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Secretary of Defense Press Conference, United Arab Emirates, October 11, 1998

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
October 11, 1998

Secretary Cohen: I will make a brief opening statement and then will answer your questions, and any that I do not answer, I will refer to my friend Sheikh Mohammed for his answer to you.

I've just completed a very productive visit with Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Mohammed. We discussed important bilateral and regional issues including Iran and Iraq; efforts by Iraq and Iran to build weapons of mass destruction is a threat to the security and stability of the region.

With respect to Iraq, we agree that Saddam Hussain must fully comply with all UN Security Council resolutions. We want compliance, and not confrontation, with Iraq. Compliance is going to help the Iraqi people. Iraq learned this when they accepted the "Oil for Food" program after five years of delay. This program, which was sponsored by the United States, helps to ensure that Iraqi oil revenues feed Iraqi people rather than fuel Iraq's arms program.

On Iran, I explained there could be no significant improvement in relations with the United States as long as Iran continues to support terrorism, to build weapons of mass destruction, and to vehemently oppose the Middle East Peace Process. Current and future threats increase the importance of good friends such as the UAE - United Arab Emirates, and the United States are going to continue the work together for peace and stability in the region.

With that let me entertain your questions.

If you have no questions, I'm happy to go. ....Yes.

  • Q: Qamar Hassan from the "Khaleej Times." Due to the fact that you have been known to have a very positive attitude towards the appointment of Ariel Sharon as Israeli foreign minister for he has been known as a very hawkish attitude towards the peace process?
  • A: Sometimes it takes hawkish and more conservative people in order to reach agreement. I think time will tell, but I believe that significant progress has been made in the past week, where you had Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat meet on three separate occasions in a one week period, which I think is quite remarkable; and the fact that they will be coming to Washington next week at the Washington summit, I think offers us hope that there can be real progress made toward peace in the Middle East.
  • Q: (Inaudible) and according to the (inaudible) statement. How do you think (Inaudible)?
  • A: Could you just repeat the first phrase of your question? It wasn't quite clear.
  • Q: (Inaudible) that the crude (inaudible).
  • A: Thank you very much.

We believe that with the proliferation of missile technology overseas, and particularly throughout the Gulf region, that this poses a threat to stability and security. And we know that Iran, for example, has recently fired the Shahab III which has a much greater range than had previous missile capability. And so we see this proliferation of missile technology posing a threat to many countries.

We have seen it coming for some time with respect to the United States as far as the protection of our troops is concerned, which are forward deployed throughout the region. And so we have undertaken a very extensive, and I would say, expensive, research and development program that would encompass some five separate theater missile defense systems.

We are moving as quickly as we can, but the technology itself is very demanding. So we are now grappling with if we have too many systems; that we need to perhaps combine some of the systems. We are looking very closely at ways in which we can field a theater missile defense system as soon as we possibly can, and we are making some progress in that regard.

As I've mentioned to a number of people in the region. I think it will be important for the Gulf States also to participate in some fashion, in either the research and development stage, or in the acquisition phase, to protect their people - their soldiers - from this growing threat. So we will be looking to be as helpful as we can as we proceed down the path of really evolving our research and development programs. And that is a very technically demanding task that we ask of these systems - in essence hitting bullets with bullets - and so it requires an extraordinary effort, but we are making considerable progress.

  • Q: Have you concluded any deals?
  • A: (laughing) No deals. I did not come to make any deals or to offer any deals. I did come bringing small gifts but that is all. I came really to reaffirm the friendship that we have with our partners in the region, to renew the bonds of friendship, and to keep in touch with each other and to consult.

One of the many benefits of my position was to have an audience today with Sheikh Zayed; to have an hour or so - I think it must have run much longer than that - but to be able to sit with him and consult with him and to get his views on events as he sees them in the region and elsewhere. It's a great benefit to me, and so it's part of the consulting that we do with our friends, and so I came for that purpose - mainly to consult with our friends, but also to visit with our troops in the field. They have to operate under very extraordinary circumstances given the heat, temperatures, in the desert and also out at sea where the temperature and the humidity can climb to very high levels and they are required to operate extraordinarily complicated equipment under adverse circumstances. So I wanted to come out, and to meet with them and to be as much of a morale booster as I could; to remind them that we think of them often, we thank them with the greatest amount of gratitude that we can express, to tell them how much we appreciate the service and sacrifice they and their families make.

