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Press Conference by Chairman, JCS, General Henry Shelton in Doha, Qatar

Presenter: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Henry H. Shelton
February 23, 1999

Press Conference by Chairman, JCS, General Henry Shelton in Doha, Qatar

Ambassador McKune: Ladies and gentlemen of the press, I'm Elizabeth McKune. I'm the U.S. Ambassador to the State of Qatar. I would like to introduce to you today General Henry Shelton, who is Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. First, he'll make a statement; and then he'll take your questions. Thank you. General.

Gen. Shelton: Thank you, Madame Ambassador. And thanks to each of you for being here today, and good afternoon. It's a great pleasure to be here today in Qatar. I've had a very productive and enjoyable meeting today with His Highness the Crown Prince, His Excellency the Prime Minister, and the Chief of Staff Brigadier General Hamad bin Ali. Additionally, I've also had the opportunity to visit with U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, and Army personnel serving in Qatar, and to witness firsthand their superb professional relationship and the relationship they have between our two great armed forces. And although it is my first visit to Qatar since assuming my present duties as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, it is by no means my first visit to Qatar. I've been to this great country and the Gulf region many times in my career. And what I've found on this trip really confirms what my previous experience has shown me in the past, and that it is very gratifying, and that is that great hospitality, the support and the friendship that is shown to all U.S. forces here in Qatar by the Qatar Armed Forces; it is absolutely superb and second to none.

Our militaries and our nations enjoy a very close and special relationship, one that seems to grow stronger each year. The United States greatly values its friendship with Qatar, and we look forward to strengthening our important relationship in the future. The United States and its allies in this very important part of the world remain committed to lasting peace and security for this region.

Thank you very much, and now I'd be happy to take your questions.

Q: General, with the determination of the Iraqis to take down any aircraft, military aircraft, flying in the non-flying zones, do you think there is a need to make a military action, to finish all these tries from the Iraqi side? The other question is, although Qatar is one of the safest places in the area, why do you take some other safety and precaution measures, taking and transferring your diplomatic mission from its ex-place to another place. Do you think it will be more safe? Thank you.

Gen. Shelton. Thank you. Let me answer first of all your question about the no-fly zones. The United Nations and the international community in general, I think, have made it quite clear that Iraq must comply with the United Nations Security Council resolutions; end its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, and the means to deliver them. And part of our policy of containment that includes the no-fly zones, the maritime interdiction operations, and the sanctions has been a policy of making sure that Saddam Hussein is unable to carry out his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. And, in the case of the no-fly zones, his ability to attack his own people in the south or the Kurds up in the north. We continue to enforce the no-fly zones as a means of ensuring that that does not happen, and to not allow him to use his power against his own people. And I think that the actions by coalition aircraft -- all of which have been taken in self-defense -- have continued to degrade his military capabilities. For example: since Operation Desert Fox, he has lost about 20 percent more of his strategic surface-to-air missile sytems, his SA2s, SA3s, and the associated radars that go with them. And he's also lost a good amount of his triple-A weapons. And so our policy will be one of continuing to enforce the no-fly zones as a part of an overall containment policy.

In regard to Qatar, I commented today to His Highness the Crown Prince, His Excellency the Prime Minister, and to Gen. Hamad bin Ali how appreciative we were of the great force protection that they have provided for our people that have operated here in the region inside of Qatar. But my number-one priority for the protection of our forces is to ensure that we always take the necessary steps consistent with the threat. And we know, for example, that there are worldwide terrorist organizations that operate against many of our nations. For example, we all have to be very mindful of the fact that in Nairobi and Tanzania that the terrorist organization of Osama bin Ladin that hit those two embassies, as an example, killed not only Americans but many other people of other nationalities, of all races and all religions in there. And so we feel like that no matter where we are in the world today, we need to take prudent action to protect our armed forces. And whenever we have a facility that does not provide -- or provides less than what we think is adequate force protection for our people, we must take additional measures, and we do that in conjunction with our host nation. And in this case the Qatar government , and we're most appreciative of their great support in that regard.

