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DoD News Briefing: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
June 18, 1997 4:30 PM EDT

Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen

I had a fairly lengthy meeting with Prince Abdullah. It was the first time that both Prince Abdullah and Prince Sultan apparently were together at a meeting such as this for some time. So, it was something unique, and, I think, a sign of the importance of the relationship they place on that with the United States. I spent some time, basically, reaffirming our friendship with Saudi Arabia, trying to build upon it. And talked about the containment policy with Iran and Iraq and was reassured that that remains the policy of the Saudis as well. Prince Abdullah also indicated he was anxious for the Vice President to make a trip to Saudi Arabia, that he was anxious for him to come. I will pass that on directly. But overall, we just talked about the nature of our relationship, ways in which we have built upon it over the years, the fact that it is strong and that we are united in our opposition to the spread of terrorism, that Saddam Hussein should abide by the UN sanctions, and comply with them and that we be together in any action that will be required in the future.

Q: Did the Khobar Towers investigation or force protection . . .?

A: I indicated that we still have the matter under investigation, that the FBI would like additional information. He responded by saying that it was in all of our interests, their interest as well as our interest, to give as full cooperation as possible; that anything that needed to be done, he felt, would be done. I don't have the specifics of what the FBI needs, but I just indicated that they felt that they needed more information. He indicated that full cooperation will be given.

Q: When you said more information, did you indicate that there was some displeasure, or there was some dissatisfaction of the fact . . .? Do you feel you have not got the complete information that you need?

A: All I indicated was that the FBI believes more information was necessary.

Q: How did he react to that?

A: Full cooperation is in both of our interests, so I reiterated what President Clinton had said, that we expect full cooperation, we expect we'll receive it.

Q: Did Prince Abdullah or both of them -- who responded?

A: I addressed this to Prince Abdullah.

Q: What did they say about Iran -- about the new government there?

A: Basically, that this individual apparently had the support of young people and that it seemed to be a younger generation looking to him for leadership, that in his opinion he seemed to be a good man, but time would tell as to whether or not there will be any changes.

Q: Do you believe they were hopeful?

A: I think about the same as President Clinton is. Hopeful, but we will wait and see. It will take some time.

Q: Did they indicate that they wanted to establish a dialogue with Iran?

A: To my understanding, there has been a dialogue for some time. That they maintain communications from time to time and that is, I think, not unanticipated, or unexpected. Because they do live in the neighborhood, they keep up communications. It is a good way for them to find out what is going on in other countries, what other countries are feeling. That would be true with Iran as well.

Q: Back to the bombing once more, were you any more specific, in other words did you indicate that the FBI might like to talk to the suspects or did the subject of the suspects come up?

A: No. I did not indicate what the FBI wanted, because the FBI has not indicated to me what they want. We've left that up to the FBI to conduct the investigation; simply that the FBI felt that they needed more information.

Q: What is your assessment of the security conditions at Prince Sultan Air Base?

A: I thought that they were, from what I could see in that brief period of time, they were quite extensive and obviously, there still probably need some more things to be done and the General is in a better position to comment on that. But, they are being done and I was quite impressed with all of the measures that they have taken. No facility will be a 100 percent fool-proof. And we have to understand that this is still a dangerous area that we are in, in the Middle East, so the alert has to be high and precautions have to be high, but there is no 100 percent security that we could possibly erect anywhere in the world. But I think that this goes a long way to providing very good security for the men and women who are there.

Q: Are you afraid that the security conditions there are creating a bunker mentality that the United States has been trying to stay away from?

A: I don't think that it is a bunker mentality. On the one hand, I think the Saudis have been concerned that we not have such a high profile that it generates problems for them, and, by the same token, we want to ensure that there is enough recreational activity -- that the men and women who are serving don't feel that they are in a bunker. I think from what you saw, that it is quite an outstanding facility that has been constructed in a very short period of time. They have opportunities to, as you saw, they had some sales going on, with people coming in from time to time. They had some swimming activities. Not a health club but a workout area where they can go. I gathered from talking to the men and women, that they were reasonably satisfied. It is a tough duty to be in this heat, but they seem to be in good spirits, from the people that I talked to. I really did not get any complaints. You went around to get some complaints, but no one complained to me. One young man talked about some educational benefits that he thought might have been lost to the changeover from the VEAP program, the GI Bill. Others wondered whether or not with the proposed reductions of the QDR -- what that might do in terms of the force structure, but there was not a single complaint voiced to me about the living conditions or the quality of life that they had at the base.

Q: Was there any sense, from any suggestion by the Saudis, that the U.S. should reconsider, or readjust, or rethink its dual containment strategy?

A: No. The Saudis indicated they were with us and united in our position as far as both Iran and Iraq are concerned. And obviously, if there were a change of position on the part of the Iranians, that might change the equation. Or if Saddam Hussein were to fully comply with all the sanctions, that might at, some point in time, result in a change. But for the time being, until Suddam Hussein fully complies with all of the sanctions, there will be no change in policy on the part of United States. And until such time as Iran changes, its roll in terrorism and also its development of weapons of mass destruction and its attempts to disrupt the Middle East peace process, then there will be no change on the part of the United States.

Q: Have you issued any orders, have any orders been issued to increase security in Saudi Arabia among U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia -- including at the base with the June 25th anniversary is coming up?

A: I have not issued a specific order. I believe that the military is fully aware that there is an anniversary coming up and have taken adequate precautions.

Press: Thank You.