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Joint Press Conference with Secretary Cohen and Spanish MoD, Serra, Madrid.

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
February 05, 1999

Joint Press Conference with Secretary Cohen and Spanish MoD, Serra, Madrid.

Minister Serra. Good morning. Secretary of Defense (Cohen) and I appear before you today. We are going to begin by giving you some news about the reason for his visit and about the issues we have talked about. Mr. Secretary you may take the floor.

Secretary Cohen. Buenos días. First let me thank Minister Serra for hosting this very short but important visit of our delegation. President Clinton and I visited Madrid for the NATO Summit in 1997, and I wanted to come back and to consult with Minister Serra as NATO prepares for the Washington Summit this spring. This year's summit is going to affirm NATO's 50-year success in protecting peace and freedom and will celebrate the expansion of democracy across Europe.

The road to the Washington summit began in Madrid. Spain's entry into NATO, its full integration into the military structure and its program to build a modern, professional military make it a model for new democracies joining the Alliance either this year or, indeed, into the future. Spain and the U.S. are united in wanting to make sure that NATO is as successful in the next half century as it has been in the last. NATO's fundamental mission is always going to remain the collective defense of its members, and NATO's focus will always remain firmly fixed on maintaining security in the Euro-Atlantic area.

But in the last few years, NATO has shown that it can face new challenges such as ethnic strife that occur outside the borders of the NATO members. NATO met the challenge in Bosnia, where U.S. and Spanish forces are working together. And the Alliance has helped to create the possibility of a settlement in Kosovo.

The U.S. is particularly pleased that European countries working within NATO are ready to provide the substantial majority of force to implement a peace agreement in Kosovo, if the Rambouillet talks are successful.

One of the issues that Minister Serra and I discussed is the need for NATO to enhance dialogue to promote peace and stability in the Mediterranean region. Spain has played a leadership role in Mediterranean security issues and the U.S. supports these efforts. And just as NATO has adjusted its forces to deal with instability on its periphery, it must be able to respond to new security threats that target Europe. These threats include terrorism, biological and chemical weapons.

NATO has no desire to become a global security force, but it must have the will and the capability to protect Europe from threats from beyond its borders. A strong security parternship between Spain and the U.S. makes an important contribution to NATO's defense of common interests. Spain's support of U.S. operations at Rota helps the U.S. to carry out its international responsibilities, and we appreciate very much the use of Rota.

This visit has reaffirmed the shared values of Spain and the U.S., as well our determination to work together within NATO to protect those values.

Minister Serra and I were good friends before this meeting. We are even better friends now, and I must say that on my very first visit to Madrid, Minister Serra and his wife entertained my wife at a dinner and we established from that moment, that very first moment, a strong personal friendship which we have maintained during the past two years; and it is one that I thoroughly enjoy. I was eager to come, at Minister Serra's invitation, and look forward to working with him at the Washington Summit and well beyond. He is a good friend and one whose friendship I treasure.

Thank you very much.

Minister Serra. Good afternoon. Confirming everything that Secretary Cohen has said, it is true that since our first meeting at the Madrid Summit, our first meeting in Madrid, we have established a strong and personal friendship. I hope that it will last for many years. During this current short but substantive visit of Secretary Cohen to Madrid, we have spoken largely about issues of common concern. The most important, as he has indicated, is the Summit in Washington. The Washington Summit represents two things. First, the 50th anniversary of the NATO Alliance, which has had unprecedented success, an Alliance that has maintained peace in Europe for the longest period of time since the German Empire. But the Washington Summit is also a summit where a rebirth of the Alliance for the 21st Century will take place.

As Secretary Cohen has said, the Alliance in the 21st Century must be inspired by the principle of dialogue, of cooperation, and of stability. At the same time, we have spoken of other current matters such as the situation in Kosovo and the hopes that we both share for the success of the discussions that will begin tomorrow in Dranbulle (?). We have also spoken of the bilateral relation, a long and productive bilateral relation in the area of defense, between the United States and Spain. Spain has always shown that while it might be the most recent member of the Alliance, it by no means compares unfavorably to any of the older members in loyalty to the Alliance. And this is nothing more than a new application of Spain's traditional position in international affairs.

I want to thank Mr. Cohen for the understanding that he continually showed in the last difficult moments of the discussions (and the last moments of some discussions are always difficult) that led to Spain's becoming integrated in a normal manner into the military structure [of NATO]; and for his understanding in general of Spanish positions and attitudes. In addition, we have made known how much we value the fact that Spain belongs to the Alliance and how much we value the bilateral relationship with the United States.

I will end by making reference to something very dear to Spain. I am very grateful for this particular detail which I commented on yesterday, which has to do with dialogue, Mediterranean dialogue. Spain is on one of the frontiers of the Alliance. We have a zone which for us is very singular, that is the Mediterranean, and we have an enormous interest in conserving, maintaining, and increasing stability on the two shores of the Mediterranean.

I am very grateful for the deference shown to Spanish leadership. The truth is that, for us, increasing the stability, extending the stability and security of this Euro-Atlantic zone, extending the limits of that zone, is one of the priorities of our defense policy.

Without further introduction, the only thing I ask is that when you ask questions, tell us what media you represent and to which minister you are addressing your question.

