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Joint Press Conference with Secretary Cohen and MoD Alain Richard, France

Presenters: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and Minister of Defense Alain Richard, France
April 30, 1998 12:15 PM EDT

Secretary Cohen: It gives me a great deal of pleasure to welcome my friend Alain Richard to the Pentagon. We have met on several occasions previously. We talk frequently on the phone. The United States and France share a commitment to peace and stability in the Middle East and in Africa and in Europe. Our troops are working together in these three areas today.

During our meetings this morning we focused on four areas of our relationship: operations to maintain and expand peace and stability; Africa; cooperation in space; and efforts to control proliferation.

In the first area, peacekeeping and enforcement, French and U.S. troops are serving together in Bosnia and also in Operation southern watch over Iraq. The United States and France will each reduce forces slightly in Bosnia as we move into the next phase of SFOR this summer and fall, but each country is also committed to building the infrastructure for stability by expanding police and monitoring forces.

France, for instance, is going to increase its current commitment to the International Police Task Force to about 200. That's up from 120.

In Africa, both the United States and France are working to train indigenous African peacekeeping forces. In addition, our own forces have begun to train together in Africa, and Minister Richard and I look forward to expanding this program.

The increased use of satellites is central to modern military operations. France has proposed that we work together to clarify ways that our militaries can cooperate in space.

Finally, we agree that much work needs to be done and more closely we need to work together to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the missiles to deliver them, particularly in the Middle East. Both the United States and France have raised with Russia the need to slow the proliferation of technology to Iran. Overall, we had a very constructive and productive meeting, and I know that Minister Richard would like to expand on my own comments.

Minister Richard: As Bill Cohen was just saying, we are holding regular meetings, and generally productive and very useful. Of course I am here now on his invitation, and I appreciate highly the warm welcome being given in the Pentagon.

As Bill Cohen has just underlined, we are together on many fields, and we are now shoulder to shoulder in Bosnia. We fly together on the SOUTHERN WATCH organization in Iraq. And more broadly, our military and technical cooperation is developing strong links between military communities.

On the main topics we have been covering this morning, I think it's important to notice the important level, sometimes underestimated, of our military relations. We are purchasing some U.S. aircraft, Hawkeyes, for instance, for our sea surveillance. We are testing Rafale in the Navy version with the support of American technical support. We have a U-2 based in a French base, in a French airport to achieve some missions. And we have quite a lot of liaison officers in all our mutual organizations.

So one of our areas of exchanges was peacekeeping and other crisis management operations.

The experience has been enriched quite a lot in this decade, and we have much to discuss together about the different theaters we experienced searching for common ground and for better method approaches to give leverage to our common actions, because I think it's useful to remind that both our countries are among the most involved in crises when the crises are at their most violent stage, and that we accept the risk and the sacrifices to fight efficiently for peace where it's most threatened by aggression.

That leads me to Africa, in which I think both countries have reviewed and improved their policies. We have had the traditional presence there and we have many friendships with African countries, so our involvement is traditional and our methods are changing because we rely much more on autonomous initiatives by African countries to cope with crises because we have to accept that crises in Africa are more difficult and haven't been handled so efficiently by the international community in the last years.

So we welcome the renewed U.S. engagement there, and we look forward to help together, probably with some other Western participants, to develop capacities in peacekeeping among Africans themselves.

I agree with what Bill said about space cooperation. We want to build on the '93 agreement. We agree with our American friends that we must have a consistent procedure of finding practical cooperations on science and technology in space, and that we must define together the objectives we want to achieve from a military point of view.

Last, on proliferation. This is an area of close consultation and cooperation. I think we have specific responsibilities together as permanent members of the Security Council and as nuclear powers we are reaching some intelligence, some levels of information on proliferation trends, and it's very important for us to work closely to try and counteract, to be contrary to our proliferation attempts that we can witness now.

As a conclusion, I would like to add that our countries are very close to each other and very trustful to each other on many crisis situations, but we can achieve these only if we have methodic and permanent consultation on a very practical and effective basis. I think that's what we are doing in that kind of meeting, and I want to thank, very friendly, Bill for the organization of this visit, because it was exactly what we hoped it would be.

Secretary Cohen: I want to say that at the conclusion of last evening's dinner, Alain heard my French and decided we should conduct this press conference in English. Thank you for... (Laughter)

Q: I'd like to ask the Minister to clear up a controversy about a report, what happened in Bosnia last fall. There was a report that a French officer perhaps tipped Radavan Karadzic about a pending NATO operation to arrest him, and there's some feeling in Washington that the French government has not come completely clean on this. That there's not been a full denial that he did this.

