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Secretary Cohen Press Conference at Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Dubai, UAE

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
October 21, 1999

Press Conference at Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Dubai, UAE

Secretary Cohen: I have finished my sixth meeting with President Sheikh Zayed as well as discussions with Crown Prince Sheikh Khalifa, Minister of Defense Sheikh Mohamed Bin Rashid, and Chief of Staff, Sheikh Mohamed. As always, my meeting with the President was very productive and informative, reflecting both the Sheikh's experience and his long standing friendship with the United States; and I'd like to take this opportunity to congratulate and to thank Sheikh Zayed and the UAE military for his support in Kosovo. In response to the humanitarian crisis, the UAE forces rebuilt the airfield at Kugas, they deployed a field hospital and mobile kitchens. In support of KFOR, the UAE has sent more than twelve hundred troops equipped with tanks, armored personnel carriers, and howitzers to the French sector. They also recently deployed Apache helicopters, maintenance personnel and special forces together with Jordan to serve in the US sector. Once again, U.S. and UAE forces are deployed and integrated together in a joint operation, and it gives us a great opportunity to work together, to learn from each other, and to deepen our security relationship.

The UAE has provided invaluable support to the United States and coalition operations in the region, allowing the deployment of aircraft and the use of its airspace. Jebel Ali has become a favorite port of Navy ships in the Gulf, and is the most frequented port outside of the United States. This allows us to operate effectively in the region. It also expands our contact among our militaries and our people. We did discuss Iraq, Iran, and ways in which the United States can continue to promote security in the region, and we talked about UAE's continued negotiations for the purchase of F16 aircraft. This purchase will increase the opportunity for our militaries to train together and to become more interoperable, and is symblematic [sic] of our long term security commitment to the UAE and to the region.

We talked about the so-called CDI, or the Cooperative Defense Initiative. Chemical and biological weapons present special challenges to both of our militaries, and they pose an increasing threat to the region. The CDI covers a range of technical activities that would give our militaries, in conjunction with civilian agencies, the ability to defend against this threat in the years ahead. We both remain concerned about Iran's attempts to acquire an offensive missile capability and its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, and we continue to work hard as part of our non-proliferation agenda, to prevent foreign assistance to Iran's missile program and deny Iran the ability to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

And finally we talked about our joint efforts to combat terrorism. In line with the recent United Nations Security Council resolution demanding that the Taliban stop harboring Usama Bin Laden, the President assured me that they would meet all of their obligations under the UN resolution. If the Taliban desires a normalized relationship with the international community, then the Taliban must turn over Usama Bin Laden to a country where he may be brought to justice. And as one of the countries that recognizes the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, the UAE is sending a strong signal, a message, to the Taliban about its international responsibilities by supporting the UN resolution. So with those few introductory comments, let me now entertain your questions.

Q: Mr. Secretary. As I understand it, the F16 sale is not finalized yet. What's holding it up, and do you have anything new to report now about that after your meetings?

Secretary Cohen: Well there have been some long term negotiations pertaining to the technical requirements for the UAE air force. The Chief of Staff, Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed, has been very involved in working these negotiations with the United States and with the manufacturer Lockheed Martin. And we believe that the technical requirements have now been satisfied. I believe there are still some financial aspects that are up for consideration, but as far as the technical requirements, it's my understanding, and it was confirmed today, that the technical requirements have been resolved. So it's a question of resolving some of the financial aspects of the transaction before a final deal can be announced.

Q: Mr. Secretary. Mohammed Al Muz'i from Al Khaleej Newspaper. Yesterday Moscow said that they will do whatever is necessary to modernize Syria's army, and they hinted that your government might object to that. What's your stand on that?

Secretary Cohen: I didn't get the first part of the question. Who is...?

Q: Russia said yesterday that they will modernize the Syrian army, and they hinted that you might object to that, so what do you say?

