Wednesday, January 17, 1996 - 11 a.m.
[The following is from an Honor Cordon to welcome Portuguese Minister of Defense Antonio Vitorino]
Q: Mr. Secretary, could you comment on Portugal's participation in this Bosnia peacekeeping effort?
Secretary Perry: We are pleased not only at Portuguese participation in IFOR, but in all of the NATO nations. Every NATO nation with a military force is participating in IFOR. Portuguese participation is particularly noteworthy. They're sending in a full battalion of troops. This will be a significant fraction of the total local forces under the Portuguese military. So it represents a real commitment. Proportionally, it's a very substantial commitment on the part of Portugal.
They will be going into a very difficult area, one of the three or four areas in Bosnia which will require the most skillful military forces. They're going into the Mostar area.
So I'm very pleased that we have the fine professional quality, the Portuguese military, dealing with this problem.
Perhaps the Minister would like to comment further on that.
Minister Vitorino: It is a serious commitment of Portugal within NATO. We believe in solidarity in international relations. That's why we took this compromise in order to involve a very significant part of our army in these operations. We feel that the operation is very important for European stability, and we are happy to see the commitment of the United States and of all NATO parties in European stability and solving the problem of Bosnia Herzegovina, bringing back the East to their part of the European territory.
Q: Do you want to buy more F-16s, sir?
Minister Vitorino: We are talking about the peace in Bosnia, now. We'll talk about the equipment of the Portuguese armed forces not in specific terms, but in global terms. We have a peace-- defense and cooperation agreement. We'll try to implement it in the future, of course.
Q: Are you willing to sell more F-16s to Portugal?
Secretary Perry: Of course, if they want to buy them.
Q: Mr. Secretary, is the Russian government properly handling the Chechnya hostage situation? If so, is the Russian military simply bungling, using heavy shelling instead of incisive attacks? Does this raise concerns, increase concerns in Washington over the future of democracy in the Yeltsin administration?
Secretary Perry: There are a lot of very complex questions there, Charlie. Let me take a few of them, one at a time.
First of all, we reject the right of any group to take hostages as a means of implementing their policies. Therefore, we believe the Russian government is entirely correct in resisting this hostage-taking effort and resisting it very strongly.
The question is to how they should be going about doing this. I really hesitate to make a, to second guess or come to my own judgment about how to do it. To be sure, had we been asked to conduct such an operation, we would have chosen a surgical operation rather than the massive frontal use of force. But, I don't want to put myself in the position of second guessing the Russian military. It's a very difficult situation they have there, and I wish them well in their outcome.
Q: Does this increase concerns in Washington about the future of shaping democracy in Russia?
Secretary Perry: The Russian government has survived many serious challenges in the last few years, going back to the period when the parliament was under siege, going back to the period when the Yeltsin government was under siege. I have confidence they'll survive this one, too.
Q: What about the outbreak of hostage-taking outside the borders of Russia? Is this a particular concern? Are you now looking at hijacking and a whole broader sort of problem growing out of Chechnya?
Secretary Perry: Of course, it does. I believe it illustrates, more clearly than anything, that the Russian government is correct in their assessment that they need to take strong actions to the people who took the hostages, not simply capitulate. The problem with capitulating to rebel groups who take hostages is that it encourages more hostage-taking. So I think a strong action, a strong response to hostage-taking, is appropriate. In that sense, certainly, I agree with the action of the Russian government.
Q: Is the Bosnia peace accord in any kind of jeopardy as the Friday deadline approaches for withdrawing troops?
Secretary Perry: There are several major events that should happen by Friday. The first and the most significant of those, certainly, is the military forces are required to pull out of the zone of separation by Friday. That seems to be happening. That is the most positive development, I think, really, since the NATO forces have gone in. It would appear that the forces will voluntarily remove themselves from the zone of separation and the NATO forces will not be required to use force to make that happen. If that transpires, it seems to me that is very good news.
We also require a POW exchange. As you know, the Bosnian government has raised an issue with that relative to the count of POWs. I'm hopeful that that issue will be resolved by Friday.
In addition to that, there is the issue of getting the foreign troops out of the country. A good many foreign troops have already been sent out. More, we understand, are poised on the border, on the Bosnian/Croatian border to be went out. But we're concerned that there are still some remaining, and that is an issue of concern.
All three of these issues of compliance will be assessed by IFOR and a press conference, I understand, is scheduled for Saturday to give IFOR's assessment of that, so I'd like to withhold any further comments until I get NATO's assessment of the full compliance of those issues. We take the compliance of the Dayton agreement very, very seriously.
Q: Would your comments indicating that NATO might likely provide some security for human rights investigators, does that mark an expansion of the NATO mission?
Secretary Perry: No. The NATO mission, the IFOR mission is spelled out very clearly in the Dayton Accords. One of their requirements is to provide security and freedom of movement for all of the IFOR forces, and it also spells out in the accord that it can extend that support to international organizations as they have troops available and on a non-interference basis with their mission. So that is a stated part of the mission from the beginning.
I also stated in my interview on this, that can only be done when there are sufficient NATO forces in place to do that. The forces are not fully in place yet. That's several weeks away until they have those forces in place. Even when the forces are in place, it has to be done on a non-interference basis with their primary military missions.
But this would provide... And this is support to the War Crimes Tribunal, providing freedom of movement to them. It does not extend to being a police service. It does not extend to escorting many other civilians and media, for example. Although to the extent that IFOR is providing freedom of movement for its own forces, that does provide a benefit for everybody that is traveling in Bosnia. For example, it involves the removal of all the checkpoints. That's a benefit to everybody who is seeking freedom of movement.
Q: So this is not the dreaded mission creep?
Secretary Perry: This is not mission creep. I, General Joulwan, and Admiral Smith, I believe, have a clear confluence of views on what's to be done here. We are asking IFOR to enforce the military annex of the Dayton Accord. That does call for establishing freedom of movement. Everybody in Bosnia will benefit from establishing that freedom of movement. It does not involve undertaking police forces. It does not involve doing the tasks of the War Crimes Tribunal. We will not be investigating or conducting investigations of these mass graves. That will be a function for the War Crimes Tribunal.
Thank you very much.
Press: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.