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Press Conference at Le Royal Meridien Hotel, Manama, Bahrain - Secretary Cohen

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
October 18, 1999 12:00 PM EDT

Secretary Cohen Press Conference at Le Royal Meridien Hotel, Manama, Bahrain

Secretary Cohen: I am happy to return to Bahrain and to have the opportunity to discuss our strong bilateral relationship and the regional issues with Shaikh Hamad, and I recall the very sad day in March during my last visit when Shaikh Isa died. That's a day that has stayed with me and will stay with me forever. My visit to Bahrain and other countries in the Gulf underscores the long term commitment of the United States to peace and stability in the region and close relations between Bahrain and the United States. We had occasion to discuss the full range of regional issues including Iran, Iraq and the Middle East Peace Process. I appreciate Bahrain's co-sponsorship of the U.K.- Dutch Resolution before the United Nations Security Council.

We stand firm together in our determination that Iraq must comply with its international obligations. The Resolution will also allow increases under the Oil for Food Program, to meet humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people. Recent UNICEF studies show that Saddam manipulates the program and is not interested in the welfare of his people. Bahrain continues to support our efforts to keep Iraq contained. Saddam continues to threaten coalition forces enforcing no-fly zones, trying to create divisions within a coalition, and it simply is not going to work. In fact we continue to broaden our cooperation, Bahrain and other GCC states, in what we call the Cooperative Defense Initiative against weapons of mass destruction - shared early warning programs, development of active and passive defenses to deal with these emerging threats as well dealing with the potential consequences of a chemical/biological attack. This combined planning enables Bahrain and the United States to stand together to confront the threat to regional security posed by Iran, Iraq and the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

With that let me take your questions, gentlemen.

Q: General Musharraf of Pakistan today made a speech announcing the withdrawal of troops from the Indo-Pakistani border and also making some vague pledges of restoring democracy there. Are you satisfied that they are now on the right track and if not, what concrete steps would you look for them to make in the short term?

Secretary Cohen: Well we were encouraged by the tone that the General set during the course of his speech, indicating that he wants to seek reductions of tensions with India, and that we certainly support. We would hope that there could be reductions in tensions on the Line of Control. We would hope that sooner and much sooner than later, that there would be a fulfillment of the pledge to return to a democratic rule. That was, as you said, somewhat vague in terms of the time line and we would hope that that could become much clearer, much sooner. But we were encouraged at least, by the tone that was set during the course of today's speech. We still regret very much that the military has taken over control in Pakistan, but it is our hope that he will fulfill his pledges as quickly as possible.

Q: Can you tell us what progress there has been on cooperation with the GCC states on the missile defense system?

Secretary Cohen: The kind of cooperation that we are now pursuing with the GCC states is to have a shared early warning system that can be set up so that we can share information pertaining to any early warning activities that will alert us and others to preparation for any kind of a missile attack. We want to share information that we are developing certainly how to protect our troops, how to protect our forces against any kind of a chemical or a biological attack; that we would have active defenses as well, that we would hope to develop against such an attack, and that we want to share information pertaining to what we call consequence management.

We have a very vigorous program underway in the United States to try and prepare roughly a hundred and fifty cities in America to anticipate what would need to be done on their part should they ever experience a chemical or biological attack. How do you train the local police, the firemen, those who are what we call the first responders, to identify what the chemical or biological agent is or was; how to protect themselves against that agent; what sort of measures are necessary to protect the people who have been injured, where do they take them, to which hospitals; how are the hospital personnel trained. So we are going through a fairly vigorous program to bring this information that we have at the Federal level to now share that with local communities who will be the ones who will be required to respond under our Constitutional system.

Response for any type of attack on our domestic soil as such, belongs to the local government officials, from the mayors all the way up through the governors and of course the military which stand to provide some kind of support should they be called upon to do so either by the presence certainly, if the governors request additional assistance. We recently created a joint task force for civil support - a group of about twenty-five or thirty military officers who were NCOs, who will be working to try to prepare for these contingencies in a way of support for intelligence transportation logistics or other types of things - so we hope to share that kind of information because we believe that in the coming years, should there be an attack, it could very likely involve chemical or biological agents. We have been very gratified with the receptivity on the part of Bahrain which has been very interested in working on this issue of increasing defense cooperation. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and we hope all of the Gulf states will join in.

Q: Was there any discussion in your meetings today, about potential troop movements in the area, moving U.S. troops?

