News Briefings

DoD News Briefing

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

(Press briefing at U.S. Ambassador's residence in Moscow, Russia)

Q: Did you get any more details? Obviously they're talking about a boost phase system. Any more detail on that?

Secretary Cohen: Not really. President Putin wanted our experts to get together to study the issue in terms of boost phase. I think there are a number of technical aspects to it that really need to be clarified, and I tried to raise those and did raise those throughout my meetings. Namely, what kind of system do they have in mind, what would be the capability of it, what would be the timeframe in which it could be developed, where would the intercepts be placed, what kind of control would there be? Would it be joint, unilateral? A host of issues surrounding that.

But we are interested exploring boost phase technology, but it appears to us that the timeframe in which that might be available is beyond that in which we see the threat emerging.

With respect to the threat, you may have read today's Moscow Times, that the head of their Strategic Rocket Forces indicated there are between five and eight emerging threat areas. And without identifying them, I think it's also clear that they recognize that there is a threat emerging by way of the spread of missile capability and also the spread of WMD, weapons of mass destruction.

So what President Putin said is to work together with his team of experts to see if we can't narrow differences in terms of an appreciation of when that timeframe, the threat will materialize, and whether or not we can cooperate on TMD, which I indicated we're fully prepared to cooperate there. We're prepared to cooperate with them in boost phase technology. But that would not be a substitute for the limited NMD system that we have in mind should President Clinton decide to go forward.

Q: Aren't you still at an impasse though on NMD and PBM? And what was your reaction to the strong comments that Sergeyev said that this would restart an arms race.

Cohen: I didn't expect there would be any major breakthrough in terms of results in that issue. I think it's really incumbent on us to go through to find out what their concerns or apprehensions are and then to address them point by point.

So I think a good deal of progress was made today. The notion somehow this might undercut their system (inaudible). There had been some statements in the press that an NMD program was designed to defeat all of the Russian systems, for example, their bomber force and their cruise missile capability. Well that's completely contrary to the facts. Our NMD system wouldn't be able to deal with a bomber threat or cruise missile technology.

So it's just a question of raising the issues that have surfaced and then being able to discuss them across the table, and then attempt to narrow some of the differences. We've got Ted Warner will be coming over in a couple of weeks to continue discussions with them. That's part of the process.

I think it was important for me to have the opportunity to meet with President Putin and to listen to his thoughts and to present my own. So that was all that I expected.

Q: What is the political umbrella concept that he talked about? What was your response to that?

Cohen: I think what he was talking about is diplomacy, working together to discourage countries such as North Korea, Iran and others from...

Q: Was he talking in the context of Putin's visit to North Korea and --

Cohen: No. I mean he didn't discuss it in those terms. It was generally talking about a political umbrella. Many countries want to engage in diplomacy to discourage the North Koreans and others from developing long range missile technology, but that was more of a general concept than an actual deterrent against a rogue state ever contemplating firing a missile at the United States.

Q: Doesn't that already exist in the missile technology control regime?

Cohen: That's a control regime. I think he was talking in the nature of diplomacy.

Q: Have the Russians actually spent any money on this boost phase system? Have they actually done any research or development on it?

Cohen: I don't know. Ted may be in a better position...

Voice: They seemed to indicate that they were talking about something they had under development. It was not fully clear, but they seemed to indicate that's why we need a follow up discussion on the technical basis. There were some comments that seemed to indicate they are pursuing the development of the system at this time.

Cohen: You have a real problem in terms of where you would deploy such a system, and what areas, and how (inaudible). You'd have to have a very sophisticated radar, which does not exist, that would be able to distinguish whether it's a satellite launch or a ballistic missile launch. Be able to distinguish it very quickly, then to be able to track it and be able to distinguish and discern between the plume of the missile launch from the missile itself. All of that would be required in a matter of the 300 seconds, because then the missile would start to gain too much speed for anything to catch up to it.

Q: Are you still of the opinion that a boost phase system would violate the ABM Treaty?

Cohen: Whatever the interceptor, if you are intercepting a missile with a range in excess of 3,500 kilometers or a speed greater than five kilometers per second, that transgresses the demarcation.

Q: Did you point that out to them?

Cohen: Yes. And secondly, if you are defeating a long range missile system, wherever you put the interceptor, it still is an NMD system which requires modification of the ABM Treaty. So either way it does require modification. So we tried to point out...

Q: Did he agree with that?

Cohen: They talk in terms of a non-strategic intercept system, but the reality is if you're going to intercept a missile that's on its way to your territory, that is a national missile defense capability which requires modification of the ABM Treaty.

Q: Any decision on when they'll resume START III negotiations? And is that being held up by this dispute over the ABM modification?

Cohen: No. There was no discussion of it. Nothing's being held up over it.

Q: Would you consider recommending continuing with the U.S. national defense plan even if you do not get an agreement on modifying the ABM Treaty?

Cohen: I think you have to talk to me in August. (Laughter)

Q: Did Osama bin Laden come up in the talks?

Cohen: Only in the context of terrorism, that there is a growing concern of terrorists, of organized terrorist activities through the Caucasus region, but not specifically to (inaudible). I raised the issue of our concern about terrorism as well, and pointed out what we had to content with in terms of the potentiality of someone trying to come in through Seattle or Vermont, crossing from Canada to Vermont during the Y2K period and New Year's. That we need to continue to cooperate on an international level dealing with international terrorism.

Q: Thank you.

Q: Did he say anything about...

Cohen: Pardon?

Q: Do they have a missile threat from Afghanistan? Did he mention that as one of the five or six countries?

Cohen: We didn't talk about that.

Q: But that was with Putin, right?

Cohen: No, that was with Sergeyev.