Cohen Addresses Middle East, Iraq During Tunis Visit
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
TUNIS, Tunisia, Oct. 10, 2000 The Middle East and Iraq dominated "friendly and far reaching" bilateral defense talks here Oct. 7 between Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and Tunisian officials.
Cohen met separately with Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Defense Minister Mohamed Jegham during the first stop of a visit to Africa and Europe. In a press conference following his meetings, he spoke about Tunisia's efforts to help the Middle East peace process and its role enforcing U.N. Security Council resolutions. Tunisia is on the Security Council.
Questions during the press conference dwelled on the Palestinian-Israeli violence following Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. More than 80 people, mostly Palestinians, have died in the violence.
"The first thing that has to happen is there has to be a cease-fire," Cohen said. "This has to happen so the parties can get back to the bargaining table. Otherwise, if this violence continues it will spiral out of control with more destruction and more death, and none of us want to see that take place."
Cohen said the United States would support a U.N. fact- finding inquiry into the source of the violence.
The secretary fairly bristled when a Tunisian reporter questioned his compassion, asking if he had none for dead Palestinian children.
"I am a father and a grandfather, and I certainly have a reverence for human life," Cohen said. "We would like to see the violence stop so innocent people are not harmed or killed."
He said the United States is limited in what it can do. "The United States can encourage the parties and bring them together, but the United States cannot dictate an outcome, cannot dictate a result," he said.
U.S. officials said there is a lot of sympathy in the Arab world for the people of Iraq, and many question U.S. support of U.N. sanctions against the country. Cohen placed the blame for the plight of the Iraqi people squarely on the shoulders of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
"Saddam Hussein has an opportunity to provide relief for any suffering and deprivation on the part of the Iraqi people," he said. All Saddam has to do is allow U.N. inspectors back into Iraq so they can verify he no longer has or is attempting to build chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.
"Once he complies [with the U.N. Security Council resolution], the sanctions come off," he said.
Cohen told reporters that the United States does care about the welfare of the Iraqi people through its support of the Oil-for-Food Program. The United States proposed doubling the program "so the overwhelming majority of all revenue generated by the sale of oil goes not for nuclear and chemical and biological weapons and the missiles to deliver then, but would go for food and clothing and medicine and shelter for the Iraqi people."
He said it is important that countries respect the U.N. Security Council sanctions, because ignoring them undermines the United Nations and undercuts the rule of law in the international community.
Cohen spoke about other bilateral discussions with the Tunisians. He said 89 Tunisian officers will travel to the United States to participate in DoD's International Military Education and Training program. In addition, Tunisia received $2 million in Foreign Military Funding money from the United States in fiscal 1999 and $3 million in fiscal 2000. Tunisia also received $5 million in drawdown money from the United States in fiscal 1999 and $4 million in fiscal 2000.
U.S. and Tunisian service members will continue to train together. About 1,500 U.S. Marines practiced an amphibious landing and exercised with 700 Tunisian soldiers during Exercise Atlas Hinge Sept. 15-20. DoD also has air, sea and ground exercises with the Tunisians.