Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
And German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer
Remarks at Joint Press Availability
Washington, DC, May 8, 2000
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Good morning. I am pleased to welcome my very good friend, Foreign Minister Fischer, back to the Department of State.
This morning, the Foreign Minister and I discussed a number of issues affecting our nations' shared goals of an undivided Europe and a more peaceful and prosperous world. Among these issues is the pledging conference Germany will host in July to support construction of the Chornobyl sarcophagus. In my meeting earlier with the Ukrainian Prime Minister, he reaffirmed President Kuchma's commitment to close the last reactor later this year.
So we had a useful discussion where I thanked Germany for taking on this challenge for the G-7. But I also stressed -- and I believe that the Foreign Minister agrees -- that adequate preparations for this conference are essential for our common realization of this long-sought goal because it will be a welcome gift for the people of Ukraine and a great environmental victory for all of Europe.
The Foreign Minister and I also discussed a number of issues facing our NATO alliance, including progress in developing a European security and defense capability. The United States welcomes this. America needs a strong European partner able to act if NATO as a whole is not engaged. Germany needs to play a strong role in Europe if such a capability is to succeed.
I briefed Foreign Minister Fischer on Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov's recent discussions here in Washington, and previewed our preparations for the upcoming summit in Moscow. We had also the opportunity to continue our ongoing consultations on the National Missile Defense.
We also reviewed developments in Southeast Europe, where we agree that without real freedom in Serbia, peace in the region will remain at risk. We both see the need to work with others to determine and resolve the fate of missing Kosovar Albanians and Serbs.
The Foreign Minister knows that we appreciate and will continue to support Europe's lead role within the Southeast Europe Stability Pact. Our focus now shifts from making pledges and promises, to carrying out commitments.
Finally, we discussed preparation for President Clinton's upcoming trip to Germany, where he will receive the Charlemagne Prize for his support of European unification, June 2nd in Aachen, and that will be a proud day for the President as a statesman and for me as an American.
I always enjoy my discussions with Joschka Fischer, and I look forward to seeing him first in Florence and then in Germany in June.
FOREIGN MINISTER FISCHER: Thank you very much. It's a pleasure for me to be once again here a guest in the State Department by my very good friend, Madeleine Albright. We had a broad discussion this morning and yesterday during the evening for dinner.
We had the possibility -- I came from the informal summit of the Foreign Ministers of the EU in the Azores on Saturday and Sunday -- to inform Secretary of State directly about the last developments in the European security and defense policy. We are very happy that there is now a common understanding within the EU and between EU and NATO that we will form working groups and go ahead in closer cooperation. We are committed to the realization of the headline goals and, all in all, in the strengthening of the European pillar. It's not directed against NATO but it's a strengthening of the European pillar within NATO.
Second, we had a very broad discussion and explanation and information about the situation also and the debate in Europe about the National Missile Defense. We understand, on the one hand, fully the concerns of the United States and we realize the debate here in the United States, and we know that this is a national decision; but, on the other hand, the United States is the leading power in the world. This is a national decision with a very strong international impact, not only for Europe but also for Europe. We had our discussion. I explained the concerns within our parliament and public opinion, and we discussed all aspects.
We had also a continuous discussion about the future of the Balkans. The United States and Germany are here, I think, in a very, very close political -- but not only political -- cooperation, and will continue. Our political aim is the democratization and a peaceful Balkans and the democratization in the whole region, and I think we will reach that aim and will work very hard on that.
I think we made substantial progress. The situation is very, very difficult, on the one hand; but, on the other hand, we made substantial progress. We are thinking back one year ago, Madeleine.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I know.
FOREIGN MINISTER FISCHER: It was right in the middle of the war, and I think if we compare the situation one year ago with today, then we can see the substantial progress. I always say to critics at home that if journalists or local or regional politicians, maybe from the heartland of the United States, would have been in Europe in the year '46 with the same few, as many of our critics had today in the Balkans, while it was hard to believe, to see Europe then in 1989. But this was the result and this is a long-lasting effort for peace and development in the whole region, and we are in close cooperation here with the United States.
Last, Chornobyl. I briefed fully what we can do, we will do, to work with the Ukrainians to come to a shutdown of the nuclear power plant there, a definite nuclear power plant.
