indication of a willingness to sit down and try to resolve this situation. I think that would probably forestall a need to consider upgrading any air exercises.

Q: Have you seen any changes on the ground at Kosovo that would encourage you to think that maybe the Serbians are easing up?

A: Not at this point. Since we have left Poland, I have not heard of any information that would indicate that.

Q: How did the exercise go? Did everybody get back okay, any problems?

A: No problems. Everything went very well. No problems at all from what I've been told. Good exercise.

Q: What do you see as being the next step here?

A: I think the next step is going to be, I think, NATO is going to have to resolve the issue in terms of the sound legal framework. I think this is something there was difference of opinions about. They wanted a legal framework, but looking to different sources for it. Again, OSCE being one source, U.N. Security Counsel being the one that many pointed to...

Q: (Inaudible)

A: ...OSCE. And the United States, and one or two others, perhaps being sympathetic to their position that it is unnecessary for us, not required for us to turn to the Security Counsel. Otherwise, we may end up providing Russia with more than a voice and something of a veto, contrary to what we said was going to take place as far as NATO's deliberations. And I think we're going to have to go through and re-examine exactly what Article 4 and Article 5 -- how they've evolved and what they mean in the present context.

Q: With all this debate that will be coming up on legal basis and that sort of thing, that you'll lose some of the momentum that you gained in putting pressure on Milosevic?

A: I don't think so. If there is a continuation of the killing, I think that there will be a very strong tendency to reach a consensus quickly rather than engaging in endless debate. I've raised some of this issue during my own presentation at the final meeting with the PJC in talking about that we should not end up in dangling conversations, quoting from Paul Simon's old song about dangling conversations, that there had to be a consensus reached and action to match the words. It's not enough to have strong rhetoric unless it's measured up and matched with strong action. And obviously, it has to be, I use that word again, it has to be multi-lateral, multinational. This is not the question of the United States acting alone.

But I am satisfied that it was a strong enough opinion, they saw what took place in Bosnia. They recognized that lengthy delay resulted in needless slaughter and killing. They were very committed not to allow that to take place again. So I think there will be, if the killing continues, the conflicts continue, and the refugees continue to spill out and over borders, I think that there will be a momentum for more immediate action. So, I think it can be a consolidating event.

Q: Is there a sense that this isn't just a redo of Bosnia? That Kosovo is a more critical situation than Bosnia even ever was?

A: There is that perception, I think, expressed on the part of a number of people. The sense of urgency about it, I think, reflected the fear that this is going to spread much faster, much further than Bosnia itself, and therefore, required more immediate attention and action. I think that you will see all of the nations really consolidate around an opinion and a course of action in the near future. And again, this is all predicated upon the fact that if Milosevic responds positively, then it will be unnecessary. But in the event that he doesn't, then I think you'll see a greater momentum exercised in this particular case.

Q: If the bloodshed continues, do you think that you can count on the support of Congress for military action?

A: Well, we will have to go to Congress. This is one of the other requirements. It's one thing for us to talk about NATO preparing for air exercises or looking at military options. But before we do any of that, we have to have Congress brought into the process. I assume all the other parliaments will have to be brought in as well. But you also have some key leaders who are expressing strong opinions. Senator Lott, Senator McCain, Senator Hagel, in the Senate. I have not talked with Speaker Gingrich at this moment, but I assume that there's strong feeling there as well. But I think as long as they're brought in the beginning of the process and as long as we understand what the consequences of taking action or the failure to take action are, then I think it can be a positive reaction on the part of Congress.

Q: Do any NATO nations share the U.S. view of the need or lack of need for U.N. approval?

A: I'm not sure which countries specifically approve of or support the U.S. position on this. I think positions will change depending upon the circumstances. If they see that this starts to get bottled up in there, and I would think if Russia or anyone else were to seek to veto it, it would be contrary to a growing world opinion about the need to take action. So I think that any country that did that would find itself quickly isolated. And if the killing should continue in the face of a veto, I think that there would be strong pressure to counteract that on the part of NATO members and others.

