News Briefings

DoD News Briefing

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

(Joint Press Conference with Russia Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev in Moscow, Russia)

Secretary Cohen: We'll entertain your questions.

Q: (in Russian)

Cohen: We made good progress today discussing ways in which we can continue to cooperate, certainly with the soldiers in the Balkans, with shared early warning and helping to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction. We have agreed to intensify our level of cooperation in all of these areas.

We have also indicated our willingness to explore ways in which we can cooperate on issues involving theater missile defense, but I will also indicate that there is continued disagreement over the urgency that the United States feels in terms of the nature of the threat coming from rogue states and how it should be addressed. The United States believes it's important to continue our research and development efforts in the field of national missile defense for the possible deployment of a limited type of system. In the meantime, we certainly are willing to explore the concept that the Russian president and the military leadership have in mind for protection against rogue states by defending through a shield that would be over the rogue states, something like an umbrella, over the rogue state areas. We are interested in exploring that. We do not see that as a substitute for a limited national missile defense system, but something that would be in addition to. We have agreed that our experts should continue to meet to discuss the nature of the concept and the technology that might be involved in establishing umbrellas of protections against the rogue states in the future. There are many problems associated with a boost phase type of intercept from a technological and practical point of view. We certainly are interested and willing to explore these issues with our Russian friends.

Minister Sergeyev: (through translator) I'd like to say a few words about the remarks made here by Secretary of Defense of the United States Cohen. First of all, I would like to mention that we did exchange our views on how to promote our cooperative efforts, particularly in the area where our uniformed personnel are working together in the territory of the former Yugoslavia. We did exchange some views on how to improve our work together in the peace-making efforts. We do share the concern of the United States regarding the questions of terrorism because terrorist operations have been increasingly more and more organized.

We have just signed a plan of cooperation between the two militaries for the year 2000. The focus of the bilateral program is to improve the quality of exchanges, rather than to raise the numbers of exchanges.

Of course, most of the time in our conversation has been taken by our exchanges on the ABM matters. We do welcome the United States' interest in continuing our exchanges on the establishment of the non-strategic ABM assets. We do support the idea of continuing our bilateral efforts on the level of specialists or experts. At the same time, we kept our policy positions on the question of the so-called NMD, national missile defense. First of all, the Russian policy position is that we don't see the feasibility of opportunity at this point in time to modify or update the 1972 ABM Treaty. To take out the outstanding concerns of both of us, we do propose that a political effort should be undertaken in order to establish a so-called political umbrella for the United States and the Russian Federation against the so-called other rogue states through the system of arrangements and agreements. Of course, such a protection system should be based on the dedicated commitments of both sides and of the dedicated agreements, and those obligations should be appropriately verifiable. Our view is that this version of implementation of such a political umbrella is going to be more effective; it is going to be less costly; and it will be less dangerous and detrimental to the national interests of either side. Also, it is of greater importance because it will be in the interest of many other lands and in the interest of strategic stability. The interest of strategic stability -- did I mention that I particularly emphasize this and would like to say something more in this regard -- it will be a promising arrangement, having the capacity for many years to come. Pulling out of the 1972 ABM commitment would amount to restarting the arms race. Should the very cornerstone of strategic stability become eroded, we will have a big problem of putting things in check in this area. Should we fail to reach an arrangement in this area, the battle or war between the shell on one hand and the armor on the other hand will continue indefinitely.

Q: Marshal Sergeyev, did I understand you correctly that the Russian proposal on missile defense is a political agreement and not a theater missile defense or a boost phase missile defense or is that also included in your proposal? And is there anything in your proposal that would counter what Secretary Cohen has said that it would not protect the United States in anyway? And Secretary Cohen, would the United States be willing to go as low as 1500 in START III talks if Russia agreed to modify the ABM Treaty?

Sergeyev: (through translator) There has been one more disparity in this regard. This disparity of views in this matter has to do with our different approaches to the assessment of security threats. Well, if you take some threat, we regard it as a potential threat or a virtual threat, while the Americans might be tempted to regard the same threat as the actual threat, the real threat. So, I think it would be a good idea to join forces with on a bilateral level to arrive at some arrangement to assess the quality of the threats, meaning what we have to do is arrive at some criteria, at some benchmark, in order to view the degree of threats and which we are lacking today. We don't have that in place now. The positive movement in this area would really produce good results in the area of stability.