Q: General, does this mean in any sense you received any reports that there are some kind of threats here in the area?

Gen. Shelton: We -- a specific threat, the answer would be no, right now. But a general threat from (inaudible) terrorist organizations against our people worldwide leaves us wondering exactly where the attack would come and means that we must look every place where we have our people and ensure that an adequate amount of protection is provided that would minimize the threat to them. Thank you.

Q: Two questions, actually. First of all, the main objective of the visit: is it a routine visit of the U.S. forces? And second, in Jordan --

Gen. Shelton: Could you repeat that, please?

Q: I mean, your visit, is it a routine visit to U.S. forces; or do you have other objectives? First; and second, in Jordan, you have met the new monarch. Was Iraq on the agenda, and if yes, in what terms?

Gen. Shelton: The last part of the second question?

Q: I mean, in Jordan, you met the new king; you have met the new king in Jordan. Was Iraq on the agenda? Have you discussed with him Iraq? And if yes, in what terms?

Gen. Shelton: OK, thank you. The purpose of my visit here was to meet with government officials and express my appreciation for the great support that our armed forces have received, that our nation has received, and to thank them for the assets and the capabilities that they have provided for us. We are -- in terms of King Hussein, or rather, King Abdullah, I went to see King Abdullah to express my condolences over the death of his majesty King Hussein, King Abdullah's father; and also to express our continued support for King Abdullah, to ensure that he knew that we would continue to provide whatever support we could for him and his great nation. I had known King Abdullah when he was General Abdullah quite well, since both of us came out of a Special Forces/Special Operations background. And we discussed just very briefly the current situation with Iraq. He, like everyone else, feels just like we do, feels for the Iraqi people and wishes that in this case Saddam Hussein would in fact comply with the international community's desires, comply with the United Nations resolutions so that the people of Iraq could rejoin the international community.

Q: Now there are a lot of military visits in the region.

General Shelton: A lot of what?

Q: A lot of military visits in the region. Are you preparing for a new strike against Iraq?

General Shelton: Thank you. We, as I have indicated, will continue to carry out our policy of containment with our coalition partners and our Gulf partners to ensure that he does not threaten his neighbors, that we can contain his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction through maritime-interdiction operations, to enforcement of the no-fly zones, through the sanctions; and at the same time, providing an outlet for the Iraqi people in terms of the oil-for-food program. But we are not preparing any additional strikes. Certainly, we will maintain a wide range of options so that if he were to do something precipitous such as attack his neighbors, attack our aircraft, attack our ships, or attack any one of our partners, that we would be in a position to use whatever means necessary as a result of that.

Q: Do you think that the United States failed to convince Gulf states to change the Iraqi regime in Baghdad?

Gen. Shelton: I didn't get the last part of it, Sir.

Q: Do you think that the United States failed to convince the Gulf states to change the regime in Baghdad?

Gen. Shelton: OK, thank you. I think the United States has made it very clear that we feel that the people of Iraq would be better off under a different leadership, and that the security of the Gulf region would be vastly improved when the Iraqi people have a leader that is willing to meet Iraq's obligations under the United Nations resolutions, and also to live at peace with its neighbors. And I think that is what has been expressed not only by the United States but by the Gulf nations as well. And as I've said earlier today, we intend to keep pressure on Saddam Hussein: political, economic, military, any way that we can, to deny him the ability to develop his weapons of mass destruction; and also to make sure that he doesn't become a greater threat to his neighbors or -- in some cases -- to his own people. We also will continue to work with those that oppose Saddam Hussein, both internally as well as external opposition groups. And we look forward to a day when the Iraqi people will have new leadership and will have rejoined the international community. I'd like to emphasize that we have no quarrel whatsoever with the Iraqi people. In fact, like the people in the Gulf, we feel for the Iraqi people having to live under such a tyrant as Saddam Hussein, indeed, denied what is rightfully theirs as citizens of Iraq.

