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Secretary Cohen and Gen. Shelton at the Informal Defense Ministers Meeting, Vilamour, Portugal

Presenters: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and General Henry H. Shelton, Chairman of The Joint Chiefs of Staff
September 24, 1998

Secretary Cohen: Good afternoon. I want to send a clear message to President Milosevic: that it is time to stop the killing and the destruction in Kosovo. Patience is running out.

NATO has used air power in the past to use help force an end the fighting in Bosnia and we took an important step in that direction today.

At the meeting there was broad agreement to move quickly to avert a humanitarian disaster in Kosovo. Milosevic has used some 15 thousand army troops, 11 thousand security police to attack villages and destroy homes. More than 250 thousand people have been driven from their homes and have become refugees in their own country. And more than 50 thousand have fled Kosovo to other countries.

Yesterday, the United Nations Security Council demanded that Yugoslavia cease hostilities in Kosovo, withdraw units used to suppress civilians in Kosovo, facilitate the return of refugees in the provision of humanitarian aid and start a dialogue designed to produce a political settlement.

NATO wants to achieve these goals through diplomacy, but today's action makes it clear that NATO is prepared to use force, if necessary. At the meeting we also discussed other subjects, including progress in Bosnia.

NATO lead forces have provided a secure environment that has allowed democracy, reconstruction, and reconciliation to take seed. But everyone recognizes that there' s still a great deal to be done. The pace of civilian rebuilding has to accelerate, later this year, NATO will review the force level of Bosnia. And we hope that the military forces and the missions can shrink as civilian authorities play a larger role.

In a moment I will be willing to answer your questions obviously, but before that I would like to turn to Chairman Shelton who can also discuss items that he discussed in the course of today.

General Shelton: Thank you Secretary Cohen. Good afternoon to each of you.

As Secretary Cohen mention, this is in deed a critical time in NATO. Today's meetings have included an important series of discussions about the future course of the alliance.

Although I say we are talking about the future course of the alliance, in truth much of what we have discussed today are issues that must be addressed right away.

The increasing threat from the proliferation of chemical and biological weapons, the clear and present danger posed by international and increasing trends national, terrorist national organizations, are issues that are upon us. The alliance must adapt to meet these threats.

I can assure you that NATO civilian and military leaders are working very hard to transform the alliance, internally as well as externally to meet the security challenges of the 21st century.

But as we grapple with future shape of the alliance and military structure, the alliance's strategic concept, we must also deal with other challenges that confront us today. Issues like the continuing violence in Kosovo and the increasing likelihood that we will face an enormous humanitarian crisis in that region, as the harsh Balkan winter approaches.

As Secretary Cohen and I have said many times before, we all hope to see a diplomatic solution to the political differences in the region. But as we all know, hope is not a method.

So let me assure you that NATO has military plans to deal with the situation in Kosovo, should our diplomatic efforts fail to produce us a solution.

We have developed military options that could be executed as part of the overall effort to convince all parties that the violence in Kosovo must stop; that serious negotiations to resolve the differences must begin; and that the quarter of a million refugees in the region must be allowed to return to their homes before they face starvation, disease, and exposure in the coming months.

Consideration of the use of military force is never taken lightly, for those of us in uniform understand both the capabilities and the consequences of military action. All parties must act in good faith to resolve a situation before the crisis deepens and spreads.

The unanimous vote of the UN Security Council and the decision by the North Atlantic Council to begin formal force generation measures, for the military options in Kosovo, are clear signs that NATO is prepared to take necessary measures to prevent a humanitarian disaster in Kosovo, in the months ahead.

Q: If diplomatic efforts fail, are you convinced that NATO can bomb Slobodan Milosevic into submission?

A: (Cohen): Let me answer that question first Jamie. We hope that diplomacy is going to be successful. The action taken by the United Nations Security Council yesterday was to issue a set of demands. Those demands correspond very closely to what the NATO military authorities also are seeking to achieve; namely a cessation of the hostilities, withdrawal of the armed forces, the police forces, allowing humanitarian groups, NGOs to have access to those who've been displaced and the resettlement of the refugees and a commitment to sit down and negotiate seriously a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Kosovo. So we share the same goals. Time will tell and it's a very short period of time as to whether that diplomacy will be successful or not. In the event that it fails, what we have indicated today is that NATO stands ready from its military preparations to conduct military operations that would indeed have an impact upon Mr. Milosevic's ability to wage war against either the members of the UCK or certainly against innocent civilians, so we have that capacity and should it become necessary to exercise it, it was clear to me today from the commitments and statements made by individual members that that is what would take place.

