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Secretary Cohen's Remarks Enroute to Amman, Jordan, April 18, 1998

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
April 18, 1998

Q: Jordan, what do they want in the way of arms?

A: I think Jordan, we have, of course, had a very strong relationship with us a result of their active participation in the peace process. They enjoy major non-allied status, and obviously, it was important for me to visit with them on this trip. I had scheduled a previous visit back in December, but had to cancel, so I wanted to reschedule it for now. We are completing the delivery of the F-16s. We have, over the past, since 1993, I believe, we have contributed over a billion dollars worth of assistance to Jordan including, I think, some 700 million in forgiveness of debt. They now enjoy status as the third largest recipient of foreign military financing that we have. They obviously are concerned about their security needs. An assessment has been made by General Zinni in terms of what requirements they might have that we can be helpful in meeting in the future, and I will take those issues up with the Prime Minister who also serves as Defense Minister, as well as King Hussein. I'll meet with their chief of staff as well. So I will review what they have in the way of requests, what can be forthcoming from us. We have requested, officially, foreign military financing of 45 million, and Congress may decide to increase that, but we hope to match last year's contribution.

Q: That's the '99? 45 million?

A: Yes. So that's about where we are right now. But it's a chance for me to reaffirm our friendship with King Hussein. I was just reading, from Reuters, as a matter of fact, of a meeting between King Hussein and Netanyahu, and perhaps get a read out from him on how that went. I'll be going on to Israel after, so it will be important to find out his assessment of the status of the peace process. Obviously everyone is interested in getting it energized and reenergized again. I will be discussing the issue of continuing to contain Saddam Hussein until such time as he fully complies with the U.N. resolutions. Jordan has been very helpful in that regard, so we'll continue to explore what he sees as Saddam Hussein's compliance to date, what he might anticipate as far as the future is concerned, and just basically have some information sharing.

Q: What would be Jordan's role in that? Would that be sort of keeping a lid on smuggling coming out of Iraq, is that?

A: That's part of it; smuggling that may be coming out. They also, obviously, would be interested in knowing whether or not there's going to be any movement by Saddam Hussein in the south. I think they'll continue to be as important in terms of their joining the peace process, making peace with Israel, and also joining Egypt in that regard. So continuing to try to deal with the peace process will be helpful in the entire region. It's one of the major concerns on the part of the Arab's, that there seems to have been a real lag and lack of progress being made, so I think Jordan can be helpful on that regard as well.

Q: Do you feel that was something that undermined the U.S. position during the recent confrontation?

A: I don't think it undermined our position because I was satisfied that we had—and would have had—all of the support necessary to carry out any military option. But it was of increasing concern to all of the countries in the region, the perception that it was a double standard, that the United States was as insistent upon compliance with Oslo as we were in the U.N. resolutions. That was a persistent complaint that was heard. Again, one can rebut the assumptions made in that particular analysis, but it's something that I think all of the leaders were concerned about. There needed to be more progress made on the Middle East peace process. But as far as undermining our position, I think it was very clear from my visits that we had all the support that was necessary to carry out an effective military action.

Q: …kept them from offering more public support to…

A: I think that that's clear that many of the Gulf states felt they could not be more visibly supportive in terms of public expressions, but hopefully we'll see some progress in the coming weeks and months.

Q: How badly are the sanctions of Iraq, obviously hurt Iraq's trading partners as well as Iraq, and clearly Jordan is paying a price for Iraq's sanctions. How much does that play in your calculation of dealing with Jordan and aid and help for Jordan?

A: Well, I think other nations have been hurt economically, obviously, even Turkey. Turkey has paid penalties as far as its cooperative effort to shut down some of the activities in cooperating with Operation Northern Watch, so a number of countries have had to assume additional burdens as a result of that. By virtue of the fact of Jordan's having made peace with Israel and being supportive of our effort to contain Saddam Hussein's operations in Southern Watch, they've had to pay some penalty on it. So I think that translates in terms of some support in Congress. Congress recognizes that. That's been one of the reasons why I think it's been the recipient of additional assistance coming from the United States. So there's a recognition that they have borne additional burdens.

Q: Let's go back to the question about U.S. troop levels in the Persian Gulf for a moment. I understand that you have to make a decision fairly soon about whether to dispatch another carrier to the Gulf if you want to maintain the two-carrier presence. Can you tell us whether you're leaning toward maintaining that presence, and are you worried about, as you make that decision, sending the wrong signal to Saddam Hussein?

A: There are a lot of factors involved. One of the reasons for my trip is to make an assessment of the situation with respect to Iraq, talking to the leadership in Turkey and Jordan, Egypt, Israel; all of that will be important in terms of making a recommendation to the President, who will ultimately decided whether we maintain our current level of forces or whether we can reduce our level to what it was prior to the crisis that was generated by Saddam back in the fall. So a number of factors will be involved. We may be able to structure it in a way that allows us to have a surge capacity in the event that we decide to downsize the force, to reconstitute it very quickly. A lot will depend upon our consultations with the gulf states. General Ralston is off to Bahrain, he's off to Qatar, we will meet with other representatives. Secretary Albright will, in all probability, be visiting in Saudi Arabia again, and I will be going back to the Gulf in September. I was planning on going to the Gulf in May or June, but the Vice-President will be going over. We're trying to take into account all of the factors, and a decision will not be made until there is a greater assessment on our part on what the implications would be, what we need in the way of forces, how we calibrate that with our Gulf State partners in this effort to see what would be desirable from their perspective, how we can basically sustain the commitment to contain Saddam Hussein until such time as he fully complies. So there will be a multiplicity of factors involved, and no one thing will be dominant in that analysis.

Q: But is that level of force required to contain him? I mean, before, it was half that size…

A: That's where we have to make a determination as to whether we need that at this point, or in the future. I can't give you an assessment now because we need a lot more discussion before any recommendation is made.

Q: Can I just ask you one more thing. How do you deal with this perception, by King Hussein and others that the Israelis are dragging their feet on withdrawing from the West Bank and that the United States supports that position?

A: I think it's very clear that the President of the United States has been very keenly involved in trying to kick start the process. It has been lagging somewhat, and he wants to energize it. I know that Secretary Albright is becoming very actively engaged in the process and I'm sure she'll be traveling to the region as well. We're trying to indicate that we want to see some progress made, and we want to do that in a way that also preserves Israel's security. We are very concerned about that, that while we want the process to go forward, we think there has to be some real recognition on the part of the Palestinians as well, that if Oslo is to be achieved; and the goals of Oslo to be achieved you cannot have a situation in which one party is giving up territory and the other party is not doing its best to contain the level of terrorism. There has to be an effort made on both parties. And that's what the President is determined to do.

Q: Do you think the Russians are deliberately making mischief by selling S-300s. I mean you have two NATO allies who are generally at odds, and this just exaggerates or heightens that tension. Is that a deliberate effort, or are they simply selling things and making money?

A: I'm not in a position to understand or make a judgment in terms of what the motivation of the Russians might be. I have no information that would lead me to conclude that they're deliberately trying to make mischief, I think it's a question of the Greek Cypriots feel they need to have some air defense as such, and potentially turned to the Russians for assistance in this area. I have no reason to believe the Russians are deliberately trying to stir up mischief.

Q: Thank you.

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