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Joint Media Availability with Secretary Cohen and Israel Minister of Defense Mordechai

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
March 27, 1998

[This media activity follows an Honor Cordon welcoming Minister of Defense Yitzhak Mordechai of Israel to the Pentagon]

Secretary Cohen: Good afternoon.

We have just completed a meeting and also a very brief lunch. This constitutes the Minister's fourth visit with me. Our last visit occurred at an airport in Munich back during the first week in February during which time Minister Mordechai and I had an opportunity to share information concerning the Iraqi crisis at that time. As all of you know, we work very closely together. We have a strong relationship that has endured for 50 years. We're looking forward to Israel's celebration of its 50th Anniversary. It is our hope that the relationship that we have with Israel will continue to be as strong for the next 50 years as it has been for the past 50 years.

I will be traveling to Israel in the next several weeks, and I simply want to take this occasion to welcome Minister Mordechai here again today, and to reaffirm to him that the United States will stand by Israel in the future as we have in the past. We are committed to maintaining Israel's qualitative edge, and we are satisfied that we concur that there is a need, for example, for Israel to acquire a third Arrow battery, and we will cooperate as best we can to see that that occurs. We hope that there will be a just and lasting peace.

Minister Mordechai has talked about a proposal dealing with Lebanon. We stand solidly behind, of course, the Security Council Resolution 425, but I believe that the Minister has made a very positive contribution and a very significant step forward in helping to bring that about.

So with that, Mr. Minister, let me again thank you for stopping by on your trip from Miami to Washington, up to New York and back to Israel. We have, again, a very strong friendship and one that we will continue to build upon in the years to come. So now I welcome you to make a few comments.

Minister Mordechai: Thank you.

Thank you Secretary Cohen. I am very proud to be here again and to thank, especially, our friend Secretary Bill Cohen for everything he is doing to support Israel. We have found you in the last crisis in the Gulf, the United States gives us all the support and stands behind Israel against any crisis that can happen in our region.

I would like to thank you and to thank the United States government for the commitment to continue to support the quality edge of Israel, and I am sure we'll continue to cooperate, to coordinate together as friendly countries, and we'll do our best to be part of the (inaudible) country that's serving peace forces as well as caring about our security and our defense of the Israeli state.

Thank you very much.

Q: Minister Mordechai, the Russians had dire predictions of world war; the Chinese as well; and I believe the Vatican, the Pope himself warned against punitive measures by air against Iraq. What I would ask you, sir, is if Israel was hit by an Iraqi SCUD or a series of SCUD attacks against Israel, would your retaliation or your reaction to this possibly trigger a wider war in the Middle East? Are you concerned about that? And I would ask for Secretary Cohen's comments as well.

A: (Minister Mordechai): Well, we hope that we'll be not attacked by any SCUDs, or by any enemy. We are strong enough to look at the whole strategic picture in the Middle East. We are doing all our best that countries like Iran and Iraq will not attack Israel and not other countries. It is our policy to continue to keep Israel strong and cooperating with the United States against any (inaudible) happen in the region.

Q: Is there a danger of a growing war coming from actions against Iraq? None?

A: (Minister Mordechai): No, I don't think so. I think the United States leadership is demonstrating what is necessary to demonstrate it in the Gulf, and we fully support the United States with everything they decided to do for keeping the area quiet and not in the war.

Q: Minister Mordechai I wonder if you'd discuss what sort of help you might need from the United States if there is a pull out, a potential pull out from Southern Lebanon.

A: (Minister Mordechai): Well, we are looking forward to change the situation in Lebanon. Our initiative is to respect United Nations Resolutions 425 and 426, which means that Lebanon's government and Lebanon's army will take responsibility about Lebanese area including south Lebanon. They have to give the right to the southern Lebanese army and southern Lebanese people. If they will do that, we're ready to go from south Lebanon. I'm asking our friends in the United States to support this initiative, to give it political support, and support the Lebanese army if it is needed. I'm not asking to send even one soldier from the United States or any other country to Lebanon and to Middle East; just to encourage Lebanon and some other countries to join these initiatives to change the situation in Lebanon, that we will find a way how to have a security agreement, and in the future, I hope, peace agreement with the whole Arab countries on Israel.

Q: Mr. Secretary is there a double standard on sexual misconduct where general officers are involved?

A: (Secretary Cohen): Could we just stay with -- I'll come back to that -- please stay with the issue.

Q: May I ask you please in the question of South Lebanon, how can the United States help Israel in order to implement the resolution to pull out from Lebanon?

A: (Secretary Cohen): As the Minister just mentioned, he is not seeking anything from the United States other than support for the initiative. As I indicated in my opening comments, the United States supports Security Council Resolution 425 which is unconditional, but we think that Minister Mordechai's proposal is an important step forward.

Q: When Israel linked some of the Palestinian settlements together, when they give back territory, if and when they give back territory, does that present some unique defense problems for you? Is it going to create some problems for you as a defense minister?