Q: I understand that the U.S. is constructing its largest pre-positioning base outside the U.S. in Qatar. I would like to know what is the progress on that, and when do you expect it to be commissioned. And secondly, I believe that there are plans to shift the U.S. naval base out of Bahrain and establish it in Qatar. How soon will that be? Thank you.

Gen. Shelton: I would say that the prepo station, which is here and a rather large one, is coming along quite nicely. It is right on schedule at this time and will be a great enhancement to our capabilities as well as, I think, provide a great capability that we would not have had otherwise. And we're very grateful to the government of Qatar and to the Qatari people for their support in that regard.

Q: People in the Arab world and Islamic world, they are wondering whether the United States have the right to, I mean, to make the plans to overthrow the regime in Baghdad. You know, it is not according to international law; it is not according to anything. But it is an American plan to just overthrow the regime. What's the opinion about that, and what's the American strategy towards the Iraq regime in the coming period?

Gen. Shelton: Thank you. I think that not only our American leadership but the leadership throughout the international community -- based on Saddam Hussein's actions and the way that the Iraqi people have suffered under his leadership -- all believe that Iraq would be better off if there was a change in the leadership, a change in the regime. We have made it clear that we would be willing to support those groups, both internal as well as external, that are opposed to Saddam Hussein, because we think that the Iraqi people deserve better. Now, we all also agree that we think that Iraq as a nation should continue. We're not advocating a splintered Iraq. But we will continue to provide whatever support we can to those that would like to see a regime change.

Q: Do you think that U.S. actions have any popular support from the Gulf States?

Gen. Shelton: Would you repeat that, please?

Q: I mean, do you think your U.S. actions, do they have enough popular support from citizens of the Gulf states?

Gen. Shelton: OK, thank you; thank you. We have received outstanding support from the nations of the Gulf. And of course, in order to contain Saddam Hussein, we could not carry out that mission -- which, as you know, has been carried out since the end of the Gulf War in the early nineties -- we could not continue to ensure that Saddam Hussein does not go back to his old tricks of threatening his own people in the south or in the north, nor could we ensure that he does not continue his development of weapons of mass destruction as well as his means of delivering them over great distances unless we continue to contain his actions. And we could only do that with the support of the nations of the Gulf, which we've received and for which we're very grateful.

Q: The United States have shown sympathy with the Kurds in Iraq but not for the Kurds in Turkey. What expectations (do) you have for the Kurdish situation following the apprehension of (PKK leader Abdullah) Ocalan?

Gen. Shelton: What was the last part of the question?

Q: The United States have welcomed the apprehension of Ocalan. What expectations (do) you have for the area following that incident, which triggered violence?

Gen. Shelton: Let me say that the United States, like all the other international community, believes that terrorism is a crime; it is a crime that is condemned by the international community, and that all terrorists -- regardless of where they come from or who they belong to -- should be brought to justice. In that regard, I would applaud any terrorist or terrorist organization that was taken off the streets, because they are against the things that law-abiding citizens and peace-loving nations stand for. I commented on Nairobi and Tanzania. Although that was an (Osama bin Ladin) strike directed primarily against America, it also killed lots of people of other nationalities and lots of other races and religions. And so terrorism is very indiscriminate in terms of its victims. And so we think that any terrorism being taken away is the right thing. There should be no safe haven for terrorists. And none of us, regardless of what nation we come from, should allow them to proceed.

Q: I did not mean Ocalan in person; I just mean the rights of Kurds in Turkey.

Gen. Shelton: OK, we try not -- unless there is a threat to people internal to a sovereign nation such as we face today right in Kosovo, as an example, where Milosevic was killing the ethnic Albanians, in which we felt--and NATO-- felt it was wrong. The international community thinks it's wrong. The same is true inside of Iraq, where there were actual attacks carried out by Saddam Hussein against those people inside of the sovereign nation of Iraq. And so intervention, in that case, we think is the right thing to do.

Thank you very much.

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