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Joint Press Conference with Secretary Cohen and Minister Sergeyev, Feb. 12, 1998

Presenters: Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and Russian Federation Minister of Defense Marshall Igor Sergeyev
February 12, 1998

MINISTER SERGEYEV: I would like to say that we have had a very fruitful discussion on a wide range of questions, and I would like to mention that yesterday was a remarkable day. Exactly 53 years ago the Yalta Conference completed its work at which the top leaders of governments of the Soviet Union and the United States of America and Great Britain agreed on the post-war world border. And Since that time, both the United States of America and Russia have been playing a vital role in preserving peace in the world. And in many cases it is based upon the mutual relations between the United States of America and Russia both at those times and now.

So the range of questions we have discussed today was very wide. First of all, these were problems of nuclear disarmament. We talked about the results of START I, the implementation. We have discussed (inaudible) questions which required solution for the implementation of this treaty. We have also talked on the process and on the situation as far as the START II treaty ratification is concerned. We have had a detailed discussion on the obstacles which prevent this ratification. We have also dwelt on questions pertaining to START III and missile defense treaties. I think that we not only listened to each other, we also heard each other. And I think that we have reached a certain degree of mutual understanding on the greater part of the questions.

We have discussed the (inaudible) of European security, peacekeeping operations and the situation of today and plans for 1998, the problem of Bosnia Herzegovina, and problems of joint permanent council and the problems of its activation; and of course we could not ignore the problems, the questions of the problem of Iraq. Of course, first of all, it is a political sphere of discussion and decisions. I should say that our basic position on the necessity of implementation of the UN Security Council resolution was similar, we had the same position. While the means to achieve that goal are a little bit different so far. I expressed my opinion on the ways of and matters of compromises. How the resolution of the UN Security Council can be achieved politically and diplomatically and of course we will (inaudible) the possible consequences of the possible strikes against Iraq. My conclusion is that our dialogue, our talks have a constructive nature, and we base our positions on the basis of cooperation and mutual understanding.

SECRETARY COHEN: Marshall Sergeyev, let me take this opportunity to thank you for hosting this meeting. Let me say for the benefit of all who are here that our meeting had a good opening and a great closing. I am told that there was some perception on the part of some that Minister Sergeyev in some way surprised me with a statement about Iraq. Let me state it very clearly: his statement, which was very direct and candid, came as no surprise to me. And I want everyone to understand that I had the full opportunity to express my own thoughts in response, and I appreciate having the opportunity to do that. As you may have gathered, we have spent the last two and a half hours exploring a variety of issues, as Marshall Sergeyev has just outlined, that are much deeper and broader than the simple matter of one issue. Iraq is important, but our relationship and its depth and importance extend far beyond Iraq itself.

Let me also say that over the past 25 years I have had an opportunity to attend many such sessions. None that I have attended have been as candid and as cooperative and as mutually satisfying, I think, as this one. I believe that Senator Warner and Senator Levin would also agree this has been an extremely productive session. We have many issues that we discussed in addition to Iraq. There was a fundamental agreement that Saddam Hussein must obey and fulfill all of the UNSCOM resolutions, the Security Council resolutions. There is no disagreement on that whatsoever, even though there remains a disagreement of how we achieve that end. But I felt very good, very satisfied that it was one of the most productive, if not the most productive, session that I have had of this nature in the past 24-25 years of public service.

Just one final word. While it's very important in how this crisis is resolved, let me once again point out that the nature of the relationship between the United States and Russia is one that transcends this issue, important as it is; that our relationship depends upon having a wide variety of issues, of interests to our societies and to global security. And so we intend to build upon the strong friendship that we have, upon our military-to-military contacts, upon exploring and expanding, upon the full panoply of issues that our countries have a vital interest in. So it was a very good meeting, and I think all of us leave this meeting with the encouragement to have many more in the future.

Q: The question about NATO eastward expansion, was it discussed during your talks?

COHEN: Yes.

SERGEYEV: I was glad to hear that your Senate has different positions on the involvement of new NATO member countries. I heard that there is a position of moratorium on the invitation of new countries into the NATO. Naturally, we are pleased with such a position, and we hope that it is not the position of one man in the Senate.

COHEN: I thought that your question being as brief as it was deserved a brief answer, but let me elaborate just a moment. Senator Warner does, in fact, have a somewhat different view than other members have perhaps, but he can speak for himself in a moment. He did indicate that he believes there should be some period between the first accession of the three new members who are likely and we expect to be ratified for accession to NATO and the next round. Whether that view is shared widely in the United States Senate remains to be seen. But it was one example of whereby a member of the Senate can indicate very openly and candidly his opinion and indicate to Marshall Sergeyev the nature of that opinion, and it was very warmly received by the Marshall.