Did, in fact, the French officer warn Karadzic or not warn him? And how do you know?

A: (Richard): I think we have been quite clear on the facts and our declaration at the end of last week says all we have to say on this.

Q: Did the French officer...

A: (Richard): I won't comment any more than the statement we issued last week.

Q: Did this incident affect any of the trust that he spoke of that the two countries have between...

A: (Cohen): We are committed to the full implementation of Dayton. We are cooperating today in every way, and neither one of us would be willing to discuss either operational matters or intelligence matters. We are committed to Dayton's implementation. We're working to that end. Karadzic and others will hopefully one day be in the Hague, and we will work to that end.

Q: Secretary Cohen, the Pentagon today will let another big contract in the national missile defense area. How confident are you that this investment of billions of dollars will eventually result in a workable system?

A: (Cohen): Well, we're confident that we are devoting the level of resources necessary to produce a system that will work. Obviously with anything as complicated as hitting a bullet with another bullet is going to involve lots of resource and lots of effort, and occasional failures along the way, but those failures have been instrumental in terms of gathering the kind of technical information that would help us produce a successful system.

So it's going to be a challenge, but I believe it's a challenge that we can, in fact, measure up to. We are making great progress in terms of the use of the technology, and I believe that we will have a system that is ready for deployment, but that deployment decision will be based upon whether the intelligence assessment would warrant its deployment.

As I've indicated in the past, I believe that we have to adopt and stay with this three plus three agreement that was negotiated in the past. We are on track with that, and I believe that we'll have a system, at least, that could be deployed if the situation would warrant it, and that's a determination the President will have to make in the year 2000.

Q: What would you say to critics who say the Clinton Administration is not committed enough to fielding a national missile defense?

A: (Cohen): I would say look at the effort. You just pointed out that we're spending a good deal of money devoted to the research and development of a system. Take a look at the amount of revenue that we are devoting to this effort. I would say it's a very strong commitment that has been made and we will keep that commitment.

Q: Mr. Secretary, to follow up, would the Administration support legislation that mandated that the program go forward?

A: (Cohen): You mean deployment?

Q: Yes.

A: (Cohen): The answer would be no. Precisely because of the agreement that was structured previously, that we would devote three years to research and development. At the end of that three-year period should the intelligence assessment warrant a deployment, at that point the President would make such a determination. But to mandate that it be deployed without consideration of either the intelligence assessment or considerations as far as arms control are concerned I think would be a mistake.

There is the issue of the ABM Treaty, and we are fully compliant in our research and development efforts to date with the ABM Treaty. We would hope to be able to field a system that would be fully compliant with the ABM.

In the event that we are not able to do so, and the situation would warrant it, then obviously negotiations would have to be undertaken with the Russians as far as modifying that treaty. And if that were not possible, then the President and the Congress have to make a determination at that point as to whether one should stay in it -- the United States should be a part of it. But right now, to mandate that in advance, it seems to me, is to make a decision which should not be made before we determine what the research and development is going to produce, what the intelligence situation would warrant, and whether or not we should have a debate on the advisability of either modifying the ABM Treaty or abandoning it.

Q: Looking down the road to a transition to defensive systems sometime in the future, do you think that a new negotiated arms control regime will have to be made? You seem to be totally reliant on the existing ABM Treaty, which a lot of people think will not really work in the future.

A: (Cohen): The ABM Treaty is designed, obviously, to encourage restraint in the proliferation of offensive systems as well. One of the easiest ways to overwhelm a defensive system is simply to proliferate the offensive side and capability. That's something that we would not want to see take place. So there is merit in trying to restrain offensive systems. We are currently negotiating... We're waiting for the ratification of START II, but are prepared to start immediate negotiations on START III to get the numbers down to much lower than where they are today; to the extent that one were to suddenly say that that no longer is the goal in terms of trying to reduce the level of offensive capability, that we're going to start increasing our defenses, and then think that other countries won't simply try to overwhelm that with greater numbers I think is mistaken.

But, I think, obviously, I've issued reports that show there is an increase in the proliferation of missile technology that is going to put pressure on all countries, including Russia, to deal with the issue of missile technology proliferation, and developing the kind of theater missile systems that we are currently undertaking. We have a number of programs underway. Again, they're very complicated and they're very challenging, but we believe that that's going to be essential as far as protecting forces that are forward deployed, and hopefully that technology also can be integrated in the research and development efforts of the national missile system.

