Tuesday, November 14, 2000 - 4:40 p.m. EST
Subject: Secretary Cohen's Upcoming Trip to Middle East
Presenter: Attributable to a Senior Defense Official
(Also participating was Kenneth H. Bacon, assistant secretary of Defense for Public Affairs)
Bacon: Welcome. Welcome, travelers and others.
This is a background briefing on Secretary Cohen's trip. And because it's background, it'll be attributable to a senior administration official, whose name is -- whose name and title, for your own reference, is as follows. (Shows materials.) And I will not give you a test after showing this to you for only 15 seconds.
Q: Senior administration or Defense --
Bacon: You can say, "Defense official, senior Defense official."
And with that, I'll turn it over to the senior official.
Senior Defense Official: Good afternoon. I see many familiar faces out there -- who have traveled with us on our -- what will be our ninth trip to the Gulf and to other stops in the Middle East.
We will be going to -- let's see -- Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE, Oman, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and Bahrain -- stops we have made many times in the past.
This trip actually has been on the books for quite some time. As many of you know, the secretary has made it part of his travels every six months to go out to the region for consultations. He will be doing exactly that this time.
We have long-term, very enduring security interests out in the region, and we consult regularly with the leadership there. He consults with the leadership. There are many bilateral issues that we want to continue to advance. There are lots of issues right now in the region which will certainly be part of the dialogue that the secretary will be having with his counterparts and with the emirs and sultans and presidents and prime ministers he will be meeting in each of the countries.
So it is a trip with many issues, and very much something -- we want to continue to emphasize, our long-term cooperation with their militaries and defense establishments, our commitment to the region, force stability, security, and cooperation.
There are still many issues, such as containment of Iraq, that is still a very active part of our dialogue and our activities out there, which we will continue to consult with our friends out there.
And there's also a strong commitment to a sense of continuity that goes from -- that has to continue in order to sustain our commitment and our cooperation over the longer term.
So if I could capture those three Cs, that's really what the focus of the trip will be. It's a very -- it's a more compressed trip than I think we have done in the past, largely due to trying to work out everybody's schedule so that we can meet with everybody we normally meet with out in the region. The region has had many of its own meetings. They just concluded the OIC [Organization of Islamic Conference] summit in Doha, so there was a lot of scheduling stuff that we had to do. So it is much shorter than we've had in the past, but we want to make sure that we have an opportunity to continue consultations with just about everyone we normally meet.
With that, I think I will open it up for questions.
Q: Could you talk about security concerns with this trip? I mean, over the weekend, I think, they arrested five or six folks in Kuwait suspected of planning attacks on Americans. Has that had any influence over the schedule change? And are any special -- please tell me that special security measures are being taken during this trip.
Senior Defense Official: Let me answer it in two ways. One, as I said earlier, the scheduling issues were really around literally the scheduling of the availability of the senior leaders in the region. There are other senior officials from other countries that are going to be there, and so we had to make sure we could juggle the secretary's schedule and their schedule to make sure that we could see everybody. So the schedule itself is not a security -- is not because of the security issue.
Security is always an issue when we go to the region, and we are very comfortable that the appropriate security attention and measures have been taken to ensure, as always, that we have good security when we go out in the region.
Q: Are you going to -- is the secretary going to try and get more information related to the bombing of the Cole with the people that you are going to be talking to?
Senior Defense Official: I am sure that the subject of terrorism and USS Cole will come up in the discussions. There is an investigation that is going on right now, and that is really the channel where those kinds of discussion and information will be exchanged. But I'm sure the subject will, in general terms, come up.
Q: Is there something specific that he has in mind that he's going to ask from them, or --
Senior Defense Official: Well, we're not actually stopping in Yemen; that's where all of the investigation is going on. Again, I'm sure there will be discussions in broad terms about terrorism, but in terms of specific things that other countries are doing in the region about it, and what they can do, the investigation is still going on, and that's something that, you know, is not -- that has its own channel for.
Q: Well, which countries that we're going to still have forces on the highest alert level?
Senior Defense Official: Let me see. I'm trying to think what the current state is right now.
Bacon: Saudi Arabia --
Senior Defense Official: Is it --
Bacon: Kuwait, and Qatar.
Q: Are at the highest state right now?
Bacon: And Yemen, in Aden only.
Q: Yeah, but I mean as far as where we're going.
Senior Defense Official: Right, those are the --
Q: And the rest of them, are they at Charlie?
Q: Is this the last trip that he's taking?
Senior Defense Official: The last trip at all? I actually can't answer that. I don't think it is.
Bacon: He's going to Brussels in December. He's going to visit troops. His Christmas trip will take him to the Balkans and to Italy. And I don't think there's a trip in January -- (off mike.)
Q: His last Middle Eastern trip?
Senior Defense Official: As far as -- yes. As far as is scheduled, yes. In our business we never say never -- only because you never know what's going to happen. But yes, this is the last of the expected Middle East trips.
Q: When was the last one?
Senior Defense Official: May of last year, I believe. Was it May? May or March? May, yes.
Q: May of 1999?
Senior Defense Official: May of 2000.
