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Secretary Cohen Interview with Abu Dhabi Television

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
April 10, 2000

Monday, April 10, 2000

(Interview with Abu Dhabi Television, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates)

Q: Sir, fist we would like to start actually with what the U.S. concept, in the way you see security in the gulf. What are the main strategic points that are shared between the U.S. government and the governments of the GCC?

Secretary Cohen: Well, basically, our strategic relationship is that we want to promote peace, stability, and prosperity throughout the gulf. The way to do that is for each of the gulf states individually to build their own security systems that hopefully will be interoperable with that of the United States. It can be of any origin, but essentially, it should be interoperable. Otherwise we would not be able to communicate with each other or act in concert, and it would be much more chaotic and less effective. So what we try to do is to talk about ways of building a cooperative interoperable system, so that if a crisis should come, that the United States could work with all of the GCC states to make sure that we repel any attack and deal with any crisis effectively. So that is the strategic goal.

Q: You have lately introduced the CDI project and you talked quite a bit about it in the press conference. But I have one last question with regard to it. Is it ultimately going to be an alternative for the actual physical presence of U.S. troops, foreign troops, in general in the region?

Secretary Cohen: It's not intended to be a substitute; it's intended to be a complement. We would like very much to maintain our forces in the region, depending upon the need and the agreement on the part of the gulf countries. But what we would envision is that the United States forces that are currently here, whatever level they may be, depending upon what the GCC states decide, is that we would want them to be interoperable with all of the gulf states, so that if a crisis erupts, if we are required to respond militarily, that our forces could operate effectively together. That is one of the reasons why I have tried to stress greater bilateral relations and exercises between the U.S. and each of the countries, but also multilateral exercises.

Last summer I attended the Bright Star exercise that was hosted by Egypt and we had some eleven countries that were participating in that exercise and some 22 or more observers. And I think all who were at that exercise saw the benefit, what we call the synergy, of having forces from different countries who train together, who have compatible equipment that can operate together, to bring the power of those diverse forces together as one. And that's something that I think everyone who participates in an exercise saw the benefit of.

We think that something similar could take place here in the gulf itself, with each country deciding to have more multilateral exercises with countries of its choice, but basically to have systems which are interoperable with the United States. And so if there were to be a threat of the kind of technology that we are concerned about, of biological weapons and chemical weapons and long range missiles that could deliver them, that there would be an opportunity for the gulf countries to have either active defense systems or passive systems, have a shared early warning, so that the United States could take advantage of this satellite capability to detect a launch that might be directed at any given country, to track that launch, to anticipate where it's going to hit, how long it will take, then to forewarn that country that it's coming, and thereby try to minimize the damage done, [and] if not, be able to intercept it. So this is all part of the effort to maintain peace and stability throughout the region.

We're hoping that there can be changes -- in terms of Iraq's policies, of Iran's policies -- that we could promote a much more peaceful, stable environment. But until such time, I think that it is the obligation of every country to defend its citizens and its military, and each country must decide for itself what the best way to do that is.

Q: ...That will mean a long alliance among the countries of the region and the United States. In your tour in the gulf with these countries, did you find that these countries were ready for this?

Secretary Cohen: I think all of the countries in the gulf look to the United States as a country that is not seeking their territory, that has an interest in promoting stability, not only because it benefits all the gulf states; it also benefits the United States. We should be very clear about that. When there is prosperity and stability in the gulf, the United States and other countries benefit as well. So our interest is one of promoting stability wherever we can. But because of the great natural resources in the gulf region and what it means to global stability and prosperity, then obviously we want to promote that. I think all of the gulf states look to the United States in that capacity, and they see us, certainly as a superpower, but one that is prepared to work, not only to strengthen military and military capability, but to lend that with strong diplomacy; and we should not have one without the other. You should always seek to negotiate peaceful settlements, but if you can't, be prepared to defend against any antagonist who might be attacking you. So we want to marry up and combine military capability with diplomatic strategy and capability as well.

Q: In statements issued by you or your top aides during your tour regarding Iraq, there is talk about a change of regime, or a hope for a change of regime in Iraq as a way of ending the suffering of the Iraqi people. Is it just a hope, or are there plans somewhere being done to achieve these goals, and if not, how do you see this suffering would end?

