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DoD News Briefing: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen Minister of Defense of Kuwait Sheikh Salem Al Sabah Al Salem Al Sabah

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen Minister of Defense of Kuwait Sheikh Salem Al Sabah Al Salem Al Sabah
June 18, 1997

Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen Minister of Defense of Kuwait Sheikh Salem Al Sabah Al Salem Al Sabah

[The following event occurs in Bayan Palace, Kuwait City.]

Sheikh Salem: Well first of all I would like to say a few words and then give the floor to the Secretary of Defense of the United States. I welcomed him on behalf of the military establishment of Kuwait. He met with His Highness today. And we met just now with a team. We had very interesting talks with His Highness, very fruitful. They touched on political issues as well as on the relations between Kuwait and the United States. We touched on the same principles, plus the military cooperation between the two countries. And I explained how satisfied we are (inaudible) and cooperation (inaudible) I'll leave the floor to my dear colleagues Thank you.

Secretary Cohen: Thank you very much, Sheikh Salem, and thank you for hosting this meeting in the two days -- the day and-a-half -- that we were here. Your gracious hospitality has made this a very productive visit and has built the foundation for a warm friendship between the two of us. I can summarize the United States policy with Kuwait in three words: commitment, cooperation, and containment.

The commitment on the part of the United States to Kuwait's security is strong, it's enduring. We demonstrated that in 1991 and we demonstrate that every day, as we enforce the no-fly zone and no-drive zone in southern Iraq and the exercises that we conduct with the Kuwaiti forces. We are also committed - this is something we discussed earlier - we are committed to helping resolve the POW/MIA issue. We will work very closely with the Kuwaiti government and use our good offices to help bring this to a successful resolution, and not relax the sanctions until Saddam Hussein and Iraq complies fully, We want a stable Middle East and a secure Kuwait is one key to this stability.

Cooperation between the United States and Kuwait shows the depth of our commitment. Today I had occasion to visit Camp Doha, where we store our armor equipment. Our forces train together regularly on the ground, in the air, on the sea. We are a global power, and our ability to protect our interests and those of our friends around the world is bolstered by the active security partnerships such as the one we have with Kuwait.

Containment. We intend to contain the threats from Iraq and Iran. Our swift and decisive responses to lraq's aggression leave no doubt of our ability and determination to protect Kuwait. lraq's refusal to comply with UN Security Council resolutions shows that Saddam Hussein remains a threat to peace and stability. So this policy of commitment, cooperation and containment serves our countries well today and will protect us and our interests in the future.

With that I will entertain any questions you might have.

Q: Mr. Secretary, Mr. Minister, I'd like to ask if you all discussed the issue of artillery for Kuwait and whether or not you're recommending (inaudible). . . considering a Chinese as well as a U.S. artillery and what would your advice be to the Kuwaitis on buying such artillery?

Secretary Cohen: Well, we discussed the strong cooperation that currently exists between the U.S. forces and the Kuwaiti forces. We discussed how we train together regularly, we discussed how it's important to build a seamless military operation, we discussed the need for interoperability. We place a key premium on interoperability of our systems, so that we can present the maximum efficiency and capability for our forces. We discussed it at that level.

Q: Would you feel that perhaps Chinese artillery might somehow disturb that interoperability and, Mr. Minister, can we hear what you have to say about that?

Sheikh Salem: Yes. There is no decision has been made yet either way. But definitely we believe that if we purchase anything from the United states has to be within our capability and readiness to use these equipments. Sometimes you would like to purchase the most sophisticated aircraft or fighter or gun, when you don't have the mankind to use it, so in this respect, your decision is not the proper one.

So we consider the American's gun, as well as others (inaudible)... up to the committees to decide. That's as far as we are concerned.

Q: Would you advise that they buy the U.S. equipment, rather than Chinese?

Secretary Cohen: Well, I am not in the business of giving advice to the Minister. My advice is simply that we purchase the best equipment that we can, based upon the requirements that are needed, the military requirements, That is a decision that obviously the Kuwaiti military, the Kuwaiti government, must make. We stress - the need for interoperability and leave it at that.

Q: (inaudible) Middle East Broadcasting, MBC. Your excellency, what is the U.S. view regarding the recent Syrian-Iraqi relationship, improvement in the relationship, and do you see any changing in American-Iranian relationship after electing Khatami president of Iran?

A: I think it's premature to make any judgment regarding the Significance of the Syria-Iraqi relationship. I think we have to have more time to assess that. And similarly, I would say with respect to the elections that recently took place in Iran, that President Clinton has already expressed the United States position that he is hopeful, but skeptical, and remains to be persuaded that the Iranian people, and especially the Iranian government intends to change its policies of supporting terrorism, acquiring weapons of mass destruction and seeking to undermine the Middle East peace process. If there is a change in such policies, we will look favorably, obviously, upon changes that are real, not simply paper-type promises, but real, substantive changes. If we see evidence of that, then obviously that would, I think, improve the chance for better relations in the future. We have yet to see that. It will be some time, I suspect, before we can make such a judgment, to give the now president time to take office and then to see whether or not he will be able to translate his obvious political support from the people, from the people who elected him, to translate that into external policy changes as well as internal policy changes.