Q: He was there six months ago?
Senior Defense Official: Yeah, he's been doing it basically almost every six or seven months, so I believe it was May.
Q: Are there any arms sales that are planned to be announced on this trip? And is there any groundwork being laid for any either sales or cooperative-type agreements?
Senior Defense Official: We don't anticipate any arms sales being announced on this trip.
Cooperative agreements, we are always doing cooperation. We don't anticipate any new -- brand new agreements, you know, being signed. But we talk about our cooperative activities and our cooperative engagement, and the continuation, for example, of the Cooperative Defense Initiative against WMD. That's one of those, you know, continuity issues, cooperation issues, that we want to make sure that the region is continuing to support.
Q: There have been a lot of reports that the Israeli army is using U.S.-made weapons against the Palestinians in that kind of confrontation over the past week. Shall we expect that issue to be raised by the secretary during his visit to Israel? And in any case, did the Pentagon discuss that matter, raise that matter, with the Israelis or check these reports to make sure that there have been no violations?
Senior Defense Official: The Israeli inventory is largely U.S.-made equipment. There is legislation that is -- and there's been some concern expressed about the use of that, of U.S. equipment, in certain contexts, and we realize that. That issue, in particular, is not -- I don't believe will be raised in that particular context. The issue of violence, of getting back to the negotiating table, finding ways to reduce the violence, are clearly issues that will be at the forefront of not only the region's leadership, but also what we have been trying -- what this administration has been doing. So on a broad level, there will be discussions about that.
Q: Yeah, but if I may follow up, but has the Pentagon raised that issue directly with the Israeli government in any way?
Senior Defense Official: No. No.
Q: Did it check these reports to make sure that there --
Senior Defense Official: We have not raised it with the Israeli government.
Q: What are the main issues that you are going to discuss in your trip in Egypt and Israel and Jordan, mainly?
Senior Defense Official: Mainly it will be peace process issues; it will be broad regional security cooperation, efforts at trying to build a broader security cooperation.
There will be -- Iraq will certainly be an issue. I imagine that Iran will also be an issue that will be raised. Weapons of mass destruction and efforts to try and stem the flow of certain countries acquisition of those things will be discussed broadly in the region.
Q: What about security in the Suez for U.S. Naval ships that pass through?
Senior Defense Official: Security, broadly, in the region is something that certainly will come up, including -- it's not just an issue for Suez; it's an issue in almost all of the countries where we have forces there.
Q: But the Suez right now is of particular interest. We have reports that the -- what happened, possibly, with the Cole, and then the idea that no U.S. ships are going through, and some question as to whether -- when they will begin again and if it is a security risk, because of the size of the canal. So, are you saying that that is not specifically on the agenda?
Senior Defense Official: It is. It is an issue that will come up. The exact nature of it I'm not going to talk about here, but as I said, security in each of the countries is going to be an issue that will be discussed.
Q: Does the agenda on discussions between U.S. and Israel include additional funding that Israelis requested as part of the FMS [foreign military sales] program? Because over this week we reported from Israel that Israelis feel very strongly about it, that it was something that the administration had promised Israel, that $800 million in additional funding would be considered before the current administration's term is over. So is that something that's going to be discussed or talked about?
Senior Defense Official: That the continued support that, both in FMS and in other military and defense activities, will certainly be a topic of conversation that we have with the Israelis. It has been and will be, I think, for a long time. The subject of increase in assistance will certainly be part of that. And the Israelis, looking for additional support for certain programs undoubtedly will be on the agenda there.
Q: Did these countries, you know, were they as enthusiastic about meeting with the secretary as they have been in the past, given what's happening?
Senior Defense Official: You know, there was no -- to my knowledge, nobody said, "Why are you coming? We don't want to see you." The secretary has a very good relationship with all of his counterparts and also the presidents and prime ministers and sultans out there, and they're all very anxious to see him and talk to him.
The dialogue we've had with them has been very useful and very fruitful.
Q: On the Yemen -- I mean on the Cole bombing, again, is he going to specifically ask any of these countries to help in tracking down whoever's responsible?
Senior Defense Official: I don't think he's going to ask that question right now. The investigation is still going on. So we'll have to see what happens at the end of the investigation.
Q: The fact there is not yet a U.S. president, has it changed in any way the schedule? Has it delayed the departure?
Senior Defense Official: No. It had nothing to do with the departure.
Q: And B, the fact that we don't know which will be the color of the next administration, does it change the weight of the trip; I mean, the way it will be received by some leaders?
Senior Defense Official: From our perspective, it doesn't change it at all. As I said earlier in the discussion, there are a lot of issues and programs that have been put in place and that need to continue. And so there will be a discussion on the continuity of these programs, the importance of continuing our long-term security cooperation that, quite frankly, cross administration lines. and that's true not just this administration but other administrations. There are things that you just have to continue to work on and make progress on.
Q: (Off mike.)
Senior Defense Official: Well, the Cooperative Defense Initiative, our exercise programs, our training programs, the kind of day-today activities that we engage with our military, all of that just is -- we build on that from year to year and administration to administration.
