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Media Availability with Secretary Cohen & MoD Dominguez, Argentine Republic

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
June 14, 1999

Media Availability with Minister of Defense Jorge Dominguez, Argentine Republic

Secretary Cohen: Good afternoon.

I am very pleased to welcome my good friend Jorge Dominguez back to the Pentagon. As I pointed out, I believe this is his third visit to the Pentagon while I have been serving as Secretary. I always look forward to seeing him here and wherever we meet. He is a good friend and one who's friendship I truly value. So welcome once again, Jorge.

Argentina is an active participant in peacekeeping operations around the world and an important force for peace, both in Latin America and elsewhere. It has committed peacekeepers to Bosnia, to Haiti, to Cyprus and western Sahara. It's preparing to send medical teams to Albania and Macedonia.

In addition, Argentina played a key role in helping to resolve the border dispute between Ecuador and Peru.

Minister Dominguez is leading the Argentine military with a clear vision for the future. We have just spent about a half hour, 45 minutes, discussing ways in which the Argentine military is being reformed and ways in which the United States and the Argentine military can cooperate in dealing with a wide variety of issues. But he has been a visionary in that respect and is bringing his military, helping to shape it and reform it and bring it to the 21st Century, and we are very pleased with his efforts.

In April he presented to President Menem the Argentine first White Paper on national defense. It's an important statement on how his country's military plans to continue to work for peace and stability. The production of this White Paper -- it also illustrates Argentina's commitment to confidence and security-building measures.

Jorge, again, let me congratulate on your efforts of reform, and what you're doing on behalf of your country. Thank you especially for your wonderful friendship.

Minister Dominguez: Firstly, I want to thank you, my very good friend Secretary Cohen, for [your] hospitality and warm welcome here in Washington.

I have to say that I am not only an admirer of his work as [a vision] and poetry writer, but also of his craftsmanship as a defense leader.

We also acknowledge his personal commitment to democracy, human rights, and freedom of the people around the world, specifically in the Kosovo crisis. The values that the U.S. is fighting for are the same that Argentine people share.

We had a very productive meeting discussing the international and bilateral agenda. I transmitted to Secretary Cohen President of Argentina Carlos Menem's decision to support and cooperate at the maximum possible level in the efforts of the international community, United Nations, the G8, NATO, and the U.S. government in the goal of pacification of Kosovo.

In this regard, President Menem instructed me to make a concrete proposal describing the army and security forces and equipment that can be deployed as an Argentine contribution to peace. The total amount of the people involved in this operation for Argentina will be around 550 members of the armed forces and the security forces.

Regarding the bilateral issues discussed in our meeting, we analyzed new ways to stress and deepen Argentina's NATO, non-NATO ally category. In particular, we consider military combined exercises and the implementation of (inaudible) and loans to update the Argentine equipment as part of the foreign military financial program.

Lastly, on behalf of President Menem, I invited Secretary Cohen to visit Argentina in order to continue our friendship and cooperation between our two countries.

The temptation for the Secretary will be good tango and good meat that we are going... (Laughter) ...we are preparing for his visit. We hope that he will be able to visit our country in November.

Secretary Cohen: Jorge, I especially appreciate the invitation. I know that my wife, Janet, will look forward to it, as she did before, and is looking forward to seeing you this evening.

I also want to express our deep appreciation for the prompt display on the part of your President for a commitment to enhance the KFOR mission in Kosovo. This is very welcome news, indeed, and is consistent with the peacekeeping commitment on the part of Argentina in so many places. They are one of the leading countries in the world for committing their forces to peacekeeping missions, so this comes as no surprise in terms of your commitment in that sense, but it comes as a very welcome bit of news today on the immediate heels of the Security Council passing a resolution that authorizes the peacekeeping force to go in, that you would be one of the very first to volunteer to pledge up to 550 members of your armed forces and your gendarmerie. Thank you very much.

Q: Mr. Secretary, might I ask, speaking of Kosovo, President Milosevic made a speech on TV today not saying, but suggesting, suggesting that Belgrade had triumphed in the war with NATO, saying that Kosovo still belonged to the Serbs and that he, in fact, would rebuild the damage that was caused by the NATO bombing. What's your reaction to that?

Secretary Cohen: I think at this point we should not import too much to Mr. Milosevic's words in terms of his success. The fact is that he has been responsible for causing more of a humanitarian catastrophe than anyone in recent memory since, in the European theater at least, has been able to do.

There are, I think there will be quite a bit of an outcry when the world community has a full appreciation of exactly what he and his forces have done to an entire people in Kosovo. So for him to claim success under these circumstances, I think, will not be well received by any.

Secondly, I would point out that just a week or so ago he was also declaiming and proclaiming to the world that under no circumstances would there be a NATO force enter into his country. A week later, we see something quite to the contrary. So I would not give more than is merited to a statement that he has somehow been successful because Kosovo has remained part of Serbia.

NATO indicated from the beginning that we supported autonomy for Kosovo and not independence, so we were successful in achieving both our military objectives and also our political objectives. And the success will not be determined until such time as we see a return of those refugees back to their homes in a safe and secure environment.