Secretary Cohen: What we're hoping for, as far as Syria is concerned, is to arrive at a peaceful resolution with Israel. I believe that the new President in Israel is dedicated to bringing about a peaceful resolution of the issues in contention. Obviously each country has to make its own decision about what it does with its modernization program. But we believe that the negotiations should go forward, and we're hoping that a peace arrangement can be truly achieved between Syria, Israel, resolving the contentious issue in southern Lebanon. But I have not seen a statement about the modernization of the military, but I assume that each country will decide for itself, what modernization plans it must make.

Q: Mr. Cohen. Excuse me. Hi. My name is Rasha Oweis. I'm from the Gulf News. I have two questions. You said the technical specifications on the deal have been resolved. What does that mean? Does that mean that you did not want to provide the UAE with the specifications it wanted? We've been hearing that for some time. Daley was optimistic, as usual. That was the second time, that during this air show, something might be finalized on the deal. How far is this true? Third of all, Mr. Martin Indyk....

Secretary Cohen: You said two questions.

Q: Martin Indyk in London, a few weeks ago, he gave a speech in which he said that new blood in the Arab world leadership is expected in the year 2000, with two major changes in Syria and the UAE, so what's your elaboration on that?

Secretary Cohen: Well, let me start with the last question. I don't profess to have any extra perspicacious capacities to predict what's going to take place in the future. We are in fact seeing young leaders who have emerged, certainly in Jordan, in Bahrain, and so there are young leaders who are coming up in the Gulf states, but I don't think anyone is in a position to predict when those leaders will emerge in other countries, so I wouldn't want to make any kind of prognostication.

With respect to the F16, we believe that the requirements that UAE wanted are very advanced. This F16 proposal is the most sophisticated aircraft, I believe in existence, and so there had to be a satisfaction between the contractor, or the manufacturer, and UAE to make sure that they could release those capabilities to UAE. They have satisfied that; UAE is now satisfied that its technical requirements with the most advanced sophisticated avionics and other technologies will be provided. And so it was, it really took a lot of negotiations because of the advanced nature of the technology. But we again are hopeful that it can be resolved soon, and we had expressions throughout the day that we wanted to move as quickly as possible, but whenever you're dealing with money items, that still takes time. First the technical aspects, then the money, those have to be resolved, and I think there's a sense that they would like to resolve it as soon as possible. We're looking forward to participating in the Dubai Air Show, and would expect to have, certainly, a variety of our aircraft present. We would hope we can conclude the negotiation before then, but if not, hopefully soon thereafter.

Q: Could we, yes Mr. Minister, please. Farid Wagdi, Al Ittihad Newspaper, Abu Dhabi based: Can we have an approximate date for start delivering the F16s, and could you comment on the reports which said that these aircrafts could serve in the Gulf for about 20 years - for the next 20 years, I mean?

Secretary Cohen: Well, first of all I can't tell you when they would start to be delivered, since we don't have an agreement yet. So it's hard to predict. We would hope that once [there is] an agreement, it could be delivered within a relatively short period of time - a matter of a few years. In terms of their service capacity: as you know, the F16 has a fairly long service life, and we would expect that an aircraft of this sophistication and capability certainly could last and be of full service during a 20 year period if necessary.

Q: [Unidentified speaker]: Did the UAE offer any help other than supporting the UN Council resolution on the Taliban in terms of Usama Bin Laden, and also what were your discussions on Iraq, and what was their response to the U.S. position taken?

Secretary Cohen: The UAE indicated they would comply fully with the UN Security Council resolution, and they, and we, are concerned with acts of terrorism, and any who sponsors them. And so they are supportive of the resolution and will do whatever is required under the terms of the resolution, and that's certainly what we would ask and would expect, and they have met every expectation that we have had.

With respect to Iraq and Iran: We have indicated that we certainly understand the deep and abiding sense of sympathy that the people of UAE, and throughout the Gulf states have with the Iraqi people. This is one of the reasons why we have been so supportive of the oil for food program, its expansion, and why we believe that the United Kingdom and the Dutch proposal currently before the Security Council offers the best opportunity to provide additional relief to the Iraqi people, while insisting that Saddam Hussein must allow the inspectors back into Iraq, and allow the Security Council resolution to be fully implemented. He has not done so to date. We believe that the UK and Dutch proposal will help achieve that goal, and provide the necessary relief - additional relief to the Iraqi people.

