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Media Availability with Secretary Cohen and President Constantinescu of Romania

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
July 17, 1998 10:30 AM EDT

Secretary Cohen: Let me take this occasion to welcome President Constantinescu. This is his first visit to the United States as President of Romania and his first visit to the Pentagon.

I am also pleased the Defense Minister Babiuc and Foreign Minister Plesa were able to join him.

We have just completed a very good discussion this morning. As President Clinton said yesterday, Romania is making impressive progress in its efforts to rebuild its economy and its military. This progress is going to advance Romania's candidacy for NATO membership.

As part of the United States/Rumanian strategic partnership, we're working together to help Romania continue its military reform efforts. We agree that Romania needs to develop a smaller, well trained military able to operate better with NATO forces.

Romania has helped to maintain stability in Europe. Last year it sent troops to Albania; its forces are in SFOR in Bosnia today. They're also willing to commit to UN forces in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Romania is also preparing to contribute to the multinational peace force, Southeastern Europe.

The foundation of the strategic partnership that President Clinton announced in Romania last year obviously is our shared commitment to work together for peace and prosperity in Europe

Let me say I was most impressed with the President. He engaged in a very direct, open, candid discussion of his country's hopes and aspirations and the enormous challenge that he faces and the enormous success that he is currently enjoying, so it was a very good meeting and one that was very impressive.

President Constantinescu: Ladies and gentlemen, I very much appreciated the talks we have just had here at the Pentagon. They were very pragmatic and open.

We talked about a broad array of issues going from the political position, bilateral relations, the situation in the region, and also military relations. Romania presented its capacity as a pillar of stability in the region and it appreciated the position that whenever the hot situations, as in the case now in Kosovo, efforts must be made for a political settlement.

Romania has reaffirmed the fact that it is acting as if it were already a NATO member. It has undertaken responsibilities and obligations in this sense. We underline the importance of economic reform of a nature to support these efforts.

The United States expressed its support in the process of reforming the Rumanian armed forces with special emphasis on the NCOs and interoperability. We have a special appreciation for future cooperation with the United States within UNPREDEP in Macedonia.

We thank the United States for the decision to set up in Romania the Regional Center for the Management of Military Resources and their willingness to help contribute to this center.

We also feel that the strategic partnership with the United States is a very good road towards preparing Romania for integration into Euro-Atlantic structures, and within this military and strategic cooperation plays a particular role.

Secretary Cohen: We're open for your questions.

Q: Mr. Secretary, a few weeks ago you were quoted saying that the United States, namely the U.S. Congress, would not be eager to rush a second wave of NATO expansion. Did you mean not in the Summit in 1999, and is it the general feeling of the Administration?

Secretary Cohen: As I indicated, I thought that some time should be allowed to allow for the full integration of the new members to at least be formally accommodated, as such. I believe that there will have to be some time allowed to accommodate that. But as I've also indicated before, I believe that Romania remains a very strong candidate for future accession. The door to NATO membership remains open. We have insisted in the past and will in the future that those countries -- Romania and others included -- will have to make their reforms in their economic systems and also in their military in order to quality. But we believe that Romania remains a very strong candidate.

Q: ...in mind when you say...

Secretary Cohen: The President and I discussed this, and as he indicated, there is no specific time line, no timeframe that Romania is going to make the reforms necessary. It is going to act as if it is already a member of NATO to try to conform its military practices, its capabilities to make them consistent and interoperable with NATO forces. I think that's a very positive not only attitude, but a very positive development.

So there's no specific timeframe. I think what's important is the reforms take place; that the Rumanian people understand the door is open and that we believe they are a very strong candidate for membership.

Q: The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that the Clinton Administration is seeking from Congress broad new authority to plan and possibly mount covert operations against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Have you had any discussions with Congress about any sort of strategy -- either covert or overt -- to oust the Iraqi President?

Secretary Cohen: I wouldn't comment on any report pertaining to intelligence matters.

Q: Did you meet with Secretary Solana yesterday?

Secretary Cohen: I did.

Q: Did you talk about this issue, NATO enlargement?

Secretary Cohen: Yes. We did discuss it and we have had similar discussions in the past and talked about keeping an open door, yes.

Q: ...the Lockheed Martin merger failure?

Secretary Cohen: I think the statement was very adequately expressed by Mr. Vance Coffman today in the press. We have worked very closely trying to find if there were ways in which the United States, the Department of Defense, and the Justice Department and Lockheed Martin could resolve some of the issues involved with this proposed merger. We explored this in good faith.

I want to compliment Mr. Coffman and others who were involved in discussing ways in which we might try to reconcile the differences that exist between the Department and the Justice Department and Lockheed Martin. We were unable to do so, and as a result of that Lockheed Martin made a determination that it simply did not want to proceed with the litigation.

I think the statement by Lockheed Martin speaks for itself.

Q: Does this signal the end of the mega merger push for the defense industry?

Secretary Cohen: As we've indicated, we intend to support future mergers and consolidations, certainly at the second and third tier levels, and we'll evaluate any proposed merger in the future. The policy has not changed as far as encouraging consolidations, but they have to be consolidations that are consistent also with maintaining the strong belief that we have that we must maintain competition. This particular proposed merger, in our judgment, would have contravened that insistence upon having strong competitive capabilities throughout the defense industry.

Q: Mr. President, have you talked about (inaudible).

President Constantinescu: Yes, we did. As for the contract with Bell Helicopter we said very clearly that there were no pressures, political or of another nature, coming from the United States or any other party. And one more thing that we said very clearly, the reasoning for concluding the contract is related not only of a military nature but what it seeks to promote, this concept of a new society based on new technology which we want to build in Romania. The form of the contract will mean economically at the horizontal level, spare parts will be produced in Romania, and this will raise the level of technology of the Rumanian industry as a whole.