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Press Conference with Secretary Cohen at Ittihadiyya Palace, Cairo, Egypt

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
April 04, 2000

Tuesday, April 4, 2000

(Press Conference following a meeting with President Hosni Mubarak at Ittihadiyya Palace, Cairo, Egypt)

Secretary Cohen: Good morning. President Mubarak and I just finished our third meeting in the last eight days. We met last week in the White House with President Clinton and then again at the Pentagon. Today, as always, I've found President Mubarak's counsel knowledgeable and wise and we discussed a wide range of world, regional, and bilateral issues.

President Mubarak, Minister Tantawi -- who was my gracious host for this visit -- and I agreed that the relationship between Egypt and the United States has never been stronger. Egypt is an important leader in the Arab world, a regional power with unrivaled influence. In addition, Egypt is an important force for peace. In our meeting, I recalled the key role that Egypt had played in resolving tensions between Syria and Turkey last year, and the steady leadership Egypt is currently providing in the Middle East peace process.

I just came from Israel, where Prime Minister Barak stressed the contribution that Egypt is making to the efforts to reach agreement between Israel and Syria, and to promote progress between Israel and the Palestinian authority. The Camp David accords have been a model for resolving disputes, but as Israel and Egypt both know, peace does not just happen. It must be constantly nurtured. Egypt and Israel have an opportunity to expand their dealings in ways that will benefit both countries, while improving understanding and stability throughout the region.

A modern Egyptian military is one element in stability, and Egypt's ability to work consistently and constructively with many countries in the region is another. Our countries work together very closely to help Egypt to meet its defense needs so that it can be secure within its own borders and participate in regional and global peacekeeping exercises and operations. The Bright Star military exercise is one sign of Egypt's leadership in regional security affairs. I recall this very well -- I visited last fall -- and it was a remarkable exercise attended by many countries, eleven participating actively, plus the observers.

In addition, Egyptian troops have served effectively in peacekeeping operations in Somalia, Bosnia, and East Timor. So, Egypt also needs to be ready to deal with problems of the future such as chemical or biological attacks. CDI, the so-called Cooperative Defense Initiative, addresses many of these threats by linking friendly countries in the region to a program to improve defenses against chemical and biological weapons.

In response to Egypt's current defense needs, I told President Mubarak and Minister Tantawi today that the United States has approved for sale to Egypt a new air defense system -- a short range, surface-launched version of the AMRAAM missile. When fielded, the missile will update Egypt's air defense system by replacing an older Russian missile, the SA-6. Egypt is in the process of modernizing its military with U.S. help, but Egypt's power and influence rest on more than its military. Egypt's influence grows out of its determination to work for peace and stability in both Africa and the Middle East and, for that, we commend President Mubarak and his strong leadership.

So let me entertain your questions.

Q: You said last Thursday that Egypt should be included in the early warning system. Could you elaborate more on this?

Secretary Cohen: This is part of the so-called Cooperative Defense Initiative, where you would have a shared early warning system. We briefed President Mubarak when he was at the Pentagon, to show how such a system can give advance warning if a missile is ever launched against Egypt or any other country that would be linked through this system. This system would show how much warning time, where the missile is fired from, what its likely trajectory is going to be, to give advanced notice to try to be able to, number one, defend against it, then take appropriate countermeasures if it should land. This is part of the shared early warning system that we have been briefing the Egyptian military. It is part of this Cooperative Defense Initiative. If you have weapons of mass destruction, such a missile carries chemical warhead or a biological warhead, what kind of devastation that could cause. This is what we're trying to do throughout the Gulf region and also with Egypt, to have them participate.

Q: Only the Gulf or other countries?

Secretary Cohen: Well, Jordan and all of the Gulf states. We are briefing this to all of the Gulf states to say this is a system whereby they can help protect their military, certainly, but also their civilian population.

Q: Do you think it's only a nuclear threat or biological threat...?

Secretary Cohen: Any type of missile can deliver a nuclear, chemical or biological warhead.

Q: How do you see the Middle East free from weapons of mass destruction?

Secretary Cohen: We support a "weapons of mass destruction free zone," so-to-speak, a nuclear-free zone. If there is a comprehensive and lasting peace process in the Middle East, we would be supportive of that.

Q: Could you tell us about the air defense system, its size, how much would it cost?

Secretary Cohen: Well, I can't put a figure on it just yet. What we do is we go through a process saying this is appropriate for release to Egypt. Then we go through a process of making sure we understand what is needed and its configuration. It's going to replace the SA-6, which is an old, short-range missile. This is also short range, land based, and it will simply update and modernize the current capability. Now, in terms of what it will cost, it's too early to say at this point, in terms of how much will be required. We don't have those numbers yet.

