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Media Availability/Honor Cordon welcoming the Minister of Defense of Georgia

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
March 23, 1998

[This media activity follows an Honor Cordon welcoming Minister of Defense Gen. Lt. Vardiko Nadibaidze of Georgia to the Pentagon and the signing of a U.S.-Georgia Defense Cooperation Plan.]

Secretary Cohen: This is a historic day in the evolving defense relationship between the United States and Georgia. Gen. Lt. Nadibaidze is the first Georgian defense minister to visit the United States.

Our meeting today is built upon the discussions that President Shevardnadze and I had last July. At that meeting we pledged to broaden the defense relationship between our two countries. The Defense Cooperation Plan that we just signed does precisely that; it lays the foundation for further growth in the military-to-military relationship between our countries.

Under this Defense Cooperation Plan we will open a dialogue on air space management, share U.S. expertise on defense planning, programming, and budgeting and discuss national security planning procedures and philosophies.

This agreement comes on top of expanded cooperation in several areas. This year our militaries will have some 23 exercises and other contacts, up from just nine in 1995. We will soon send two patrol boats to Georgia for the use and the policing of its Black Sea coast. Georgia is an active participant in the Partnership for Peace program and we were very happy to hear today that Georgia plans to expand its activities under this important program.

The United States is going to provide Georgia with $1.35 million in foreign military financing this year. Georgia plans to use these funds to purchase radios for an infantry company that will regularly participate in PFP exercises. This purchase will enhance, obviously, the inter-operability between Georgian and NATO units. We were advised this morning that Georgia soon plans to send a defense attaché to the United States. All of these steps simply demonstrate that Georgia and the United States are determined to cooperate and work together for peace and stability.

Gen. Lt. Nadibaidze: First of all, I would like to thank Secretary Cohen and the staff of the Department of Defense for a very welcome reception of our delegation -- of myself, and the members of the delegation who accompany me.

Well, Secretary Cohen has already told you that we have been cooperating very actively in 1995 through 1997, and the document on defense cooperation that we signed today is another testimony of our interaction.

I don't want to repeat everything that Secretary Cohen has said, but let me emphasize again that our military cooperation is expanding every year. And it's not only the quantity, it's the quality that matters.

Well, it's just the beginning of my visit. Our technical experts, military experts, are going to work today and tomorrow and we will do our best to fulfill all the tasks that we have put before ourselves when we signed this plan of cooperation.

It's very important that in the nearest future we're going to send to the United States our Georgian military attaché who would be very active in communicating with the military personnel of the United States in order to fulfill all of the programs that we have signed today.

Well, first of all I am very grateful to my colleague, Secretary Cohen, who is working very actively on providing assistance to our country. I am also grateful for the views related to the USA representative under the auspices of the UN in the peaceful conclusion of the situation in (inaudible).

I hope you noticed that in July of last year the visit of our President, Edward Shevardnadze, was fruitful, and today we are continuing what he and Secretary Cohen started last July.

Well, we will continue working together and I really look forward to Secretary Cohen's visit at the end of this year, a visit to Georgia, where we will continue our negotiations on expanding our cooperation.

Once again, Mr. Secretary, thank you very much. All the people who were very kind to us and we received a very warm welcome on my behalf and on behalf of all the members of my delegation.

Secretary Cohen: Thank you.

(Applause)

Secretary Cohen: These gentlemen in the front row will be traveling with me to Georgia when I go.

Q: Could we ask, do you feel with the sacking of the Russian cabinet by President Yeltsin will have a chilling effect at all on US-Russian military relations and the possibility of the passage of START II by the Duma? And have you talked Marshall Sergeyev or anybody in the Defense Ministry since the news broke yesterday?

A: The answer is I have not talked to anyone in the Russian Defense Ministry since the announcement was made yesterday -- or Sunday. But I don't expect there will be any major change or any significant change in our relationship. I believe most of the people and the personnel who were removed or have proposed to be removed fall under the category of the economic advisors. My understanding is that Minister Sergeyev, along with Mr. Primakov, Andre Kokoshin, a principal advisor to President Yeltsin, will remain in office. So I do not anticipate there will be any impact upon our relations and I don't think it will have any bearing upon the ratification of START II.

Q: How do you understand that they will remain in office?

A: That's just my understanding that, based upon information that I have received and that the direction of the Yeltsin personnel changes as such, seem to be more along the economic lines than military.

Q: Secretary Cohen, Iraq has said that it has arrested a senior official in it's biological weapons program. This is apparently an official who was trying to flee the country. Is the fact that this man did not make it out of Iraq, is that an intelligence loss to the United States as it tries to determine what's going on in Iraq?

A: Well, I can't comment on whether this particular individual would be an intelligence loss to the United States. What I can point out, as I tried to do at last weeks national -- at the Press Club speech that I gave, that Saddam Hussein has a number of obligations he must fulfill. It's not enough simply to say that we have teams of inspectors going in from the United Nations to look through a land the size of Wyoming, some 170,000 square miles, and looking for chemically or biologically tipped munitions in haystacks that would be littered across a country of that size and expect them to turn up evidence either of the munitions, of manuals, of computer disks, and to say that if they find nothing that there has been compliance. Quite to the contrary.

Saddam Hussein must make a full, final, complete declaration as they have tried to do on several occasions in the past and have failed to do. But even accepting their declarations as fact, they must, in fact, now reconcile the declarations of stocks with their statement that they have destroyed them. There has to be such reconciliation before there could be any hope of lifting of sanctions.

So I think this falls into that category that this may be evidence that there's an attempt on the part of Saddam Hussein to continue to hide and prevent the UNSCOM inspectors from receiving information that would help them in their duties and, if so, that would only complicate the ultimate resolution of the situation.

Q: Was the United States in any way attempting to assist this senior official in getting out of Iraq so that --

A: I'm not in a position to comment on that.

Q: General, this question is for you, sir, and also for Secretary Cohen. What is your reaction to the shake-up in the Yeltsin cabinet? For both of you, General Lebed here last week told about a story of corruption, of lack of pay, in the Red Army, officers and others going to work for the mob moonlighting and some afterwards going to work for organized crime. He told about Russian scientists who couldn't find work.

What is your opinion of the danger of this situation in Russia, the economic situation?

Gen. Lt. Nadibaidze: It is very difficult to give you any analysis or to give any precise evaluation of what is going on today in Russia.

It is the opinion of the Georgian Defense Ministry -- and I completely agree with Secretary Cohen -- that the shake-up of the Yeltsin cabinet was primarily directed to the economic advisories or to economic problems. As far as Mr. Sergeyev, Minister of Defense; Mr. Primakov, Minister of Foreign Affairs; and Andre Kokoshin, the Secretary of the Security Council, I completely agree with Secretary Cohen. They will continue working.

Secretary Cohen: Can I just add one thing to that? Whether that is the case or not, we have to remember that our policies are not based upon personalities but, rather, upon the mutual interests that Russia and the United States have in the ratification of START II.

While I was in Moscow I took occasion to meet with a number of the Duma members. Their complaint, of course, was that there seemed to be a lack of communication between members of Congress and the Russian Duma, and they called for more contact and more sharing of views. That is a message that I have given and taken to members of the Senate and the House that I think it's in our overall mutual interest that we start to sit down and have greater communication and contact between the members of the Duma and the members of Congress.

Those kinds of contacts I think are vitally important, whatever takes place in changes in cabinet level personalities, that we maintain that kind of level of communication in promoting reductions in the level of nuclear weapons in both of our countries.

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