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DoD News Briefing: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
May 13, 1997 11:50 AM EDT

[This joint press conference follows the signing of a statement of military cooperation in areas of mutual interest between Secretary Cohen and Minister Rodionov in the Pentagon Briefing Studio.]

Secretary Cohen: Good morning.

[Joint statement signed.]

Secretary Cohen: Now we'll tell you what we've done. [Laughter]

My understanding is this will be done in not simultaneous translation, so it will take a bit longer.

First, I'm happy to welcome Igor Rodionov on his first visit to the Pentagon and to the United States in his position as Russia's Minister of Defense.

After a morning of talks, it's clear that Minister Rodionov and I share common views on several important issues. We agree, as did our Presidents recently in Helsinki, that the prospects for preserving peace and stability in the world improve when the United States and Russia work together. The cooperation of our troops in Bosnia demonstrates what is possible when we work shoulder to shoulder for peace.

We agree that the United States and Russia should reduce strategic nuclear forces further, and START II will cut existing arsenals by as much as 50 percent in both countries from START I levels. President Clinton and President Yeltsin have pledged to seek large additional reductions after the Duma ratifies START II.

Minister Rodionov and I are announcing today a contract to build a facility that will eliminate rocket motor cases and missile canisters from 410 intercontinental ballistic missiles that are being decommissioned under START I. The $52.4 million contract to Lockheed/Martin will be built by Russian workers and will employ Russian workers, and the project is being funded under the Nunn/Lugar program. This facility will be just as important in helping to eliminate weapons under START II.

We agree on the need to reduce chemical weapons as a threat. Under the Nunn/Lugar program we are building a pilot plant in the Urals to destroy chemical weapons. The United States hopes that the Russian Duma will soon ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention.

We also agree that we have to continue our dialogue, even when we have different views. As the world's leading military powers, Russia and the United States have an opportunity and an obligation to lead the rest of the world in the reduction of tensions. Both Minister Rodionov and I take this obligation very seriously, and I'm looking forward to future discussions with Minister Rodionov in Europe, in Russia, as well as in the United States.

We agree there is room for our militaries to work more closely, both on a bilateral basis and through the Partnership for Peace.

I'd like to focus for just a moment on the specific agreements that we endorsed this morning.

First, a renewed Joint Statement of Military Cooperation. This provides the basic framework for the relationship between our departments. This year we will cooperate in more than 100 exercises, visits, and training events.

Second, a new level of mutual effort in cooperative threat reduction programs.

Third, a new commitment to intense, regular interaction between our highest military education institutions -- the National Defense University and the Military Academy of the General Staff.

And Fourth, the establishment of a set of new expert working groups to explore specific cooperation on military reform, counterproliferation, theater missile defense, post-Bosnia peacekeeping, and military education for the 21st Century.

I now invite Minister Rodionov to address this group.

Minister Rodionov: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary.

Mr. Secretary, ladies and gentlemen, I consider that the visit of the official delegation of the Russian Minister of Defense has had a very dynamic start and very concrete issues are under consideration.

The development of relations in the military sphere between Russia and the United States of America is a law abiding and natural process of normalization of relations between our countries after the end of the Cold War.

The main objective of my visit to the United States is joint work with the American side to achieve principal agreements which are aimed at expansion of bilateral defensive cooperation in the spirit of pragmatism and openness on a wide range of issues which determine the modern conditions of dynamically developing relations between military departments of our countries.

Now we have all reasons to believe that Russia and the United States have a lot of points of contact on many directions of mutually advantageous cooperation.

We are very optimistic about the possibility of long term cooperation in the field of reforming the armed forces and the training of military personnel. Great hopes are connected with the combined work in planning peacekeeping operations within the framework of the United Nations and the OSC.

If we have [a] very serious and responsive approach to common problems, I think that we don't have any of them which we cannot resolve or at least draw our positions closer.

We are satisfied with the results of annual meetings of the bilateral working group on contacts in the zone of the Pacific Ocean, the first sitting of the Russian/American consultative group on defensive issues, and with the results of the annual exchanges within the last 18 months.

Our intention is to broaden cooperation in this field of curbing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, as well as to renew consultations within the framework of existing agreements on prevention of dangerous military activities.

I see very good prospects of our cooperation in the field of adaptation of those servicemen who are currently discharged from the military service in Russia, as well as on issues of peacekeeping operations where Russian and American contingents can work shoulder to shoulder.

I think that our relations are very promising. We need to preserve this tendency. This is the main objective of my visit.

Thank you very much.

Secretary Cohen: With great trepidation, Ken, I'll ask you to invite questions from the press.

Q: Minister Rodionov, I'm Charles Aldinger with Reuters. I'd like to ask, there was a report in Washington this week that due to malfunctions, Russian nuclear missiles have been accidentally put on alert recently. Is this true? And is it possible that Russian nuclear missiles could be launched accidentally or without authorization?

Minister Rodionov: I have never heard anything about it. As the Minister of Defense of Russia I stay in the office not the working day, but 24 hours. And 24 hours a day, I monitor how effective is the safety system for nuclear strategic forces in Russia. Sometimes in our press we also have statements of some irresponsible individuals which try to heat the public opinion.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to say that we do experience some shortages in funding, in financing our armed forces. But nevertheless, the strategic nuclear forces have the same level of funding as they used to have for many years.