Q: Albania has asked for NATO troops along its border. Wouldn't such a deterrent force make sense now in light of the problems in Kosovo?

A: (Richard): We are very close on the analysis of the situation of Kosovo. We are concerned about this crisis because of extremist pressures and renewed risks of oppression.

Our view is that pressure is to bear now on Serbia because the status quo is not acceptable. There must be talks. There must be negotiations to define an appropriate political status for Kosovo with an increasing autonomy inside Yugoslavia.

So we have to find agreed tools between all the allies both to limit the attempts of extremist or terrorist action in Kosovo and to deter Serb authorities from resuming violence. So any step which has been discussed has to be looked upon whether it is balanced between the two parts or not.

So, to increase the military control on the areas of the borders outside Kosovo without giving the adapted signals to the Serb authorities would be unbalanced. I think we have to support the Albanian authorities to get more control of their territory and to go on improving their institutions and their legal system. But military action doesn't seem to us to be now the right answer.

NATO is in contact with Albania since they're a member of the Partnership for Peace, and we have some tools there. But there is a difference between helping them to improve their own capacities and to create a new military presence here which may appear necessary if the situation should dramatize. But now it doesn't seem to us to be the right answer.

Q: Mr. Secretary, if you could...

A: (Cohen): I agree with that.

Q: Albania doesn't seem to have the ability to control that border with Yugoslavia, and there are a lot of arms flowing across it into Kosovo, apparently.

A: (Cohen): I agree with the Minister that we ought to try to use whatever leverage we can to pressure Serbia to provide greater autonomy for the Albanians, but at the same time indicate we don't favor and support Kosovo independence, but rather greater autonomy. And to bring pressure on both, and to not encourage the Kosovars to believe that they are going to have our support as far as independence is concerned.

So we're trying to cooperate and find ways in which we can bring some stability and help encourage a stabilizing influence in the region, but not with talk of establishing a military line of protection on the Albanian border.

Q: Is there a military option if increased sanctions and diplomacy fail?

A: (Cohen): We're not going to speculate on that. We think that the better course of action is to pursue diplomacy for now.

A: (Richard): Actually, the Contact group has been useful. They have been working positively in our view.

Q: Mr. Secretary, do you believe it's time to reduce forces in the Persian Gulf?

A: (Cohen): We intend to keep our forces at the current level until such time as the President makes a determination that the situation is such that would allow for some reduction. No decision has been made on that. Obviously, we would like to reduce our presence when the situation would warrant, but it should be clear that we will continue to maintain a significant presence in the Gulf under any circumstances, as we did before. But we would like to be able to reduce when the time permits and when the occasion permits, but no such decision has been made, and we expect to maintain our current level for at least the foreseeable future.

Q: How much trouble are you in if the supplemental does not pass?

A: (Cohen): If the supplemental does not pass, there will be serious problems as far as our readiness is concerned. We will have to make some rather significant reductions in our training operations for the fourth quarter. We will have to, as I talked about before, start furloughing civilian personnel for, it could be a week, could be two weeks, could be three weeks toward the end of this fiscal year. We would have to take some rather severe measures in order to deal with the lack of a supplemental.

Q: There are a few on the Hill, though, that say the President really can't shut the Pentagon down. That this is just a bluff.

A: (Cohen): We wouldn't be shutting the Pentagon down. The Pentagon will not be shut down -- make sure you're here, Susanne. We would have to make reductions in training operations. We would have to cut back rather significantly in order to achieve the kind of savings that would be necessary. And we would have to look at a large number of civilian employees who would have to be furloughed. That means going without a paycheck for a week, two weeks, three weeks, whatever it would take in order to absorb this kind of reduction.

So we're not threatening to shut down the Pentagon, but it would impede our training levels. This would have an impact upon readiness, it would have an impact upon morale. Obviously it would have some pretty serious consequences for us. We would still continue, but we would make do with these shortages. I am hoping that it will be approved. We have worked very hard with members on the Hill outlining the nature of the problem that we're confronted with if we don't get the supplemental, and I believe that we'll be successful.

Q: On the Gulf issue, for both of you gentlemen, what do you see as the remedy for the intransigence of Saddam Hussein in accounting for his missiles, his warheads that were known to have been loaded? Will France come now to join Britain and the United States with some kind of a punitive or some kind of military measure? And sir, finally, do you see a risk in Iraq of a widening war if some kind of punitive military measures are used?

