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Media Availability Secretary William Cohen and Secretary Geoffrey Hoon

Presenters: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and Secretary of State for Defense Geoffrey Hoon, (UK)
January 27, 2000 2:50 PM EDT

Thursday, January 27, 2000 - 2:50 p.m. EST

SEC. COHEN: Good afternoon. I am pleased to host Geoffrey Hoon's first official visit to the Pentagon as the United Kingdom's new Minister of Defense. Although he is new to the Pentagon, I say that relatively speaking because he's got the entire day here, snowbound, instead of making his way to Norfolk.

He's no stranger to the United States. He taught law for two years at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, which helps to explain why his English is so good -- (laughter) -- and his southern accent is disappearing.

Today we discussed a range of issues, including U.S. views on National Missile Defense, Britain's leadership in Europe's efforts to improve its defense capabilities, and ways to improve security including civil policing in Kosovo. Last month Minister Hoon sent me a copy of Britain's 1999 Defense White Paper. This continues the ambitious plans laid out in the 1998 Strategic Defense Review to build a more mobile, more capable U.K. military. I strongly support this vision and the steps that Britain is taking to put it into place.

With that, Mr. Hoon.

MIN. HOON: Well, I'm delighted to be here. We've had very full discussions just now, continued the discussions I've had both with members of the administration as well as with members of Congress. Always delighted to come to Washington, to come to the United States, and particularly pleased to be here in my new position.

SEC. COHEN: Charlie.

QSecretary Cohen, I have a slightly MIRVed question on China, if I may --

SEC. COHEN: MIRVed?

QYes, sir. (Laughter.) (Off mike.)

SEC. COHEN: (Laughs.) Okay.

QWere you invited to China this week, and will you go? Have you invited Minister Chi? And briefly, how would you describe the progress in the talks? Are military-to-military relations back on track?

SEC. COHEN: The meeting that was held yesterday was very cordial. We had a good discussion on a range of issues. I was, in fact, invited to return to China. I indicated that I would do so at a mutually convenient time. Certainly I would consider an invitation to my counterpart, but that would have to be when I arrive in China to deliver such an invitation personally. But I thought it was a very good meeting and I think that we are on track to getting military-to-military relations back at a normal state of affairs.

QWill there be modest exchanges in terms of military officers coming back and forth?

SEC. COHEN: I believe that is the case, we hope to achieve that, yes.

QMr. Secretary, a question for both of you on the subject of homosexuals in the ranks. Number one, has the United States, and have you ordered a broader training program for the entire military to better understand U.S. policy toward homosexuals in the ranks?

And to you, Mr. Minister, you had a high-profile resignation over the changes that your military is undergoing on this same issue. Do you have a rebellion in the ranks?

SEC. COHEN: Let me respond first. As you know, I have been reviewing educational proposals, which I hope to make public in the next couple of days, that would call for greater effort on our part to make everyone fully aware of what the policy is of "don't ask, don't tell," and especially "don't harass." And I should be able to make that available in the next couple of days.

MIN. HOON: Well, we've had a single resignation, for personal reasons, of a particular brigadier. I am sorry that he's chosen to resign, but I understand that he has strongly held personal feelings. That will not affect the policy of the government, because that policy in fact was a product of a decision of the European Court of Human Rights. That was a clear decision. We are a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights; we were required to implement the decision of the court. But we have done so in a way that was wholly consistent with the views of the chiefs of staff. They were involved in the development of a Code of Conduct that applies equally to heterosexual behavior as it does to homosexual behavior, and in light of that Code of Conduct, we were able to lift our formal policy -- a ban on allowing homosexuals to serve in Her Majesty's forces.

QWhy not lift it sooner?

MIN. HOON: Well, we lifted it in response to the decision of the European Court of Human Rights.

QIf I could follow up with just a quick -- Secretary Hoon, if you could just say, for instance, why do you think that this policy of allowing gays to serve openly in the British military will work when the U.S. has such reservations about it?

And, Secretary Cohen, if you could perhaps address the question of why, if all the NATO countries now can allow this, why is it the United States can't do the same thing?

SEC. COHEN: Well, we had a rather extensive debate on this issue several years ago when the policy that was articulated, of "don't ask, don't tell," was in fact implemented. We believe that this policy has worked and will continue to work. We need to improve upon it as far as the harassment aspect. But I believe that that was the consensus that was reached with members of Congress; certainly the debate that took place in the country; that we believe that the most important thing that we can do is accomplish the mission, and we believe that this approach that we have taken is balanced and appropriate. I cannot speak for the European nations, but the United States has its own standards to which we are adhering to.

