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Press Conference with Secretary Cohen and Minister Tsohatzopoulos, Greece

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
April 21, 1998

Secretary Cohen: Thank you very much, Minister Tsohatzopoulos, for hosting my visit. Although it is a very brief visit, for me it is also a personally rewarding one.

Greece and the United States have had a strong defense relationship, and as NATO members we have had a long history of cooperation that has strengthened the alliance and the security of both of our two nations.

One of the issues we discussed today was the strong U.S. support for Greece's plans to modernize its military, as the Minister has just mentioned. And I am proud to say that we are equal and reliable partners with shared values and common goals.

President Clinton is committed to strengthening the relationship between Greece and the United States. And that is why I am here today; that is why Secretary Daley visited in January; and why Secretary Albright will come to Athens this summer. And, of course, why we have such a very distinguished Ambassador, Ambassador Burns, here in Greece as well.

And that is the reason we are working together to bring peace to the Balkans. The tensions in Bosnia and Kosovo show how important Southern Europe is to stability in Europe as a whole. By leadership and location, Greece can be an important force for political stability and economic prosperity in the Balkans.

We discussed the proposal for NATO and non-NATO countries to form a Multi-national Balkan Peace Force. Greek participation in this initiative will make an important contribution to stability in the region, and the United States is prepared to help make that force a reality.

Today Greece and Turkey face opportunities to reduce long-standing tensions in the Aegean and in Cyprus. I repeated here what I said in Ankara. It would be a shame to let this chance pass. The United States wants to help Greece and Turkey to turn away from suspicion and toward trust.

There were many other items that we discussed during our brief meeting today. Among them we discussed Aristotle, the House of Atreus, Agamemnon, and the Iliad and the Odyssey, and a number of other important works of literature in which can be found the history of Greece.

But because the time was so short, and I want to continue to build upon the friendship that Minister Tsohatzopoulos and I have, I have invited him formally to visit me in Washington so we can discuss these matters more in the Pentagon.

Q: I'd like to ask [Minister Tsohatzopoulos] did you give the Secretary [Cohen] assurances that the Greek government that the government of Greece will try to use its influence on the Greek-Cypriot government not to deploy the S-300's later this year? Mr. Secretary, did the government of Greece say it would give them [assurance]?

A: (Tsohatzopoulos): I think that the issue of the deployment of the S-300's in Cyprus is the government of Cyprus' exclusive responsibility. It alone can and must decide on that issue. However, allow me to say that despite the noise that has been raised and the impression that the deployment of those missiles creates a problem for Turkey, I believe that on the one hand it is the inalienable right of every country, especially of a small country, to use all means available for its defense and on the other hand I think we cannot accept that through the deployment of that limited defense system at the Cyprus airports, there is a realistic threat against Turkey. Naturally, as I said before, Greece, as a guarantor for the security of Cyprus, the Cypriot Republic, we have to, for as long as there is a threat against the Republic of Cyprus, either directly by the Turkish occupation forces or by Turkey's refusal to contribute to ending the military occupation in the northern part of Cyprus and contribute to a solution of the Cyprus problem acceptable by all, Greece supports, is near Cyprus in order to jointly defend its rights like every UN nation. Of course, President Clerides has proposed that he would be inclined to stop the deployment of the S-300's if there were a comprehensive demilitarization of Cyprus. I wish there would be such a development.

A: (Cohen): I did not seek such assurance from Minister Tsohatzopoulos. What I did seek to do was precisely the same as I did in Turkey: that is, I believe each of us has an obligation to find ways to reduce the possibility of tensions rising, getting out of control and possibly leading to conflict. We think this is entirely unnecessary, and we hope we can use our good offices from the United States and also from Greece to encourage both parties to reduce the tensions. We believe it would be a mistake to deploy the S-300 missiles; we think it is a mistake for Turkey to engage in hostile threats for Cyprus; we think it is a right thing to do to find ways in which the parties in Turkey can in fact work with Greece, that the Greek-Cypriots and the Turkish-Cypriots may sit down together at a table and negotiate out their differences.

Q: Let me go back to recent history. You are paying a visit to Greece on a day that is considered to be black for Hellenism. The feelings of the Greek people regarding U.S. government support to the Junta are mixed. How do you comment on that period?

A: (Cohen): The United States, of course, favors free, open, democratic systems. We believe that we should in fact try to build upon democracies for the future, and that is why the Minister and I are dedicated to our positions to talk about how we can build more prosperity, more security and more democracy in the future. I know that my trip was somewhat controversial in terms of today's date. But I must tell you that it was something that I took into account. Based upon the invitation I received to visit Greece, based upon the fact that I was on my way back from having visited Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Israel, and even in view of the fact I have to be at the White House at 7.30 tomorrow morning for a meeting, I thought it would be important for me to stop and pay my respects to the Minister and also to indicate to the Greek people that we are dedicated to building a strong relationship for the future.

Q: There have been a number of bombings of US companies here in Greece in recent months. Did you raise the US concerns about a rising anti-American current?