Q: Mr. Secretary, the Marshall spoke of potential compromises on the Iraq issue, and that you discussed several of them. Could both of you gentlemen explain to us perhaps what types of compromises might be acceptable?

SERGEYEV: Compromises can be admitted if they do not concern matters of principle. Our point of view is that this process should meet only a peaceful solution. The main purpose is to achieve the final goal. The final goal is the implementation of the UN Security Council resolution, but to achieve that goal, different measures can be applied. For example (inaudible) discussion among other attendees.

Q: Marshall Sergeyev, I know how committed you have been personally to working with the United States to draw down the nuclear forces and end the Cold War's nuclear nightmare, and that's what Secretary Cohen's visit is about. America's nuclear commander is with him, General Habiger. Were you suggesting that on that particular question that Iraq in some way, if the strikes were to take place, could compromise the ability to continue working effectively on the nuclear front?

SERGEYEV: I do not admit any idea of nuclear weapons employment or any mass destruction weapons employment. We can hardly imagine what the consequences would be probably you watched TV yesterday there was some report on expert analysis of what would happen in case strikes are delivered and chemical agents or gases are dispersed. The cloud would affect the territories of Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan. That would hurt our relations. That would draw our relations many years back. So we have no common border with Iraq, but in case of chemical weapons that doesn't matter. The results would be very hazardous for our relations.

Q: If I may (inaudible) Secretary Cohen in a parallel part of that which is I think that this has been critical to everything the United States is about since the end of the Cold War to organize relations on the nuclear front. How important is that? How do you balance these issues when you worry about the reactions here and continuing progress with nuclear disarmament?

COHEN: First of all, as you may recall, Saddam Hussein has maintained he has no chemical or biological weapons and so the threat of the cloud spreading over much of the area would seem to be contradictory in terms of his claims. Secondly, we are very much aware of any potentiality for that and have taken that into account. The third point is that we place a very high importance upon our relationship with Russia, and we believe that the steps that we have been able to take together to reduce these weapons, strategic weapons, have been very very significant. I am here today at Marshall Sergeyev's invitation to find out ways in which we can go even further in START III to reduce --ratifying START II and then going further in START III to reduce to much lower levels. So we place a very high premium. But I will come back to the central point. If there is a fear that chemical weapons could be released against innocent people, all the more reason why we must be absolutely adamant in demanding that Saddam... (inaudible)... far ranging from his borders. So that's the reason why we are so determined to rid his country of these weapons of mass destruction based upon his past behavior, where he has in fact used them against his own people, against Iranians, and the threat to use them against others. That is why we have the same goal, the mutual goal of eliminating his weapons of mass destruction.

Q: will the United States get permission from the UN Security Council.... Are we able to convince you how dangerous it is for you to use this kind of strength?

COHEN: With respect to seeking further authority from the security council, it's the United States' position that we have all the authority necessary to take action under the existing resolutions. We have indicated in the past that to the extent that the Security Council wished to declare Saddam Hussein to be in significant or material breach of his obligations that would be welcome, but it is not a requirement for the United States to take action. It's our belief also, that to the extent that there is solidarity of expression that condemns Saddam Hussein for failing to measure up to his obligations, that that condemnation and that declaration of significant breach of obligation on his part will be the most significant factor in persuading him that a diplomatic solution should be pursued, that he should open up his country to inspections without restriction, without hindrance.

The second part of the question is I came here to explain on a variety of issues the U.S. position and with respect to Iraq to explain the U.S. position. I expected Minister Sergeyev to explain Russia's position. I think we each have a better understanding of our respective positions. We continue to disagree, in terms of the method of achieving what is a shared ultimate goal that is full, undiluted compliance on the part of Saddam Hussein with his obligation to the UN.

Q: A question to both Secretary of Defense Cohen and Marshall Sergeyev. Could we get your comment with the published report in the Washington Post today, that the governments of Russia and Iraq in 1995 signed a deal for the delivery of so-called dual-use equipment that could be used to produce biological weapons?

SERGEYEV: I am sure that there was no such agreement because this agreement could not be reached. We had no intentions, we had no plans to reach such an agreement. The existing technologies and delivery means do not permit such a thing. Also the scud missiles that Iraq has in its armed forces do not permit to do that because the warheads used in SCUD missiles are not detached from the bodies of these missiles. I am sure the experts on both sides realize that fairly well. Thank you.

COHEN: I have no information to confirm the report that was in the Washington Post today, and you have heard Minister Sergeyev flatly contradict the contents of that report to the extent that he understands it. He has not had the benefit, to my knowledge, of reading the details of that report, and if further information is required, I'm sure that Minister Sergeyev and others will respond accordingly.

Thank you.