DoD News Briefing: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
Q: I think our major question would be, how are you going to address what is reported to be some feeling moderate states in the Gulf, that the United States should now try to develop closer relations with Iran, especially in light of the new moderate leader there? How do you address that, how will you address that?
A: Well, as you know, I'm from Maine, but I also may take up residence in Missouri and basically a "show me" attitude. I think that President Clinton said it right -- that we remain skeptical, but hopeful, that we need to see some signs, on the part of the Iranians that this does, in fact, mark a change, or will mark a change in their behavior. As long as they continue to support terrorism, as long as they continue to develop weapons of mass destruction, as long as they try to upset the Middle East peace process, then our policy toward them is not going to change. So a lot will depend on what sort of demonstrative evidence we are going to see, if there has been change of policy or mind on the part of the Iranians. Obviously, there are people looking for some, again, hopefulness, but this recent election represents a change. We will have to wait and see. It will be some time before he settles into office and I suspect some time before any visible changes take place. So, for the time being, our policy is going to remain constant.
Q: Could you tell us what your current thinking is on the question of whether or not there was Iranian involvement in the Khobar Towers attack?
A: So far the evidence is still inconclusive and the investigation continues and we are not going to make any prejudgements on that.
A: I don't have any judgment, no.
Q: Do you expect to get a report on the bombing, an up to date report on the bombing, and is the report now conclusive to your knowledge?
A: The report in not complete. The investigation is ongoing. Until such time that it is complete, obviously, I will get updates from time to time, but until the investigation is complete, I don't think anyone is going to make any judgments on it.
Q: Will you get an update in Jeddah or Saudi Arabia?
A: I have no idea at this point. They have been sharing information and I'm sure that the FBI will continue to work with them.
Q: Will you pressure them to share more information? Will you pressure them to cooperate further?
A: I think our policy is we expect full cooperation and expect to get full cooperation.
Q: Mr. Secretary, Saudi Arabia and some of the other Gulf States have indicated that they would like to pursue a dialogue with Iran, with the new Iranian Government. Are you concerned about that? Does that show any signs of a weakening in the unity of the coalition (inaudible)?
A: I don't think so. I think that many countries take a position which they seek ways in which they might maintain communications or dialogue to find out whether if any of them needs change of policy. They live in the neighborhood, but I'm satisfied that Saudi Arabia remains very solid in its opposition to the policies that Iran has conducted over the years. They are strongly supporting our containment policy in both Iraq and Iran, to the extent that they carry on in the dialogue that they can get any information that would be helpful in determining whether there has been a change in heart and mind on the part of the Iranian,. I think that's helpful. And anytime you have a dialogue or conversation that you can derive some information from, then that can be helpful. But I don't see any waiver in support whatsoever on the part of the Saudis. They're very strongly in favor of maintaining the current policy. I've had conversations with Prince Sultan when he was in Washington. I talk to him by phone. I expect to have further conversations tonight or tomorrow.
Q: How about other states? You said you don't see any wavering from the Saudis, how about other moderate states in the Gulf?
A: I'll be in a better position to determine that . . . I believe that they are solidly united in their support for our policies. We have strong support in all of the Gulf states.
Q: The Amir of Qatar was in Washington he was very critical of the [inaudible].
A: It was interesting. He did give a speech, as a matter of fact in New York. During the meeting that we had, that was not raised. I indicated that I felt that Iran still presented a problem and we didn't have any disagreement on that as such. So he did not directly address that with me at the time.
Q: You'll be discussing Iraq, I suppose, also. What do you make of this latest series of interference with the UN inspectors and the helicopters flights and that? Do you see that as just more of the same or is there some, some . . .
A: There's been a consistent policy on the part of Saddam Hussein to frustrate the inspections of UNSCOM and this is more of it. This is a continuation of policy that has been underway for sometime. I think there's been a pattern of tactics on the part of Saddam Hussein to prevent inspections from taking place.
Q: Is there a perception that the Saudis are not fully cooperating on Khobar Towers -- the investigation?
A: I don't have that perception.
Q: The FBI was complaining just a few weeks ago that it still couldn't get access to some of the suspects in the case.
A: That's part of the ongoing discussions, I think, that the FBI has with them. Obviously the Saudis have indicated they will make information they have available. I don't know that we have ever had access to suspects directly, but they have indicated they would furnish that information to us and I assume that the FBI Director will get it.
Q: How about arms sales? Do you plan to discuss arms sales?
A: I don't intend to raise it.
Q: What can you tell us about the overall threat level our troops are facing now?
A: I think the threat level remains high. We have made, I think, enormous strides in force protection throughout the Gulf region. We have taken a number of measures that we believe enhance our force protection across the full spectrum. So, the threat remains high and we're prepared to deal with it.
Q: Any thoughts to reducing the number of troops in the area? American troops?
A: I think a lot depends on... we obviously have a flow of personnel coming in and coming out, but we maintain a very fairly robust presence and that will continue as long as the threat continues.
Q: You're not considering any reductions then, for the moment?
A: Not any sustained reductions, as such. It goes up and down depending upon the flow of people going in, but its at a relatively stable rate. We would intend to keep it at a stable level.
Q: One more Iran question. What is your take, at this point, of the new government? From what you can tell, is there any change in the regime? Is there a possibility that this may have been a significant change there?
A: We have determined the election results showed that Khotami had strong support from women and young people. Whether there's any change in the societal attitudes, as opposed to the clerical domination, is still an open question at this point. Some can look and see that perhaps this is a positive sign, but a lot will depend upon deeds and whether he's in a position to exercise any change in the early part of his term. So, we'll be looking very carefully and scrutinizing. In the meantime, we're going to maintain the same policy and we expect that our allies in the region will also maintain the same policy. Everyone will be looking to see what sort of action will be taken, but, so far, we remain, again, hopeful but skeptical.
Press: Thank You.