Opening Statement of Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
The United Sates Government, President Clinton and I are deeply saddened by the cable car disaster.
I want to take this occasion to express my deepest sympathies to the families and loved ones of the victims of this tragedy.
I gave Minister Andreatta my personal assurance that the United States is committed to a complete and open investigation. A joint Italian-American military team is currently investigating this incident. This board contains experts from both the United States and Italian militaries. An Italian Air Force Colonel on that board has custody of the plane's mission recorder and radar approach control tapes. Since there is more than one investigation underway, the United States and Italy will share all physical evidence gathered during the investigations.
There is a need collectively to review our common NATO flight requirements, including low-level flight rules, in order to help prevent such tragedies from occurring in the future. And to this end, we are ready to bring our expertise and our experience together with our Italian friends and NATO allies to work on these issues. And working together, we will make training as safe and effective as possible.
This past Thursday I announced that the United States is dispersing a total of $100,000 to families of the victims to help defray some immediate funeral expenses. The United States and Italian attorneys are working together under the Status of Forces Agreement to expedite payment of additional claims.
The United States is determined to work with Italy to deal with the aftermath of this tragedy as quickly as possible.
Minister Andreatta's opening statement. (in Italian)
Q: Mr. Secretary, there have been charges that there was a cover-up involved, that there is data missing from the mission recorder. Can you enlighten us on those problems at all?
Cohen: There has been some, I think, misinformation concerning this. The aircraft does not have a recorder, a black box recorder that is comparable to that found in commercial airlines in terms of voice transmissions. There is information contained in two separate recorders one of which would deal with flight information terms of altitude, longitude and path of flight and this information has been turned over to the Italian authorities. There are two individual devices as such. Both are now in the hands of the Italian authorities and, to my knowledge, there has been no tampering with that evidence.
Q: Mr. Secretary what would be the impact on the ability and efficiency of U.S. pilots to fly in Bosnia as long as low-level training flights are suspended?
Cohen: Well that's a matter that has to be determined. Obviously, there is a purpose behind low-level flight testing and training so that they can perform their mission in Bosnia. We are going to undertake, in a joint fashion, to see what training requirements can be carried out in the future and should be carried out in order to assure our respective publics and our militaries that their mission can be safely completed in Bosnia and elsewhere.
Q: Mr. Secretary, there has been a quite a bit of grumbling by U.S. members of Congress who have been attending the session here about the lack of support by NATO allies for the U.S. position in Iraq. Do you share that view as well?
Cohen: As I've indicated, I believe the best way to avoid any need to resort to military action in this regard is for all of our NATO friends, UN members, those in the Security Council, in particular perhaps, to reaffirm their commitment to their own resolutions. I have been of the opinion that any refusal on the part of NATO members, and I should say Security Council members, to stand by and insist upon full compliance with their own resolutions can only give comfort to those who would undermine the process itself. Saddam Hussein is interested in dividing the Security Council members and the United Nations by breaking them off into separate groups, as such. That works to his advantage and I would think that the Security Council members and others would rally behind the United Nations resolutions since they have passed these resolutions for a specific purpose: to prevent Saddam Hussein from developing his weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, chemical and biological. To the extent that they refuse to acknowledge that he has in fact impeded or breached his obligations under those resolutions and may in fact not be lending themselves to a diplomatic solution, but rather undermining that.
Q: Do you feel you're getting the political support of NATO allies?
Cohen: I believe you heard Chancellor Kohl indicate that he would provide bases, if necessary, to support the American military. That was a very welcome statement. I believe we have other NATO members who in fact will support the United States in seeking to enforce the resolutions. Hopefully, diplomatically, but that remains to be seen in terms of what commitment they would make in terms of either military support or moral support for that position.
Q: Is there any provision that you see under the Status of Forces Agreement that would allow Italy to prosecute the pilot?
Cohen: I think I'll have to defer that question to the attorneys involved. I'm not in a position to make that determination.
Q: …do you think that should be allowed? Cohen: I think I should wait for the attorneys to make that determination.