Q: Will you be moving any additional military assets into the region? Planes, aircraft carriers, anything like that?

A: (Shelton): I think discussing the military planning and the options that are available at this point Jamie would be premature. Suffice it to say that the necessary resources to carry out any one of several options that the North Atlantic Council has been looking at, the Military Committee has been working on would be made available to the Commander.

Q: Mr. Cohen some of the people at the conference have spoken about (inaudible) seven days, the end of the month, ten days before you review the progress (inaudible) it that a realistic time frame?

A: (Cohen): I think what is required is a very short time frame. There should be an opportunity for Mr. Milosevic to respond to the Security Council's set of demands but that should not be an indefinite period of time and I would say that time is of the essence in this particular case and it should be within a reasonably short period of time. No one has fixed a date certain but surely time is of the essence given the circumstances, the people who are up in the hills.

Q: Mr. Secretary was there talk about an ultimatum to put to Milosevic?

A: (Cohen): There was some discussion concerning ultimatums. As I indicated, the Security Council has issued a set of demands and perhaps at some future time within a reasonably short period of time there will be an ultimatum issued. But at this point no such ultimatum was issued today.

Q: Mr. Secretary, (inaudible) that NATO would be unable or unwilling to do the job in Kosovo. (inaudible) the United States would do (inaudible) ?

A: (Cohen): The United States is not prepared to act unilaterally. The United States believes that this is an issue for NATO to act as an Alliance and I believe that the incredibility of NATO really is on the line that one can not continue to prepare for possible military action or indeed threaten military action unless one is prepared to carry it out. In this particular case there was a very strong consensus that we should proceed with the detail planning and complete that planning for military action subject only to seeking a political solution, a diplomatic solution. So I think it will be a NATO action if action is required.

Q: Will the absence of an explicit UN mandate stand in the way of a use of force?

A: (Cohen): As you know I believe -- the United States believes that no authority from the Security Council is necessary that this would fall under Article 51 of the UN Charter. This would be an act consistent with defending the interest of NATO itself in terms of the potentiality of this to spread and to undermine and destabilize a number of countries throughout the region and so we believe that no mandate is required from the Security Council. It would be helpful in our judgement but not mandatory. To the extent that others feel that there must be some Security Council action we believe that the Security Council action yesterday, the Chapter Seven Resolution -- Article Seven Resolution is more than sufficient authority for NATO to take action. That is a belief that we hold, whether other members share that at this point has not been resolved. But I think more and more members understand that this cannot be delayed too much in the future and frankly the issue of whether or not the Security Council should have a veto over action which is important to NATO security I think is one that we ought not to subordinate NATO's ability to act under these circumstances.

Q: Would a NATO consensus on that be required?

A: (Cohen): If NATO is to act we act by consensus. We believe that the action taken yesterday by the Security Council gives enough authority to those who feel that authority is required from the Security Council itself to take action.

Q: General Shelton I apologize, earlier I didn't give you a chance to respond to my earlier question so let me just ask you again do you think that NATO air strikes can bomb Slobodan Milosevic into submission?

A: (Shelton): I believe that we have a wide range of options that are available to us, the end of which will be that Milosevic will comply with the demands made of him by NATO and certainly we would start with the lighter of those options and give him a chance to respond, but it might not end with the light option.

Q: In terms of targets, without getting into specific target lists, are you thinking only of military targets in Kosovo? Would economic targets in Yugoslavia be on the table? Is Belgrade on the table?

A: (Cohen): Discussion of targets is not on the table.

A: (Shelton): As I indicated earlier, we don't discuss the military planning aspects of a potential operation.

Q: Mr. Cohen don't you feel a little bit uneasy that the United States is taking a tougher stand on the Kosovo crisis than its European partners?

A: (Cohen): I'm sorry what separate stance are you talking about?

Q: Tougher stance as regards to the legitimacy of military action... the United States, the opposition, is that a separate Council resolution is not necessary but...

A: (Cohen): I don't feel uncomfortable at all. I think what would be uncomfortable would be for the other NATO members to find that a Security Council Resolution was vetoed by one member or another preventing action from being taken and thereby stranding some 250,000 people out of their homes, 50,000 of whom run the risk of either freezing to death or starving to death. I think that that's what will be uncomfortable for others to answer for.

Q: Will NATO forces or US forces be involved in any kind of humanitarian assistance in terms of airlifting food or supplies?

A: (Cohen): I would anticipate if Mr. Milosevic were to comply with the demands of the Security Council that many countries -- all countries would try to facilitate the provision of humanitarian assistance but we would rely primarily upon the NGOs to deliver that humanitarian aid.

Press: Thank you very much.

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