Secretary Cohen: Good afternoon. It's always a pleasure for me to welcome my good friend George Robertson to the Pentagon.
Last week Prime Minister Blair wrote an OpEd piece in the New York Times about Europe's role in foreign policy, and he noted that in the 1970s, Henry Kissinger asked whom he should call in Europe should a foreign policy crisis arise. Well, when I need advice or counsel or support, one of the first people I call is George Robertson.
The resolve of the United States and the United Kingdom to use force in Iraq caused Saddam to back down and to capitulate. Our forces in the Gulf remain poised, should Saddam fail to live up to his word. Our governments are prepared to work together to bring about democratic change to Iraq because we believe that new leadership will be the best way to end the suffering of the Iraqi people.
During our meetings this afternoon we covered a number of subjects. We reviewed the Norfolk program for enhancing NATO's capabilities; we reiterated our commitment to NATO enlargement but stressed that new members must meet the very high standards that we expect of all; we discussed the current situation in Bosnia and Kosovo where we're working for a peaceful resolution; and George, I assume this sounds vaguely familiar to you, what we discussed a few moments ago.
I'll now yield to George Robertson to deliver a few remarks.
Secretary Robertson: Just to give you a few introductory remarks, to those I've not met last night or this morning, I'll say it again.
Last weekend, not for the first time, Britain and America stood together in common cause. The result was the significant success for international law and order; a humiliation for Saddam. Not a shot was fired, and yet he was forced to climb down with no conditions, with no negotiations, and therefore, the process of examination of his methods of threatening his neighbors goes on as a result of the fact that we two countries stood together and diplomacy was backed up by the significant threat of force.
I think we achieved two other things in terms of the argument over Iraq. One is that we have dealt with this argument that has been put forward by some in the world that Saddam wanted to be hit; that in some ways he welcomed force being used against him because it would have united his people against the international community and the UN, or that it would have united the Arab people. That argument has now conclusively been seen off.
It has also seen off the argument that Saddam would not crumple under pressure. That this time he was willing to take the action that might be taken against his military capability for some perverse way. This was what he wanted at this time. But we now know that yet again, when significant force is put in place and when we mean to use it, then he will fold. He capitulated and was humiliated as a consequence of it.
We have said as a country that we're ready and willing and we're able, along with the United States, to take action if he fails to cooperate with the UNSCOM inspectorate and their bid to get compliance with the UN Security Council resolutions, and I'm happy to repeat that here in Washington today.
Saddam Hussein seems to think that he can see off the international community, that he can see off the challenge to him by the United Nations and international law; the resolution and the commitment shown last weekend shows that he is wrong in that respect. If necessary, we're here for the long haul, but he now knows that significant force will be used against him if he again tries to block cooperation with the UNSCOM inspectors.
Q: Minister Robertson, might I ask, what is the status now of British efforts, including financial, to aid the Iraqi opposition, and will London and Washington coordinate their efforts...
Secretary Robertson: Of course we will cooperate, as we cooperate in most other things here, as well. There is an external opposition to Saddam and over the years we've talked to them and we will obviously be trying to encourage them to get together so that they speak with a united voice.
But there is within Iraq also opposition to Saddam. We know that. It is common sense that that opposition exists. It cannot be visible because it or the people representing it would be executed in a minute. But the vast majority of people in Iraq must know that the problems that they face in their daily life today is as a result of Saddam's policies. I am sure the vast majority of them, if they ever got the opportunity of an election in that country, would remove him. But it may be there are other methods by which people in Iraq will do that.
Q: Do you believe as some members of the U.S. Congress apparently do, that providing money and perhaps military aid to diverse Iraqi opposition will help?
Secretary Robertson: The message is that Saddam is the person who has brought about the problems that the Iraqi people face today. The sanctions that remain in place are there because he refuses to comply with the ceasefire resolution. The miseries that he has created in certain areas such as the lack of food or the lack of medicine has not been caused by the international community or the UN, but by Saddam directly refusing to take the food and the medicines that he is perfectly entitled to import out with the sanctions regime. So that is a message that we will get over in whatever way we can. And by asking or exhausting the opposition, the external opposition to get together and to speak with one united voice is one way in which we'll get that message through.
Q: Mr. Cohen, if I could speak to the impending crisis with North Korea over their underground facility, as they told Mr. Kartman yesterday would not be open for inspection. I would like your reaction to that.
And also to the change of the new war plan that has been revealed for Korea. Could you speak to that? Are you in favor of a plan that basically will check North Korea's military?
Secretary Cohen: First, with respect to Mr. Kartman, I believe he stated that he did not expect to resolve this issue during the first meeting he had with the North Koreans. But I might add that this is not something that can go on indefinitely. This is a subject matter which needs to be addressed.
As I've said before, we're concerned about reports that we've had about the developments in North Korea as to whether they are complying with the agreed framework. We are going to need inspection of the site or sites that might be involved. And absent a compliance or an agreement to do that, then it will call very much into question the agreed framework itself. So we are going to continue to press that issue and it would be my hope and expectation that the North Koreans would see the wisdom of agreeing to comply with our own needs.
With respect to a war plan, I really can't talk about war plans with respect to North Korea, only to say that it would be a grave mistake for the North Koreans to attack the South.
Q: Mr. Secretary, there have been reports on North Korea that the United States and South Korea have found indications of plutonium in the soil, in the water around some of the suspected sites.
