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Joint Media Availability with Prince Sultan Bin Abd Al-Aziz Al Saud

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
November 02, 1999 11:50 AM EDT

Joint Media Availability with Prince Sultan Bin Abd Al-Aziz Al Saud, Saudi Minister of Defense and Aviation

(NOTE: Prince Sultan's remarks are through interpreter.)

Secretary Cohen: Good morning. It gives me a great deal of pleasure to welcome Prince Sultan back to the Pentagon. Of course, as you know, this is not his first visit. He has been minister of Defense and Aviation for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia since 1962 when Robert McNamara was secretary of Defense. During his tenure, he has built on the relationship established by President Roosevelt and King Abdul Aziz. Our countries share a commitment to peace and stability in the Middle East, and the ties between the United States and the Saudi militaries are close and strong.

Today we focused on improving ways to work together to counter weapons of mass destruction. We discussed the Cooperative Defense Initiative, and Prince Sultan received a briefing on Shared Early Warning from the Joint Staff in our National Military Command Center. Shared Early Warning, the development of active and passive defenses to deal with chemical and biological weapons, and methods for dealing with the potential consequences of a chemical or biological attack, are all very important parts of the Cooperative Defense Initiative that we are developing with the Gulf States. This is just one of the many ways in which our countries are working together to keep the Gulf region secure.

Your Royal Highness, perhaps you have a statement.

Prince Sultan: (Through interpreter) I would like to thank you, Mr. Secretary, for your comments.

I also would like to thank the press corps, both Saudi and international. And I want to emphasize that we want to give you the facts as they are with sincerity because making the facts clear is good for peace and stability and understanding worldwide.

As you know, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is totally against the spread of mass destruction weapons of all kinds, generally as a principle in the world and particularly in the Middle East, because it causes -- it destabilizes the region or any region that will have the mass destruction weapons present.

And as the secretary has said about the relationship, this relationship is special and it's based upon mutual respect and equality. And it has been set on solid foundation by King Abdul Aziz and President Roosevelt. And since then, it has continued always in the same direction, which is to preserve the mutual respect and the dignity of the Saudi people. And this relation is always put to good use to serve Arab and Muslim causes and particularly the Saudi people and the people of the Gulf region.

We would like also to thank the United States government for handing over the suspect, El-Sayegh, who is accused of betraying his nation and is accused of committing terrorist acts.

However, he is only accused. He is not condemned yet. This depends on the trial and on the investigation that's taking place. And in the kingdom, we strictly adhere to Islamic "sharia" that emphasize fairness and justice in the process and giving the accused the chance to prove he's innocent or guilty.

On this occasion, I also want to emphasize our great appreciation for the great response by this great nation, when the custodian of the two holy mosques, King Fahd, asked and made a call for the liberation of Kuwait. And this great effort that was made by the United States, and by the Arab partners in the coalition, is something we will never forget and we appreciate greatly.

And this shows that this relationship is special. Also, the Saudi people are greatly appreciative of what the great nation and the people of the United States of America have committed to in the service of this relationship.

I thank you.

Secretary Cohen: Charles.

Q: I'm Charles Aldinger with Reuters, and I would like to ask the prince, Prince Sultan, you thanked the United States for turning over a suspect in connection with the Khobar Towers bombing. Should the Taliban seize, arrest, Osama bin Laden, and turn him over to the United States or perhaps to a third country where he would be tried for terrorism in connection with the bombings of two embassies, two United States embassies?

Prince Sultan: Bin Laden is not a Saudi citizen. He was stripped from his citizenship because he is considered a traitor to the country and to his faith, which is Islam. And therefore, if Taliban hand him over to face justice, whether in the United States or anywhere else, we believe then justice should take its way.

Q: So, you'd -- I'm sorry -- you do believe that the Taliban should seize him and turn him over for trial?

Prince Sultan: I can't speak for another country. However, my personal view, him being -- continuing to be there is not in the interest of Afghanistan.

Q: (In Arabic.)

Interpreter: The question was about what did this trip contribute to the Palestinian cause and to Pakistan after the latest events, and His Highness says that our position is always to serve the Palestinian cause because it's a just cause, and we want just and comprehensive solutions, according to the United Nations resolutions, to get their legitimate rights.

As far as the General Musharraf there, the leader -- military leader in Pakistan, his latest visit to the kingdom was not a political visit. It is, as he explained to us, a sign of how much respect Pakistani people and their leadership have for the kingdom and for the special relationship that the kingdom occupies in the Muslim world. And also he wanted to perform some religious duties in Mecca.

Q: Barbara Ferguson, Arab News. I have two questions, one for Secretary Cohen and then one for Emir Sultan.

Secretary Cohen, we understand that American aviation and defense contractors summoned to Saudi Arabia are failing to uphold their agreement to the Saudi government, specifically to directly reinvest in businesses in the kingdom, both commercial and defense-related. Can you comment on this, please?

Secretary Cohen: I really don't have any information that could confirm what you've said. My understanding is that the Saudi government is very happy with the relationship between the United States and the Saudi kingdom. I am not aware of any expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of compliance, on the part of any of our contractors, as far as their reinvestment activities. But I simply don't have the information to comment with any authority on that.

Q: And my second question is for Emir Sultan: Can you explain what progress has been made in Saudi Arabia regarding the recently announced plans to liberalize property ownership laws for foreigners in the country?

Prince Sultan: This foreign-investment laws in property in Saudi Arabia, we believe is a positive law, and it will first benefit the Saudi citizens, the Saudi people, as well as international investors.