A: (Richard): I think, fortunately, the situation doesn't give much support to that kind of speculation. There has been an agreement. We are still concerned about UNSCOM being quite effective in all the controls and checks they have to perform, they have to achieve. And we agree with our American friends on the fact that some progress may have been made by the Iraqis to comply with their obligations, but there are quite a lot of remaining concerns. Especially we are preoccupied by biological and chemical weapons capacity which are still to be analyzed and suppressed. So we are really determined to maintain U.S./French cohesion. And we know that is one of the best ways to convince Saddam Hussein to change and to accept the rules coming from the United Nations.

So we are constantly exchanging assessments, especially on the programs which are the most disquieting. And I think our diplomacies are working very closely to pull all the possible advantages from the agreement which was achieved in February.

Q: Do you agree with the Secretary's statement that even if the current round of inspections is completed successfully, that Iraq must still come forward with positive proof on its own that it has destroyed its chemical and biological weapons before sanctions are lifted?

A: (Richard): We try to be consistent on the balance between the sanctions and the overall obligations that Iraq must meet, and of course in our view, we have been agreeing constantly on the existing risk from Iraqi capacities. So we want with a similar resolution as our American friends, to check if the destruction or disappearance of the Iraqi capacities is completely clear. And we'll have, even if I want to be optimistic and to think that some progress is overviewed and is appearingly clear, we have to think of a long term system of safety about Iraqi obligations on this field.

A: (Cohen): The best way to persuade Saddam Hussein to comply, obviously, is to maintain a solidarity of opinion on the part of the allies, and those who are responsible, have been responsible for enforcing the resolutions of the United Nations. There should be no relief for Saddam Hussein until he fully complies with the resolutions. And I've indicated before that he has an affirmative duty not to prove a negative, but to prove a positive -- to prove that he has done what he has claimed he has done. So to the extent that they have claimed to have destroyed 16,600-plus chemical munitions, show us where it was done and when it was done and how it was done. And to the extent that you have claimed to have destroyed all of the VX, produce proof that you have done so -- when and where and how. The same for anthrax. The same for other types of missiles that remain missing in action, so to speak.

So he has an affirmative duty to prove not the negative, but the positive. Until that's done, there should be no relief from sanctions, and I believe there's no disagreement on the part of either one of us or our countries.

Q: I wanted to ask the Minister a question. Actually, sir, I wanted to go back to something in your opening statement. You mentioned increasing military space cooperation and I was curious about the kind of programs or objectives you might have. Are you looking at sharing of military space intelligence with the U.S.? Are you looking at developing joint intelligence satellites? Reconnaissance, imaging? What are your thoughts?

A: (Richard): Basically, you know, in space activities you have either communication or intelligence, so if we want to work on this sector of technology, we have in mind sharing more and building more cooperation on those two aspects. This is an opportunity for me to remind you that this country has had a consistent and permanent effort to modernize its armed forces on quite a series of technologies, and we have finished a review of our defense expenditure effort last month, actually. There was an agreement between the present majority and the President to go on with the program, the long term program of acquisition and procurement. And I think we can be a significant partner in an allied effort to improve our capacities in space.

Q: Secretary Cohen, do you foresee perhaps developing or operating intelligence satellites jointly with the French under this kind of plan?

A: (Cohen): Well, there are a number of areas of cooperation. The Minister mentioned navigation, communication, intelligence. These are all areas that we are going to explore and hope to come up with some concrete proposals by the end of this year. We're basically trying to come to some understanding of where we could in fact cooperate on a joint basis, and what areas we could work together on. But they're all open to at least discussion, and we hope to conclude those discussions and examinations by the end of the year with some concrete proposals.

Q: Mr. Secretary, a month ago you told us that you were going to have DoD look into the circumstances surrounding the Army's decision to allow Major General David Hale to resign, even as there was an investigation underway into allegations of misconduct against him.

Has DoD investigated the specifics of those allegations, and can you tell us, did the Army err in allowing Major General Hale to retire?

A: (Cohen): The investigation is ongoing. I expressed my own concern about the matter once it was raised and I became aware of it. I have talked with General Reimer and others and I can only tell you the investigation continues, and as soon as it's completed we'll have an opportunity to make a recommendation.

Q: Any timeframe?

A: (Cohen): I don't have a specific timeframe in mind, but hopefully as soon as possible.

Q: Can you just clarify whether this investigation is looking at the questions under which General Hale was allowed to retire, or is it simply looking at the facts of the allegations against General Hale?

A: (Cohen): It would encompass everything.

Press: Thank you very much.

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