Number one, is that true? And number two, if you choose not to address that issue what would that indicate if it were true?
Secretary Cohen: I cannot address the issue since it's an intelligence matter, but again it raises concerns. Any time we have concerns about compliance with the agreed framework then it's a very serious matter. So we will continue to press for complete openness on the part of the North Koreans pertaining to their course of conduct dealing with the agreed framework, but I can't comment on what the reports have been in the press.
Q: Mr. Secretary, has it been ruled out that a security leak tipped off Saddam Hussein to President Clinton's decision to launch airstrikes? Or is that possibility under investigation?
Secretary Cohen: I really am not aware of any information at this point that would indicate he had been tipped off. There were a number of signals, certainly, that he could read as well as anyone else. It became clear to him that we were, number one, serious. You may recall that I said on a number of occasions that Saddam Hussein apparently feels that the threat is not serious and if it should come it would not come in any substantial numbers that he would have to be concerned about. That, as George Robertson has just pointed out, was perhaps a myth on his part that has since been rebutted or seen off, as we've heard today.
But as far as we are concerned, there were a number of signals that were sent. UNSCOM was pulled out. That certainly was an indication that we were serious about it. Some of the UN people started to come out. There were a number of reports, I think on the part of some networks of certain targets that were being selected. That was not necessarily accurate information, to say the least, but nonetheless, that was being run on international networks. That certainly sent a signal to Saddam. And I believe that there were other factors involved.
The GCC resolution supported by Syria and also by Egypt was another indication that he was completely isolated. He had the Security Council resolution, he had very strong signals coming from his traditional supporters, as such. The French, the Russians, the Chinese had expressed their frustration in dealing with him. Support for the Security Council resolution, then the GCC statement out of Egypt and Syria, all of that combined with pulling the UNSCOM inspectors out, I think, contributed to his awareness that he was alone, that he was about to face a fairly significant military operation, and that he was not nearly as confident as he thought before that it was something he could easily survive. So I think the combination of factors persuaded him to back down, to capitulate, and basically agree to that which he'd been under obligation to do.
Q: No investigation of a possible security breach?
Secretary Cohen: I'm not aware that there's been any investigation of one at this time. I have not seen the need for it.
Q: I have a non-crisis question. This involves the consolidation of the U.S. defense industry with the European defense industry.
Mr. Cohen, what is your current thinking on encouraging those types of transatlantic merger either at the prime contractor or at the division level?
And I'd also like to get the Secretary's reaction also. There's been movement lately...
Secretary Cohen: It's something that we will discuss in the future -- we touched upon the subject matter during our luncheon today -- to examine ways in which U.S. companies and European companies could either merge or consolidate. Obviously there are security issues involved in that, and depending upon which group of companies or which country one is dealing with, that would make something of a difference, to be sure.
But it's something that is taking place. You're seeing more and more consolidation taking place in Europe. You have seen consolidation take place here. Now there is increasing talk about transatlantic consolidations or mergers and we'll have to look at it in the context of what the security implications are for maintaining that information between companies.
Q: Is there a policy statement coming out over the next five or six months on the subject?
Secretary Cohen: I am working on an article, as we speak.
Secretary Robertson: I am very strongly supportive of what Bill Cohen is saying.
The Europeans are getting together because we see the necessity for ending duplication, for rationalizing the defense industry which, at the present moment, is highly fragmented and which dissipates a lot of energy and resources inside Europe. Therefore the move to get a way of rationalization is something we are very strongly behind.
But there are very strong transatlantic links between British and American companies. We have no intention of undermining that. Each potential merger is looked at on its merits and we bear in mind the security considerations that Bill Cohen talks about.
But in the global marketplace for defense equipment we want to make sure that there is a maximum choice so that those who need good defense equipment in a world that is increasingly dangerous get it and get it at a price that is affordable to the taxpayers.
We've got a very good record in our country of buying American where we believe it is right; buying British where it makes sense; buying European where that is also in the interest of our defense effort. That is not something that is going to end. But choice in the global marketplace is something that works to the benefit of all of us.
Q: In terms of your Year 2000 efforts, are you sharing information between both countries on that? What is the status of the MOD's Y2K efforts and are you sharing solutions between the Pentagon and between MOD?
Secretary Robertson: Absolutely, and not only with the Pentagon, with a lot of other allies as well, and indeed with those who would be called partners rather than allies. This is a problem that we all face, that is got to get the appropriate urgency. We have made a big investment in our department, some 200 million pounds invested in tackling the problems that might arise, and we consider it to be one of the key issues.
I have it permanently on the agenda of each Defense Council meeting, so seriously do we take it. We intend to make sure, whether through cooperation with our allies and warning those who don't seem to think at the moment that it's a sufficient problem, that they'd better be aware to it. It's very, very high up in our...
Q: Are you confident that MOD will have... Are there going to be some glitches, do you expect, or...
Secretary Robertson: We're working hard on it at the present moment, and I'm confident that by prioritizing the key areas that we will be able to deal with the outstanding problems. It will still be a big problem; it's still going to be a herculean task to get every system compliant, but we're very conscious of just how important that is and we're putting the resources and the drive and the energy into it, and making sure that we share experience and, indeed, license with close allies like the Americans.
Secretary Cohen: This is a subject matter that's on the NATO Ministerial [agenda]at virtually every meeting.
Press: Thank you.