I think there has to be an evolution of thinking here in terms of exactly what the framework should be, whether or not NATO should be required in each and every case when something that effects its important interests and its stability in a very direct way, should be required to get Security Counsel mandate. Again, helpful, desirable, but if you make it an absolute necessity, then you run the risk that there will always be a veto or the potential for a veto, and therefore, you'll not have action and it will start to come -- the solidarity of opinion will start to fragment at that point. Then you leave individual countries really looking for some solutions which need a multinational approach.

Q: (Inaudible) basic, fundamental issue which NATO is going to have to --

A: I think that this kind of -- this is precisely the kind of situation which it's on the borders of the NATO countries and it has the potential to spill over and involve NATO members directly. I think this is something that we have to face and NATO will have to face in the coming years. I think this will present an opportunity to resolve that.

Q: (Inaudible)

A: It's hard to get NATO to act. I mean, we want it to be hard for NATO to act. There has to be a consensus and it takes time to develop that consensus. And this is not something where NATO is looking to act in remote areas of the world. This is something that really is very contiguous to NATO territory and could involve several NATO members very directly. So, I think this presents a case study on what issues have to be raised and resolved. And I would say that this should not take a long time because if there's a cessation of hostilities, then it becomes less important to resolve it quickly and you have more time to really string out the analysis. But if it doesn't stop, then obviously, you'll have to concentrate that effort much more quickly. And it will force it to the surface that much sooner. And hopefully, by examining it and the circumstances, it will help to reach a consensus on what needs to be done. I think for the time being, it's probably fair to say that the majority of the NATO members would favor going to the Security Counsel. And some prefer -- would say OSCE is enough. The United States, I believe, we might be able to get several others to agree that when --

Q: (Inaudible) slightly more sympathetic towards your position.

A: There were some views expressed, at least in private, that if a country uses artillery and aircraft to, quote, "control a civil disturbance", that is inconsistent with every international norm and requires a different response. So, I mean, those types of things have been floated. They haven't really been examined yet, so it's going to take some debate, deliberations, to say what do we do in a circumstance like this when you've got the shelling of a village and is this something that you can claim to be riot control or insurgency, counter insurgency, etc., etc. I think these are issues which are going to be surfaced fairly, fairly soon.

Q: (Inaudible) Eisenhower in the Med yet?

A: I don't know.

Q: Any other assets moving into the region? Any changes?

A: The WASP is on its way, but that's all.

Q: The other allies who participated in the air exercise, they will also be keeping their aircraft in Aviano for the time being?

A: I don't know. I don't have an answer for that. I'm not sure if that's the case. It shows how quickly they can be consolidated there. But I don't think there's any commitment to keep them there at this point.

Q: (Inaudible)

A: In addition to Kosovo, we did have great trip beyond that.

Q: Is there any consensus on what might work militarily? I mean, we've been talking about what the political possibilities are, but is there any consensus on the nuts and bolts of military action, what would be persuasive, what wouldn't be?

A: Look at those options and then say, before you take any action, you have to look three and four and five steps in terms of counter action, and then the third step and the fourth step. That has to be thought through very carefully. We want it to begin with. We will demand that, as far as the military analysis is concerned, you never take step one without having a pretty good idea where you're going to go with the following sequential steps. And so, that will be fundamental to a military analysis. Also for a political one. This would be something that members of Congress obviously would be interested in. Again, obviously.

Q: Is there any consensus or will you think there will be a consensus about starting small and becoming gradually more painful for Mr. Milosevic or simply striking very hard at the beginning? Is that debate under way?

A: I assume that some people are thinking about it. A lot will depend upon the NATO consensus as such. I think individual members might have a different view point. I think many also want to make sure that Russia is, in fact, engaged here. And I must tell you from my conversations with Sergeyev, he understood exactly the need to come to grips with this sooner rather than later. I think he was very clear that he saw the message that was coming from all of the NATO members and it was an opportunity for Russia to play a major role in this controversy. But we're hoping that they will seize upon that and bring the leverage that needs to be brought.

Q: Thank you very much.