A: (Minister Mordechai): Well, (inaudible) understand Israel is looking forward to move with the peace process, with the agreement with Palestinians as well as with other countries. We have done everything and completed everything after the Hebron agreement. We are looking forward and are observing how the Palestinians are operating and doing, especially against the terror activity in their area, and we don't find that they are really doing so much to deny the terror and to operate against the terror and especially against the root of the terror that is going in their area.

We have decided in our government, in our cabinet, for the second (inaudible) deployment. If Palestinians will do what we think they have to do, we are ready to move forward all the other activities to be discussed between Palestinians and Israel with the full support of the United States. And I am sure that the United States will give us support to put the peace process in the main track to move forward.

Q: Mr. Secretary, can you expand on your discussion regarding additional Arrow batteries?

A: (Secretary Cohen): Israel has determined that in light of the growing missile proliferation in the region, that it would need three batteries to protect much of its population -- not all of the country, but certainly much of its population which tends to be concentrated in certain areas. We have been very supportive as far as providing research and development funds. We intend to continue providing that kind of support so that it would enable Israel to acquire a third battery in the future.

Q: Is the Arrow a two-way street? Are we gaining important information on our own missile defenses from...

A: (Secretary Cohen): Any time we have a cooperative agreement such as this, it is mutually beneficial.

Q: Could I ask Mr. Secretary to address question of the perception of a double standard created by (inaudible)?

A: (Secretary Cohen): Do you have another question about the Middle East and then we'll -- and then I'll shift to that.

Q: Minister Mordechai, you have stated very clearly that you expect that Israel respect 425. Now 425 states freely that the withdrawal was unconditional. What's your comment sir?

A: (Minister Mordechai): We learned very well the United Nations Resolution 425 and 426, they have two parts. One part is that Lebanon authorities, Lebanon government and Lebanon security forces have to control and to organize law and order into Lebanon and to take their responsibility in Lebanon. If they will do it, we are ready to withdraw, and I am sure that they have an interest and we have an interest to give all the rights to southern Lebanese people. That is obvious that we can't withdraw from the area because we are there for our security, for our northern area. If Lebanon decided to change the situation we are ready to do it, and it is necessary to put together the military men to find a project, how Lebanon can control and can do what's necessary to do in Lebanon, then we are ready to withdraw.

Q: ...conditions? ...conditions?

A: (Minister Mordechai): No, it's not condition. You can learn. The United Nations Resolution 425 and 426, I just discuss it with the Secretary General of the United Nations, and he completely agrees that this decision, it has two parts. The main part is that Lebanon has to have the power to control their area that we don't have to worry about what will happen from Lebanon against our population.

Q: Secretary Cohen, will the United States give Lebanon training or arms to (inaudible)? Have you discussed this at all?

A: (Secretary Cohen): No, we have not.

Q: Minister Mordechai, did you discuss the subject of Iran's Shihab 3 missile development with Secretary Cohen? And if so, what are your concerns, sir?

A: (Minister Mordechai): Well, we are worrying very much what's going in Iran, especially the support Iran has from Russia. We are observing the new trade that is going in Iran. Secretary Bill Cohen and I discussed the strategic situation in the Middle East to exchange information and our view about what's going in the Middle East. And I think for me it was an excellent meeting to understand the strategic situation from the United States position, what's going in the Middle East.

Q: Secretary Cohen, does...

A: One more on this and then we'll shift to another to another (inaudible).

Q: (inaudible)... Israel... (inaudible)

A: (Secretary Cohen): We don't have that position. We are encouraging compliance with UN resolutions, but that is not our characterization.

Q: [In Hebrew]

A: (Minister Mordechai): [In Hebrew]

Q: [In Hebrew]

A: (Minister Mordechai): [In Hebrew]

A: (Secretary Cohen): Let me translate that for you.

(Laughter)

Q: Mr. Secretary, if we could turn back to the Army's decision to allow Major General David Hale to retire while under investigation for sexual misconduct, while at the same time prosecuting Sergeant Major McKinney created the perception that there's a double standard -- one for high ranking officers, others for lower ranking and enlisted. Can you address that perception?

A: (Secretary Cohen): First let me say that the matter continues to be under investigation by the Inspector General, so it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the case itself. But based on the statements that appeared in the press today, I'm concerned about it. I have in fact asked the IG to report to me on the findings they have to date, and also asked my general counsel to look into the matter. I will have further information to report at another time, but I am concerned about the allegations contained in that story and we will pursue this as far as the inspector general and the DoD General Counsel are concerned.

Q: Are you saying that you're ordering an investigation into whether or not there's a difference in the way senior officers are treated?

A: (Secretary Cohen): No, what I'm saying is that the IG continues to have this matter under investigation. I need to have much more information before I can comment authoritatively about the case itself. So as soon as I receive that information, I will be in a position to report to you later.

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