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Media Availability with Secretary Cohen and the Minister of Defense of Kuwait

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
June 02, 1999

Media Availability with Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and Minister of Defense Shaykh Salim al-Sabah al-Salim Al Sabah, of the State of Kuwait

Secretary Cohen: Good morning. Shaykh Salim and I have just completed a very productive meeting. We reviewed our strong military-to-military relationship. The United States, of course, is committed to protecting Kuwait, and Kuwait is committed to supporting our troops, while strengthening its own defenses.

We are working together to contain Saddam Hussein from attacking his neighbors and from using his air force to attack his own people. Every day, United States and British pilots are patrolling the no-fly zones over Iraq. The Iraqi forces continue to threaten our planes, and we respond forcefully and swiftly by striking Iraqi air defenses.

We will continue to insist that Iraq comply with the U.N. Security Council resolutions that prohibit Saddam from continuing his weapons of mass destruction program, and require him to give a full accounting of Kuwaiti POW's and MIA's. And we will continue to work with the Iraqi people to create a government that will bring peace and prosperity to Iraq.

I'd like to commend Shaykh Salim for two far-sighted actions by Kuwait. First, Kuwait is helping the Kosovar Albanian refugees with food, shelter and medical supplies. And, second, I am pleased by the Emir's decision to grant full political rights to Kuwaiti women. They're going to be able to vote and to run for Parliament in the near future. And we look forward to that with some enthusiasm.

I would add one other note, that I have visited Kuwait on many occasions. And during the course of those occasions, Shaykh Salim has personally driven me in his automobile from the airport to our meetings. Apparently, there may have been a special request from his ministry not to have me reciprocate in kind at this time, but I want to say what warm hospitality I have received when arriving in Kuwait, the personal hospitality and generosity that he has shown to me and our entire delegation during our visits. I thank him very much for his personal friendship and for his leadership in strengthening the military-to-military ties.

Shaykh Salim: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I'd like to say that you may also come any time to Kuwait. This time you will come on a state visit, where you will have the same treatment as I received here. I will not drive you this time; I will have a driver to drive you home. You and your wife will be most welcome on a state visit to Kuwait. I will extend that to you later on in a written invitation.

Secondly, it is true that we are cooperating and working together closely with the Ministry of Defense here, shoulder to shoulder, our soldiers together. And we are learning a lot from them, from the American soldiers, and the American soldiers, as well, are learning from us. We'd like to say that we are fighting together now, shoulder to shoulder, and we will continue to work in that respect for many years to come.

That's all. Thank you very much.

Q: Mr. Secretary, might I ask, the Joint Chiefs of Staff are going to the White House tomorrow to meet with the President. Is it true, as reported in the New York Times, that they will discuss a contingency for a possible multiple invasion of Kosovo if that becomes necessary? And despite your assurances that the air war is working, and will work, is the United States, the administration, and this building working on a possible contingency plan, invasion plans, given the time here, with winter coming on?

Secretary Cohen: First of all, this meeting tomorrow is part of the periodic meetings that the President has with members of the Joint Chiefs. And so you should not read anything more into the fact that the President meets on a periodic basis with his top military advisors.

Secondly, I would expect the full range of issues to be discussed tomorrow. General Ryan, for example, I think will give a presentation of the success of the air campaign to date, the goals that we have had, the successes that we have had, in carrying out a major air campaign with extraordinary professionalism and precision on the part of the pilots. And I would expect the full range to be discussed at that time.

Let me say that there are -- the only plans that we have would be for the enhanced KFOR, the more robust peacekeeping mission that the NAC has recommended, and the numbers that would go, from the 28,000 originally discussed, up to approximately 50,000, to go in, and be prepared to go in as soon as there is a peace agreement. That is the only planning that has been done through the NATO process.

And so I'm sure that there will be a full range of discussions, questions about whether or not there would be any kind of a ground option for a non-permissive environment. But as we have indicated on many occasions before, there is a consensus for a strong air operation in the NATO countries. There is not a consensus for a ground operation in a non-permissive environment. So we intend to focus on the positive.

Q: But given the time constraints, the possibility of fighting in winter, you're not preparing any contingency that might put a force much larger than K4 for a forced entry?

A: Our plan right now is for the enhanced KFOR. There's no other planning that has been presented to the President. And there is none under any active consideration in terms of the Joint Chiefs making any decision or recommendation. This is something that I am sure will be discussed, because it has been discussed many times in the press. But our commitment is to the air campaign. We believe that it has been successful, will continue to be successful. And we believe that by enhancing the air campaign and intensifying the diplomatic initiatives that we will be successful.

Q: How soon, once you begin planning, before you lose that option?

A: Well, that's an item that I'm sure will be discussed. But since we're only planning for the air campaign, that has not been raised to the President at this point.

Q: Iraq has been without inspection for the last six months. Is there any new plan the administration is discussing on how to deal with the continued challenges of the Iraqi regime?

A: We continue to contain Saddam Hussein. And our policy has been one of containment, with the hope of providing an alternative voice for the Iraqi people. The administration has been in contact with Iraqi people so that we can present a different voice, an alternative voice, and they can work together with the administration, with our Kuwaiti friends, and others, to bring about a regime change at some point in the future.

Q: Is NATO coordinating its air attacks with the KLA, providing them with specific air cover? There were 150 sorties flown on the [inaudible] where the fighting was happening yesterday.

A: Our policy is not to coordinate with the KLA. Our policy is to attack Serb forces wherever they are massed. This is something that, whenever they mass their forces and present a target of opportunity for us, we will continue to pound them. So, to the extent that they are posing that kind of a threat in the region, we are going to go after them. But we are not coordinating or working in conjunction with the KLA.

Q: But you are in close touch with the KLA; there is regular communication between NATO forces and the KLA?

A: I'd assume that NATO forces, General Clark and others, obtain information wherever they can in order to carry out their mission effectively. To the extent that they acquire information, which then can be verified and vetted to make sure that we have good information about where Serb forces are, then we will do so. And there will be no preclusion of any source of information. But we are not operating in coordination with the KLA. We are not serving as their air force. We intend to carry out our mission. And that is to attack Serb forces when they are found. And that's our policy.

Q: Mr. Secretary, just a point of clarification. In your answer to the question about the meeting on Thursday with the Chiefs and the President you said the full range of issues would be discussed. That happens to include options beyond the enhanced KFOR?

A: I would assume that that will be raised and discussed, yes.

Q: In what type of detail or what direction?

A: I think we ought to wait until tomorrow to have the meeting. The Chiefs will present the full panoply of issues. They will talk about our state of readiness. They will talk about the air campaign. They will talk about budgetary items. I think that the whole range of issues for the Chiefs that would ordinarily be discussed with the President will be discussed tomorrow, including consideration about whether there should be or could be a ground option, and whether there would ever be a consensus within NATO itself or within the country.

So I think all of those issues will be brought up. But this is part, again, of the President wanting to stay in periodic touch with the members of the Joint Chiefs, and this is just part of this. It was said some time ago that there was no magic time to find the time from the President's schedule, his travel schedule, and getting the Chiefs together.

Q: Will you be in on the meeting?

A: I expect to, yes.

Q: Will General Clark be there? And if not, why not?

A: He's not a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He is a CINC. And the President also has periodic meetings with the CINC's. And I think, at that point, the President would obviously be eager and willing to meet with General Clark. This is a meeting of the members of the Joint Chiefs.

Voice: There is time for one more question.

Q: Shaykh Salim, sir, is there any sign of growing tension with your northern neighbors? And also, the last time I checked, there were fewer U.S. troops in your country than usual. I think they are between exercises. Do you have growing concerns about the level of tension there at this point?

Shaykh Salim: There is no doubt that we still suspect that the Iraqis might do another attack on Kuwait. But with our friends, the Americans and the British, we are working together very closely. Yes, we will continue to work together in order to prevent any doubt of attack.

I don't think that they will attack, but what worries us is about rockets might come across the border or a plane, suicide pilots will come. But this, we are ready to deal with it. Our boys are over 24 hours working with our friends, the Americans. Our fighter pilots are down there patrolling the area day and night. So we are ready for anything.

Q: Mr. Minister, have you made a decision yet on whether to buy the U.S. Paladin system?

A: Well, as far as the technical committee and the Minister of Defense, yes, we decided to do. But, you know, we are a democratic country. We believe in democracy, as you do. We have a committee there in the Parliament. They are questioning a lot of questions, asking a lot of questions about Paladin and things like that. So we have to wait until the coming elections and then make a decision over that.

Q: So the issue is not settled yet?

A: No, it's not settled yet.

Voice: Thank you very much.

Voice: Thank you.

Shaykh Salim: Thank you.

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