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Secretary of Defense Cohen Press Conference in Amman, Jordan

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
October 28, 1999

King Abdallah Air Base, Amman, Jordan

Secretary Cohen: I am very pleased to again visit Jordan and have therelationship, as well as share with him the results of some of my discussions during my trip to the Gulf. I also enjoyed seeing the King the week before last when he was in Washington. I feel we are developing the same kind of close and personal relationship that I was honored to have with his father, King Hussein. Today I also had the pleasure to see Lieutenant General Mohamed Malkawi, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, as well as Prime Minister Abdel Rawabdeh.

King [Abdullah] has won the respect of the Jordanian people, as well as the rest of the international community, for the way in which he is forthrightly addressing the needs of the region and his country. I reiterated our intention to provide $125 million in assistance for the upcoming year -- $75 million in foreign military financing and $50 million in the Wye Supplemental that we are currently discussing with the Congress.

That is reflected in the dialogue that he has initiated with many neighboring countries, including Israel, Syria and Kuwait. That is also manifested in the positive role that Jordan is playing in building greater cooperation among the militaries of the region. Jordan sent a special forces unit to Kosovo to operate, together with the UAE, in the French sector. Jordan has a contingent participating in the successful Bright Star exercise that is underway now in Egypt. Jordan has a growing military exercise program and concrete and realistic plans for modernization. The United States will do all it can to help in these areas.

During our discussions, we obviously talked about the Middle East Peace process. We share the feeling that there is a real opportunity for progress on all tracks of the Peace Process. I think that the King will be in a position to make a very positive contribution as we move forward, just as his father did.

We talked about the situation in Iraq and I shared with the King our support for the UN Security Council Resolution currently under discussion in New York. This resolution, which has the support of the majority of members of the Security Council, including Bahrain, will enable the reestablishment of the UN inspection regime, while expanding even further the amount of humanitarian assistance available to the Iraqi people under the oil-for-food program.

With that brief summary, let me go to your questions.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you have announced today an increase in the military presence in Kuwait, does this mean that a strike against Iraq or toppling the Iraqi regime system is happening any time soon and existence, where?

SECRETARY COHEN: No, what I announced in Kuwait was, we are upgrading our facilities; expanding some of the ramp space for aircraft that might be called upon to fly in a contingency basis and to upgrade the military housing for our forces. But essentially, we intend to keep the approximate number that we have currently in the Gulf. We intend to keep that basic presence, we don't intend to expand on it unless there is a need to do so. And so, we are really just upgrading the facilities to make them more modern, to increase the communications capability and to make sure that we contain Saddam Hussein as we currently are doing.

Q: Are you trying to drum up support for the Iraqi opposition?

SECRETARY COHEN: We hope that the Iraqi people will have an opportunity to have new leadership, and we hope that that leadership can come from within Iraq. We are committed to maintaining Iraq's territorial integrity. We believe there should be alternative voices, and we are supporting alternative voices to Saddam's regime, but we hope that the Iraqi people can enjoy an opportunity to rejoin the international community under new leadership.

Q: Mr. Secretary, did King Abdullah make any suggestions as how to overcome the impasse over the resumption of UN arms inspection of Iraq?

SECRETARY COHEN: We basically discussed the need to support the Security Council resolution. We believe that it's important the inspectors go back into Iraq to satisfy the international community that Iraq is in fact abiding by the UN Security Council resolutions -- They are not doing that today. And what they are seeking to do basically, is that they shut out the inspections and now they're trying to lift the sanctions, without ever complying. That is simply unacceptable, so the King has indicated that he is supportive of our efforts to bring about compliance with the Security Council resolution.

Q: It is known that Usama Bin Laden is an American product but nowadays he is wanted as a terrorist, how has it come about?

SECRETARY COHEN: It's comes about because Usama Bin Laden has been involved in masterminding some of the bombing activities. He is responsible for blowing up two of our embassies in East Africa and killing hundreds of people and wounding thousands. We believe that he is currently in Afghanistan and that he continues to support terrorists activities. We have been successful in interrupting some of them, but we are determined that he should be brought to justice for the crimes that he has been responsible for.

Q: Did you discuss Hamas at all?

SECRETARY COHEN: No, we did not.

Q: Mr. Secretary: The United States has been very successful in getting other countries in the region to be active participants in the containment policy on Iraq. Jordan has had close historical relations with Iraq, and I noticed you've made no announcements in terms of upgrading facilities for possible use by Americans in Jordan to help contain Iraq. Did you discuss these kinds of issues with the Jordanians and is there reticence on their part to be involved in this sort of thing?

SECRETARY COHEN: Not at all. As a matter of fact, we have very good military relations with Jordan, and we cooperate in a variety of different areas and so there is no hesitation in the part of the United States to work very closely with Jordan. We consider Jordan one of our most important friends, and they are instrumental in helping to enforce the sanctions against the Saddam Hussein regime. They have taken some very courageous stands and we understand the economic impact upon the Jordanian economy and we are trying to find ways in which we can help contribute to rebuilding and stimulating the economy here in Jordan. But as far as the military is concerned, we have very strong relations with the Jordanian military, we're looking forward to training and exercising together with them and others.

Q: On the military assistance that is planned, do you have a grasp on how it's going to be spent, what kind of areas, and is that directed against any of Jordan's neighbors?

SECRETARY COHEN: The Jordanian military has proposed under the King's leadership a five-year plan, and they have set forth their priorities for modernizing their force. They are engaged in the reform of the military, of downsizing it to make it more modern, capable, flexible, and more rapidly deployable. And all the items that they have in fact laid out in their five-year plan are something that we think makes a great deal of sense and we want to be helpful -- help them to achieve that modernization plan.

Thank you very much