Q: (Inaudible) I wanted to follow up -- the last time you were here you discussed with the Egyptians acquiring Patriot missiles. Have they made any sort of moves to do that?

Secretary Cohen: We have had discussions with Minister Tantawi and also with President Mubarak about the need for Egypt to accelerate its acquisition of the Patriot. Right now, it appears to be a budgetary problem. To the extent that they can find money within their five-year program, we think that would be a high priority item for them to acquire. They are looking at it at this time. Right now it's scheduled for deployment and acquisition in 2006, it slipped from 2004 to 2006. We think it would be important to get it within the five-year time frame.

Q: Did you discuss lifting the sanctions against Iraq?

Secretary Cohen: We discussed Iraq in Washington and what we've indicated there is that until such time as Saddam Hussein fully complies with the U.N. Security Council Resolutions, there can be no lifting of the sanction from our perspective. As you know, the United States has been in the forefront in promoting the oil-for-food program and expanding it, and most recently, even doubled the amount that can be used for oil drilling equipment and repair of their existing infrastructure for oil drilling. But Saddam has flatly refused to allow inspectors to come back into his country so they can satisfy themselves that he is not developing any nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. He is imposing great hardship upon his people. We have found that up in the north where the oil-for-food program is working effectively, the people are doing rather well, in comparison to what is taking place in Baghdad, in the southern part of Iraq, where he is controlling and manipulating the oil-for-food program to create more hardship. We've also seen evidence that he continues to build very extensive palaces while people are going without their needs met. So, I think that most of the people throughout the Arab community understand that Saddam is the problem. There really can be no relief from the sanctions until such time as he complies and until such time that we hope there will be a change in regime so that the people of Iraq can enjoy integration back into the international community.

Q: How do you see the gesture by Libya to invite an Israeli official to visit and on the Egyptian-Israeli cooperation, did Egypt agree to such cooperation?

Secretary Cohen: I think it's a very positive sign as far as Egyptian and Israeli military contacts, which will hopefully lead to cooperation. There was a meeting that was held at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, that was attended by Egyptian and Israeli military personnel. That was a good first step. I think that the more contact, the more cooperation that can be achieved and it will benefit the entire region. I know that Prime Minister Barak is in contact with President Mubarak, they talk to one another. I think there's an opportunity. Certainly, Prime Minister Barak looks to President Mubarak as being a positive influence in trying to bring about reconciliation in the region and a peace settlement between Israel and Syria. He knows that he has an influential presence and role and I think that if we can stress the need for them to take -- step by step -- greater cooperation, that will benefit Egypt, it will benefit the entire region, including Israel.

Q: Do you care to comment on my question about Libya's gesture towards Israel?

Secretary Cohen: I really can't comment on Libya's gesture toward Israel. That's something that Israelis will have to judge for themselves. We have indicated to the Libyan government and people that our policy toward Libya cannot change until such time as there's a renouncing of terrorism or support for terrorism, until there is full compensation for the PanAm 103 and that they fully cooperate with requirements. So, our policy will not change toward Libya even though we have sent a delegation to Libya to determine the safety environment for American citizens to travel there. We are under an obligation under our law to say that American people have the opportunity and the right to travel anywhere in the world, provided it's safe for them to do so. So, we have to make a determination. That's the reason for the delegation going to Libya.

Q: Do you think there will be an opportunity to achieve peace in the Middle East during the Clinton administration?

Secretary Cohen: I think there is an opportunity and it's one that, hopefully, the Syrians will take advantage of. President Clinton went to Geneva to meet with President Assad to lend whatever weight he could on the part of the United States to say here is an opportunity to reach an agreement with Prime Minister Barak. He has taken a very courageous stand -- very controversial in his country -- very controversial even within his coalition party. As President Clinton said, though, the ball is in Syria's court at this point to respond. There's a window of opportunity and that window can't remain open very long during his administration, because Congress will not be in session for many more days during the balance of the year. There is a limited number of days during which Congress is in session. Congress would have to approve any type of proposed settlement package, in terms of compensation for the movement of facilities, establishing other types of equipment that would help satisfy Israel about its early warning needs, and so forth. In order for a package to go to Capitol Hill, it would have to go reasonably soon. It's up to Syria at this point to make a determination as to whether it wants an agreement or doesn't want one. In the meantime, I spoke with Prime Minister Barak and he is prepared to move forward on the Palestinian track and seemed to be quite optimistic that that was moving along and that they would be quite positive.

Thank you very much.

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