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Secretary Cohen Joint Press Conference with Greek MoD Tsohatzopoulos

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
October 08, 2000

(Joint press conference with Greek Minister of Defense Akis Tsohatzopoulos in Thessaloniki, Greece.)

Secretary Cohen: Thank you very much, Mr. Minister. This is my third trip to Greece as Secretary of Defense. During my visits I have had the opportunity to learn some of your history, to see some of the beauty of your country, and also, to experience the great warmth, Greek hospitality, and friendship of your people. On my first visit Minister Tsohatzopoulos gave me a tour of the Acropolis. On my second trip he showed me the beauty of this great city and the harbor. The sunset was one of the most spectacular that I can recall, and having a boat take me through the harbor was a memorable event for me. Now on this trip, he has taken me to Mykonos and Delos, and he was prepared to take me to Mt. Athos as well, along with the other ministers, but the weather intervened.

During these visits, Akis and I have become very close friends, and the strength of the relationship between Greece and the United States mirrors the strength of our friendship. Greece plays a leading role in working the security in Southeast Europe. It has worked very hard, as Akis has mentioned, for stability in the Balkans by sending more than a thousand skilled troops to participate with American soldiers in KFOR. Greece has also played a leadership role in working for peaceful change in the government in Belgrade. Greece is a key member of the Southeastern European Defense Ministerial [SEDM], which is successfully promoting stability in the region, and I would like to commend Minister Tsohatzopoulos for his leadership role, and also, working so hard to improve relations between Greece and Turkey, an achievement that makes NATO stronger and the region more secure.

As Akis has mentioned, during our meetings we discussed a wide range of bilateral issues, regional issues. As he also mentioned, Greece is in the process of modernizing its forces, as all NATO allies are striving to improve their defense capabilities. I must say that I am very pleased that Greece is continuing to look to the United States as a major supplier of its modernization needs.

Today in Athens the archbishop dedicated a church service to the victims of terrorism and their families and he highlighted the very simple fact that terrorism is an evil that we must all work to eliminate. I would like to end this statement on a personal note. During the past four years Akis and I have worked on a number of difficult problems during very challenging times for our countries and our alliance. He has always found ways to advance the interests of Greece while working to strengthen NATO and improve the stability of the region. I could not ask for a better friend or a more capable colleague. He and I have had the opportunity to visit my home. I have spent many hours with him and I have the highest regard for his capabilities and his commitment, not only to this country, but to NATO and peace throughout the entire region.

Q: I have a question for Secretary Cohen. After the removal of Mr. Milosevic from power in Belgrade, does Washington continue to demand that he be arrested and sent to the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague?

Cohen: Well, we are very pleased with what has taken place with the democratic process coming into reality as far as Yugoslavia is concerned. With respect to Milosevic, it's clear that he has lost all leverage and all power, that the people have spoken and he should no longer play a role in the political process. Part of a democratic government and institution is also accountability, and we would expect Milosevic to be held fully accountable for the alleged crimes that have been committed and he is an indicted war criminal and we expect that he will be held accountable. That accountability should take place in The Hague. Our position has not changed.

Q: Could Yugoslavia have normal relations with the United States and other Western democracies if the new government does not act to bring Milosevic to justice? Or are you prepared to let the government let bygones be bygones? Perhaps the Minister would also care to answer that question.

Cohen: I think the first thing that we should do is to allow President Kostunica to solidify democratic reforms in Yugoslavia, to undertake to strengthen his support, to work for elections quickly, and to move to solidify his position. Then I think we can see how that unfolds, but I think it's also clear that an election and a removal from office through the popular will does not remove the stain of the abuses in the past. He will still have to be held accountable, and I believe that that is not a position that is unique to the United States, but all law-abiding and respecting nations would insist that he be held fully accountable. But I also would point out that President Clinton and Secretary Albright have indicated that we are eager and willing to work with our allies and others to help President Kostunica to achieve those democratic reforms and to help rebuild the economy, so reforms can in fact be instituted.

Q: We heard Mr. Cohen express his happiness about the fact that the U.S. remained the main supplier for armaments to Greece. During the discussions you had on Mykonos did you discuss the purchase of specific new weapons? Second, did you discuss anything about confidence building measures between Greece and Turkey?

Cohen: With respect to discussions about armaments, let me just say that last year at the summit in Washington, the NATO members decided that they had to address the deficiencies that were identified during the conflict in Kosovo, and had been identified long before, and that was the need for greater strategic lift, command and control communications, precision munitions and so forth. And so, Greece, like other NATO members, is in the process of identifying its requirements to meet those objectives. So, the United States remains a very strong competitor, indeed a supplier, of these modern needs for Greece and other countries. We compete, and we believe that we have the best products at the best price, and of course, our other competitors may feel the same way. But I think that our relationship focuses upon the need for interoperability, which is key for effective action on the part of NATO and EU members. So, we will continue to be a good partner with Greece and we look forward to their making an assessment of having the best product for the best price that will fulfill their defense requirements.

Q: You said that it's too early to discuss the reduction of the number of U.S. troops in the Balkans. But what has to happen before you do start considering that?

Cohen: Well as you know great progress has been made in the last several years for promoting peace and stability throughout the Balkans. We have seen the size of the forces reduce substantially in Bosnia. We have seen multi-ethnic groups now participating cooperatively in Bosnia. We saw for the first time a multi-ethnic team under the Bosnian flag in Sydney at the [Olympic] games recently, so we're seeing great progress made. We are also encouraged by what is taking place in Yugoslavia. We are encouraged by what has happened in Kosovo as far as the return of refugees and the rebuilding of their lives in Kosovo. But our security needs, the size and structure of our forces will always be measured against the security environment. To the extent that there continues to be progress made in stabilizing the region with peaceful democratic institutions being created and solidified, then we can look to ways that we can reduce the size, not only of our presence, but certainly that of other countries who are participating. Everyone would like to see a reduction of their commitment, but they also recognize that commitment must remain firm until such time as we are all satisfied, acting cooperatively, that the security environment would permit further reductions, and so we need more time to reach such an assessment.

Q: This is for Secretary Cohen. President Clinton promised that during his term he would help to solve the Cyprus problem. Until now, we have not seen any substantive results. What do you have to say on that?

Cohen: President Clinton, of course, has dedicated himself to helping to find a solution with respect to Cyprus. Frankly, we are encouraged with the four rounds of discussions that have taken place under the auspices of the UN. Another round is set for next month and we are encouraged by the progress made in those discussions. And so, we will continue to urge that the parties seek a way to resolve the situation for the future. But President Clinton has tried to be a very positive force in bringing the parties together, but only the parties, of course, can resolve the situation on Cyprus. They are meeting again under the auspices of the UN and we think that should continue.

Q: I wanted to ask the ministers whether they discussed steps your governments could take to ensure that Milosevic at least remains politically isolated within Yugoslavia. I was thinking things like going after foreign sources and financing, or hidden bank accounts, or that sort of thing.

Cohen: I would say, in addition, there are two things that need to be done. Number one is to keep the pressure on Milosevic by identifying him as an indicted war criminal, and not just simply allow that status to slip into the past as we celebrate the triumph of democracy in Yugoslavia. Secondly, as the president has indicated, he will consult with Congress and consult with key allies, to remove those economic sanctions that are directed toward the people, have an impact upon the people and upon the economy of Yugoslavia, while keeping in place those sanctions that are directed against Milosevic and his cronies. And so, it's twofold: number one, to provide relief on those sanctions that will have a direct impact upon investment and economic prosperity and rebuilding in Yugoslavia, while keeping on those sanctions directed against Milosevic personally.

Thank you very much

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