News Briefings

DoD News Briefing

June 13, 2000
Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen

(Interview with RTR (Russian State TV) in Moscow, Russia)

Secretary Cohen: ...There does seem to be an increased sense of optimism that I've detected in a very brief visit. It's always dangerous when one visits for a short period of time to reach any conclusions, but I think there's a new sense of optimism and eagerness to be engaged in world affairs, and to have these kinds of meetings where discussions can take place on substantive issues. I was very favorably impressed.

Q: So did I understand you correctly to say, Mr. Secretary, that you feel that Russian external or foreign politics has taken on a more lively character? A more lively nature?

Cohen: For example, Minister Sergeyev attended the Permanent Joint Commission or Council in Brussels. That was very welcome change in Russian policy by coming to the meeting. So there was an active engagement there. That fact that your president did meet with President Clinton as well to discuss issues of mutual concern. The fact that he met with me this morning, along with members of the Duma that I also talked to. There's a sense that I think Russia wants to engage certainly the United States and other countries in a very proactive way.

Q: One of the key issues that was discussed during the negotiation was the fate of the ABM Treaty. Now that you have had your negotiations and talks have been completed, what do you see the prospects of the ABM Treaty being?

Cohen: There were only discussions, there were no negotiations. I came to explain the United States position in terms of the nature of the threat that we face from rogue states and the nature of a limited national missile defense system that would be directed against a North Korea, an Iran, Iraq, or other so-called rogue state.

The system that we have in mind would in no way pose a threat to Russia's strategic system, so it was an opportunity for me to meet with your President and also with your Minister of Defense Sergeyev and his associates and colleagues to lay out the architecture of what the United States has in mind for a limited system against a limited type of attack coming from a rogue state. And I think that we are making progress in explaining what we have in mind and taking into account Russian concerns about the nature of the threat or any disagreement about the nature of the threat and how we might go about addressing it. So I thought it was a very progressive session the last day and a half.

Q: Well, of course we know that the position of the United States now, the position may change as a new president appears at the beginning of next year. So do you think that it might be possible that you may have to come again, given the fact that there may be new positions on the part of the new president and you may have to come explain that new position again, because that position would be different from the one that's currently held.

Cohen: It's unlikely that I will be coming to explain the position of a new president. I anticipate completing my tenure in office -- when President Clinton leaves office, I will be leaving office.

But I think it's important, that's the reason why I think it's important now to take advantage of the situation where President Clinton has laid out a program that we believe takes into account concerns that have been raised on the part of Russian strategic thinkers to show that this is not a threat to Russia, that this is very limited in nature. Limited by the technology and limited in terms of what a modified treaty would look like. So we think that Russia should proceed with this modification and work together with the United States.

In the mean time we are prepared to work on a joint basis in looking at theater missile defense systems, which is what President Putin also suggested, as well as this new theory or concept about putting a shield or an umbrella over those "rogue nations". That is something that we are trying to get more information on, but it appears that that kind of a system, a so-called boost phase capability, really is quite a bit into the future and would not deal with the threat that is emerging currently from the North Koreans.

Q: Well, you just recalled certain terrorist countries or rogue nations as we call them, particularly you noted North Korea. As you probably know, today there's a meeting taking place between North and South Korea, and very shortly our president is planning on making a trip to North Korea. Did you think about and perhaps ask him while you were there meeting with the president, to discuss with the North Koreans the possibility of stopping or trying to talk them into stopping their nuclear program?

Cohen: As you know, we have had serious negotiations with the North Koreans to prevent them from expanding a nuclear development program. We have a so-called agreed framework that has been in place for several years now.

In addition, we have tried to persuade them not to continue testing their missile system. So far they have not resumed testing. That does not mean they've given up the capability or will not resume it in the future. Certainly to the extent that President Putin can be successful in urging them to discontinue their missile system, that would be very helpful. But in the meantime we can't wait to make a determination on whether they will continue in the near future or in the long term. We have to make sure that our homeland is always protected against that type of attack, just as we would assume that Russia would want to make sure it is not vulnerable to an attack from a rogue nation.