So we are looking forward for the visit of President Clinton and Madeleine Albright in June, and I'm very happy to see you then in Germany and in Berlin.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you.
QUESTION: George Gedda, AP. Before we get to the geo-strategic stuff, I'd like to ask about Joseph Cook, the American parent whose two children live in a foster home in Germany. Despite his best efforts, he cannot be reunited with them, and the German courts seem to side with the foster parents.
Do you have a comment, sir?
FOREIGN MINISTER FISCHER: Well, I've read The Washington Post yesterday when I arrived, and it was personally the first time that I read it. I can't make any personal comment. It's a tragic, tragic situation for the father and for the whole family. I am deeply impressed about what I have read.
But, on the other side, these are decisions of independent courts and we have an independent law system in Germany, and we are also facing with German parents problems with other nations in that issue. But all I can say is that after I've read this case in The Washington Post, when I'm coming back I will look for it within the limited possibilities I have as a Foreign Minister. I can't make any promises and I don't have to criticize decisions of independent courts, of course. But, on the other side, I understand the personal tragedy of that case.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: The Foreign Minister and I discussed this very briefly last night at dinner, and he told me he would take a look at it, as he has said today.
QUESTION: Mr. Fischer, over the weekend in an interview with Die Welt am Sontag, you said you were worried about the state of the trans-Atlantic relations. So could you please tell us who do you think is to blame? And, also, could you elaborate, apart from the National Missile Defense, which other areas do you find worrisome?
FOREIGN MINISTER FISCHER: That's always the same with journalists. You are saying something. I said we must be careful that the trans-Atlantic relations will not -- dogmatic, rhetorical, always a non-living relation where the same -- always the same persons telling the public the same, but things are going in the wrong direction.
I am much in favor for a living or for a revitalization of the trans-Atlantic relationship. That's it. So I don't know how you can cite me in that way.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Can I say, in the discussions that we had last night and today, I very much appreciate and admire the Foreign Minister's approach to what is a living subject, which is the very strong and important relationship between the United States and Europe, our trans-Atlantic relationship. We talk about this all the time.
And he has, I think, a very constructive approach and I hope he feels that way about me. It's a very interesting discussion and one that is absolutely essential for two Foreign Ministers to have on an ongoing basis.
FOREIGN MINISTER FISCHER: And, obviously, we discussed and will discuss in the future weeks and months, maybe years, about NMD and about European security and defense policy. That's a discussion since months.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: It's what we do for a living.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, one of the other things we suppose you're doing for a living is addressing or looking at the situation in Sierra Leone. Can you bring us up to date on that and talk about the situation as far as Americans are concerned, the possibility of American troops, et cetera?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Yes. I have spent a large proportion of the weekend dealing with Sierra Leone, and Under Secretary Pickering is constantly involved in it. We are obviously deeply disturbed about what is going on there and the UN hostage issue, and are doing everything we can to try to secure their release.
We believe that it is very important for diplomatic efforts to continue, and we think it's essential that they get back -- the parties, that is -- to fulfilling the obligations under the Lome Accord.
We have also been -- I talked to the Secretary General and I talked to Foreign Secretary Cook about what was necessary in terms of support for the UN mission. We are looking at how to provide some logistical support to strengthening the mission there, and we'll do what we can to be helpful.
QUESTION: What about the American citizens and diplomats?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We were able to evacuate some of the personnel from there over the weekend, and have a small team that remains in Freetown.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? A lot of critics have said that the UN peacekeeping force was not trained well enough; it wasn't coordinated well enough. Could you speak to your thoughts about what this says about the effectiveness of UN peacekeeping missions, and does it make you hesitate in getting the US involved in subsequent missions?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, let me say from my experience as having been US Permanent Representative and very much a part of supporting the United Nations in the evolution of peacekeeping forces and missions, that I think that we need a functioning United Nations system on this, and we need to do everything we can to support it.
What has been difficult from the very beginning of when we started putting the UN into these missions is how to make sure that the mandate is correct, that it has the kind of support that it needs and the right numbers of forces go. We intend to continue to be supportive of UN peace operations. Basically, they are essential for the functioning of the international system. There are, however, other ways to do things, as we have shown in a variety of other areas where there can be a coalition of the willing and a number of ways to deal with important problems.
