Background Briefing

Wednesday, November 24, 1999 - 10:05 a.m. EST
Subject: Secretary Cohen's Trip to Europe
Presenter: A Senior Defense Department Official

Mr. P. J. Crowley: It's always good to have intimate press briefings as the secretary prepares to travel.

Next week, on Monday, the secretary leaves for a trip to Europe, as you know. He will -- the major focus will be of course the NATO defense ministerial late next week in Brussels. I think this is the first NATO ministerial under the leadership of Lord Robertson. But en route to Brussels he will have two speaking opportunities in Germany, to the Bundeswehr and at the Marshall Center, and also have a counterpart visit to Romania.

We have a very well-known to you all senior Defense official here to give you the high points of the secretary's trip next week. So with that, we'll turn it over to the senior Defense official.


Q: What are the missile defense issues that are going to be discussed?

Sr. Defense Official: The Europeans are still in the process, I would say, of making sure that they understand what we're doing and making sure that we understand what issues they have. They will want to, at the ministerial level, make sure that they understand the technical parameters. They will want to make sure that they understand what our actual decision points are, what we have actually decided, and what is yet to be decided. They will want to know about the state of play with respect to the Russian reaction. And they will want to know whether they need to be physically involved, so to speak, one way or another. And then they'll want to report on the reactions that they have and on their publics.

There was some discussion of this by the secretary at the so-called Toronto informal -- that was in September -- because he had just, I think the week previously, but in any event very recently, at that time, had just talked to Marshal Sergeyev, and that was the first time, I believe, the secretary had laid out for the Russians the nature of the program.

Q: Do the Europeans, you know, other than expressing their opinions -- I mean, is there any action that they could take, I mean, either to prevent it or to -- on NMD, or is this just a forum for them to air their opinions?

Sr. Defense Official: I think that misstates the nature of the relationship; I mean, the Europeans are close allies. We want to make sure that they know what we are doing. Like anyone else -- I mean -- there are decisions yet to be made by the president. And so if there are important factors that they want to bring to the secretary's and the president's attention, the secretary will listen. This is not a situation in which we are going in and sort of looking for a check-off one way or another. This is a legitimate consultation.

Q: Of course, in the past, have the European allies been generally supportive of development of this, or is there skepticism because of the ABM Treaty?

Sr. Defense Official: There have -- (inaudible) -- I think it would be fair to say that, with respect to the Europeans, like every place else, there is a wide range of opinion. So I don't think you could take the word "Europeans" and just put a verb behind it.

Q: It's not an issue that you usually think of in terms of European input?

Sr. Defense Official: No. What we have had -- in the past for example, some countries in Europe are actively involved in their missile defense. And we have the MEADS Program, for example, with the Italians and the Germans; other countries are not actively involved. So I -- you know, the reaction, like everywhere else, will probably be differentiated.



Q: I wonder if you could say a little bit more about what the secretary is planning to tell the allies about U.S. intentions on NMD? I mean, we had this report quite recently suggesting that from a technical point of view things might not be ready for decisions at the time when the president has to make one or is expected to make one next summer. What is he going to say to countries which are obviously concerned about the whole eventual unraveling of arms control simply on the basis of pressing for National Missile Defense in the United States? In less than 10 words. Write on one side of the paper at any one time.

Sr. Defense Official: He's going to say the right thing.

Q: You've still got four words left!

Sr. Defense Official: A man of few words.

Q: I mean, clearly it is a major issue, and not just --

Sr. Defense Official: Yes. Let me try to -- your question actually had a couple of parts. On the technical side, I'm going to let the secretary speak for himself; he's actually more familiar with the program and its actual progress than I am. I have reasonably good knowledge of it. I am reasonably confident actually I don't agree with your characterization, but I don't want to get into a discussion of the technical issues. If we want to do that, we'll bring the right person here to -- if you're interested in that.

With respect to the overall situation, again, I'll let the secretary -- he'll have a press conference -- discuss what he did talk about.

But what he has said publicly is that, and I think the president said, that we do not believe that this would, to use your words, "unravel" the overall arms-control situation.

You will recall that the ABM Treaty itself has the provisions for missile defense. And you will recall that the Russians have their missile defense. So it can't be the case that having missile defense -- the principle is inconsistent with arms control because the very treaty that people are talking about, has that also.

Now, the secretary is completely willing to discuss it with his colleagues, who are the senior people who are in the government -- their concerns. And I am not going to anticipate that discussion. But I don't think anyone should accept, as a premise, that because we want to do defense, that that's inconsistent with arms control, particularly given that the ABM Treaty itself specifically allows for defense.

Q: Will there be any discussion of missile defense to cover Europe or the NATO --

Sr. Defense Official: (Inaudible) -- I can't anticipate what other people will want to talk about. The system that has been talked about right now is a U.S.-type system. And that's the specific parameters, if other people are interested. But you're -- we're really in the area of speculation, and I don't want to speculate.