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Cohen Press Conference NATO Informal Ministerial Meeting

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
October 10, 2000

(Press conference following NATO informal ministerial meeting in Birmingham, England)

Cohen: This meeting comes at an extremely important time in NATO's history. First, the decision of the Yugoslav people to vote out Slobodan Milosevic offers the hope of freedom, peace and prosperity in the Balkans. In Belgrade yesterday, President Kostunica promised "a wave of democratic change" and other steps to end Yugoslavia's isolation from Europe. Every defense minister at this meeting pledged that his government is willing to offer appropriate help to Yugoslavia, and the EU has already started dismantling sanctions.

Although many problems remain in the Balkans, it is now possible to imagine a future zone of stability from the Atlantic to the Urals. In the meantime, NATO must continue its work for peace as Bosnia and Kosovo prepare for elections this fall.

For the last five years, troops led by NATO have given the people of Bosnia a chance to live in peace and begin to heal the wounds of war. For the last year we have provided the same opportunity to the people of Kosovo. The skill with which NATO-led troops are performing their tasks shows that the alliance is flexible, adaptive and relevant to the security challenges facing Europe in the post Cold War era.

That brings me to the second reason why this is an important time in NATO's history. In the 10 years following the reunification of Germany, most countries, including the United States, have realized a peace dividend by reducing forces and cutting defense budgets. Now those trends are beginning to change. All NATO nations realize that a force can't be credible unless it is capable. It must be able to move quickly, perform effectively and support itself with the best possible intelligence and logistics. The combination of NATO's Defense Capabilities Initiative and the European Security and Defense Program [ESDP] give members of the alliance and the EU an opportunity to plan and work together to create a more modern defense structure. This is why the United States strongly supports the European Security and Defense Program. As EU members meet the headline goal of creating a rapidly deployable and sustainable combat force, it will also enhance NATO's capability.

At our informal meeting I stressed the need for regular meeting of NATO and EU ministers to review our cooperative approaches to building security and preventing conflicts that effect the Euro-Atlantic community. We also discussed ways to combine NATO and EU security planning in a way that will increase capability rather than merely duplicate effort. This is not a time for NATO to congratulate itself for progress in the Balkans; it is time to prepare the Atlantic alliance for a future that could require deterrence, warfighting or peacekeeping. I will now take your questions.

Q: Are you satisfied with the arrangements now, you made for the participation of the non-EU NATO countries in ESDP, and I was particularly interested in Turkey?

Cohen: Well, as you know, this was an informal meeting. No decisions were made. I, along with others, offered a number of what I believe to be constructive proposals to make sure that we have a clear, coherent, cooperative, and common proposal, for security planning, and to be able to carry out those operations in a coordinated and cooperative fashion. I know that some have interpreted my prepared statement as somehow being a divergent from the U.S. position, it is not. What we have said is, we want to see and support a European Security Defense Identity, but what we want to make sure is, that we also, all of the NATO members, measure up to the commitments made at the Washington summit of having increased capabilities, the so-called DCI [Defense Capabilities Initiative], and that the progress made and the programs that are pursued by the Europeans and their ESP are consistent with that goal, so that we do not have separate capabilities, in terms of being inconsistent and non-compatible. But that they are, in fact, coordinated so that they can meet their NATO goals identified in the DCI, as well as the EU headline goals, so that we have compatibility. And, we also have one set of planners. What we don't want to see is a separate planning bureaucracy established that is independent and separate from that of NATO itself. So, this is a position that is consistent with what I have advocated before; that the U.S. supports ESDIODP [European Security Defense Identity or Defense Policy], provided it is consistent with NATO requirements and responsibilities.

Q: Two questions, if I may, on Kosovo and Yugoslavia. Firstly, the EU has moved quite swiftly to dismantle sanctions and to end the isolation on Belgrade. What specific steps is the United States likely to take in the same vain? And secondly how much of a break on developing normal ties between the international community in Belgrade is going to be a continuing failure by regime there to hand over Mr. Milosevic to the International Tribunal?

Cohen: President Clinton, as you know, has made some public statements. He has talked to President Kostunica on Sunday and they had a very good conversation in terms of President Kostunica's desire to take advantage of this opportunity to transform his country into a democratic country. We would expect the President to consult very closely, and very quickly with Congress, and that the sanctions that are directed toward the people of Yugoslavia would be removed, those dealing, certainly, with oil and infrastructure and other types that directly impact on the people. We want to provide as much encouragement as we can to the people, in terms of, economic support and redevelopment. At the same time, keep and maintain those sanctions that have been applied against Milosevic and his cronies. So, I think there will be some selectivity there, but basically, trying to re-enforce the aspirations of the people of Yugoslavia.

Secondly, you asked the question of basically of war criminals. In essence, there is no walking away from the past. That the people of Yugoslavia will have to face up to the responsibility if there is going to be a democratic nation, and if it's going to have democratic institutions, then an inherent part of that means it must hold people accountable for their actions. That includes, both present, future, but also, past. And so, we fully expect that Mr. Milosevic will have to be held accountable for the actions he has taken or ordered, and remain accountable in The Hague.

Q: I want to ask you about the Middle East and I think a lot of other people would like to as well. What are your thoughts are, specifically, regarding on what the problem is or could spread beyond the bounds of what is happening at the moment. And weather you are going to get involved with diplomacy over the next few days trying to find a resolution.

Cohen: I don't think I will be involved in diplomacy. We do have a separation here between the State Department and Defense on this specific issue. That while the secretary of State and I communicate frequently and try to coordinate our activities, diplomacy is best left to the president and to our diplomats, rather than to the Defense Department. So, we will obviously stay in close touch with the State Department, with the president, in terms of his communications with Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat, with President Mubarak, and others. But, President Clinton has remained very much involved and engaged in trying to cool the passions that are burning so high right now; and, hopefully, get the parties to get back to a bargaining table and off the streets with violent conduct. So, Secretary Albright and the President will be actively engaged, and have been, and I will expect to stay in communication with them, but I will not be personally involved in any diplomacy.

Q: -- a lot of people are talking about now.

Cohen: The danger is it will spread. And we have seen that it can erupt very quickly and spread rapidly across many borders. There is a danger that if this goes unchecked, we can see wider conflict with many more nations involved and that would be devastating for all concerned. So, there is a real interest in getting the parties back to the bargaining table, and to pursue peace, and to take the violence off the streets.