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DoD Media Availability with Secretary Cohen and Minister Serra

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
November 04, 1999 12:00 PM EDT

DoD Media Availability with Minister of Defense Eduardo Serra of the Kingdom of Spain

Secretary Cohen: It gives me a great deal of pleasure to welcome Minister Serra back to Washington. This is our fourth meeting this year. We have met in Madrid, Toronto and now for the second time in Washington. And next month, of course, we'll be together again at a meeting -- a defense meeting in Brussels. The defense relationship between the United States and Spain is extremely strong. Our forces are serving together in NATO peacekeeping missions both in Bosnia and Kosovo. Our pilots flew wing to wing during Operation Allied Force to stop the killing in Kosovo. We used two Spanish air bases to support our troops during Kosovo. And Rota, of course, is an important support facility for our fleet in the Mediterranean.

During the course of today's meetings, we discussed a wide range of issues including NATO's defense capabilities initiative and Spain's leading role in Mediterranean security issues. Spain and the United States have a very close relationship as do Minister Serra and I. And I continue to look forward to working with him in the coming years because he is a very strong advocate of this relationship, not only on a bilateral basis but certainly as members of NATO.

Minister Serra.

Minister Serra: Thank you very much Secretary Cohen. I'll speak very briefly in Spanish.

(NOTE: Minister Serra's remarks are through interpreter.)

It is truly a great satisfaction to be here in Washington and to meet once again with my friend, Secretary Cohen, my friend Bill. We have been discussing or perhaps I should really say chatting about a number of bilateral and especially multilateral issues. In Europe we are saying today that the hour of defense has come. Now that we have the common currency in place, we believe that it is time for defense capacity to be enhanced in order to strengthen the link across the Atlantic. As we improve our capacities within NATO, we think it will be easier to join efforts if we act within Europe and build a bridge across the Atlantic.

Just to conclude, I want to tell you that our bilateral relations are absolutely excellent. We do have a bilateral agreement of cooperation which is functioning extremely well. And just today, it will be extended for one year longer unless, of course, one of the two parties denounces it. In conclusion, we do hope that our relations will grow ever better and ever more prosperous in the future.

Q: Are China and the United States resuming military to military ties? Do you hope to visit China soon? And just briefly, what will those ties consist of and what do you hope for?

Secretary Cohen: We do hope to reestablish the kind of military to military contacts that we had prior to the incident in Kosovo, and they have indicated that they would like to reestablish these contacts. I know that Ambassador Pickering -- Tom has been to China on several occasions as have other officials and every indication is that they would like to resume military to military contacts. Having said that, however, there have been no concrete steps taken to reestablish the contacts. I am hopeful that they can come about soon. I would like to certainly reestablish my own relationship with the defense minister. And hopefully, that can come about in the near future. But there have no specific plans made for carrying out what have been expressed intentions on the part of the Chinese.

Q: Do you hope to visit China soon and have the Chinese defense minister visit here?

Secretary Cohen: When the conditions permit, certainly I'd be willing to go back to visit China. I'm open to any suggestions they might have in terms of timing and we would, of course, reciprocate with the defense minister.

Q: I would like to know if you feel comfortable with this new perspective that NATO Europe implements reinforcement of their own defense capabilities. How do you feel here in America?

Secretary Cohen: What we feel is that NATO must take a number of initiatives. That's what we call the defense capabilities initiative. That Kosovo, while remarkably successful, also revealed a number of deficiencies. That has been the purpose of calling attention to these deficiencies and to express our desire to see other NATO members as well as the United States take measures to correct them. With respect to the initiative as far as ESDI is what I assume you're referring to, the European Security and Defense Identity, we have been supportive of this ESDI concept provided that the measures taken to build or rebuild the military capability within the European members of NATO are consistent with the core requirements of the defense capabilities initiative. That sounds like a lot of technical jargon, but basically we're saying what we've identified as deficiencies within the NATO military capability as the Europeans are starting to build their own ESDI, whatever they do must be compatible and completely fulfill the requirements of NATO's military measures. So with that, we are supportive.

Q: Secretary Cohen, is there any information to support some the public speculation that the Egyptian military officers who were on Egypt Flight 990 might have been somehow targeted?

Secretary Cohen: We don't have any information that would support that at this time. I think the investigation is still very much in the preliminary stages, but we don't have any information that would indicate that.

Q: Is there any information more at all more generally that this is the result of any kind of criminal or terrorist act?

Secretary Cohen: No, we don't have that information yet and all we can do is carry out the investigation or the inquiry and not prejudge it. But we have no information that there was a terrorist act. The investigators are leaving everything open for their complete investigation.

Q: Mr. Secretary, on North Korea, is the United States prepared to assure the North Koreans by giving them a no-first-strike pledge to ease tensions there? And a related question, do you agree with the conclusion of the House report that there is evidence of continuing nuclear weapons development by North Korea?

Secretary Cohen: On the first part as far as any pledge made by the United States, I know that Dr. Perry and others have tried to formulate ways in which tensions can be reduced on the Korean peninsula, but I can assure you we would take no steps that would in any way jeopardize the security of our troops in Korea. All I can tell you is we're looking at ways to reduce tensions, but we will not in any way compromise the security of our forces there. I have not read the report, I must say. I have not had a chance to read the report coming from the House, but I would point out as a result of the agreed framework, we believe we have successfully curtailed the ability of the North Koreans to develop any nuclear capability. We had the one inspection that took place because of the suspicions that were raised about the possibility they were, in fact, developing an underground capability. We satisfied ourselves that that suspicion was unfounded. But I don't have any basis, I have not read the report, so I'll have to reserve judgment on what is in the report.