So we're hoping that President Putin will be successful in whatever discussions he has with the North Korean leadership. They are very difficult in negotiations, and it may take a considerable period of time, but we are hopeful that he will make some progress with them.

Q: So tell me how do you see the fate of the ABM Treaty at around the year 2003 where there has been suggested or there has been some presupposition that it is possible the United States will unilaterally withdraw from that treaty. Do you think that it might be possible there will be a bilateral withdrawal? Or perhaps there will be some mutual agreements achieved, or perhaps there can be some form of bilateral agreement to transform the very nature of the treaty. What do you see the possibilities?

Cohen: The ABM Treaty as originally conceived anticipated there may be changes necessary. As circumstances change, as the world changes, as technology changes. This is no longer the situation that you have a Soviet Union and the United States locked in a super power struggle. What you have is a proliferation of missile technology and the weapons of mass destruction technology. So the world has changed since 1972.

What the United States is suggesting is that we, working together with the Russian government and the Russian people modify that treaty so that both our countries could be protected against a limited type of attack coming from a nation that does not have many hundreds of missiles that they could launch against either Russia or against the United States.

So we're trying very hard to encourage mutual agreement and a mutual modification of the treaty itself. I will tell you there are some in our country that would prefer to abandon the ABM Treaty, but President Clinton believes that we should seek to modify it and stay within the framework of the ABM in order to promote more strategic stability.

Q: Mr. Secretary, at the end of last week you participated in the PJC Ministerial meeting in Brussels, and I was wondering how do you foresee future cooperation between Russia and NATO within the framework of KFOR?

Cohen: I think the level of cooperation is going to get better. We are looking for ways in which Russian participation in KFOR can be expanded in terms of our pre-deployment training. We have recommended this to the Russian military, that U.S. forces and Russian forces who serve side by side in both Bosnia and Kosovo do more planning, more preparation, and more training so that when they deploy into a peacekeeping mission it can be done effortlessly and very efficiently.

So we think that as a result of Minster Sergeyev and the Russian military coming back into the PJC, that will be very beneficial. Beneficial to NATO, beneficial to Russia, and ultimately very beneficial to the peacekeeping mission.

Q: I was wondering, during your talks here did you to any extent at all touch upon the issue of the North Caucasus with either Mr. Putin or with Marshal Sergeyev?

Cohen: We did raise, discussed the issue of Chechnya in terms of what was taking place there. And we believe fundamentally that there must be a political solution to Chechnya, that a military solution will not be sufficient. That as soon as possible it should be settled diplomatically and bring about a peaceful situation there. So that was discussed.

Beyond Chechnya, we did not deal with the Central Caucasus region to any extent.

Q: Mr. Cohen, thank you very much for the interview.

(Taking pictures)

Q: (inaudible) with President Putin (inaudible)

Cohen: It was actually 15 minutes longer than we had planned, so it was about a 45-minute meeting. He had to run off to, he's traveling to Spain. So it was very thoughtful of him to arrange his schedule to meet with me today. Originally I had planned to meet with him yesterday, but he did not realize it was a holiday, nor did I. So he made arrangements to change his schedule to meet with me this morning.

But it was for about 45 minutes, a very good discussion, and I was very impressed with him.

Q: (inaudible) to Korea. No one (inaudible) Soviet president to visit (inaudible) in Moscow, but no one, the Russian president, to go to (inaudible)

Cohen: It will be interesting to see what his impressions are and what he has to say about his meeting. But it's clear that he's trying to energize the foreign policy of Russia by engaging in (inaudible) countries. Hopefully he'll be also successful in stimulating your economy.

We're looking for ways in which we can help create the investment opportunities again for Russia, because we want to see your economy start to prosper. We believe it's important to have a strong, democratic and prosperous Russia. Because if that is the case there will be greater stability throughout Europe. We understand that and we want to promote that. So we're looking for ways in which we can see there will be changes in the law to make sure there are commercial opportunities and rules that are in force so that business is willing to come and invest substantial capital into the infrastructure, in the economy of Russia. We think it's very important, and we're looking for ways in which we can promote that.

Thank you very much.