State for Defense Charles Millon, of the French Republic, to the Pentagon]
Secretary Cohen: I'm welcoming Minister Millon to Washington. We had a very enjoyable dinner last evening during which time we had opportunities to discuss certainly philosophy from Andre Gide to playwright Moliere to poet Baudelaire. But today we will not talk philosophy, but we will talk politics.
We have many issues to discuss and we have a very strong foundation on which to build. It's a friendship which has lasted many years, and we will build and make it even stronger in the future as we discuss the issues of today.
With that, we'd invite your questions.
Q: How does France respond, Mr. Minister, to the U.S. position that the AFSOUTH matter be deferred from five to seven years, and that the U.S. would then review it with an open mind. Is that acceptable to France?
Minister Millon: First of all, I want you to know that I'm here to meet with Secretary Bill Cohen, and the first thing I want to do is thank him for a wonderful evening last night.
And I'd like to say that I'm here to discuss an overview of defense issues that concern both the United States and France. As you know, we're at the beginning of a new era, and the agreements in Helsinki are very pleasing to us as we see a new U.S./NATO/Russia accord in the process. But this new era requires a new trans-Atlantic link, and in order to do so, we need to reinforce the links between our countries. We need to reinforce the European defense identity, and France wants to see a renewal of the Atlantic alliance and is very pleased with the progress that's been made since the meeting in Berlin in 1996.
And to answer your question after all of this, there are many issues to be discussed, only one of which is the issue of the AFSOUTH command. Obviously, in order to have a reinforced Atlantic alliance, we need to have parity in this area.
Q: Secretary Cohen, could you respond to criticism by some in Congress that at Helsinki the United States made concessions that will hamper its ability to develop battlefield [inaudible] defenses.
Secretary Cohen: I noticed from this morning's news that the Helsinki agreement was described by the Russian Duma as being a crushing defeat for the Russians. So I would put it in the context that apparently they feel very badly about the agreement in Russia; that Russia gave up too much.
As a matter of fact, we did not give up anything that would impede our ability to conduct our theater missile defense testing systems. This is completely in accord with the 1996 Defense Authorization Act, the so-called demarcation agreement, and nothing would preclude carrying out our present plans. So it's entirely consistent with the Act that was signed this past year, and I think it's a very good agreement for the United States.
Q: Are the United States and other countries in Zaire trying to work out a peace agreement?
Secretary Cohen: Obviously there are countries who are concerned about the situation in Zaire. As I indicated yesterday, we have forces in the region who are prepared for the evacuations of American citizens should that be called for. Right now, that has not been called for by the State Department.
Q: [In French]
Minister Millon: Yes, there is a common U.S./French approach as far as trying to reach peace and achieve a positive change, a change towards stability in Zaire. U.S. and France are coordinating their diplomacy so that Kabila and Mobutu can reach an agreement on a government that will satisfy what the people expect from it.
Press: Thank you.