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DoD News Briefing: Joint Press Conference

Presenter: Joint Press Conference
November 04, 1997 12:00 PM EDT

Secretary Cohen: Good afternoon.

It gives me a great deal of pleasure to welcome my friend Yitzhak Mordechai back to the Pentagon.

Next year the State of Israel is going to be celebrating it's 50th birthday. The United States and Israel have worked together in war and peace to make Israel a great nation -- one that is free, democratic, and strong. We intend to stand by Israel in the future, just as we have in the past.

Our commitment to Israel's security is unshakable, and it's unending, and it's based on two major elements: helping Israel to maintain its qualitative defensive edge now and into the future; and working with Israel and her neighbors to achieve a comprehensive peace agreement.

Today, I told Minister Mordechai that the Clinton Administration will request $1.8 billion in foreign military financing in FY99 and we will also continue to work together on missile defense, force modernization, and counter-terrorism.

In conclusion, let me say that I'm happy to report that Minister Mordechai has asked me to visit Israel in December, and I have accepted. And I also indicate to all of you that he is making quite a sacrifice in coming here at this time since he was only recently married a few days ago, and this is no way to celebrate his honeymoon.

Minister Mordechai?

Minister Mordechai: It is the best celebration.

I would like to thank very much my dear friend Secretary Bill Cohen to invite me here and to discuss together some specific subjects, and to try to look at the future, where threat is going to go in the Middle East and how we can be prepared.

The policy of my country is to continue to encourage the peace forces in the Middle East and at the same time to be sure that Israel is strong to continue to defend the Israeli State and to have the quality edge supported by the United States, and being strong enough to take a risk to move into the peace.

I would like to thank very, very much Secretary Bill Cohen for everything he has done for Israel to keep Israel strong, and all the subjects that we agreed about them in my last visiting have been done. And I would like to thank on behalf of the Israeli State and the Israeli Government the United States Government, and especially to Secretary Bill Cohen for doing so much for the security of Israel.

Secretary Cohen: Questions?

Q: Mr. Secretary, concerning Iraq. Ambassador Richardson has condemned suggestions by Iraq that it might be prepared to shoot down U.S. reconnaissance flights in support of UNSCOM. Could you tell us, number one, when is the next U-2 flight scheduled? There's been some confusion about that. Will the United States send jets to escort that flight? And if Iraq paints or locks onto that flight with radar, would that be considered a hostile act?

Secretary Cohen: First let me say that the U-2 flight which is under the aegis of the United Nations will continue this week. The exact time I will not discuss, obviously, in terms of its exact timing, but it will take place during the course of this week consistent with UN procedures.

With respect to escort, again, that is a matter which will be an operational matter which I will not discuss. We believe that the U-2 flight should go forward, it should proceed safely to carry out its mission of inspection, and we expect the Iraqis to observe that requirement.

Should there be any effort to either attack that aircraft or put it in any danger, we would view that as a very grave matter and with serious consequences. Beyond that, I wouldn't care to comment.

Q: Would such an action trigger an automatic U.S. military response?

Secretary Cohen: I don't think we should speculate on what kind of action the Iraqis will take. We would hope that they will listen very carefully to the message that will be delivered by the UN team that's on its way to Iraq, and that they would see the wisdom of abiding by the current inspection regime, and that a failure to do so obviously carries consequences, and that would be up to the United Nations to determine those consequences. There should be no speculation about any kind of automatic triggering on anything.

Q: Have you observed any change in the Iraqi's military posture, either with regard to moving missiles and moving troops, that would indicate a more aggressive stance or more defensive or anything?

Secretary Cohen: That would be an intelligence matter on which I wouldn't comment.

Q: With your permission, one question in Hebrew.

Minister Mordechai: (Answered in Hebrew)

Q: (In Hebrew)

Minister Mordechai: (Answered in Hebrew)

Q: Mr. Secretary, it seems every autumn Saddam Hussein creates some kind of problem for the United States. Is he successful strategically in driving a wedge among the allies? Is there any way to solve this annual debate with him?

Secretary Cohen: I think hope on the part of Saddam Hussein springs eternal; that he will be able to divide the United Nations on this issue. The United Nations is united and remains united, that he must fully comply with the sanctions and allow inspections to go forward.

I would anticipate as long as he continues to remain in power he will seek to divide the United States and the United Nations, so we have to continue to pursue a united reaction to his actions in the Gulf.

Q: Mr. Secretary, how long will the United States and its allies allow Saddam Hussein to attempt to dictate policy when it comes to inspections? And is there a fear since he wouldn't allow the inspection teams to go in that he may be hiding something?

Secretary Cohen: I think that's precisely the reason why we have to continue the inspections. We have no way of knowing at this particular point, other than suspicions in terms of what might be in certain buildings and facilities. That's the purpose for the inspections on the ground being carried out. To the extent that he refuses to allow those inspectors to conduct their activities, that can only feed the suspicion that in fact the activities being pursued are illegal and are to be discontinued.