Q: Did Chancellor Kohl mean to offer you additional air bases or did he mean that he would be happy for you to use existing American air bases and facilities, could you clarify that?
Cohen: Well, perhaps he could clarify that. I believe the latter is the case. He said existing facilities could be made available, if they were needed.
Q: So existing American air bases could be used if you needed it? Cohen: I believe that's what he said.
Q: What did you think about the rest of his statement? Do you think he went further? Did it meet your needs?
Cohen: I think Chancellor Kohl indicated that he believes that the Security Council resolutions should be abided by and should be enforced. Once again, I would expect that he would hope for a diplomatic resolution. But I would gather from his statements that he believes that the United States is right in insisting that there be full compliance on the part of the Iraqi dictatorship.
Q: Is France now the only remaining problem in terms of support?
Cohen: I think the French have done fine in working to arrive at a diplomatic solution and their efforts continue so I wouldn't want to preclude their support at this time.
Q: Mr. Secretary, have you been able to sign a deployment order for additional aircraft? Cohen: Not yet.
Q: Do you anticipate doing that soon?
Cohen: If there is a need for it, I'm sure that we will have the additional aircraft and whatever else is necessary in the region.
Q: Mr. Secretary, after the latest events, how close do you think we really are to a military strike in the Gulf?
Cohen: Well, as President Clinton and Secretary of State Albright have indicated, the window of opportunity is closing. There is an opportunity for a diplomatic solution-- Saddam Hussein holds in his hands the key to that solution--simply to open up his facilities for inspection as he is required to do. The responsibility lies in his hands right now to achieve a diplomatic solution, to the extent that he refuses that, then obviously that moves closer to a military option. It is one that the President is seeking to avoid if possible, but will not walk away from if necessary.
Q: Don't you think that waiting too long will divide the Western and Russian camp further?
Cohen: It is always a two-edged sword in terms of pursuing a diplomatic solution. If the United States and its allies were to act in a prompt and preemptory fashion, we would be accused and they would be accused of acting without allowing diplomacy to have a full opportunity to work. So you have to gauge the result you are seeking to achieve in terms of whether or not you are providing sufficient opportunity for those who are willing and eager to try to engage Saddam Hussein in a diplomatic effort to have an opportunity to do so. And so I think we are doing it just right. I believe the President is exercising considerable patience in approaching this with as much diplomatic skill as possible and desirable. At some point in time, the President and our allies will declare diplomacy to be unfruitful and then pursue other options.
Q: Last question for Minister Andreatta. (Request for short statement in English of his statement in Italian.)
Andreatta: Public opinion in Italy requires a process which allows us to define the conditions of the crash and to have no obstacles to point out the truth or the facts. I thank my colleague and the American President because of how they engaged from the beginning to cooperate with Italian judges the and Italian technical commission which is inquiring about the cause of the disaster. I saw that some officials of the command of Aviano took in the last two days one position, which in my opinion did not respect these directives, but this was overtaken by the interview given yesterday by President Clinton. Certainly, the authorities will take some decision to have a limitation of flight exercises applying to our pilots and to allied pilots in Italy. We will keep flying, keeping in mind that Italy is very crowded and that the possibility for new disasters has to be prevented. I think that honest cooperation between the two governments, also in this sad situation will strengthen the feeling of our friendship and of our alliance.
May I just express my thanks to the Italian journalists who are here, that you did not ask me to repeat my statement in Italian. (laughter)
Q: Mr. Secretary, have you decided to keep the three U.S. carriers in the Persian Gulf or will you send the Nimitz home?
Cohen: The answer is: we will have two carriers in the Gulf and there will not be three. There is a slight overlap in terms of a changeover but we intend to keep only two and not three. Let me indicate that the efforts that are underway on the part of the Russians, the French and others are welcome to the extent that it is in support of UNSCOM ultimate objective and that is to get the UNSCOM inspectors back into Iraq unfettered and without restriction and to the extent that they can contribute to achieving that goal, that obviously is a welcome effort.
Thank you very much.