Secretary Cohen: No, there were no discussions pertaining to that. As I have indicated, we intend to keep approximately the same number of troops that we currently we have in the region, indefinitely. There may be some minor adjustments in terms of allocation of troops, but that's just to help make sure that each country can bear an equitable share of the responsibility, but we intend to keep the same in the region. Contrary to what I am told are press rumors and reports, that there is going to be any significant reduction in the force levels for the Gulf area. That's not true.

Q: Do you still consider Iran as a potential threat to the area?

Secretary Cohen: I think Iran, because of its military buildup, because it seeks to acquire, continues to seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction, that it continues to certainly question if not undermine the peace process, as it continues to support external activities against other nations in the form of terrorism -- that it can pose a threat. We have been encouraged, I must say with President Khatami's attempt to modernize Iran, to appeal to a younger group of people who want to see changes in Iran, and we have indicated we would like to establish a better relationship with Iran. We have made several overtures to indicate that we would like to see that relationship become normalized, but only if they meet the preconditions - no more terrorism, support for terrorism, stop undermining the Middle East Peace Process and stop trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction. We have not seen any evidence of movement in those three areas.

Q: Mr. Secretary, it appears that the transition here in Bahrain has gone very well. Can you discuss a little bit how you found the new Amir? And in that context, a few years back there was some domestic turmoil here in Bahrain and at the time there were reports that Iranians may have been involved in that. Is that also part of the threat environment that you are looking at and do you have any lingering concerns about that here in Bahrain? Force protection and other questions like that?

Secretary Cohen: Well, we are very, very happy with our relationship with Bahrain. Certainly our navy has been here more than 50 years. It is 51 years. As the Ambassador correctly pointed out, we have had a much longer relationship than that historically. We think it is one of our strongest relationships anywhere and we are very pleased with Shaikh Hamad. He had taken over in a time of great national stress when I was here last March, but he is the son of his father and he falls from the same tree. He has a very engaging personality certainly, but he has a strong commitment to security, strong commitment to the United States in working with us and we are completely satisfied that he has managed this transition which came about so abruptly in a truly outstanding fashion. So we think that our relationship can only get stronger in the future and it is as good as we could ask for, and at this time we hope to make it better. So we are very happy with him and I have known him certainly in my prior visits even when travelling as a Senator. I have an enormous amount of respect for him and I think he is going to lead Bahrain to much greater things in the future.

Q: Iraq has been waging a propaganda war to get the sanctions lifted and it has had some success. The U.S. Catholic Council of Bishops, for example, has called for the sanctions to be lifted. How does the United States counter this?

Secretary Cohen: I think we have to continue to point out to all, certainly in the region, but to all the world over that Iraq, yes they have been waging a successful propaganda campaign and we should see it for precisely what it is: propaganda. They have shut down the ability of international inspectors to carry out their obligations under the UN Security Council resolutions, so there are no more inspections taking place and now what they are seeking to do is to lift the sanctions so there will be absolutely no requirement on Iraq to do that which it was required to do at the end of the Gulf War. This is simply unacceptable and what we have to do is to point out that if the Iraqi people are suffering - and some are - they are suffering because of what Saddam Hussein is doing.

That is the reason why I mentioned the UNICEF report. The UNICEF report points out that there is certainly less suffering on the part of the Iraqi people up North where Saddam has less control than there is in the South, where he does in fact manipulate how many of the supplies and millions of dollars of supplies, two to three hundred million dollars of supplies, that he has stored in warehouses of medicine, foods and clothing -- that he refuses to allow to be distributed to his own people.

So yes he wages a campaign, a propaganda effort. What we have to do is to point out, and we can show the documentation from UNICEF, we can show our own report that has been produced to show exactly what he has done in the past and what he is doing today. If the Gulf states allow that to be manipulated in his favor they will certainly face a Saddam who will have no restraint upon his weapons of mass destruction program, no restraint upon his missile production program, no inspectors, no control, with revenues flowing back into his military. That is simply unacceptable, so we intend to continue to push and support the U.K.-Dutch proposal, which we are pleased to see that Bahrain supports also, and to remind people exactly who Saddam is and what he has done in the past, and what he is capable of doing in the future.

Q: Who pays the cost of U.S. troops in the Gulf? And how much?

Secretary Cohen: Who paid the cost of my trips?

Q: No...no...no. U.S. troops.

Secretary Cohen: U.S. troops. We bear most of the cost of U.S. troops. We do have individual relationships with individual countries in terms of either housing, host nation type of support, but ultimately we pay the vast share of our support in the region: our ships, our personnel, our activities here have to be supported by the U.S. taxpayers. We do have contributions coming from individual countries and it depends upon which country providing what kind of support and service.

(Thank you very much).

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