Q: Is a no-first-strike pledge one of the things that's under consideration?

Secretary Cohen: I have not seen any evidence of a no first strike pledge being offered by anyone.

Q: Mr. Secretary, what is your opinion about the of Spain has been doing in the Kosovo crisis specifically about Spain?

Secretary Cohen: What do I think? Here's a chance for me to say publicly what I was saying privately. We are very grateful for Spain's role in both Bosnia and also in Kosovo, not to mention their participation in helping us in dealing with Saddam Hussein. We have nothing but glowing compliments to pay to the Spanish people, Spanish government, the defense minister who has become a very close friend, that we regard this relationship as very, very important. It's strong today, it will be stronger tomorrow based on the kind of talks today, we'll have in the future, we're building that relationship to be even stronger in the future. So we're very grateful that we have the support of Spain. And all I can say is they've done an outstanding job both in Bosnia and in Kosovo and we hope they will contribute greater capability as the situation demands.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I'd like to ask you two questions. First of all, where do you stand on moving ahead to resolve the Vieques problem? And secondly, the Russians have announced that they've tested an ABM interceptor missile and they characterize it as a response to American efforts to amend the ABM treaty. Do you take it the Russians are hardening their position and making it more difficult to resolve that?

Secretary Cohen: On Vieques, what I hope to do is to get the ability to talk to the Puerto Ricans and representatives from Vieques to engage them in a constructive dialogue. Some of that took place earlier this week with my chief of staff and Under Secretary Rudy de Leon, a meeting with a representative of Puerto Rico. We need to have a dialogue on this. And one thing became clear to me from the Rush panel was that the Navy had not really done a very good job in their relations with the people of Vieques and Puerto Rico. And we hope to do better in that regard. So I'm hoping to be able to engage some other officials in direct conversations with me and others to see if we can't come up with a constructive solution. The one thing we have to keep in mind is we do want to make sure that our men and women who are sent into danger zones, who are sent on station, put on station have the kind of requisite training that's required to make sure they can carry out their responsibilities professionally and safely. So we're trying to balance the concerns on the part of the people of Vieques and also Puerto Rico that we have to balance that also in dealing with the real readiness and security issues we face. We need to have a dialogue on it. I would like to talk with the governor, yes.

On the second question, as far as Russia is concerned, if a test was conducted, it was to demonstrate that they have their own ABM system and it's something we do not have. But secondly, for the Russians to say this is a signal of our discontent with the United States seeking to provide a missile defense system for protection of its people, our people, it seems to me that they're overstating their case because we have made it very clear nothing that we have in mind to construct and could construct would in any way jeopardize their strategic systems. We do not pretend, do not aspire to have a system that could try to defeat several thousands of missiles possibly were they ever launched at the United States. We have tried to convey to them as directly and candidly as possible we believe there's an emerging threat from states such as North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Libya or any other country that might acquire such capability in the future that it places our citizens at risk. We need to develop a capability to defend against that, but it's limited in nature and not directed against the Russians. And I think they understand that. Whether they're trying to make a point to defeat any effort on the part of the United States to go forward with this remains to be seen. I, as you know, spent time in Moscow meeting with various officials outlining the architecture of what we have in mind should the President, and I have to make this very clear, should the President decide to go forward with a deployment decision. That has not yet been made. We hope he will be able to make that by next June or July. But in the event that he does, this is the kind of system that's limited in scope and nature, does not pose a threat to the Russians and we hope to be able to persuade them of the reasonable position we have taken and the need to amend and modify the treaty in order to accommodate that. Absent that, we'll have to see how the situation unfolds, but we have tried to make it very clear and I'm hoping over the course of the next four or five or six months, we'll be successful in our persuasion.

Q: You said if they tested. Is there reason to suspect --

Secretary Cohen: I have not seen reports about the test itself. I've been tied up for the last day or so, so I haven't seen any reports. I read about it this morning and they indicated they have tested it and they certainly have a system in place, something we do not have. So assuming they tested it, it only confirms that they have an ABM system and we do not. So I'm not sure of the point they were trying to make.

Q: Mr. Cohen, if the interceptor tests continue to be as full as the last tests, will you in early summer of next year be recommending to the President that there should be a deployment of a anti-ballistic missile system?

Secretary Cohen: I think we should wait until next June after tests have been conducted and after these discussions with the Russians have been completed before I make any recommendation to the President.

Q: Question for my minister, Mr. Serra. You have talked about the renegotiation of the agreement between Spain and the United States in the future and about the requests by the U.S. government of rebuilding the base in Rota.

Minister Serra: (NOTE: Minister Serra's remarks are through interpreter.) As I said before, if this agreement between the two countries is not denounced, it is automatically extended for one year and we do not want to renegotiate the cooperation agreement between the United States and Spain. We are very satisfied with our relations with the United States. These go back a very long time and are a mutual benefit to both countries. What we do want is to update some stipulations in the agreement, not to renegotiate the agreement. We think that things are going very well and we want them to continue to go well. And it's on that friendly basis that we will engage in the update.

On your question regarding the base at Rota, it is a very important facility of joint use between the two countries. We want things to continue that way. What we want is for there to be certain improvement in terms of its infrastructure and its use. And we are delighted to discuss those matters with the United States.

Q: Are you happy with the (inaudible) governor of Okinawa (inaudible).

Secretary Cohen: I haven't had a chance to review the proposal yet by the governor. What we had, of course, hoped and hoped to achieve is a decision about the relocation to be made by the end of this year and I will have to take a look and see what the recommendation is. But we have been encouraged that there has been movement in trying to resolve that issue.

Q: Before the summer (inaudible).

Secretary Cohen: Well, I hope so.

Q: Thank you.

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