So we are not proclaiming success yet. We hope that we have sent a very strong message to Milosevic and others who would emulate him that this notion of ethnic cleansing is a concept that cannot be tolerated by the civilized world, and the fact that the international community has condemned what he has done, and that we are in the process of reversing what he has done by creating a safe environment from which the refugees can return to, will be evidence of the Western world - the entire international community, I should say - [of] NATO's success in reversing what he sought to do.

Q: Very briefly, can he afford to rebuild his own country?

Secretary Cohen: In view of the amount of damage that has been done, I doubt very much whether Serbia is in a position to rebuild his economy without extensive and substantial outside assistance.

Q: How can it be the degration of these forces (unintelligible) you? Do you seek more from the KFOR (unintelligible)? Or do you seek more from the peacekeeping that will come later under the umbrella of the United Nations?

Secretary Cohen: Of course, that's all to be determined by those who are now in the process of trying to integrate this. We have General Clark working with Sir Michael Jackson and others who will try to integrate the forces to make sure that we have an orderly flow of KFOR into Kosovo as quickly as possible. There's a lot of work to be done.

We will have to do extensive demining, clearing of the roads to make sure that the refugees can return safely. So those forces that will be pledged by various countries will have to be fully integrated into the plan. That may take some time. A lot depends in terms of the preparation that the Argentine forces, what state of preparation they're in for immediate deployment, whether it takes some days. All of that will be determined in the coming future. But I can't say right now exactly how soon they will go in and exactly what role they will play in the initial phases, or whether it will be sequenced in, into the subsequent phases. I think it's too early to say.

Q: When will the forces be prepared as Secretary Cohen has (inaudible)?

Minister Dominguez: These forces that we are offering are already prepared. We are, these are part of the armed forces, the Navy, the Army, and the Air Force, and also the Gendarmerie of Argentina that are ready to participate as soon as the international community requires.

Q: (In Spanish) I'm asking, Mr. Secretary, how long is the Argentinian government willing to let the forces remain in Kosovo.

Minister Dominguez: (In Spanish)

Secretary Cohen: Do you want to indicate for me what he said? (Laughter)

Voice: He has repeated the same thing that he said in English, Mr. Secretary, and he said that he is willing, the government of Argentina is willing to let those forces eventually from six to 12 months.

Do you have any comment on that, sir?

Secretary Cohen: I'll await my wife to translate everything he's saying this evening. (Laughter)

Q: Sir, can you discuss about your participation of Argentina from the command structure of the force, and what is your conditions?

Secretary Cohen: As we've indicated before, there will be a single military, as such. There will not be any kind of division in the command structure. It will be under NATO. So to the extent that it is decided how the forces can be employed, where they will be employed, under who's direct command they will be, that will be determined in the future, but it will be a NATO commander in charge. We'll have to wait and see how this can be integrated, how the Argentine forces can be integrated into that entire structure, but it's under a NATO command.

Q: (In Spanish) Has the government of Argentina considered receiving Kosovar refugees from (inaudible)?

Minister Dominguez: (In Spanish)

Q: Bueno. Muchisima gracias. (Laughter)

Minister Dominguez: Very good Spanish.

We are ready to receive some refugees at the decision of the NATO and the international community to keep the refugees, to send back to their own country.

Q: Congratulations and thanks. How do you feel personally?

Secretary Cohen: How do I feel? I am grateful that the United States exercised the leadership that it did. I am grateful that we had the support of the 18 other members of NATO. I am grateful that the American people and the international community looked with great horror at what Milosevic was doing and was prepared to support taking action against him. And I believe that it is because of the perseverance, the patience that has been exhibited under great pressure coming from many critics, that this could not be successfully concluded, have proven to be incorrect in that judgment.

This is not a case in which we're trying to set any precedents or engage in any declarations at this point other than to say we had to face a series of bad options. This was the best of the bad options that we had to carry out this air campaign under these circumstances.

I would just like to indicate that President Clinton, to his credit, throughout this period was committed to staying the course, to saying that we must keep our focus, that we cannot be distracted by the criticism, that we understand all that was involved, that we had no choice. We had to take action and not simply sit on the sidelines. I commend him for taking this lead and then staying with it and being able with the support of Secretary of State Albright, with Sandy Berger, with Strobe Talbott, with the Chairman, Vice Chair, all of us working together with our colleagues and our allies to say that Milosevic simply could not carry out this kind of horrific damage and ethnic cleansing policy without a response from the civilized world. So I'm grateful for that.

I'm somewhat relieved in terms of -- this week has been a very -- there haven't been many nights of respite. Tuesday night in particular was quite long. In fact there was no night. It was all one series of phone calls and meetings throughout the day and night into Wednesday. But I don't think any of us can say that this, by any means, is over. The hard part really is starting. The hardest part is perhaps coming up.

I want to take this occasion, and I will in a few moments in a larger setting, to commend the men and women in the military who have served us. This has been an extraordinary campaign. And while there were some who said that we were unwilling to take risk, in putting our men and women at risk, I'll tell you, those pilots were at risk every single night, and any one of them who was sitting in that cockpit who were flying over that territory looking at the prospect of having a surface-to-air missile being fired at their planes, with anti-aircraft fire being directed at them, all at the time they're flying at night, being required to hit their targets with absolute precision and then to leave the area in safety and return home, that, I will tell you, that they deserve an enormous amount of credit. We should be very grateful, all of us, for the commitment and the patriotism and the professionalism of our military.

Press: Thank you.

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