So we can only suspect at this point. We would like to have the opportunity to prove. Whether Saddam Hussein will allow it to continue remains to be seen, but hopefully the United Nations will continue to insist that the inspections go forward, and we would anticipate if he does not allow the United States members of that team to remain, that all of the UN members would come out as well.

This is not going to be an effort that will succeed to divide the UN on this issue.

Q: With your permission, another question in Hebrew.

Minister Mordechai: (In Hebrew)

Q: I was wondering if you could give us a little more detail on this $1.8 billion in foreign military financing for next year. What kind of things that would go for, and the Defense Minister can also comment on where he might like to see it go.

Secretary Cohen: There have been a number of issues that have been discussed within this package. The Israeli defense officials have examined what their requirements for modernization would need over an eight or ten year period, and we have looked at their overall requirements in terms of aircraft, other types of equipment, field equipment. We think it's a very responsible proposal over a fairly long period.

This $1.8 billion would be for FY99 and it would simply be part of that long range plan.

Q: (In Hebrew)

Minister Mordechai: (In Hebrew)

Secretary Cohen: I'm delighted to see that so many of you are bilingual out there. (Laughter)

Q: Mr. Secretary, President Clinton is beginning consultations with Congress on Bosnia. I was wondering if you now agree that U.S. troops will have to stay, some U.S. troops will have to stay in Bosnia after June of 1998.

Secretary Cohen: I think until such time as we have appropriate congressional consultations it would be premature for me to express that.

The President has said that the United States maintains a long term interest in the stability in the region as does the international community. He has made no determination as to what form that interest will manifest itself, in terms of whether it will be economic, whether it will be diplomatic, whether it will be military in nature. That is the whole purpose of having the consultations with the Congress. The President has agreed as has Secretary Albright, that the current mission, SFOR, will end as scheduled. Anything that might follow beyond that it's premature to speculate on now. This is the purpose of the consultations?

Q: ...consultations begin, can you really say, tell Congress with a straight face that the Administration is not leaning heavily for the option of a continued U.S. troop presence in Bosnia?

Secretary Cohen: I think I should leave it up to the President to talk to Congress directly. This is a pledge that the Administration has made that the President will meet with key members of Congress to solicit their views and input in terms of the decision as to what form of assistance, if any, the United States will commit beyond June of '98. That's the whole purpose of the meeting, and I think the President will make a statement at some point in time. And I would expect it within the near future. In terms of the substance of it, we'll have to wait and see.

Q: Can you share with us what advice you've offered to the President on this subject?

Secretary Cohen: I could, but I won't. (Laughter)

Q: Minister Mordechai, I'd like to ask about the Iranian missile threat that I believe the Russians came to Jerusalem to talk about. Do the Iranians currently have a missile that threatens Jerusalem? And secondly, is the Arrow system ready to go operational to defend Israel, to defend Korea, Japan, etc.?

Minister Mordechai: We are looking forward and trying to understand how the situation will be in the Middle East, especially when some of the countries are trying to build (inaudible) long range missiles and non-conventional weapons. We need to be able to defend ourselves with our own missiles to deter any country to use any unfortunate weapon against Israel and to be able to counter attack of any threat that will happen in the future.

I would like to thank very much the United States for supporting Israel to be able to defend itself, to continue to be strong in the future. This is the aim of my visiting. I hope that we can continue our discussion, because my dearest friend Bill Cohen accepted my invitation to come to Israel and to continue the discussion of military subjects in Israel.

Q: Secretary Cohen, ...Israel would feel that the arms race in the region would undermine the competence in the peace process. Minister Mordechai, can you clarify statements attributed to you in which you are threatening the region in Syria.

Secretary Cohen: If can answer first, Let me say that I think the most important thing for the State of Israel is to remain secure. If Israel is secure then it can proceed with negotiations for peace. To the extent that Israel is not secure, then I think that would inhibit the peace process itself. So I think the most important thing is to maintain our pledge to help Israel maintain its security and safety and from a position of military capability to defend itself, to then negotiate a peaceful resolution in the Middle East.

Minister Mordechai: Israel don't have any threats against any Arab countries. Not those countries that are very friendly with Israel and we have peaceful dealings with them. I am asking almost every week for President Arafat and to Syrian Government and Syrian people to join the peace forces, to come and to negotiate with Israel. I will be a man that will be fully proud to achieve a peace agreement between Syria and Israel. The key in the Middle East (inaudible) for peace or for unfortunate situation. Then may you help me to call President Arafat to come forward and to discuss with Israel the whole subject, the whole conflict, and to find a solution between Israel and Syria and to achieve agreement -- in our language we say it "in shala".

Press: Thank you very much.