But again what I'm going to point out is, that it is Saddam Hussein who continues to block the flow of goods and services and medicines to the Iraqi people, and he continues to manipulate the program in a way to deprive his own people, so as to generate the kind of sympathy and identification that most of the Arab world would feel with the Iraqi people. And indeed we feel for the Iraqi people. But we cannot have a situation in which he denies inspections, says "I'm not going to allow any inspectors to see whether I'm complying with the UN Security Council resolutions, plus, you cannot have any sanctions," and therefore he would have complete control of all the additional revenues that would flow into his country, rebuilding his military once again and posing the kind of threat that he did prior to the Gulf War. So we want to do whatever we can to help the Iraqi people. We also want to see him comply with his obligations under the Security Council resolutions, and so we did discuss that.

With respect to Iran, we have indicated before that there really cannot be a change in our policy toward Iran unless Iran is willing to change its policy in three key areas. Number one: they must stop supporting terrorism. Number two: they must stop trying to undermine the Middle East peace process; and number three: stop trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction. We are prepared to certainly have a new relationship with them, but only if, and after if, they've changed their policies in these three key areas in ways that are satisfactory to us.

Q: (Unidentified) Mr. Secretary: The UAE feels the Iranian threat rather keenly. In your discussions, did you reassure the UAE leadership that if and when the United States and Iran improve relations, or normalize relations, that you would not sacrifice the fairly strong U.S. stance on key issues like the islands dispute with Iran, something that I presume would be very important to the UAE?

Secretary Cohen: We have indicated to the UAE that we support the UAE and all of the Gulf states insistence that the dispute over the islands be resolved through negotiation or arbitration or mediation, and we support UAE and the Gulf states in that regard, and we would not alter that. We would have to wait and see what Iran does on these other three key areas before we can talk about having any kind of a different relationship with Iran.

Q: [inaudible] Business Channel. I wondered, in financial circles there's been talk in the past few months about some ties being created between India, China, and Russia. I wonder how that fits in with your strategic plan vis-a-vis the Middle East, and the changes that have been happening to you politically since the Yugoslav conflict?

Secretary Cohen: India, China, and Russia?

Q: India, China, and Russia.

Secretary Cohen: And there's been talk about our relationship with...

Q: I mean, the financial world has been talking about how that ..relations and I wonder how that fits in...[inaudible] strategy.

Secretary Cohen: Well, in terms of what we have tried to do with respect to our defense strategy, especially with respect to China and Russia, is to maintain very strong military to military contacts. I have spent considerable time traveling to Russia, and also to China, and we believe that the more contact that we have, certainly the better. We have fairly significant investment in China, and quite a significant investment in Russia as well. We believe that you cannot have stability throughout Europe, unless you have a stable, and hopefully a prosperous, Russia in the future, and we also believe that China is certainly an emerging power, and will be a power in the future as it is today, and that we should try to have an engaged policy with China. So to the extent that we have financial transactions with these countries and maintain a military to military relationship, we think that will strengthen stability throughout the region.

Q: I'm Evelyn Nowan. I'm from Gulf News. You have air ground forces in Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, and in Bahrain you have headquarters of U.S. fleet. Any plans of deploying more military equipment here in the Gulf, in the UAE in particular, I'm sorry?

Secretary Cohen: Well we have certainly a very active policy, as far as our Navy is concerned, with port visits. We have agreed to have some training together as far as the special forces to combat terrorism, so we do not anticipate having any additional facilities as such, but we do anticipate having a greater interaction and greater training opportunities with the UAE. That would be the focus of our attention for the immediate future.

