Honor Cordon with Romanian Minister of Defense Victor Babiuc
Secretary Cohen: Good afternoon.
I am pleased to welcome Minister Babiuc back to the Pentagon. During the course of our meeting, I thanked him for the help that Romania gave to NATO during Operation Allied Force. Romania gave unrestricted overflight rights for NATO planes. And since the conflict has ended, Romania has moved to help build peace in Kosovo. It has announced plans to send a military hospital as well as an engineering unit to participate in KFOR.
Two years ago in Madrid, the United States and Romania entered a strategic partnership. And we agreed to work together to make Romania the best possible candidate for NATO. And as I have said on so many occasions, the door to NATO membership remains open, but that door stands at the top of a very steep staircase.
To help Romania up that staircase, the United States conducted an assessment of Romania's armed forces. That assessment, which I delivered to Minister Babiuc today, recommends that Romania concentrate on essential reforms. And these include downsizing, restructuring, and improvements in training, logistics, and command and control. This assessment provides a road map to guide the United States and Romanian militaries as we continue to work together.
Minister Babiuc [through translator]: I agree with everything the Secretary of Defense has said. We discussed today the possibilities of cooperation between the American Army and the Romanian Army. We discussed Kosovo. We discussed expanding the Alliance. We talked about the upcoming meeting of the Ministers of Defense of Southern European Countries. We agreed almost 100 percent on this topic.
I found the same favorable frame of mind in connection with the cooperation of the Romanian Army. We talked about several new possibilities for cooperation, which, at the moment, are being studied by generals of the Romanian and American armies.
I thank the United States for everything they have done for Romania so far. I thank them for what they will do in the future so that Romania can be prepared, as it should, to become the very strongest candidate to join NATO.
Until then, we are cooperating in Kosovo and in any other places where it will be necessary.
Question: Mr. Secretary, might I ask. There is growing dissent now in Serbia. Is there a rising tide afoot now in that country that could sweep Milosevic out of office?
Secretary Cohen: Well, there is evidence of increasing demonstrations against Milosevic. The report that there are some 10,000 people who are openly expressing opposition to Milosevic remaining in power in one city, I think, is evidence of what I have long believed -- that once this conflict was ended, the people of Serbia would look back and say, what has Milosevic brought us? A decade full of war. Four separate wars that were started. He has succeeded in having our economy retarded and set back several decades, at the very least. He has succeeded in having substantial damage inflicted upon the military. He has succeeded in having Serbia isolated in the world community and the subject of great international political criticism.
So I think that once given the opportunity to assess exactly what he has brought them during the past decade, that they will give serious consideration to having new leadership.
Question: Do you think his status is shaky now?
Secretary Cohen: I think it's too early to tell. I think there is growing evidence of criticism that is mounting in the wake of people understanding they've lost their jobs; they have lost members of their family. They have been isolated, again, politically. And their economy is going to take years to repair as a result of his actions. So I suspect that there is going to be a level of criticism that will continue to escalate. No doubt he will do everything in his power to manipulate the news in ways that would seem favorable to him. But I think that as long as people have access to information that is uncensored, they will understand that whatever his machinations or manipulations, that they have suffered serious losses for which he is accountable.
Question: Mr. Babiuc, can you give us some examples about programs -- [off microphone]?
Minister Babiuc: We have suggested several broad programs for cooperation, such as support for restructuring the Romanian Army, a project which is based on a study done by General Kibinar Injstim [ph]; a project for the management of human resources in Brasov so that it can become operational next fall; another program to establish a shooting range on the territory of Romania, another project in order to increase the standard of living of the military. As we are now restructuring and reducing our armed forces, we are trying to preserve and to keep the best people. And there are several other things that we discussed which might not be of general interest.
Question: Mr. Secretary, General Clark said the other day that there is indication that some Serb military have stayed behind in Kosovo. I'm wondering whether you are concerned this could be the seeds of a future conflict?
Secretary Cohen: Well, the Serbs are required to remove all of their forces. And that is something that KFOR will insist upon. It is not acceptable for the Serbs to remain behind and try to establish any kind of a presence. So I think KFOR will continue to look for the Serb presence, and insist there be full compliance, as they should.
Question: Mr. Secretary, if you please, could you tell us what will be the United States expectations for the future from Romania, from the point of view of NATO membership?
Secretary Cohen: What the United States and all NATO members would expect would be for Romania to continue on the path of reform that they have undertaken. The Romanian government enjoys, I think, strong support from a number of NATO countries, in terms of their efforts to date. One of the reasons that we proposed this study that was conducted by OSD and the European Command was to identify those things that have to be done, and as I mentioned, downsizing the military, restructuring it, improving its training, logistics, and especially command, control and communications.
In other words, to do all the things that would make the Romanian military a key partner, and one that's capable of fully integrating into NATO operations. That, in addition to maintaining a strong democratic society and one that has a number of economic reforms that would be necessary to sustain a commitment to defense spending. All of those things would be involved in evaluating Romania's candidacy for the next round of admissions.
And we feel favorably inclined to Romania, as the President has indicated. We have made no commitment to Romania, Slovenia, Bulgaria, any other country. We say all who would qualify can be candidates, but that there are very high standards. So we are working closely with Romania to help them achieve the kind of reforms that would be necessary to qualify.
Question: Mr. Secretary, if I could follow up on Bob's question. General Michael Jackson, this morning, said that one of the concerns was not organized Serbs in the area of Kosovo, but rebel groups, rebel bands that are put together, were armed and were roaming the countryside. Do you find that to be a problem? And if so, what's being done about it?
Secretary Cohen: We had anticipated there might be these sporadic groups or attempts to disrupt the peace process there. What will be important is for us to accelerate, to the extent we can, the arrival of the full KFOR force. Right now there are some 20,000 who are in Kosovo. We would expect the majority of forces to arrive within two weeks to make up the majority of that 50,000-person force.
But during the next two weeks, I think we can expect to see this kind of sporadic incident occur, and KFOR will move as aggressively as it can to prevent that from taking place. But I think we've got to move as quickly as we can to get the full force in as soon as we can. And right now we're looking at the next couple of weeks before we can get the majority of that force in.
Question: Has that been a problem so far?
Secretary Cohen: It has not been a major problem to date.
Voice: One last question from Romanian TV.
Question: I have a question for Mr. Babiuc. [through translator:] Given the incidents in the recent days about transgressing the airspace of Romania, have you discussed with Mr. Cohen maybe strengthening security measures and such?
Minister Babiuc: One of the projects that we've discussed is to make the eastern border of Romania impassable from the military point of view -- obviously, not from the point of view of customs and the border. This project is going to be discussed and assessed by generals of both the Romanian and the American armies, to see what can be done.
Voice: Thank you very much.
[End of transcript.]