Cohen: Basically, we are exploring the differences between our assessment of how soon the threat will emerge. The United States believes that North Korea, by way of example, will have an intercontinental range by the year 2005. There's some disagreement in terms of the Russian assessment of that date. We will continue, of course, to discuss it with our Russian friends, but that is our intelligence community's assessment. In addition, we will always explore ways of politically providing protection for our respective countries, but we also have to look at the capability as well as intent. Our focus is on capability. The third point that I would make is that we will continue to examine Russian proposals in terms of providing protection in a boost phase against any of the rogue nations, but we still do not see this as a substitute for the limited system that the United States is now considering. We made no decision on deployment as of this time, but we cannot see this as a substitute for it, given the fact that a great deal needs to be done in terms of the technology involved, such as boost phase systems, and the practical implications of it. We are continuing to discuss this and continue to share information amongst our experts.

With respect to your second question, we are now exploring in the START III talks the limits and the range that was agreed to between President Clinton and President Yeltsin at Helsinki. That is the focus of our discussion to date.

Q: You had a meeting with President Putin today. Had that meeting been planned in advance? What has been covered in it, and have you planned any other meetings with him?

Cohen: The meeting was planned several days in advance. We had hoped to meet yesterday but realized yesterday was a holiday, and President Putin rearranged his schedule to meet with me today. We essentially discussed many of the same items that Minister Sergeyev and I and others have been discussing. We are looking forward to promoting a wide range of areas that we can cooperate on today and in the future, while building the strength of our relationship and finding ways in which to build more trust and confidence with each other. That was the essence of our discussion this morning. It was a very positive meeting.

I took the occasion to explain to President Putin that the system as contemplated by the United States would not pose any threat to the Russian TP systems and I wanted to make that as clear as possible.

Sergeyev: (through translator) I'd like to add a few words. President Putin particularly emphasized the urgency of both of us to restart our joint work between the two military establishments. They worked to improve our cooperative efforts would really contribute a lot to the overall work towards improving our understanding. When it comes to the question of the ABM Treaty, any change to the ABM Treaty might produce the change or modification of the deterrence stability and that, in turn, would provoke another unpleasant trend and, as a result, the ABM Treaty might be eroded. President Putin expressed hope that steps should be made and could be made in order to arrive at some arrangement that would keep intact the agreement, a very (inaudible) important agreement, in this area that was concluded a few decades ago.

Q: Marshal Sergeyev, (first part of question in Russian). And Secretary Cohen, what is your clearest understanding of this Russian system? And you seem to be describing it as if you understand it to be a boost phase. Is that how you take it to be after these discussions?

Sergeyev: (through translator) Well, as I have already touched upon the principal conceptual visions, I am not in charge of the effort to develop and build this system. For our part, we have expounded to our American colleagues the principal features of that boost phase defense system. This is not a new proposal. This is just one part of our bilateral, overall more general effort, that we have been undertaking in the meeting of the PJC group. The interest on both sides to this question is so high today that we do recognize the need for us to join forces in order to come up with some non-strategic theater antiballistic missile solution. This is the topic that enjoys some interest on the part of the United States. Secretary Cohen had already indicated to that effect, but Secretary Cohen in his remarks indicated that it should be made conditional on the intactness of the national missile defense for the United States. Well, but that is part of the strategic missile defense to us. This topic will actually be discussed on the level of experts from both of our countries.

Cohen: What we have indicated is that we are indeed interested in cooperating on a theater missile defense system between NATO and Russia, but a theater missile defense system does not protect the United States. We also indicated that we are willing to listen to proposals about a boost phase intercept system, but our understanding is that it requires a great deal of technical challenge. It involves a great deal of technical challenge in terms of the ability of the interceptor missile radar that would be required to track the long-range ballistic missile, the ability to distinguish the flame of the missile and the burn from the missile itself. All of these would indicate that the time frame that we are looking at would be further on than the 2005 time frame that we believe the threat to the United States will be present. So, what I've indicated is that we are going to explore this with the Russians. We are interested in it, but it should not be seen as a substitute.

Q: So, is the Russian side proposing a boost phase concept?

Cohen: That is my understanding that they are proposing a boost phase.

Q: That would protect the United States?

Cohen: That would protect Russia and the United States. It raises a number of practical questions in terms of where such a boost phase intercept system would be deployed such as how many regions, what would be the local determination, how would it be controlled, how would it be manned, and who would make the decision in terms of whether it could be launched to intercept a long-range ballistic missile. So, there are a lot of problems associated with it but we're willing to explore all of those with our Russian friends.