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Joint Press Conference

Presenters: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and Defense Minister Janos Szabo
July 12, 1999

Joint Press Conference in Budapest, Hungary

Minister Szabo: Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to warmly welcome everybody. We have only 15 minutes for this press conference. My fellow minister has an extremely tight schedule here. Therefore I'd like to ask you all to keep it short, if possible.

All I'd like to say as an introduction is that during the discussions we touched upon the work that we carried out together since Hungary's accession to NATO. We talked about all the joint actions we still have before us, especially in relation to Kosovo, and we also discussed questions pertaining to military development. Now, Mr. Cohen has the floor.

Secretary Cohen: Mr. Szabó, thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, I have a 15-minute statement that I try to shorten to three, just to allow for a few questions. This is the first occasion I have had to visit Budapest since Hungary joined NATO. I'd like to say how great it feels to be in an allied capital.

Hungary has already demonstrated that it is willing, able and prepared to work for stability in Europe. During our meeting I thanked Mr. Szabó for the strong role that Hungary played during Operation Allied Force. U.S. planes flew out of your bases; and your vigilance and policing your borders and airspace prevented unauthorized shipments in Yugoslavia. Your participation in KFOR will make an important contribution. As the crisis in Kosovo illustrated, the military forces of NATO, the members [of the troops] must be trained, equipped and ready to work for security and stability. For this reason, it's important that Hungary continue in its efforts and its programs to reform its military, to revise its strategies, to modernize its forces in a way that will enhance interoperability with other NATO allies. The NATO Defense Capabilities Initiative, which was adopted at the Washington summit, is designed to produce forces that are mobile, effective and enduring. This important initiative places responsibilities upon all of NATO members. We hope that Hungary will continue its efforts to achieve these defense capabilities.

USIS Information Officer: Now it's time for your questions, ladies and gentlemen. Please state your name and media affiliation when asking the question. We start with Hungarian Radio.

Q: Secretary Cohen, how do you see the future of Milosevic?

Secretary Cohen: I think that the people of Yugoslavia will look at what Milosevic has done to their country. For the past decade, he has initiated four wars. He has caused untold amount of human misery and economic destruction in many segments of his economy and his political isolation internationally. I would hope that the people would have the opportunity to express their discontent as they are doing in greater and greater numbers and tell Mr. Milosevic that he has to go.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I'd like to ask you to comment on two things in the news this morning. The first: the arrest of two suspects in the embassy bombings in London. Can you tell us anything that you know about that or can you comment on that? The second: the incident over the weekend in which US troops in the American sector in Kosovo came under fire again. Is that any indication that the mission in Kosovo is more dangerous than the one in Bosnia, where there have been fewer incidents of fire?

Secretary Cohen: I don't have any information that would contribute to the question as to the arrest of the two individuals, the two suspects in London. But, as to the second question: I have tried to point out in all of my statements that the situation in Kosovo remains dangerous. It is likely to remain dangerous for some time to come, by virtue of the tensions and passions that are running very high. With every day's disclosure of the kind of slaughter that Serb forces indulged in and engaged in Kosovo, I think those passions will continue to be enflamed. It's incumbent upon all the members of KFOR to be as ready and fully prepared to deal with every contingency, including the kind of activities we've seen in the recent days with the sniping activities and other types of threats that would be posed to them. It's much more difficult perhaps and dangerous because of the situation, the nature, the aggravation of the population in Kosovo itself. KFOR will remain neutral and balanced in its securing of the peace and maintaining good order throughout. But it's still a very dangerous environment. All the forces must be prepared to encounter that kind of danger. I would add one note: It's all the more important that the remaining forces that will contribute to KFOR arrive there as soon as possible.

Q: Despite the fact that the United States is not a European country, it contributed to the air campaign by some 80 percent of total efforts. What do you think, Secretary Cohen, the US government could do to put pressure on European allies to step up their efforts in developing their own forces in order to change this disproportion?

Secretary Cohen: You hit upon the issue that we continue to discuss. The Defense Capabilities Initiative points to the need on part of many of the European NATO members to reform and upgrade their capabilities so that the United States will not be called upon to bear such a disproportionate level of effort in the future. We saw some of the added benefits of precision guided munitions and types of abilities the United States has. We want to make sure that other European countries, the ones who are members of NATO, make an appropriate investment in their research and development and their procurement so that we don't have a growing technological gap. There is a gap today. We need to close the gap. So it's incumbent upon us to remind our European friends that they must do more.

USIS Information Officer: The final question is for the American press.

Q: This is for Minister Szabó. Twelve days after joining NATO, Hungary found itself involved in a major conflict involving a neighbor. I wonder if you can describe to us whether there was a sense in Hungary of really being overwhelmed by the pace of events, with this conflict coming so quickly after joining. Can you give a brief assessment of the issue of the Hungarian population in Yugoslavia? Can you give your assessment of your view of the near future of Yugoslavia?

Minister Szabo: I think the general public started to be prepared as early as last year. The first resolution [pertaining to this issue] was passed in the Hungarian Parliament in October last year, on the usage of the Hungarian airspace. On March 24th this year the Hungarian Parliament voted to allow the usage of airports. This was more of a process. I think the Hungarian government fared well in managing the preparation phase and any problems that surfaced during the conflict. I can say that in comparison with other NATO member states, the Hungarian public opinion gave reflected outstanding support for this campaign and the reasons behind the campaign. As for the other half of your question, I should allow the Minister of Foreign Affairs to comment. As far as I know, another 5-minute press conference is also scheduled for Mr. Cohen. Now, let me conclude this press conference.

Thank you very much.