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Joint Press Conf. with Secretary Cohen and Deputy Prime Minister Sezgin, Turkey

Presenters: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Sezgin
April 17, 1998 12:00 PM EDT

JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE AT THE HILTON HOTEL


Cohen: Thank you very much, Mr. Minister. Dear press members, I have a fifteen minute opening statement which in deference to all of you, I will shorten to about three or four, so there will be time for questions. This is my very first visit to Turkey, and I have been impressed by the hospitality I received from Minister Sezgin. I also want to thank Prime Minister Yilmaz, President Demirel and the Turkish General Staff for very productive meetings that we have had today. Last December, President Clinton and Prime Minister Yilmaz agreed on a five- point agenda to guide Turkish-American relations this year. And during my meetings today, we focused on one part of that agenda--expanded security cooperation, including the United States' commitment to help Turkey with its plans to modernize its military. But our talks were much broader. We discussed opportunities to reduce tensions in the Aegean and on Cyprus; the need for multiple oil pipelines from the Caucusus, including one through Turkey; the importance of protecting human rights in a democracy; the votes that our parliaments are facing on NATO enlargement; the need to maintain the highest quality relationship between Turkey and Europe and our cooperation in containing Iraq. And in that regard, the United States deeply appreciates Turkey's support for Operation Northern Watch. The United States and Turkey have a strong relationship. We are both Western democracies. We are NATO allies devoted to the security of Europe. We have a strong strategic partnership with shared interests that include preventing Iraqi aggression, promoting stability in the Middle East and working together for stability in the Balkans, where Turkish and American soldiers stand shoulder to shoulder. And on this last point, the United States strongly supports Turkey's proposal for a Multinational Balkan Peace Force. This initiative is one more sign of the important role that Turkey plays as a force for stability. Thank you.

Q: (Reuters): I'd like to ask both of you to be a bit more specific on Turkish arms modernization. I'd like to ask you, sir, what particular arms would Turkey like to obtain from the United States? And did you all discuss those specific armaments?

A: (Cohen): There was no specific request as the Minister has indicated. We talked in general about the need to continue the very strong relationship that we have, a strong military- military relationship that will continue in the future. But there were no specific requests made for specific types of systems, but rather a reaffirmation of the strong ties that we have; have had in the past and will have in the future.

Q: (Reuters): Mr. Secretary, just very briefly, do you worry about selling arms to Turkey and Greece, given the tensions (off-mike).

A: (Cohen): As I have indicated before, both Turkey and Greece are members of NATO. As members of NATO, we obviously support individual members modernizing their systems to make sure that they not only are capable of defending their own security interests, but can carry out their Article Five, security-collective security obligations. To the extent that requests are made to the United States for the support in modernizing their forces, they are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. It is our hope and expectation that the tensions that currently exist between Turkey and Greece will be settled peacefully, and will be negotiated and settled in a way that is responsible as members of the NATO alliance. And so we will continue to evaluate requests from both countries, in terms of what is required, what is necessary for the needs of defense. And we expect that policy to continue in the future, on a case by case basis.

Q: (Milliyet): Secretary Cohen, I was wondering whether you have depicted any lack of effort on the Turkish side to solve the problems with Greece? And second, remembering your past efforts on solving the issues of getting the two sides together as in the Madrid agreement, would you be working on proposals to get the two sides together? Because, obviously the two sides have had difficulty in getting together.

A: (Cohen): It is my hope that the two sides will get together, that they will agree to negotiate their differences. Obviously we have a State Department, a very competent, qualified State Department and a Secretary of State who will be working on these issues as well, in terms of promoting a peaceful resolution. I know that President Clinton is hopeful that such disputes can be resolved peacefully, and through negotiation or arbitration. But these are matters that we believe and expect to be resolved in that fashion. I am simply encouraging that such an approach be made and be continued.

Q: (VOA): Mr. Minister, Mr. Secretary, can either of you confirm published reports that ethnic Albanians have been moving on to other kinds of aid, into their cousins in Kosovo, and does this heighten your concerns about that volatile area?