The law speaks for itself, and we believe it will be encouraging for overseas investors. We recommend that you follow up the Saudi press reporting on this issue, and you will see in the future more detail on that.

Q: Jim Mannion (sp), AFP, for Prince Sultan.

Has Saudi Arabia's investigation into the Khobar Towers bombing found involvement by Iranian officials in that bombing?

Prince Sultan: Nothing has been confirmed yet on this area of your question. The negotiations -- the investigation is continuing, and we are not in a hurry to finish -- to conclude this investigation because it's vitally important that people are innocent until proven guilty, and we don't want innocent people to be judged in a negative way before all the aspects of the trial and investigation takes effect. Hence, as of now, the investigation is continuing and we cannot -- we don't have any evidence that we can share with you.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I have two questions. The first question to you, Your Excellency. This is your second meeting with Prince Sultan in one month. Were there any urgent issues you have discussed in this short period?

Secretary Cohen: I'm sorry, the what?

Q: In a short period you have met twice --

Secretary Cohen: What are the issues?

Q: Yeah. I mean the urgent issues that you have discussed in this short period.

Secretary Cohen: The issues that I discussed while in Riyadh, and also here today, had to do with the Cooperative Defense Initiative. A major part of that has to do with Shared Early Warning, and to develop both active and passive defenses against any kind of a biological or chemical weapon attack, and to manage the consequence, should one ever occur. In view of the fact that many countries are developing chemical and biological weapons and the means to deliver them, we think that this is a matter of importance; it's the reason why I spent nine days traveling throughout the Gulf region to talk to each of the countries who also share the concern about the development of these weapons of mass destruction and missile technology that is proliferating. But that basically is what we were discussing both in Riyadh and here.

Q: (In Arabic.)

Prince Sultan: (In Arabic.)

Interpreter: The question was regarding modernization of the armed forces in Saudi Arabia and if there are new contracts that will be signed.

And His Highness said we continuously look forward to upgrading our armed forces qualitatively and quantitatively, but that is governed by our financial capability and our manpower capability. Our objective is to have an armed forces capable to defend the Kingdom. And therefore, with the new technologies as they exist today, modernization used to take place every year or three years; now, almost monthly there are modification and upgrading to the system. So we are always looking for whatever improves the quality of our armed forces.

Mr. Bacon: The last question right there, in the second row.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you have had a good relation with Saudi Arabia. How Secretary Cohen assist such relation in the availability of language of Pentagon. In other words, to what direction you have had to provide Saudi Arabia with the latest defense technology who'd be available nowadays?

Secretary Cohen: Well, as I've indicated before, we have a very strong relationship that goes back to the days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. We have been building upon that relationship ever since. What we discussed today were ways in which, indeed, the United States could in fact cooperate and work together with Saudi Arabia to help protect, certainly, its territory and our interest in the region as well, and that has to do with the technology of shared early warning, of being able to detect missile launches, share that information with Saudi Arabia in order to understand what kind of a missile, where it is, what consequence would result should it hit Saudi territory.

In addition, we shared and will share information pertaining to active defenses and passive defenses, clothing, medicines, antibiotics, other means of dealing with any kind of a weapon of mass destruction type of an attack. So that kind of technology we will continue to share with Saudi Arabia and, in fact, others in the Gulf, because it's in our interest to do so and because of the strong relationship we have, we share actively that kind of technology with them.

Mr. Bacon: Thank you very much.

Q: Sorry --

(Exchange off mike.)

MR. (?): Just one question.

MR. (?): Sorry, Ken, you've been overruled. (Laughter.)

Q: (In Arabic.)

Prince Sultan: (In Arabic.)

Interpreter: The question was regarding the new regulations about foreign investment in Saudi Arabia.

And His Royal Highness said that this visit was planned before these new regulations came out. However, this does not preclude us discussing this with our friends, the counterparts and officials of the United States, who will be interested to know about the new investment laws and new economic decisions that have been taken recently.

Prince Sultan: (Through interpreter.) I would like to say one last word for the Saudi press here. I would like them to invite their counterparts in the American media to come and visit the kingdom and look and see for themselves what's going on in the kingdom. We'll be more than happy to facilitate that and make it easy. And that all the Saudi press are considered ambassadors for their country -- excluding me, myself. (Laughter.)

Q: (In Arabic.)

Interpreter: The question was, what is the position on Iraq, and do you see eye to eye with the American position.

Prince Sultan: (Through interpreter.) The kingdom's position is great affection and care for the people of Iraq. And we are totally against any action that will destabilize and dismantle Iraq as a nation state. And we want to see only good things happen for the Iraqi people. Therefore, our difference is not with the Iraqi people, but our difference is with the regime in Iraq. And that starts and ends at their fulfillment totally and fully of the United Nations resolutions, which they have not done.

Secretary Cohen: I believe Prince Sultan has, in fact, expressed complete agreement with the policy of the United States. We also share concern about the suffering of the Iraqi people. But we also understand that Saddam Hussein is the one person who is inflicting that suffering by hoarding millions of dollars worth of medicine, supplies, clothing, other types of humanitarian assistance that should be going to the people of Iraq that he is depriving them of.

We also agree that he must fully comply with all of the resolutions. He has failed to do so; he has excluded the inspectors, and now he's trying to get relief from the sanctions. And I believe that we must insist that he fully comply with the sanctions before additional relief is provided. We want to do whatever we can to help the innocent people of Iraq, but that can only come about, apparently because of Saddam's past activities and his intentions, is when there is a different regime in Iraq itself.

Q: Thank you.