Secretary Cohen: I think it's clear from Saddam's past behavior and present behavior that he is not interested in being a member of the international community in good standing. His entire history has been one of pursuing conflict, of imposing hardships and dictatorial policies upon his people, and that he is not interested, at least at this point, in complying with the international community, the United Nations Security Council resolutions which insist that he make disclosure and open up his country to international inspection. So it is my judgement, and I believe shared by most if not all others, that Iraq will not enjoy the benefit of being a member of the international community in good standing until such time as he is no longer there.

Now when will a change come about and how, there is certainly an external political group that gives a different voice to the Iraqi people than Saddam Hussein himself. But it's my belief that any change must come from within, must come from within on the part of the Iraqi people who demand the change and are willing to take action to achieve a change, and with a goal of making sure that Iraq, its territory, remains united. None of us want to see in any way Iraq's territory divided and to be splintered. We want to see an Iraq that is whole and free, and that is prosperous. And so we're looking for the Iraqi people to bring about a change and we hope that that can be done, and with hard work, we believe it will be done.

Q: There is some sort of incompatibility between the U.S. thoughts and the thoughts here in the Emirates regarding Iran and the main points. None of them clearly refers to the everlasting dispute between Iran and the UAE over the islands in the gulf. What does the United States think of this issue?

Secretary Cohen: We support the GCC efforts to bring about a settlement of this. We don't take sides and try to make a decision on it, but we do support what the GCC has advocated about a settlement of the dispute. That is the U.S. position.

Q: You are particularly taking tough language during this tour about Iran. Is that because you are touring the Arab states in the gulf area, or is this the situation now with the standpoint of the United States towards Iran? Despite all the positive signs coming from Iran?

Secretary Cohen: Actually, I didn't think my language had changed at all. I have said basically the same thing since Iran has adopted its policy of hostility toward the West, toward the United States, toward the peace process, as long as it is trying to get chemical and biological and nuclear weapons. My language remains precisely the same. What I have indicated is that we have been encouraged by what we see as a change taking place in domestic politics, that President Khatami appears to be a force for moderation. He appears to enjoy the support of many many people. He does not yet have the power or the ability, or perhaps he will; I don't know. But he is not in a position at this time to change the foreign policy.

But once he is in a position to do that, if he is in a position to do that, then the United States' posture toward Iran can change. In the meantime, Secretary Albright tried to send a signal by indicating that we were encouraged by the political change taking place and therefore were able to ease the restrictions, certainly in a marginal sense, but to send a signal that we would like a better relationship with Iran, but not until they change their fundamental external or foreign policy.

Q: What is the exact measure and the reaction that the United States might take towards Israel's deadline of selling AWACS to China?

Secretary Cohen: Well, I think I can only say at this point that I think they, publicly and otherwise, a very straightforward message, that we do not support the sale of AWACS or an AWACS-type system to China, that we strongly oppose it, and that Israel must understand that the sale of this kind of technology to China at a time when there are great tensions between China and Taiwan could have an impact of changing the strategic balance. Secondly, it can see a reversal in that flow of technology; not only going to China but coming back from China into the Middle East, principally Iran, and possibly Iraq. And so it is, in my words, counterproductive, for the Israelis to pursue this kind of technology exchange with, or the sale of this technology, to China. And we have expressed that very openly and very forcefully.

Q: Would that have any impact on future technology transfers, especially in armament sale to Israel?

Secretary Cohen: That certainly was a risk involved. We've already seen that a very well-known Congressman, Sonny Callahan, has put a restriction on some 250 million dollars scheduled to go to Israel until such time as the sale of that technology is canceled. So I think that this is something that Congress is concerned about; they do not want to see Israel use its technology, or that of the United States, which they are prohibited from doing for external use, in terms of sales. Many members of Congress are getting increasingly concerned that by exporting this technology it poses a threat, potentially to U.S. forces, and to strategic stability, and ultimately perhaps even to Israel itself. And so it could have a variety of consequences that I can't say at this point what the impact would be.

Q: On behalf of Abu Dhabi Television, thank you very much for your precious time.


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