MIN. HOON: Could I say, as far as the decision of the European Court was concerned, that decision was placed firmly in the context of privacy, and the way in which we have tackled this problem, as far as the Code of Conduct is concerned, is to respect an individual's right to privacy, but to ensure that whatever their sexuality, they do not allow their sexuality to in any way interfere with their contribution to their responsibilities in the armed forces. So it may well be that in practice, the situation is not actually that much different as between the United Kingdom and the United States. It's a private matter. Provided that matter is kept private, then I do not anticipate any difficulties as far as discipline is concerned.

QMr. Secretary, you mentioned that the two of you discussed Kosovo and the policing effort in there. There have been some serious allegations leveled recently by Kosovar Albanians against American peacekeepers there. And just a few days ago, the Army said that it had -- in its preliminary investigation had found out that there was misconduct, there were threats by American soldiers against male Kosovar Albanians, and inappropriate contact with females.

What has gone wrong here in this mission? And is it time for the Americans to get out?

SEC. COHEN: Well, with respect to the particular investigation, I really can't comment on what has already been said because it's still under investigation.

But let me say that I think what has taken place only emphasizes, for me at least, the need for more police to be trained and deployed to the region. We have a long-stated position that the United States and our NATO forces can carry out a military operation quite successfully, but they are not for the most part -- there are some exceptions -- but trained to carry out police work. They are not trained for that; they are not competent really to carry out police work, nor should they be doing it.

In the absence of adequate police in the region, then they have been called upon to undertake those missions. And that's the reason why we have tried to emphasize to the U.N., to our NATO allies, those who have pledged to help produce and to train police, that they get there as soon as possible.

QIs this a case of mission creep?

SEC. COHEN: It's a case of where we need to get trained police men and women into the region to carry out their responsibilities.

STAFF: Okay. One more question.

QMr. Minister, could I --

SEC. COHEN: This gentleman here has --

QCould I ask you, did the BROACH warhead come up in conversation today?

MIN. HOON: Sorry. Did the --

Q-- BROACH (sp) warhead?

MIN. HOON: No, it didn't.

QHow about -- BVRAAM?

MIN. HOON: (Laughs.) That comes up from time to time, I have to say; we have had a number of discussions, and we are still looking at that carefully.

QMr. Minister, did the subject of Fylingdale come up and the need to upgrade that early-warning radar, if the U.S. deployed the national missile defense? What is your government's position on that?

MIN. HOON: Well, we discussed national missile defense, and could I make it clear that the British government shares the U.S. government's assessment of the risk from rogue states. We believe that the U.S. is right to address this question. And obviously, the United Kingdom will want to be helpful. Equally, we believe that it is important that we should have a discussion about the implications of NMD amongst NATO allies. And I personally would congratulate Bill, in particular, for starting off that discussion. There are issues that have to be addressed, and I'm grateful to Bill and to the U.S. administration for allowing that to happen.

QCould we just get your quick reaction to the --

SEC. COHEN: I think Elizabeth had a question.

QElizabeth, go ahead.

QYes. Thank you. I wondered if I could ask both of you about the reaction of Iraq to the -- finally the United Nations naming Mr. Blix to head the new inspection regime. It seems to be lukewarm, at best. It didn't matter whether it was Mr. Blix or not. And as the two countries that do the overflight of Iraq, where do you see the inspection going next?

SEC. COHEN: Well, first of all, Iraq has no right to exercise a veto over U.N. inspectors. Iraq is the country that invaded Kuwait, which precipitated this crisis in the first instance. Iraq continues to ignore and flout any obligation to comply with U.N. sanctions resolutions. And so for it to assert that it has a right to veto any inspector, I think that's clearly erroneous.

With respect to where do we go from here, we will continue to press Iraq to comply with the Security Council resolutions. To the extent that they refuse to do so, there will be no easing of the sanctions against Iraq itself. We have tried to find ways in which we could alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people, but we will continue to point out that that suffering has been caused by Saddam Hussein and -- who continues to try to exploit their suffering for his own political advantage. And it's something that we will not yield on.

MIN. HOON: The latest U.N. resolution provides a clear internationally agreed context in which we will deal with Iraq. There is every opportunity for Iraq to break out of this situation, if it chooses to do so and if Saddam Hussein chooses to do so -- an opportunity there. We believe that he should take advantage of it.

QCould we just get a quick reaction to the growing call from some antiwar groups and university professors saying that NATO should be indicted for war crimes for what happened in Yugoslavia? Could I just get a quick reaction from both of you to that kind of criticism?

SEC. COHEN: I don't think it calls for a reaction on our part. The notion that somehow -- that NATO forces, who were trying -- and did, successfully -- reverse Milosevic's policy of ethnic cleansing should be accused of war crimes is preposterous.

MIN. HOON: We were there fully consistently with international law. You've heard that I once taught law, and I have taught international law. I'm absolutely confident that what we have done is wholly consistent with international law, and therefore there is nothing that can be used against us.

QThank you, Mr. Secretary.

MIN. HOON: Thank you.

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