Q: Tarek Issawi, Associated Press. We've heard reports that Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah has recently terminated three contracts of international companies. One is European; one of them is Raytheon, and the other one is Marconi. They're multi-billion dollar contracts. Has this been discussed during your visit to Saudi?

Secretary Cohen: No. We did not have such a discussion. I assume that perhaps they are scaling back some of their acquisitions in the immediate future, given the economic situation, but we did not have such a discussion.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I am Hasan Abdulla from MBC TV. When you said terrorism in the region, what does that mean? It's including Iran and Iraq? Did you find Israel included with this word?

Secretary Cohen: I'm not aware of any Israelis who have posed a terrorist threat to the region. I am aware that there has been support coming from Iran to support various terrorist activities in many parts of the region, and so my focus has been on Iran; to a lesser extent perhaps on Iraq, and Usama Bin Laden who has engaged in acts of terrorism and supports acts of terrorism. And certainly here in Dubai, you have a very stable situation, and one that's very prosperous, and I think all are concerned about any acts of terrorism wherever they come from that would disrupt the stability and security and serenity of the region. So we didn't get to specific cases beyond Iran, Iraq, and Usama Bin Laden.

Q: Edmund Blair. Reuters. In your discussions with Prince Sultan in Saudi Arabia, did you discuss possible Iranian links to the Khobar bombing? And also, what was the Saudi response?

Secretary Cohen: We did discuss the situation of Khobar. As you know, we have returned an individual who is alleged to have taken part in the Khobar tower bombing, to the jurisdiction of Saudi Arabia. He is now in custody in Saudi Arabia. Prince Sultan did indicate that his wife and family have visited him. He is treated fairly, and is in good health, and awaits trial. We did not have any further discussions about responsibilities, since that is something that our Justice Department and FBI continue to cooperate with the Saudi officials.

If I could return to the issue about future leadership in the region. One of the reasons I come to the UAE at least twice a year is to meet with Sheikh Zayed. I will tell you that each time that I come, I find him to be in extremely good health; and we have vigorous discussions. You're smiling, but I will tell you that I have sat with him for hours at a time, and I find that he is one of the most intellectually engaging individuals that I meet with and discuss issues of importance. He has a very keen insight into the human mind and the human heart, and also some very strong views on policy considerations. And each time that I come, I spend as much time as I can with him, and that may range anywhere from an hour, sometimes to three.

And I must tell you that it's something I look forward to, and in fact I expressed to him, the only concern I had when he traveled to the United States recently, to visit the clinic in the United States, was that I was in Moscow, or otherwise I would have been where he was to take the opportunity to visit with him. So I would expect that he will continue to be a vigorous leader for some time to come, and I don't know the context in which Martin Indyk was talking about, but I don't know if he has had as much contact as I have had with Sheikh Zayed.

Q: Lahib Abdul Khaliq from Al Bayan Newspaper: I have two questions please. You are facing problems in financial support for your troops which is in the Gulf, and I believe that you'll face it. Have you requested financial support from the Gulf countries that you have visited? This is the first question. And the second one: You are always with the civilian governments, so how can you deal with the Pakistani leadership which is military now?

Secretary Cohen: With respect to the cost of our role in the Gulf, the American taxpayer bears a very heavy cost in terms of the deployment of our forces throughout the region. But we also do have some cost sharing arrangements whereby individual countries contribute to what we call host nation support that provide for facilities, provide for activities in kind, to help accommodate the stay of our forces who are deployed in the region. So there is a cost sharing or burden sharing element to it. But each country does contribute in a different fashion, but the overwhelming expense is borne by the United States.

And the second question - Pakistan. Frankly, I have not had any contact with the new military ruler. We have indicated that we want to see a restoration of democratic rule as quickly as possible. I know that some of our military leaders have had contact with the military leader, and believe that number one, that he is certainly a good soldier, a good military man who also is committed to seeing that stability is restored and wants to see a transition to constitutional government as soon as possible. We hope that can take place as soon as possible. We think that every opportunity should be taken advantage of to restore constitutional government as quickly as possible, so that sanctions will not continue to be imposed, that there can be some relief provided to the Pakistani people, and that they can get back on the path to democratic rule. But I have not had any dealings with the leaders.

