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Media Availability with German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
March 15, 1999 12:00 PM EDT

Secretary Cohen: Good afternoon. I'm very glad to welcome Minister Scharping back to the Pentagon. We have just finished a very good and formal discussion of major bilateral and multilateral issues. And we agree that the bilateral relationship between the United States and Germany is extremely strong. Among a number of subjects that we discussed were plans to improve NATO's capabilities, the development of a European security defense identity within NATO and also Kosovo. The talks that are starting in Paris today offer both sides a peaceful resolution to this dispute, and we hope that they will all take advantage of this opportunity.

Mr. Scharping.

Minister of Defense Scharping: First of all, I want to mention that our discussions, I don't know if the word is right, but our talks about NATO strategy are based on a very close friendship and a very good bilateral relation. And I'm sure that there will be no real difficulty or difference between the United States and Germany in all the points we have to debate about NATO strategy, including that of the European security and defense identity. I'm sure that the Americans will perceive it in the right way, that the Europeans want to have a fair burden sharing, which in the past was always asked by the Americans, and I think that they are right. On the other side, it's necessary that the Europeans overcome their own weakness, and we are ready to do so, starting after the NATO summit an initiative to indeed create the WEU into the European Union. And thirdly, there are some bilateral points, but we are in good shape and on a good personal and political basis, so it's a good cooperation and I appreciate [it] very much.

Secretary Cohen: Welcome back.

QI'd like to ask both of you gentlemen, if Milosevic does not agree to a NATO peacekeeping force now that the Kosovars have agreed to peace, will NATO planes strike Serb targets? And will those strikes be immediately heavy and punishing, or would they be phased to bring pressure on Belgrade?

AFirst of all, it was positive news today that the Kosovars have agreed to sign the proposal, and we hope that they will, in fact, sign the agreement. That will shift responsibility very quickly to Mr. Milosevic. He will be under considerable pressure to sign at that point, knowing that he does face the undivided coalition that will insist that he be supportive and that the Act Order remains in effect. And so, we will hope that he will see the handwriting is very much on the wall for him to observe and will take peaceful action as opposed to seeking greater conflict.

MOD Scharping: Let me add a very short remark. I hope and to ask for absolutely clear is because Milosevic must be clear that NATO is ready and decided to act if necessary. The target is to reach a political agreement and to implement it in a NATO-led operation. I hope there is no illusion about NATO's ability and readiness to act if necessary.

Speaker: Question from the German side.

QMr. Secretary, have you made any progress in the question of contemplating the German victims of the ski lift accident in Calavese, Italy?

AWell, we are operating under the stationing [Status] of Forces Agreement. And I believe that the Italian government has indicated that as soon as all of the paperwork has been completed, they will be prepared to take compensatory action within 30 days. We are prepared, as soon as that takes place, to go forward. There has been some advance compensation given to the families of the victims, but we are waiting for the process to complete itself, and we hope that can take place very, very soon.

QAny update on the status of that same subject of going ahead with the court-martial of Capt. Schweitzer?

ANo, I have no information about further proceedings. There are further charges still pending and that will have to be resolved by the military authorities. And I would expect some time during the course of this week they'll make a decision in terms of how they intend to proceed.

Speaker: Question from the Germany side.

QMr. Secretary, on the subject of Iraq, are you resigned to the fact that this whole war of attrition against Saddam's air defenses is going on endlessly either until he resigns and decides he cannot challenge NATO -- sorry, allied forces-- anymore or something catastrophic happens, either in way of a lucky shot by the Iraqis or an accident?

AWe are -- as I've indicated on many occasions, we are prepared to continue the containment policy of the United States and to insist on full compliance with the Security Council resolutions and enforce the no-fly zones. There will be no attacks carried out against military targets in the event that Saddam Hussein stops trying to target our aircraft. We are going to take whatever action necessary to protect our pilots. And so, the way for attacks on surface-to-air missile sites, anti-aircraft attacks and radars is to simply stop trying to shoot our aircraft down. So we're prepared to carry it out as long as necessary to enforce the no-fly zones.

QMr. Secretary, returning to the ski lift accident --

ATo what?

QThe ski lift, the cable car. Given the distinct possibility that there will be no criminal culpability, are you satisfied that people have been held accountable or will be?

AWell, I really can't comment on the process at this point given my position. I'll have to withhold any comment concerning the process.

QMr. Secretary, going back to Kosovo, Russia is opposed to NATO air strikes without going to the United Nations first. Is the United States and NATO carrying out any negotiations or talks at this time with Russians to alleviate their fears and objections?

MOD Scharping: First of all, there are many talks with the Russians, and it is important that Russia join to the efforts of the contact group to reach a political agreement. That's the one point. The other point is that we are acting, if it's necessary to act, on the basis of the decision of the Security Council last October and in order to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe. That's the same situation as in October last year, and I do not find any reason to act in a different way than we announced in October last year.

Speaker: Two more questions, one German, one American.

Q (Inaudible) also discussed the matter of arms cooperation, such as the MEADS system and its further development and the American restrictions on technologies transfer to allied such as Germany.

AWe have had discussions both here and also in Munich and Bonn during the course of February when we both attended the Wehrkunde Conference and then went to Bonn to have private discussions. And so, we believe that it's important that countries which we are able to cooperate with either at a government-to-government basis or private companies, that there be certain standards set and adhered to as far as export controls of technology and that there be appropriate security measures taken at the company level. I don't think there's any disagreement on that, the need to have greater cooperation between European companies, specifically German companies who wish to do business with our companies here, either mergers, acquisitions, other types of arrangements, and that there be an appropriate level of security that's maintained both at the governmental level and the company level. So we think that those discussions have been very fruitful.

QI just want to come back to Kosovo one more time. The violence is continuing there and I'm wondering how concerned the administration is, and is there anything that can be done to try and help suppress the violence in Kosovo while NATO remains talking about what to do? What do you do in the interim?

AWell, we've indicated before that NATO is not prepared at this point at least, to commit forces into a non-permissive environment. What we are doing is intensifying our diplomatic efforts to bring about a peaceful resolution. And the agreement on the part of the Kosovars to sign up to this agreement is a very positive step. That will shift, as I indicated before, the burden very quickly on to Mr. Milosevic. And then he will have to face some consequences in the event that he intensifies his actions in the short term or, indeed, is unwilling to agree to a peaceful settlement. So, we are pursuing diplomacy at this point, but NATO has not decided to try to intervene in a non-permissive environment at this point.

QWhat are the consequences if he intensifies his actions in the short term?

AWell, I think that he would bare a heavy responsibility of creating a humanitarian disaster at that point for which he would be responsible and would be held accountable.

QIs Kosovo currently a non-permissive environment?

AWe believe as long as there is civil strife and warfare conducted at certain levels, that that would constitute a non-permissive environment. Both parties, all parties have to agree in order for there to be a ground presence, in other words a peacekeeping presence. And that's what we're talking about here, that we are not going to put forces on the ground in order to make a peace. There has to be an agreement before such time as NATO forces will go in for a peacekeeping or peace-implementing force. With respect to air strikes, that's another matter. The Act Order has been in effect for some time now, since last fall. It remains in effect and the secretary general, of course, would consult with all of the NATO countries or the principle countries involved in determining whether or not it should be acted upon or executed. And that's something we'll have to pursue on a day-by-day basis.

QThank you very much.

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