  • Q: (Inaudible) What do you think about that Mr. Secretary?
  • A: With respect to Kosavo?
  • Q: Yes.
  • A: I had occasion to also address this with Sheikh Zayed that it has taken some time to build a consensus within the NATO coalition; that NATO has to operate by consensus, and by consensus that doesn't mean the majority vote. It means that everyone has to agree. And so it has been a rather difficult task to make sure that you have sixteen countries all agree on a certain course of action, and that sometimes they see things from a different perspective, but I believe that we will see in the next day or two, that consensus manifesting itself with what we call an "ActOrd", and that will be an action order that will be agreed to by the NATO countries and that would give authority to the SCFEUR, the head of the forces as such in NATO, to prepare to launch those strikes.

It would still give time for negotiations to take place, that once that ActOrd is agreed to, then it's just a question of time whether or not Mr. Milosevic will agree to abide by the UN Security Council resolution - if he does then there will be no need to take military action; if he does not, then I think it has become quite clear that all of the NATO countries are prepared to support action.

It would not be something very light. We have looked at the proposal, and I have looked at it and it would encompass more than four hundred aircraft, closer to four hundred twenty or thirty aircraft. That number may shift from time to time depending upon the missions to be carried out, but there will be a very substantial air campaign that would be capable of inflicting severe damage upon Milosevic's ability to wage the kind of war he had waged against the Kosovo people.

  • Q: Just to follow up on that question. You told us yesterday evening about the (inaudible) people (inaudible) Do you have any new deployments that (inaudible)
  • A: Not at this time. There will be other deployments, but I'm not prepared to announce them at this time.
  • Q: I am Tamer Shalabi of the Gulf News. (Inaudible)
  • A: First of all, we are hoping very much that there will be no conflict. We are supporting President Mubarak's efforts to negotiate and mediate the dispute itself. We respect the territorial rights of each country, and we hope that all the parties concerned, whoever is helping to mediate this particular dispute, will be successful in avoiding that, but we don't intend to engage in the picking of sides in this particular dispute. This is something that is certainly regional nature, but it also is between countries that we hope will be able to resolve it peacefully, so we are supporting strongly the mediation efforts.
  • Q: (Inaudible) How would you comment on the relation of the States and Iran, and what's your comment about the secret talks between (inaudible) I just really feel that you have concealed the difference between (inaudible) the Talliban and Iran. Thank you.
  • A: I thought you were all entitled to one question? You've managed to squeeze three (laughter) into one.

With respect to secret talks: there are no secret talks as such being carried on between the United States and Iran. The President has made it clear that we are prepared to engage in informal discussions, and there have been informal discussions with Iran.

There has been no offer on the part of the Iranians to elevate the discussion to government to government level, and we have also indicated to the Iranians that there must be a change in their foreign policy activities, mainly as I have pointed out in my statement, activities of supporting terrorism or undermining the Middle East Peace process or acquiring weapons of mass destruction. We have been encouraged somewhat by Khatami's moderation as far as the domestic policies have been concerned, but we have seen no change in their foreign policy. So until that takes place, it would be very difficult to have a better relationship with Iran.

We still see Iran as trying to acquire these weapons of mass destruction, and we think that poses a threat to stability in the region. We still see them as supporting and failing to renounce the use of terrorism, and so that also is a factor which would inhibit a more normal relationship. So we intend to continue our policy of trying to contain the shipment and transfer of high technology of a kind that could be used to destabilize the region, and hope that our friends and allies will be supportive of that.

Do we have one other question?

  • Q: (Inaudible)
  • A: Well, once again, this is something Iran will have to resolve with the Talliban. We don't have any commitment on that. We have no position with respect to that particular conflict. I think the Iranians are concerned about attacks leveled against their people, and I think that they have to work it out diplomatically, and I believe the Iranians would seek to do so, rather than wage war. But no-one can predict what will take place with the Talliban.
  • And I promise you, this is the last question.
  • Q: Sana Bagersh from "Gulf News." (Inaudible)
  • A: Whenever you talk about taking military action, one cannot predict and should not predict, a time frame. We would envision two phases to this operation. And we would envision a fairly short period initially, but if there is not an agreement to abide by the UN Security Council resolution, that could be gradually escalated. We could not foresee a long period of time, because their people who are up in the hills who are in need of assistance.

That has been one of the strong motivating factors to try to resolve this as quickly as possible because there are some fifty to seventy thousand people who have been pushed up into the hills who don't have adequate clothing and food and shelter. In addition there's some two hundred and fifty to four hundred thousand people who have been displaced. They have to be allowed to go back into their homes and to be able to do so with confidence that they won't be attacked again, and the people in the hills have to be given humanitarian assistance. So that is one of the factors driving the need for more immediate action, and hopefully Mr. Milosevic will see the wisdom in doing that. If it comes to military action, we do not see a prolonged affair, but no-one can predict the events.

Press: Thank you.