I think that we need to make sure that the international community carries out its responsibilities in Sierra Leone, and we're looking at ways to strengthen the mission and look at various command structures. All I can tell you is that it is a very hard job for the Secretary General to gather the right numbers of forces for these missions and to get them there in a timely way. And if they don't arrive in a timely way or are not trained, then it is also a problem for him and for the nation-states that contribute.
QUESTION: I have a question for Secretary Albright. The strategic threat of the so-called rogue states is not only targeted at the United States, but it might also affect Europe as such. So why, in a shared alliance like NATO, you didn't try to find a consensus on this difficult subject in the Alliance before you started your unilateral approach?
And one short question for Foreign Minister Fischer. You are very staunch supporter of arms control, not only in the past as well as in the present. So is NMD an example for trying to find a common European approach on this subject, and did you already do so?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, let me say we are doing just what you're saying, because the President has not yet made a decision as to whether to deploy NMD. He is going to be doing it according to four criteria, which is: the threat, the feasibility of the system, the cost, and its effect on the arms control regimes generally.
Obviously, in talking -- in moving forward, dealing with our allies is very important. We are in the process of having consultations and briefings. But I also think that it is very important for any President of the United States, as is true of any leader, to do what is responsible as far as protecting one's people. But we are exactly in the process of consultations.
FOREIGN MINISTER FISCHER: Obviously, this national decision of the United States will have a strong impact on the interests, security interests, of all Europeans and we are working very hard to coordinate, not only within the discussion across the Atlantic with the United States to bring our concerns into the discussion, but also together with the Europeans in the framework of the NATO.
And, obviously, there is a discussion everywhere in Europe about that, and we are looking forward in unifying the position. But the interests are not homogenous within Europe so we will need some time for discussion for that.
QUESTION: I have a question for Mr. Fischer. There is another hostage situation that deeply concerns the German public at the moment in the Philippines. I wanted to know some new comments on that crisis and what the Foreign Minister is looking into in terms of possible solutions.
And if you could make your comments in German as well, it would be very helpful. Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER FISCHER: First of all, let me add to what Madeleine Albright said to the crisis in Sierra Leone in West Africa, that we are in full support of the United Nations. We should look at the regional approach of the United Nations there in the last years based on the engagement, military engagement of regional powers, was very, very important. Now, we'll have a similar decision in Congo, and I think we should support the United Nations because I don't see a real working alternative to solve these very sad and very dangerous problems in Africa.
And, second, we are very concerned about the security and the life of the hostages, 21 hostages, three of our citizens. We are very concerned about the health and security of all of them and want them back. We are trying to do all, together with the Philippine authorities which are responsible, to solve that crisis, to strengthen by humanitarian means the conditions of the hostages today, and to try to get them released unhurt.
We are very, very happy about the solidarity also of the United States but also of the other member states of the EU and about now the journey of Javier Solana to Manila. I think it will be very helpful that he can support our requests and our proposals to the Philippine authorities and the Philippine Government.
QUESTION: And in German? Could you --
FOREIGN MINISTER FISCHER: Oh, I must do it in German again? Okay.
[Repeats answer in German.]
QUESTION: A question to both of you. Madame Secretary, how serious is such a threat you mentioned before concerning the defense system?
And to Minister Fischer, you mentioned your concerns, especially the concerns of the government and in the public. Did you have talks with the Russian Government as well?
And, sorry, Madame Secretary; I need the answer of the Minister in German as well for our viewers.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, let me first, from my perspective, we believe that there is a threat to the territory of the United States from the DPRK, North Korea, and from Iran. That is the basis of this discussion. As we brief our friends and allies, we make that point quite clear and make clear the importance of -- to everyone that we speak to -- not assisting in terms of transfer of technology to those two countries.
FOREIGN MINISTER FISCHER: Well, first in English. Obviously, we also discussed with the Russian Government, and we will discuss with the new Russian Government which is formed just now. I hope we will continue this discussion as we do it with the United States and all the others. It's a very difficult discussion, and for us it's a key, key element whether this will lead to a confrontation between the United States and Russia and the question of arms control and arms reduction or not. This is a very important issue.
[Repeats answer in German.]
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Can I just add, for us we don't see this as anti-Russian. That is the whole purpose of it: it is not against the Russians; it is against the threats from those states that possess weapons of mass destruction that we feel are a concern to the territory of the United States and our people.
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