News

[EXCERPTS from our Special Correspodent]
NEWS CONFERENCE WITH SECRETARY OF DEFENSE WILLIAM COHEN AND JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF CHAIRMAN GENERAL JOHN SHALIKASHVILI

THE PENTAGON
FRIDAY, JANUARY 31, 1997

SEC. COHEN: Good afternoon.

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In addition, I'm going to continue to work with the Senate on ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention. I've already spoken on several occasions about the importance of this arms control initiative. During the Reagan administration, the United States decided to eliminate its stockpile of chemical weapons, and ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention is going to give us a leadership role in determining how that convention is going to be implemented and enforced.

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Q: Thank you. Welcome aboard, sir. For both of you gentlemen, the State Department's report on human rights worldwide, especially on China, is very disturbing. The -- it -- dissent has been repressed completely, according to this report. Religious repression has been heightened greatly, and their own press is being severely repressed, their domestic press. I want to ask you gentlemen, one, for your reaction, both of you, about this repression; and, secondly, to ask what are -- what is the Communist Party, who has held all the cards and has had control -- and no doubt in firm control -- why are they pressing their populace at this time? What does it mean in terms of their strategic intentions? What did Mr. Chi say?

SEC. COHEN: I don't think any of us can comment or make a judgment about their strategic intentions, other than those that occur in the press, and you can speculate about it.

I have always looked at this by making a judgment that are we in a better position -- by dealing with them, engaging them, confronting them on issues -- to help change some of their behavior, because in dealing with human rights, they still have a very serious problem.

I recall when I first went to China, back in 1978, before I was even sworn in as a senator. Senator Baker asked me to travel with a small group to China. There were only four of us, and because I was the newest member elected to the Senate, they asked me to meet with Deng Xiaoping and take up the subject of human rights.

It was very short conversation that I had at that time.

But I felt compelled to raise the issue of human rights. I have done so on each and every trip that I've made. Has it been entirely successful? The answer is no, obviously. But are we in a better position to help shape public opinion, international opinion, by engaging them and, again, confronting them when the situation demands it, or simply saying, "We're not doing business with you; we're going to walk away from you, we're going to slam our doors against you," and then allow the rest of the world to continue to engage in -- them without having our high standards? I think we're better off and are in a better position to help influence behavior over a longer period of time by being constructively engaged, even though on the short term we may not see much progress.

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Q: Mr. Secretary, it has been one year now since the U.S. Senate ratified the START II treaty. It's jammed up in the Russian Parliament. Mr. Yeltsin doesn't appear to be in a position to mount any kind of aggressive lobbying campaign. How troubled are you by this state of affairs and what can we do?

SEC. COHEN: Well, I think it's clear that without a very strong push coming from the Russian leadership as such, it will not pass the Duma. I look forward to working with Vice President Gore, who is going to be meeting with Mr. Chernomyrdin early in February, next week. And that issue obviously will be much on the -- very much on the agenda.

But in the meantime, there have been efforts underway to see how we can accomplish that objective. It's in the Russians' best interest to ratify START II. It's certainly in our best interest that they do so, so we can move forward with even further reductions in a proposal for START III. So I think it's high on, certainly, our agenda. We hope to put it very high on the Russia agenda as well.

With respect to Mr. Yeltsin, I can't say what his situation will be. There seemed to be recent reports that he's recovering somewhat, and we hope that he'll be of sufficient status to either be able to travel or certainly to meet with President Clinton.

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Q: Mr. Secretary, what initiatives or steps are being undertaken at the moment to counter, or alleviate, Russian opposition to NATO's expansion? And if Russia's opposition cannot be overcome, will the expansion process continue anyway?

SEC. COHEN: The process is going on. It's going forward. We hope to be able to persuade the Russians that this should not be seen as a threat; that stability in Central and Eastern Europe is as much in their interests as that of the West; but that, nonetheless, the enlargement as such is going to go forward. But there are efforts under way at fairly high levels to try and communicate that message, and I assume that efforts will be made to try to ameliorate any concerns that they might have in that regard.