Monday, April 3, 2000
(Also participating in this press conference is Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak)
Prime Minister Barak: We are glad to welcome Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen and his delegation. We have a long tradition of excellent relationships with the secretary of Defense and with the secretaries of Defense of the American administration -- supporting the State of Israel and its security and promoting the cause of peace in this region. We have discussed the peace process, all around and on all tracks and the situation of our bilateral relationship and processes that are carried on here with American support in order to strengthen the security of Israel.
We reiterated our commitment to push forward on the Palestinian track and to live up to our decision to pull out from Lebanon until July this year. Of course, we mentioned that we were frustrated the Syrian response to the ideas raised by President Clinton in Geneva. We did not close the door on this track, but we are realistic enough to understand the probabilities are quite low as of now that negotiations will be resumed on the Syrian track in the foreseeable future. We have decided, of course, to continue our cooperation on all issues between Israel and the United States in regard to our security and defense relationship. We wish the Secretary to have a successful visit to the region through which he will contribute to American influence and to the cause of stability, moderation and tolerance among the peoples of this region. Thank you very much.
Secretary Cohen: Prime Minister, thank you very much for your invitation for me to come to visit with you. I come to Israel to reaffirm the strong and indestructible bond between the United States and Israel, to issue praise to the courageous leadership of the Prime Minister in his quest for peace and to continue our ongoing discussions of ways in which Israel can maintain its qualitative edge in terms of military capability in order to ensure its security. So, once again, it is a pleasure for me to be here, to be with you and to thank you once again for the leadership you have shown and the courage you have demonstrated in the cause of peace. So, I am prepared to answer your questions.
Q: (in Hebrew) Mr. Prime Minister, when we retreat from Lebanon will that be to the international border or do we intend to keep bases on the border of Lebanon?
Prime Minister Barak (in Hebrew): We have announced that we will retreat to the border, we will deploy the IDF on the border. We don't recommend that anyone test our reaction once we are on the border. Of course, we will allow the international community, should it decide to do so, to act according to the understandings of Security Council Resolution 425 which calls the Security Council through U.N. forces deployed in the area to assist the Lebanese government to occupy the area once again, to realize its sovereignty and to implement the necessary security in the area. But as I have said, we intend to redeploy in any event by July on the international border in Lebanon.
Q (in Hebrew): Mr. Prime Minister, can you address fears of a possible flare-up on the border in South Lebanon. Is there a danger of war in light of this situation?
Prime Minister Barak: I do not believe that there is an immediate danger of a flare-up of any kind. We are redeploying on the border. We know how to protect ourselves. Israel is the strongest country in the area and I don't believe that anybody will want or weigh the possibility or dare to confront us militarily today, in a full confrontation. I also do not believe that this is something that is about to happen, or that is expected.
Q: Mr. Secretary, should Israel cancel the sale of AWACS to China? And Mr. Prime Minister, why would Israel sell to China a capability that would threaten U.S. interests?
Secretary Cohen : I have indicated before that the United States does not support the sale of this type of technology to China because of the potential of changing the balance in that region, with the tensions running high as they are between China and Taiwan. We see this as being counterproductive. So I have expressed that to the Prime Minister. We will continue to discuss this matter in the future.
Prime Minister Barak: We are aware of the sensitivity in the United States with regard to China. We are, of course, aware of our commitments in the contracts that we signed. We are aware of the need to coordinate and to be in close coordination and contact with the United States on every issue that might risk American interests -- especially when it's clear that the American people, the American administration, is traditionally the greatest ally of Israel. We take that into account.
Q: There has been talk of strengthening the units of UNIFIL in south Lebanon in the event of Israeli withdrawal. I would like to know from you, Prime Minister, whether you have requested or would welcome an American presence in a larger force and, from the Secretary, whether that presence can be anticipated.
Prime Minister Barak: I am not sure that there will be a need for any extra forces, or new forces in UNIFIL. Maybe a very slight increase in the amount of representatives from those countries that have already established UNIFIL as it is. I don't think that, bearing in the mind the memory of how effective the Lebanese were in disarming other militias and pacifying other parts of Lebanon, I don't see a problem. If there is a will there is a way to solve this issue, with UNIFIL and under the auspices of the United Nations Security Council. But, we are not going to lead it. I don't think that it is appropriate for Israel to decide for the U.N. Security Council or for the other members of the Arab world community. We will pull out to the border out of our interests and we will defend Israel and its interests from within our borders. We don't have a claim on a single square mile of Lebanese territory and I am confident that these tendencies toward diffusing major conflicts that have bothered us for the last twenty years will be supported by every reasonable government in this region and in the world.
Secretary Cohen : The Prime Minister has indicated that no decisions were made about a U.N. force on the border. I do not anticipate that the United States will be participants should there be such a force.
Q: What is Washington's interest in expanding the U.S.-Israel defense relationship? Why might Israel need such an expanded defense relationship or mutual defense treaty?
Secretary Cohen : First of all, the discussion about the enhanced relationship was in the context of the requirements that might be necessary in order to insure security should there be a pact, or agreement, with Syria. That was the context within which this was discussed. We have a very strong relationship with Israel. We will look for ways in which we can expand and build upon that relationship in the future because we are committed to Israel's security.
Prime Minister Barak: We feel that a strong Israel in the Middle East is in a way, a fact that serves the free world as a whole. It encourages moderate regimes in this region. It makes the deployment against rogue states like Iran, Iraq or Libya more probable. It contributes to slowing down the run toward nuclear capabilities and missiles technologies, and it makes the over-all deployment of the free world in this region against these threats much more effective and safer. Beyond that, may I say, it strengthens the more moderate tendencies among regimes in this region, it helps to provide the free flow of oil from the Gulf to Europe and Japan that helps significantly these two economies to keep a stable pattern of growth, which is important, indirectly, to the United States, but also, clearly, to the free world as a whole.
Q: Do you desire a defense treaty?
Prime Minister Barak: Everything should be considered when the time comes and becomes ripe. We believe in a collegial kind of upgrading of our relationship with the United States in a way that will not violate the American interest to establish better and closer relationships with as many partners of the Middle Eastern community of moderate governments.