A: (Cohen): Because of the brevity of the meeting, we did not have a chance to discuss all of the issues on the agenda but that certainly is an issue of concern to the American people. I know that Ambassador Burns has talked very openly, very candidly and very forcefully about this issue. We are obviously concerned about terrorism wherever it occurs and we have spoken out against terrorism as it pertains to any country. I've raised the issue in every country I visited. Everyone is concerned about the spread of terrorism. And to the extent that we did not have an opportunity to talk about it, I certainly feel free to talk about it here. I know Minister Tsohatzopoulos also feels very strongly about the issue of terrorism. So together we should do everything in our power, to prevent it, to deter it and bring those who are responsible for trying to inflict this type of violence upon innocent people, whatever nationality, to an end.

A: (Tsohatzopoulos): Allow me to make an observation on this question. As my colleague, Mr. Cohen, has just said, we had the opportunity in previous meetings in the NATO context to ascertain the common position we have against terrorism. Any phenomena to which you are referring do not signal under any circumstances either a climate of anti-Americanism or that the forms of terrorism have the US stance and presence as a preferred target. It is a general phenomenon. It is confronted with decisiveness both by the Greek government, as by all governments of all the states of the world. We are in period of transitions that creates a whole series of insecurity problems to citizens, the great reaction to what has been occurring around us, the large-scale illegal immigrations from the East to Europe have created a plethora of such problems. So we are in a period in which a greater effort and cooperation is required in order to respond substantively to the many phenomena of insecurity that are created by either terrorism or illegal immigration or drugs or by any other problem.

Q: You have referred to opportunities for reducing tensions in Greek-Turkish relations that should not be lost. What are those opportunities and how can America help find a formula to advance those opportunities?

A: (Cohen): There are a number of opportunities available. For example, Secretary General Solana has recommended ways in which there can be moratoriums in terms of activities in various regions. This is one proposal. But the important thing to do is for countries to agree to sit down and talk about differences rather than either shouting about them or shooting about them. So, what we have been recommending are ways in which we can explore an exchange of diplomats, to keep the diplomatic channels open to seek a peaceful resolution of disputes. There are any number of ways that can be accomplished, and the formulations will be many in number, but Secretary General Solana has made one proposal which should be at least counted. But the important thing is for everyone to sit down at the table and negotiate their differences.

Q: Mr. Secretary do you feel more assured after talking to the Defense Ministers of Greece and Turkey that the two countries, Greece and Turkey, are dedicated to lowering the rhetoric and settling their problems peacefully?

A: (Cohen): I am satisfied after meeting with both Minister Sezgin and Minister Tsohatzopoulos and other officials that these are men of good will, that these are dedicated members of NATO, that they represent their countess' interest and our interests in these discussions. I feel that the more contact they and we have together, the more we are willing to exchange ideas and proposals, the better the climate is going to be and the better prospects there will be for peace. One of the very purposes of my being here is to convey the same message that I conveyed to the Turkish authorities that I'm conveying here. It's a message that is very simple: We need to lower the rhetoric and lower the risk; to try to resolve differences in a peaceful fashion so that we bring greater stability, more security and better prosperity for the entire region.

Q: Recently, during the latest Gulf crisis, your country used all weapons systems in order to keep dialogue open. Furthermore, your President said they were used to achieve peace. However, information in Greece says that Greece is discouraged from purchasing weapons systems that would make it feel safe toward Turkey. How do these two things match?

A: (Cohen): First, let me indicate that the United States in cooperation with 24 other countries was able to provide a kind of military power that allowed the diplomats to be successful in resolving the dispute on a peaceful basis, at least for the foreseeable future. How that will unfold remains to be seen, it depends on Saddam Hussein's full compliance with the resolutions. But secondly, we do not oppose Greece from acquiring modernized weapons systems. As a matter of fact, we have spent a good portion of our time reviewing a number of the requests on the part of the Greek government and a number of the proposals coming from U.S. manufacturers and contractors, so that we can help Greece modernize its Armed Forces.

Once again I want to thank Minister Tsohatzopoulos but also to indicate that we did discuss Greek history. And it occurred to me that I might close my remarks by a quote from Thucydides who said, that the bravest hearts are those who have a clear vision of the future, both its glories and its dangers and yet are willing to go forward to face them both. Minister Tsohatzopoulos and I are willing to go forward to face both the glories and dangers and hopefully to resolve them in ways that will be of benefit to both our countries.

Q: As a last question, I would like to ask you Minister Tsohatzopoulos if you were able to convince Mr. Cohen that our history in Homer is more convincing that the one he heard in Turkey?

A: (Tsohatzopoulos): Regarding Homer, there is no chance of a misunderstanding, because Homer is universal, he explained the phenomena pertaining to the regions which were solely Greek at that time no matter if they were in Asia Minor or on the Mainland. But I can reassure you that Mr. Cohen and I also discussed the history of American Independence, the principles that were expressed through that movement and furthermore I was pleased to accept a special gift of that era, a replica of a genuine pistol of that era. I think what expresses the combination of Ancient History, whether expressed by Thucydides or Homer, is the spirit of the American Revolution.

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