Q: Your Excellency, here speaking: I have got many questions and that were answered anyway. One question I would ask: What is the importance of Dubai Air Show for the Pentagon and the American leaders as a platform of the air industry worldwide, apart from the F-16, and what are you really hoping to get from this area in that regard? Thanks.

Secretary Cohen: What we hope to show during any type of demonstration such as the Dubai Air Show is the capability certainly of our equipment. We believe that we have the finest technology in the world. I think we demonstrated that during the conflict in Kosovo. We carried out the most successful air campaign in the history of the world. We had 34,000 total, of NATO operating, 34,000 sorties. Out of the 34,000 sorties, only two aircraft were lost, and no pilots suffered casualties in combat as a result. And we think we demonstrated, with the kind of capability that we have in our technology, that we have the finest in the world. And not only with our technology, but also the capability of our people and their professionalism. So it gives us an opportunity to show all who attend what the United States is capable of providing.

As a result of that, certainly we hope to be in competition, and to be successful in competition with other major contractors from other countries. They come for the very same reason. And so it is a competitive type of show in the sense that each country wants to show its best. And so we feel the same way, and given that opportunity, I think that we are able to demonstrate the capability of our aircraft and the proficiency of our pilots, and we think that serves us very well. I think it is a good reminder to all in the Gulf who depend upon the United States to maintain its presence, and to maintain the level of contact that we have, that it's reassuring to them, that we are here, and we are here professionally; we're here with the most capable type of aircraft that will provide for stability and security in the region. So it's beneficial to us. It allows us to show against the best of what other countries have to show.

Press Secretary: Last question here.

Q: Mr. Secretary, yesterday they released a Rand report at the Pentagon talking about pyridostigmine bromide and how it could possibly cause Gulf War illness. What are your comments on that, and specifically what do you tell a service member who doesn't want to take his anthrax shots because of something that happened in the PB instance?

Secretary Cohen: Well, you have to remember the report said that it could not rule out that there was any causal connection with this antidote for a chemical weapon. It doesn't mean there is a causal connection, but they can't rule it out. So it is one of those areas where they just don't have the scientific information. I suppose you could say that for a variety of other substances as well. What we have to do is to make the best possible policy judgments.

I think it would be irresponsible for me, as the Secretary of Defense, to send our forces out into the field, so to speak, to be forward deployed to regions that we know where there is a capacity for people to come into contact with a chemical or biological agent, and to be completely unprotected. With respect to anthrax, we know that we have our veterinarians who have been taking anti-anthrax shots for years without side effects. We have had this examined by the FDA. I myself, in order to demonstrate that I believe absolutely in the safety and the veracity of the vaccine, have taken six vaccine injections to date. We feel this is a matter of force protection, and that given the potential for our forces to be exposed to an anthrax threat, which is one of the most deadly that they would have to encounter, that it would be irresponsible not to insist that they be properly protected.

I know that some feel it should be a matter of choice, but as I have tried to point out, you would not send one of your warriors out in the field without a helmet, saying "I don't want to wear a helmet." You would not send your warriors out in the field without flak jackets, saying "I prefer to have an open shirt," because you would then impose a burden upon all the other people in the unit to then take care of the person who has been injured, by virtue of not having his helmet, or not having his jacket.

So as a matter of force protection, you cannot have a situation where individuals decide what would be good for them and what would be good for the entire military unit. And so, looking at the history of the use of the vaccine, having outside experts examine the vaccine, having it certified by experts, having it certified by the FDA, we are satisfied, and looking at the balance of risk, that it would be irresponsible not to go forward and to have the vaccine. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, myself, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, all of us in positions of leadership, have had all of our shots, to demonstrate that we would not expect of them something that we would not be prepared to do ourselves. So we think it's an important thing, and it's one we will continue to insist upon.

Thank you very much.


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