A: (Cohen): I would have no information that we can confirm that there's been any movement of arms in that fashion. We are obviously concerned, both Turkey and the United States; all should be concerned about the situation in Kosovo. The United States has urged Serbs, Mr. Milosevic to exercise great caution and restraint in dealing with the people of Kosovo. We also have indicated to the Kosovar people that they should not be trying to increase the tensions, that we would support greater autonomy but do not support independence. And so we are hopeful again that a peaceful resolution can come about, that restraint and moderation will be exercised by both parties. And to that extent, Secretary Albright is very much engaged with the Contact Group and will continue to meet with that group so that, hopefully, a consensus can be developed, working with the people in Kosovo to bring about a peaceful resolution.

Q: (Washington Post): Mr. Secretary, the Turkish government has had its frustration of hold-ups of arms transfers from U.S. to Turkey. Have you got any assurances that this problem is not going to occur in the future?

A: (Cohen): Well, I think that the United States has been a very solid ally of Turkey. And we have in fact continued to supply Turkey with its defense of requirements. We expect that to continue in the future. And I know of no hold up of any systems that have been requested. They have been fulfilled, the commitment has been there. We will continue to maintain a strong military-to-military relationship with Turkey, as we do with our other NATO allies.

Q: (in Turkish)

A: (Cohen): As I understand the question, it is that there are some publications in the United States that are predicting a conflict between Greece and Turkey. We happen to live in a democratic society in which there are a variety of opinions expressed on a daily basis by members of the press, journalists, academics, politicians, individual citizens, and that is the essence of a democratic system--to allow a freedom of expression of views. I can say that with respect to any conflict, nothing is inevitable until it happens. And that is why our countries have an obligation to avoid such predictions, expectations on the part of people who voice these apprehensions or even predictions. That is the burden that members of administrations, governments, statesmen have, to see where there is a potential for tension or conflict, and to do everything in their respected powers to avoid that, in a peaceful and diplomatic fashion. And so projections are like other, so many predictions. There are others who hold completely opposite opinions. So you should not take from any one expression of opinion, be it on the part of a journalist, an academic, a politician or anyone else, about predictions about the future. The future is in the hands of the elected officials of each individual country, and it is our hope and expectation that they will use their powers of logic, reasonability, rationality and good will to resolve those tensions in ways that will be of a peaceful nature.

Q: (MEGA TV - Greece) The fact that you are willing to help Turkey to modernize its military, is it in terms of convincing Turkey not to oppose the enlargement of NATO?

A: (Cohen): I am not sure I quite understood the question.

Q: Trying to convince Turkey not to oppose the expansion of NATO.

A: (Cohen): The United States strongly favors the expansion or enlargement of NATO. We will have a debate in United States Senate, starting in a few days. I expect that debate to result in a successful ratification, allowing the three new countries to gain accession to NATO. We would hope that each of the NATO members would proceed to also ratify and approve the enlargement of NATO. And so I believe that Turkey supports it. As a member of NATO, I think it's very important that Turkey, in fact support the enlargement of NATO. And it is my hope and belief that that will take place.

Q: (Agence France Press): Greece has expressed in buying the U.S. made F-15 type aircraft and so has Turkey. And there is a kind of demonstration in Greece. Is there going to be a similar demonstration in Turkey, for Turkey?

A: (Cohen): I am not sure I'm aware of, you say, demonstrations in Greece?

Q: (Agence France Presse): Or briefings for the Greek Air Force.

A: (Cohen): Briefings. Well, indeed, to the extent that there are briefings for Greece. We can expect that there be briefings for Turkey. Should Turkey also express an interest in the F-15. That would be part of our normal procedure, to brief each country in terms of capabilities, of the aircraft requirements of the country, costs involved. All of that would be a normal part of our operations to brief everyone, anyone who has an interest. Whether not that ultimately results in any transfer of aircraft is another matter altogether. But certainly if there is an expression of interest in a part of a member of NATO for such an aircraft, we give briefings; that is standard procedure.