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Press Conference with Secretary Cohen following Peru/Ecuador Guarantor Meeting

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
December 01, 1998

(The below press conference follows the Peru/Ecuador Guarantor Meeting in Cartagena, Colombia.)

Let me begin by saying one of the goals of the Defense Ministerial of the Americas process is to promote the peaceful resolution of disputes. Today we celebrated the triumph of cooperation over conflict. In October, Peru and Ecuador signed an agreement to settle a border dispute that has provoked four wars over the past fifty-five years. But the presidents and the people of Peru and Ecuador turned away from a bleak past to seize a bright future, and this took courage and took trust. Argentina, Brazil, Chile and the Unites States, the four Rio protocol guarantor nations, provided observers to monitor a cease fire and the mutual withdrawal of forces by Peru and Ecuador, and the monitors helped to give Peru and Ecuador the confidence to end this conflict. The peace agreement will enable Peru and Ecuador to focus on pressing issues, such as the removal of the estimated 10,000 land mines in the border area and economic development. The United States stands ready to lead a demining assessment team to the area to study the dimensions of the problem and to recommend appropriate forms of assistance. The defense ministers of Peru and Ecuador and the four Rio guarantors just completed a meeting to review what we learned from the resolution of this dispute. There were several lessons that relate directly to the third DMA. First, the cooperation among military forces can give countries the confidence that the need to turn from war to peace. Second, military cooperation enables countries to deal with a variety of transnational threats ranging from narco-trafficking to terrorism to disaster relief. One example, of course, is the most recent response to the devastation that Hurricane Mitch inflicted on central America. To increase cooperation, central American countries formed the conference of central American armies last year and in June they conducted a joint natural disaster response exercise that helped the military accelerate and speed the aid when Mitch struck.

The third lesson is that sharing information among militaries builds trust and reduces misunderstanding and confusion, and we call this openness transparency. At this DMA, the Unites States, Chile and Canada announced an initiative to help defense ministries in the hemisphere write what we call white papers that describe their force structures and their future plans. These documents can help foster understanding and cooperation among the militaries. In Washington we launched the center for hemispheric studies. This center brings together civilian and military leaders from various countries to learn from and about each other, and also help to increase this level of understanding. When militaries are well trained, well equipped and committed to democracy and to civilian control they become the logical first force to respond to disasters and other challenges, providing essential support while civilian forces mobilize.

This has been a very successful Defense Ministerial because it has, in fact, highlighted the benefits of cooperation and partnership. And when we can talk about problems as we have been doing I am convinced that we can resolve them. This concludes perhaps the longest opening statement I have made to a press conference, and the second today without a tie.

Q: Mr. Secretary, two quick questions if that's legal.

A: Well, it counts against the four.

Q: You partially answered my first and that is whether you have or plan to sign any specific agreements or have any other proposals visiting other countries in the region other than Colombia. My second question was on the Peru-Ecuador peace settlement, any idea or any discussions as to when the monitors would be able to leave or did that not come up?

A: On the second question, we did agree that we should move as quickly as possible to keep the momentum going on the resolution that has been achieved between Peru and Ecuador and have agreed that there should be a demarcation plan presented within the next two months, and as that plan is being drafted that will allow the U.S. assessment team to come and make an assessment of what needs to be done as far as the demining effort and those areas around the areas that are demarked or the demarcation lines are drawn. We expect that will take place within the next two months, so that is I think considerable progress that will be made.

Secondly, with respect to other documents being signed, we don't anticipate signing any other documents. This meeting today between Peru and Ecuador and the four guarantors is another aspect of the Defense Ministerial and how much progress has come about since we instituted the ministerial process. We also are dealing of course with the issue in central America. As soon as this conference is over, I'll be meeting with representatives from the central American countries talking about ways in which we have contributed to their tremendous tragedy and ways in which we can continue to help. So we'll have today and then tomorrow various bilateral meetings with many of the countries. I must say I have to return to Washington a bit earlier than planned, but we still will have all of the bilateral meetings compressed in tomorrow morning's meetings.

Q: I don't want to ask a question related to Ecuador-Peru. I have a different question and that is, if no agreement is reached with Panama concerning the establishment of a counter-narcotics center there, what other countries are being considered, what would the cost of establishing such a center involve, and when would it be operational?

A: We would be hopeful that we could locate such a center in other areas. We are looking at a wide variety of countries where such a center could be located. We have not settled upon any country yet. We have not had really intensive discussions with any country at this point. We think such a center is important and since it will not be located in Panama we will look for other countries in the region, but we have not really made much progress to date in terms of any decision making at this point. It would be very difficult for me to give any kind of assessment of what the costs would be until it's determined where its location will be, depending upon what infrastructure is available, what would need to be done, so it's almost impossible to estimate what the costs will be at this point until we decide where it can be located.

(Note: Secretary Cohen added the following after further clarification of the question)

The question was a multi-national narcotics center and that is not something that the United States had proposed. In fact what we are looking for are forward operating locations so that our aircraft monitors can continue to be of assistance in surveiling the territory to prevent the transfer of narcotics. It was Panama, I believe, who suggested the multi-national narcotics center, and since it will not be located there, our interest is in looking for forward operating locations, and we are in the process of discussing this issue with a variety, a number of countries who are here, to see whether or not number one it is desirable or feasible, what the cost would be, the issue of cost was raised before, what would be involved as far as infrastructure is concerned, so all of that is now being examined as far as forward operating locations, but not the multi-national center that was raised before.

Q: You've answered part of my question, sir, on Peru-Ecuador, - it's on the demining. Since it is a humanitarian action, will it involve only military personnel from the guarantor countries or will the OAS for example or the red cross or another organization be involved?

A: Usually it's done under the umbrella of the OAS. The Unites States and others would try to help train personnel who would then go in and conduct the demining. So we help to train people to conduct the demining but it's done under the umbrella of the OAS.

Q: Given that Argentina was a guarantor nation, is there anything being said in the Unites States about argentine weapons that were sold to Ecuador. There is a trial about to begin or being heard in Argentina at this point. Has that affected U.S.-Argentine relations?

A: No, not at all. As a matter of fact, we have very good relations with Argentina. We have a strong bilateral friendship and so there's been no impact upon us-argentine relations. Can I also say one of the great benefits of having these kinds of ministerials is that ministers and military personnel get to know each other on a very close, personal basis. There are always bound to be some difficulties in relations no matter how close either people are, friends are, or nations are. There are bound to be disputes form time to time over any given issue. And that is one of the benefits of having this type of ministerial where people convene and get to know each other personally. And that is true on the presidential level as well, when the president of Colombia or any of the leaders of the hemisphere come and meet with each other, then it's easy to pick up a phone and place a phone call and say we've got a problem here, can't we meet, can't we resolve this. And so that's what I mean by transparency and openness and publishing defense papers so that we let each other know exactly what our plans are, what our programs are, when we plan exercises. All of that contributes to greater trust and cooperation, so that when you have a specific issue that comes up, that does not really interfere or in any way undermine the overall relationship.

Press: Thank you.