Admiral Kuroyedov is the Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet. He can prove the correctness of my words. Recently with a visit, our Commander-in-Chief of Strategic Missile Forces came to the United States to prove the correctness of my words.

I want to assure you that we will do everything possible to insure that the safety and protection of our nuclear arsenal would never decrease.

Q: Did you discuss the issue of NATO's expansion eastward? And what are the prospects of these problems?

Minister Rodionov: Yes, we discussed this issue and it is already resolved. But each time I meet my American or European counterparts I try to explain the Russian position on this issue. It's a very sensitive and painful issue for Russia.

Today, there is a meeting in Moscow between the General Secretary of NATO, Mr. Solana, and the Russian Foreign Minister Primikov where they will finalize the charter, the agreement that would suit both NATO and Russia to the maximum extent.

But in general, I [can] say today that this is a mistake to expand NATO eastward. This problem may actually damage our relationship.

Q: As a follow-up, my question was addressed to both Secretaries, please.

Secretary Cohen: I believe that you asked the question did we discuss it and what are the prospects. The answer is yes, we discussed it; and as the Minister said, we agreed. We agreed to disagree. [Laughter]

Q: Speaking on issues in which, perhaps, you also may not agree, could you give us your view of the status of the safety of the Russian nuclear arsenal? Do you believe that Americans are safe from an accidental Russian launch?

Secretary Cohen: I have discussed this issue with the Commander of STRATCOM who has been in close contact with his counterpart, and have had extensive discussions this morning with Minister Rodionov. I believe based on those conversations, that the strategic nuclear forces are under secure control, and that the issue that we have to address for the future is to reduce the level of strategic weapons that both the United States and the Russians now have to much lower levels, and for that reason would hope that the Russian Duma would ratify START II so that we would move very quickly to START III discussions, and to reduce our strategic arsenals substantially below where they are today.

Minister Rodionov: I know the effectiveness of American intelligence, and I appreciate highly the professionalism of this agency. We have a direct telephone link with the Secretary of Defense of the United States. And if anything happens, I'm sure the Secretary Cohen would say 'Yes, I have some data. If you slacken the command and control system somewhere... and its reliability reduced, and immediately I would take measures.

I would call myself in a similar position to my counterpart in the United States; because we are both interested in the reliability of these systems.

Q: Is the United States ready to develop military technical cooperation with Russia, along with military cooperation?

Secretary Cohen: The short answer to that is yes. What we need to do is to have an agreed, negotiated statement that will allow us to share technical information with our Russian counterparts, and we are eager to do so. We must have an agreed statement first, however. This will be particularly true in the areas of theater missile defenses under which both Russian and American troops can be threatened, particularly if they're engaged in joint peacekeeping operations, and in view of the proliferation of missile technology and that of weapons of mass destruction, I believe it's imperative that we work together to reduce that threat to our troops and to our people.

Q: Yes, Bill Gertz, Washington Times. It was reported today... Minister Rodionov, it was reported today that the Pentagon's intelligence agency has determined that you are opposed to START II ratification, even after the changes to the treaty were made in Helsinki. What is your position on START II?

Minister Rodionov: It's not exactly true. When I was in the position of the Commandant of the General Staff Academy, at the very initial stage of conclusion of this document, START II Treaty, I had some doubts about the use of this treaty to Russia. But as the process moved along and the cooperation developed and a number of documents were signed between our sides, and especially after the Helsinki meeting of our two Presidents, I removed all doubts about this issue and now I am a great supporter of the START II Treaty, and I am doing everything possible to convince our legislators, especially in the defense committee of the Duma, to ratify this document.

I am deeply convinced that we can insure the security of our country even by a lesser number of missiles and warheads, and we need to do it.

Q: This is the correspondent from Sbordnin Newspapers, and he says that a great attention was focused during the meeting on the issues of restructuring the armed forces of Russia. Can you be more specific about the actual aid which America can provide, whether in the form of consultations or experience exchange in this field?

Secretary Cohen: I'm going to help Minister Rodionov and give him advice on how to close Russian bases, and he's going to help me persuade the Congress that we should do the same. [Laughter]

Minister Rodionov: I will be very short. I know the volume of work which the American nation applied when reforming its armed forces after the war in Vietnam was over. The consequences of the Cold War for us are equal to the consequences of the Vietnam War for you. It's not only the downsizing of the armed forces... born of the reform. It's the... improvement.

For example, in our army we don't have the institut[ion] of NCOs, non-commissioned officers. On the other hand, I know how strong is the NCO Corps in the United States Army. I am very much interested in training of NCOs in the United States armed forces.

We continue with the reduction of officers in the armed forces and we need to retrain them, to adapt them for civilian life, and the United States is rendering specific and very concrete assistance in this field. Technical [equipment], [inaudible], unification. You have great experience in this issue, and we need to learn.

So there are many problems in which the United States can offer us a great help. We will be very grateful for it.

Secretary Cohen: The Minister will also be given a fairly detailed briefing on the QDR process which has, thus far, made its way into the press. [Laughter] And hopefully, he will benefit from that experience and illumination and take the experience that we have had in reshaping our forces and force structure and modernizing them back to Russia so he can try to accomplish the same.

Press: Thank you very much.

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