  • Q: About your purpose to visit the region, do you expect anything from that?
  • A: I'm sorry?
  • Q: Your purpose for the visit to the region.
  • A: My purpose in the visit to the region is basically to reaffirm our strong friendship that we have with the Kuwaiti people, to indicate that we intend to remain a strong presence in the region, that we are committed to Kuwait's security, and to preserving and protecting our interests, as well. My presence throughout the Gulf region itself is to reaffirm to the people, indeed if they need reaffirmation, that we have a strong commitment. We're a global power, we intend to remain deeply engaged. We see this as a vital interest to America. So America will continue to be engaged here, and very supportive,

Sheikh Salem: Ms. Al Fili

Q: Kholaud Al Fili from Kuwait News Agency. Sir, you mentioned your commitment to the issue of Kuwaiti POWs and MIAs. Did you discuss any concrete steps and what is the United States going to do after seven years of our families waiting and nothing's happening? All we continue to hear is commitment, but we see nothing happening. What-are there any concrete steps that you are going to be taking?

Secretary Cohen: The United States continues to work with international organizations, the Red Cross. We continue to raise this each and every occasion that we can. We intend, as my statement indicated, to insist that Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi government comply with - by cooperating which they have yet to do. Until such time as they comply with this request, then we intend to maintain sanctions. I know that there seems to be some element of support building that perhaps these sanctions should be relaxed, that a change in attitude would bring about a change in heart on the part of Saddam Hussein. I have seen no evidence to support that conclusion. I think that we have to insist that he abide by all of the U.N. resolutions. He has yet to do so. So we intend to continue those sanctions.

  • Q: Mr. Secretary. Concerning the Doha summit, the Middle East/ North African economic summit, some of the countries here in the region are considering not attending at all. (inaudible) Did you happen to discuss the issue and did you bring any changes (inaudible) at all?
  • A: No, we did not discuss that issue.
  • Q: (inaudible) MOU and the F-16 deal (inaudible). Are you willing to change or amend the MOU in any way?
  • A: I think that's now been under discussion for some time and I don't believe that there is any significant change as of this time. I'm not aware of any of the details in the negotiations. I believe the negotiations concerning the security of forces and the stationing of forces is still under negotiation. But I don't have anything to add to that.
  • Q: (inaudible)... linkage?
  • A: There is no linkage.
  • Q: Mazen Al Ansari from Television. (inaudible) How far is the U.S. willing to go (inaudible)?
  • A: We intend to maintain the current policy. As I indicated, there are some countries who feel that we should relax the sanctions. I don't believe we should relax the sanctions until we have full compliance on the part of the Iraqi government. The U.N. inspectors have indicated that there has been harassment, intimidation, lack of cooperation and so the sanctions should remain in place.
  • Q: Secretary Cohen. The General Accounting Office has prepared a report which finds substantial evidence of a link between chemical agents and Gulf war illnesses. It also criticizes the Defense Department's handling of its own investigation into this. What's your response to that?
  • A: Well, I've criticized the Defense Department's handling of the investigation, myself. On certain occasions, I think that the work was, that was done previously, was not adequate. There obviously is a lack of adequate information, the maintenance of records, loss of records. So that's one of the reasons why we have the investigation currently under way. We have a (inaudible) who has been appointed and named by me to act as an overseer to try to coordinate much of the work that's being done by the President's own commission, by our investigation, current investigation, and we think that we're making a very strong, good-faith effort to get to the bottom of it. I haven't had occasion to read the GAO report. It has not been officially released yet. We do have some 85 studies under way. From what I've read in the press, the GAO has indicated that the Pentagon had made a premature decision, a judgment that there was no linkage. I don't believe the GAO report established there was a linkage, simply that there was a premature judgment made that there was no linkage. So I think that we need more evidence, obviously, and we will look very closely at the GAO report. Right now, we still have some 85 investigations underway, examinations underway, to determine whether there is such a connection between the illness and the release of gas or biological weapons.
  • Q: The recent U.S. Congress decision to move (inaudible) to Jerusalem. Don't you think that will create a hindrance for the Middle East peace process?
  • A: Well, the resolution was a non-binding resolution and it does not reflect the Clinton Administration's policy. It is non-binding.
  • Q: Will you tell us, Mr. Cohen, what the Defense Department's reading is of lran's newly-purchased armaments, any military developments in Iran that might be (inaudible) a threat to the region? We often hear you talk about dual containment. Exactly what are the toys that Iran has that poses risk here?
  • A: Well, Iran has a number of, a wide variety of -- they're not toys, they're weapons - toys that are very lethal. They are trying to acquire more and more of these weapons from countries, such as China or Russia. They would consist of missiles. . .
  • Q: The ones they have now?
  • A: Well, they have missiles now. They're trying to acquire missiles of greater range, greater lethality. They obviously have had chemical weapons under development, possibly biological weapons. They are seeking to develop in our estimation, at least, they're trying to develop potentially a nuclear capability sometime into the future. So I think that we have to be concerned in terms of what the goals and designs of Iran are.

Do they pose a threat to the region? We believe that they do. Is there going to be a change in their behavior as far as supporting acts of terrorism? We hope so. We have seen little evidence of that to date and so if there's going to be a change as reflected by the most recent elections, if the people of Iran wish to have a change, then I think everyone in the region as well as the United States would welcome that. But we will need concrete, demonstrable evidence that Iran indeed intends to change its policies. If they continue to pursue the same path they've been pursuing, then obviously we have to continue our policy of containment.

Sheikh Salem: Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen,