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Remarks By Secretary Cohen and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
March 15, 1999

Remarks By Secretary Cohen and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu

Q: What is the purpose of this visit?

A: (Cohen) The purpose of the visit is I am now concluding a nine-day, nine-country tour of all of the Gulf States, plus Egypt and Jordan. And of course I am here to indicate our continued strong support for Israel's security - that support will remain stronger even in the future -- that we are committed to Israel's qualitative edge and military capability to protect its people. We are also here to lend our support for the Wye Accords, their full implementation, and basically to explore and discuss some of the issues of our policy toward Iran/Iraq and to give the Prime Minister and other officials an update on my travels.

A: (Netanyahu) I am very pleased to welcome Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen to Israel. This is not his first visit. He just told me that he and our Defense Minister Moshe Arens first met in 1978, so that is twenty-one years ago - that is twenty-one years of friendship. We have recently advanced greatly the defense relationship and the strategic relationship between Israel and the United States. Since your last visit here, Mr. Secretary, President Clinton and I signed another Memorandum of Agreement to enhance Israel's strategic capabilities, its deterrent power to find common answers to common threats. The most pressing common threat to the peace of the Middle East, to the peace of the world, is the development of ballistic missiles and non-conventional warheads, and radical regimes in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East and elsewhere. And I believe that the cooperation between the United States and Israel is the most important counter-development to help offset these threats to stability and peace. Next month I believe, you have the NATO (inaudible). That's also a time when the joint teams, the strategic teams that we established in the wake of the Memorandum of Agreement, will meet in Washington to try to advance solutions to the defense of our way of life, our freedoms and our security. So we welcome you here, Mr. Secretary, as part of this continual upgrading and enhancement of our defense cooperation, which is really the defense of our common values. Welcome.

Q: Mr. Prime Minister, do you have any reaction to the announcement today in Egypt that the United States will sell $3.2 billion in equipment, including the most advanced version of the F-16. Does that raise a concern about Israel's security to you?

A: (Netanyahu) Israel and Egypt are at peace, and have been at peace for over two decades since the signing of the Camp David Accords. Part of those Accords, signed by the Likud Government at the time, involved the shifting of Egypt away from Soviet arms to Western arms, American arms, and that has been agreed upon for these last two decades. So there's nothing particularly new here. In any case, I must say that we are very pleased with our relationship. I mentioned the strategic element; I didn't mention so many others. Defense procurement, military and intelligence cooperation. I think it will be very hard to find two countries that cooperate in the fields of defense as intensely and as fruitfully as Israel and the United States.

Q: (in Hebrew) Mr. Netanyahu, do you have any comment on the statement by former Defense Minster (inaudible), that you are a leader incapable of leading the people? Second question: Do you stand behind Tzachi Hanegbi's refusal to apologize to Ehud Barak?

A: (Netanyahu): (in Hebrew) Regarding Tze'elim, I'll comment on that when the report is released. I won't relate the Tze'elim affair in any manner until the report is released formally.

Q: (in Hebrew) Your former Defense Minister has said you are not fit to lead the people?

A: Netanyahu (in Hebrew) I think that there are three possibilities for Israel: the way of the left, the Likud's way, or no way. Because the people want an option, they will have to choose between Mr. Barak or myself, between the way of the left or the Likud's way.

Q: (in Hebrew) What about Mordechai?

A: (Netanyahu) (in Hebrew) I noticed that Mr. Mordechai denigrated the abilities of Mr. Barak. So ask him. I don't think those questions are relevant, because in the end the choice before us is who will better safeguard the state. Who will protect Jersualem. Here we are at the moment engaged in a struggle for Jerusalem. I want to say as clearly as possible: We categorically reject the European position regarding Jerusalem. Minister Sharon worked in cooperation with myself on rejecting the notion that Jerusalem is an extraterritorial foreign body. Jerusalem was and remains Israel's capital for 3,000 years, and we have instructed all our embassies abroad - including in Europe -- that this is our position and will remain our position. To the extent that it depends on us, Jerusalem will never be divided.

Q: Mr. Secretary, are you going to meet with all three major candidates?

A: (Cohen) Yes, I plan to.

Q: Are you trying not to show favoritism, what's the reason for meetings with all three?

A: (Cohen) As you've just seen an indication, Israel is in the middle of a political campaign. We try to be as neutral as possible, not trying to show any favoritism or bias one way or the other. We have strong ties to Israel, as the Prime Minister has indicated, and it doesn't matter who is in office from the U.S. position as far as one party or the other. We will always maintain a strong tie to Israel. We try to be as neutral as possible. We don't want to step into Israeli politics any more than I step into American politics in my position as Secretary of Defense. But the people of Israel will decide who best represents them-which candidate, which party-and they will make that determination, and it's not for me or anyone else in our Administration to try and influence that one way or the other. We support Israel, and we support its leadership, and we will continue to maintain that strong political and military tie into the future. So I am trying to simply be as neutral as possible and indicate that our relationship is with Israel, and the Israelis will decide for themselves who they want for their leadership, much as we expect Americans to decide for America who our political leadership is.

Q: (in Hebrew) Two questions, one related to the Tze'elim report. Would you request that the Justice Minister apologize to Ehud Barak? And relating to the European position on Jerusalem: What do you plan to do and how do you plan to respond?

A: (Netanyahu) (in Hebrew) On Tze'elim, I already stated my position. I will not comment until the publication of the report.

Q: (in Hebrew) ...Are you going to ask the Justice Minister to apologize?

A: (Netanyahu) Everything related to Tze'elim, I will answer only after publication of the report. On the European position, we absolutely reject it. We have prevented the attempt to use the Orient House as a meeting place for ambassadors, foreign ministers, heads of state and presidents. This attempt was made recently, and we prevented it. We will continue to prevent it. We will take all steps, diplomatic and otherwise, to make it clear that we will not countenance the de-facto division of Jerusalem by the creation of Palestinian government offices. It is against the Oslo Agreements, and it is also against our right to Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish people, the indivisible capital of State of Israel. So it has been, and so it will continue.

Thank you very much.

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