  • Q: Britain and France both put troops on standby alert, units on standby alert, for possible movement into Kosovo. While realizing that President Clinton has not made a decision yet, you are being very cautious about this, has the U.S. put any units on stand-by for a possible movement to Kosovo?
  • A: (Cohen): In view of the fact that no decision has been made on the part of the U.S. at this point, our forces remain at their current state of readiness. There has been no directive to intensify or increase that state of alertness at this point. Obviously, our air forces that are always on short stand-by, as far as any air operations, would continue in that fashion, but we have made no change as far as the alert status of our forces, generally.
  • Q: General Naumann said in Bonn this morning that your forces are prepared to launch air strikes if the talks fail or collapse. Is this true and will they strike just military targets?
  • A: (Cohen): As we indicated the ACTORD (Activation Order) was adopted last fall at a time when the Serbian forces were really posing a serious threat to several hundred thousand people who were up in the mountains, without any relief from the cold or from starving. That ACTORD was then directed against Serb forces to pull back and to stop threatening those innocent people. That ACTORD remains in effect today and I assume that that is what General Naumann has referred to.

And so there are two issues involved. One in which compliance with the agreement that Mr. Milosevic signed up to, so to speak, last fall under the leadership of Richard Holbrooke -- that remains in effect and to the extent that Milosevic is in violation of that, then certainly he runs the risk of air strikes being directed against his forces.

With respect to the settlement, as such, as far as a peaceful and negotiated agreement, that's something that we have to wait to find out whether or not the Serbs and the other forces, KLA and the UCK forces, are willing to sit down at the table at Rambouillet and negotiate an agreement.

  • Q: Secretary Cohen, did you receive any assurances from the Spanish government today that they would also contribute forces to a peacekeeping force and in what proportion?
  • A: (Cohen): We have discussed the issue of Kosovo to be sure, and Minister Serra and I both agree that there has to be an agreement on the part of all parties before there can be any consideration of the NATO ground forces entering into Kosovo. In view of the fact there has been no agreement at this point, it is premature to speculate, or calculate, what kind of a force, if any, is going to be required to go into Kosovo.

We would expect, as I indicated before, if it's a NATO decision we would expect NATO members to contribute to a NATO operation in some fashion, consistent with their own abilities, requirements budgets and mission. That has not yet been determined and so Spain is no more in a position to make a determination on this than is the U.S. at this point. We both first have to see if there is going to be an agreement before we can make any kind of determination what our contribution will be in a way of an enforcement force, an enforcement contribution, to that mission.

As I've indicated, I believe, because European countries have taken the lead on this issue, we would expect European countries, members of NATO, to bear the large measure of responsibility for the enforcement of an agreement, if an agreement can be reached. But I think it is premature at this point to speculate what the composition of forces would be.

  • Q: Yes. Hello. I want to ask the Minister of Defense -- I am from Canal Sur Radio -- if in these discussions you have spoken of enlarging the military base at Rota.
  • A: (Serra): Yes, we have spoken, as I explained before, of certain discussions that already began in the middle of last year of the possibility of enlarging the base at Rota. Secretary Cohen has made reference to the importance that that base has, and we have expressed our points of view. No, there is no agreement at the moment because this is not the moment to arrive at an agreement. Both parties have expressed their positions. We believe that we will arrive at an agreement, but we still have a road to travel.
  • Q: Hello. Good afternoon. I want to ask Minister Serra a question, but I would like also to ask it of Mr. Cohen. It is related to the question my friend Aurora asked. In the event that the Spanish government authorizes the enlargement and improvement of the installations at the base at Rota, does that mean that Rota will be consolidated and considered an important base for future military actions of the United States or of NATO, in the Middle East, for example. Thank you.
  • A: (Serra): Let's see. Rota is an important base. What is being planned is enlarging the ramp space for airplanes, but it is already an important base. I believe that for many years Rota has been a consolidated base, and here we are speaking of the opportunity (taking into account the cost and the financing) of enlarging the ramp space for airplanes that might be necessary in a very important operation. But qualitatively, the nature of the base will not change.

A: (Cohen) I agree with Minister Serra.

Q: Mr. Minister, I know that you have said that it is premature to speak about the number of troops. The French and the British have spoken, official spokespersons including one Minister, about the number of troops that they would provide in case they had to support a hypothetical agreement in DRANBULLE. What number of troops would Spain provide, or would the Spanish Defense Ministry be in a position to send, I mean within the hypothetical case, in the event of such an agreement?

A: (Serra): I believe, as Secretary Cohen stated, that here are two conditional factors here. One is to reach an agreement in the DRANBULLE talks, something, as he said, both of us agree is a sine qua non before NATO can undertake an operation. In the second place, the decision of the Spanish government. Naturally, you know the size of our forces. You know the size of our land army, of our maneuvering ability, and therefore it is not a question of possibility. It is a question of will which the government has to decide. And therefore, as long as the above is not a reality, it is impossible to determine. I am sure that we will follow with maximum interest the developments of the discussions, and we will see the desirability, the nature of the NATO operation, and we will do so at the national level. I believe it is very important to underline the fact that it is an operation in which we all agree that it must be achieved within the framework of the Atlantic Alliance No more questions? Thank you very much and good morning.