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Secretary Cohen's Press Conference at the Ministry of Defense, Bangkok, Thailand

Presenter: Defense Secretary William Cohen
January 16, 1998

Q: Was any agreement made on the plans by the Thais to put off the F-18 sale?

Secretary Cohen: First let me say that the purpose of my trip here, one of the purposes, was to reaffirm to the Prime Minister and to his leadership our strong relationship. They are one of our oldest friends and allies. They have very strong bonds with the United States, and President Clinton specifically wanted me to reassure the Prime Minister that he is very concerned about what is taking place here. He wants to be as helpful as possible, and as a result of that, I indicated to the Prime Minister that I will be sending a team of experts here in the next few weeks in order to work with them on issues affecting their security -- the F-18 will be part of that -- find out ways in which we can be helpful to them, and that will take place in the next week or ten days or so; we expect that team to come over. So, we talked about the F-18, we talked about the current economic difficulties, we talked about the problems in the region generally and ways in which the United States could be helpful in combining with other countries to express our interest and support.

Q: Mr. Secretary we understand that they won't be F-18s, that they're having difficulty now in affording them and that they would prefer to put off the payments rather than cancel the deal or in fact transfer them to another country. What do you prefer?

Secretary Cohen: We are going to work with the Thai government to find ways in which we can help them through their current economic circumstances. We're talking to contractors as I mentioned to find ways in which perhaps payments could be spread out, payments deferred, ways in which we could accommodate their security needs and also recognizing their economic difficulties. That's the purpose of the team coming over in the next couple of weeks, to work with their experts to find out how we can accommodate that, and that was basically what we were talking about.

Q: Secretary Cohen, has the United Nations handed Saddam Hussein a victory by withdrawing the inspection team headed by the American Scott Ritter?

Secretary Cohen: Not at all. As a matter of fact, the inspection team has been, teams I should say, have been withdrawn in the past, and they have gone back in. I think that what we have to do is wait and see what the result of Mr. Butler's trip to Baghdad will produce. But just by virtue of the fact that Scott Ritter and others have removed themselves from Baghdad for the moment, that should not be construed as a victory at all. I think the real question would come: what will take place following Mr. Butler's visit to Baghdad and what will be the response of the Security Council at that point?

Q: Would the United States object to the use of Russian surveillance aircraft to conduct, to support the inspections and the addition of perhaps more French, Russian or even Chinese arms inspectors to continue?

Secretary Cohen: I think what President Clinton has indicated before is that this is a decision for UNSCOM itself, for the United Nations inspection team, and we are going to insist, obviously, that the United States' participation not be downgraded or in any way diminished; that if there are others who can provide the kind of expertise that is necessary then that is one thing, but it should not come at the expense of the United States. So that would have to be worked out in the future.

Q: So you don't think Russian planes should be substituted for U-2 flights?

Secretary Cohen: I think the U-2 flight is recognized by all concerned as being a very capable aircraft that is providing valuable information and ought to continue.

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