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DoD News Briefing: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
May 01, 1997 9:00 AM EDT
[This media availability follows a ceremony in which Secretary Cohen and Minister of Defense General Colonel Oleksandr Kuzmuk of Ukraine signed an Amendment to Strategic Nuclear Arms Elimination Agreement; a Reciprocal Health Care Agreement; and a Statement of Intent on Future Military Medical Cooperation.]

Secretary Cohen: It gives me a great deal of pleasure to welcome Minister Kuzmuk on his very first visit to the United States.

In 1993, Ukraine made a very bold and progressive choice. It decided to dismantle its strategic nuclear arsenal. The people of Ukraine recognize that security comes from constructive alliances and not from nuclear weapons. And Ukraine's commitment to peaceful disarmament is an inspiration to the rest of the world.

The United States and Ukraine worked very closely together and our cooperation has helped lead to the speedy removal of Ukraine's nuclear weapons. Our soldiers have worked shoulder to shoulder in Partnership for Peace exercises. In fact, Ukraine will host a major exercise, the Cooperative Neighbor, this summer.

We are helping to train the Ukrainian noncommissioned officers as a part of Ukraine's ambitious military reform effort. Ukraine and NATO are working on a charter and we and our allies are discussing the creation of the Ukrainian-Polish battalion that will make the Ukraine even more of a force in maintaining peace and stability. And I am looking forward to future meetings, a future visit on my part to the Ukraine to continue the friendship that I've established this morning with Minister Kuzmuk; and I look forward to working with you in the future.

Minister Kuzmuk: (Through interpreter) First of all, I would like to thank the American people for the warmth and hospitality that we have felt at every step of the way during the last three days of our visit to the U.S.

During these three days, we have had a chance to talk to average Americans. We have had a chance to get acquainted with the life or actually to live the life of the Marines, of the Army, the Navy, of the Air Force; and I would like to tell you that the impressions that were formed during the 70 years of our Soviet history, the impressions that we had of America are gone with the wind right now and we wish to cooperate with the U.S. We wish to get to know each other and we wish that both of our countries together will become a force for the betterment for the future of the world.

I invited Secretary Cohen to come to Ukraine and I am so very pleased that he has accepted this invitation for the summer of '97 and I think when he comes, he will be able to see practically, with his own eyes, what Ukrainian and American soldiers together are creating.

Thank you very much.

Secretary Cohen: Open to your questions.

Q: Sir, I just wanted to ask one quick question. There is -- when the Soviet Union broke up, the bulk of the Russian strategic bomber force is in the Ukraine. How are negotiations going on between Ukraine and Russia for control of that bomber force. I understand Russia would like some of those airplanes back?

Minister Kuzmuk: After the break up of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was the third largest nuclear power in the world. The strategic -- the nuclear forces of Ukraine were composed of the strategic rocket forces and also of the strategic weapons that were within the air force of Ukraine. Once we renounced our nuclear status and once we took it upon ourselves to eliminate our nuclear weapons, Ukraine has done so indeed. First of all.

Ukraine did what the entire world was expecting and wanted and removed the warheads from its missiles. We are very carefully keeping to the time table for the elimination of ICBMs. Yes, the larger part of the strategic aviation has remained in Ukraine. Ukraine is the owner of this. But all the equipment that had been on board this aviation, all the cruise missiles, everything that went along with them, everything that could have been used for strategic purposes has been eliminated. There are about 50 long range bombers, TU-160, TU-95. This is analogous to your B-1 bomber and B-52. Russia proposed -- we proposed this these to Russia but we have not gotten an answer from Russia and I really doubt that we will get an answer from Russia. And Ukraine will not be modernizing these bombers.

So yesterday at the Air Combat Command, I answered this question. I said if there were to be a conflict, these bombers would have to leave Ukraine, travel through the United States, pick up allies and actually finish up on their way. They do have a defensive character and Ukraine has a defensive doctrine to defend its country -- to defend its territorial integrity.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I wonder what you might tell us where and what you will be looking in a replacement for Dr. White, and what specific role Senator Rudman will play in Gulf War Illness?

A: Well with respect to Senator Rudman, as you know there has been a continuing controversy as far as the investigation into the Gulf War Illness situation. I believe that Dr. Bernie Rostker has performed an admirable job. He is doing a very thorough, professional investigation. As I've indicated on many occasions before, I would expect additional bad news to develop. As we dig further into the matter, we're likely to find more missing logs or destroyed computer disks. As I've reiterated time and time again, this was not well handled from the beginning but we're trying to find out the facts, and when your trying to search for the facts, then obviously your bound come across additional information that was not forthcoming or destroyed. So we're trying to piece together the entire story. I think he's doing an outstanding job.

There still continues to be criticism about the level of cooperation that is existing. There's some criticism directed toward the Department. One way, for me at least, to deal with this is to have someone of Senator Rudman's reputation and capabilities to serve as an ombudsman of sorts, to be someone who can coordinate the information that is forthcoming from the CIA and from the DoD and to make sure the story is complete. He will serve in that capacity, as a coordinator essentially, to look at the information forthcoming from the agency, to coordinate that with what we have at DoD to present as full as picture, and serve as an independent overseer as such; so that everyone will be satisfied that this, the information is not be manipulated; information is not being with held. There is no cover-up.

I think someone of Senator Rudman's stature and expertise and background will serve this function very, very well. I know that the White House has great confidence in him as do I and many others in this country. So that will be his function.

Q: Will he move over here?

A: I doubt very much that he'll move over here. He'll have assistance from us and from the agency as well. We'll make sure that he is well staffed and will have an opportunity to come here as often as he needs to.

Q: And with [Dr.] White, where and what you will be looking for?

A: Well we obviously look for someone who is familiar with Defense issues, is familiar management techniques and responsibilities. Someone who is highly regarded by those in the Pentagon and Capitol Hill. Someone who can, in fact, serve as Deputy as Dr. White. So we're looking for the same qualities that Dr. White has exhibited throughout his tenure here.

Q: Will you look at private industry and at academia or strictly within the Department?

A: I think we will look for the most qualified individuals. It could come from within the Pentagon, but we will look at all candidates.

Q: Mr. Defense Minister, does Ukraine want to be a member of NATO?

Minister Kuzmuk: Ukraine has made a very clear statement that it is a neutral, non-block country. And this is the political status of Ukraine right now.

But you know, to answer your question, I would like to give it a little bit of a philosophical bent. There is nothing permanent in the past, in the present and in the future.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.