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DoD News Briefing: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
March 03, 1997 10:30 AM EDT
State for Defence Michael Portillo, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, to the Pentagon.

Secretary Cohen: I want to take this occasion to welcome the Minister of Defense Michael Portillo. It's significant that this is an important meeting for him. We had occasion to meet last evening at a working dinner, but I wanted to welcome him here today for a much larger discussion.

Obviously, we have a great deal in common. We have stood shoulder-to- shoulder on issues over the years, in our efforts in two world wars, also in helping to defeat the Cold War, as such, that was launched against the West and others. We now are engaged in a number of activities. Certainly our activities in Bosnia where once again the United Kingdom has worked together jointly with the United States in helping to make sure that there is no further aggression in that region. Also we are working very closely together in Bosnia. So we're going to talk about a number of issues today. We're going to talk about NATO enlargement. We'll also talk about SFOR's role today in Bosnia and a number of other issues that we have in common.


So, it's a great relationship we have with the United Kingdom, and the Defense Minister is a great friend of the United States, and we intend to pursue these issues of mutual concern.

Secretary Portillo: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much. Indeed, I feel welcome.

I'd like to tell you how very much I welcome that. Over the last two years, particularly, our defense policies have been absolutely in-step. I think we have considerable achievements to show for that.

We have been standing literally shoulder-to-shoulder in Bosnia and we've made Bosnia a much safer and a much better place. The killing has stopped, many thousands of lives have been saved, and the democratic political institutions have been created and we hope to ensure their survival as well.

I think you're right to put at the top of our agenda today NATO enlargement. Let's make it clear again, this is not an expansionist drive by NATO. It is rather a response that we make to the legitimate claims that are made by newly democratic countries in Eastern and Central Europe that want to be part of Western institutions. Of course, we should be aware of Russian sensitivities in these matters. Nonetheless, I think we do have a strong moral obligation to respond to those countries' legitimate interests in becoming members of NATO.

Thanks to the steadfastness of the United States and of the United Kingdom, I believe Russia now recognizes that there will be new members of NATO, and Russia is now engaged constructively in creating with us a new NATO/Russia charter. I believe that can be a very important part of the new security architecture of Europe. But, perhaps, the most important element of all in the new security architecture, is the existence of so many new democratic countries, because democratic countries do not go to war with each other. Democratic countries do not invade one another. We must convince Russia that the very undertaking of expanding NATO is one of the things that helps to underpin security and democracy in those newly democratic countries.

Q: Can there be really an ultimate peace in Bosnia as long as the war crimes, the indicted war crimes suspects remain at large? Won't SFOR before next year really have to take some action there?

Secretary Cohen: The apprehension of war criminals is not part of the mission, the military mission. It is a police function, however, and discussions are underway at this time as to how a force can be assembled that would carry out that particular mission, but it is not a military-type mission.

Secretary Portillo: I think it will be, as the Secretary implies, I think it will be very difficult to have a settlement in Bosnia while the people who have been indicted for these war crimes remain at large. Therefore, we shall be working very closely with you on that issue that you just mentioned.

Q: Mr. Portillo, the Secretary has said that after the 18 months in SFOR, the United States will be withdrawing its troops, and that he will be pressing the European allies to take over whatever role needs to remain there in Bosnia thereafter. What is Britain's view on that question?

Secretary Portillo: I think the most important thing, really, is to focus on what we can do over the 18 months of the SFOR mandate; how can we use our presence there to consolidate the democratic institutions and to make sure that Bosnia does not return to killing and to war.

I regard the operation that we're undertaking as being a NATO operation: we went in together; we're working together; and we shall leave together. But, there is still much that we can do during this period of the 18-month mandate, and I believe our discussions today will focus very strongly on that.

Q: Will you two be discussing British/U.S. armaments cooperation at your meeting? The ASRAAM missile competition was last year, and the U.S. did not choose the ASRAAM. Is that one of the things you two will be discussing today?

Secretary Cohen: I'm sure that issue will come up.

Secretary Portillo: Let me make a broader statement, if I may. We enjoy two-way trade with the United States in defense exports. That trade is running, at the moment, about two-to-one in the United States' favor, and we have recently placed orders for about $6 billion of American equipment, so naturally we look for what we call a two-way street, in the jargon. There should be two-way trade and there should be equal opportunities for both sides. So, I will be pressing that point -- a point that I've made before -- and I'm pleased to say that despite our disappointment about the AIM-9X, there are other good British export prospects, and I will take this occasion to mention it to the Secretary.

Q: Do the Europeans intend to continue their dialogue with Iran?

Secretary Portillo: We have absolutely no illusions about Iran. I don't think we really have any difference of perception between Britain and the United States on Iran. The European Union does have a policy of critical dialogue, trying to maintain some sort of engagement with Iran. That is a different methodology from the United States, but I don't think there is any difference whatsoever in our policy. We have no illusions, and we take every opportunity to remind the world that Iran has been involved in the export of terrorism; that Iran is opposed to the Middle East peace process; that Iran is engaged in the development of chemical and nuclear weapons. All of those things are matters of concern to us, just as they are matters of concern to the United States.

Q: Are either, or both, of you concerned about the recent sales agreement between Russia and Syria?

Secretary Cohen: I think any time there are weapons of that caliber being discussed going from Russia to Iran or to Syria, to the Middle East, there is great concern on the part of the United States, and we have expressed our concerns about reports pertaining to sophisticated weaponry going to the Middle East region.

Secretary Portillo: I would echo that.

Press: Thank you

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