Q: Concerning Iraq, there is a perception in some quarters that the international consensus of containing Iraq, such as it ever was, has eroded somewhat, especially lately. Is there a message that he's carrying with him as he goes over there about containing Iraq in more particular than you've said so far?
Senior Defense Official: Yeah. The message, I think, on Iraq continues to be continuing sanctions. It's important that the Iraqis comply with U.N. resolutions. They have not done so. It is important to continue the sanctions on Iraq.
We try very much in the oil-for-food program to be responsive to the needs of the Iraqi people, but that does -- and we are doing that through the oil-for-food program. But sanctions themselves are very important to keep the Iraqi and Saddam's regime contained.
Q: Are you concerned that some of these countries are loosening, are doing more trade with Iraq on the margins?
Senior Defense Official: There have been reports about that. I think, as far as the core commitments of these countries to the process in the U.N. and to containing Iraq, that's one of the messages the secretary will be bringing. But again, we have not seen any evidence that fundamentally countries in the region are prepared to support the lifting of sanctions and letting Iraq off the hook for non-compliance with the U.N. resolutions.
Q: At the end of the Islamic summit, there was a statement inviting all the countries to break any ties remaining with Israel. Will the secretary be trying to encourage countries not to go along with that?
Senior Defense Official: Well, we've had -- when we looked at the OIC summit statement, there were a lot of things in it that we did not like. That was one of them. We didn't find that that was a very constructive or a very good approach to our efforts to try to change the situation on the ground and bring everybody back to the negotiating table.
So the message that I think we certainly would like to send to the region is that it's important to get back to the negotiating table, to end the violence, and that taking steps that further exacerbate the situation is going to do exactly that; it's not helping the situation.
Q: What other leaders are going to be in the region?
Senior Defense Official: Pardon me?
Q: What other leaders are going to be in the region? You said that's what the scheduling is focused around.
Senior Defense Official: What we know now is Prince Andrew is supposed to be in the region, as well as --
Bacon: King Abdullah.
Senior Defense Official: -- King Abdullah. In Oman, the Sultan Qaboos will be celebrating his birthday, as well as the 30th anniversary of his reign. Yeah. And so many -- there will be many people who are actually coming for those celebrations. I don't have the exact list of who else, but I know at least those two people will be attending.
Q: Do we get to sing "Happy Birthday" to him?
Senior Defense Official: If you'd like to, I'm certain -- I'm sure he'd like to hear it from the press corps.
Q: Where is Prince Andrew going to be?
Senior Defense Official: I don't have his itinerary.
Q: No, no, I was just asking! You said he was going to --
Senior Defense Official: You probably ought go and ask the British about that one.
Q: He could be tying up the defense minister.
Do you have logistical information? Are we taking the C-117? And if so, doesn't that impact our wardrobe that we need for the plane?
Senior Defense Official: Actually, we've sort of decided to take a new approach. We're going to keep everybody in a certain level of mystery, and you'll find out where we're going tomorrow.
Q: But it affects like what we wear on the plane, right?
Staff: Yes. We'll talk to you afterwards.
Q: All right.
Senior Defense Official: You can go casually on the plane.
Q: Ear muffs and --
Senior Defense Official: Yeah?
Q: Can you specifically who the secretary will be meeting with? Beings that there scheduling issues, can you specify who he'll be meeting with in each country?
Senior Defense Official: In each country he will be meeting the head of state, the senior leader. He will be meeting his counterpart, the defense minister. In some cases, they're one in the same people. He will be meeting the foreign ministers in just about -- let me see -- in just about every stop except Israel -- I think just about every stop except Israel and possibly Egypt. Basically, he's -- in every stop he's going to be hitting, you know, the top three.
Q: Okay, and along with who will be accompanying the secretary, any other -- within the Pentagon -- senior officials or officers that are going specifically for any reason, any topic?
Senior Defense Official: It's the usual cast of characters. My boss is going. I believe Mr. Bacon is going. And that's -- and then a lot of the support staff who normally goes. But there are no different special offices that are coming along on this particular leg of the trip.
Q: Yes, besides the official, any plan to arrange scheduling of meeting with the troops?
Senior Defense Official: There are opportunities to go and visit the troops. I'm not going to get into to the exact specific details right now, but yes, there will be opportunities to see the troops.
Q: Is there a visit to a carrier?
Senior Defense Official: Yes, there will be a visit to a carrier.
Q: If we can go back to this point about the U.S. weapons for just a moment. How does the administration see -- I mean, does the administration see the use of these weapons against Palestinian civilians as a violation of the terms upon which these weapons were transferred to Israel? And does the administration see any linkage between the attack on the USS Cole and the use of these weapons, this heavy weaponry, I mean?
Senior Defense Official: I'll take your second question first. I'm not entirely sure I understand that connection. I'm not sure that there is a connection between --
Q: The attack and the fact that there are reports that the Israeli Army is using U.S.-made heavy weaponry against the Palestinians. Do you see any linkage? And does the administration see that use as a violation of the terms upon which these weapons were given to the Israelis?
Senior Defense Official: Since the investigation is still going on on the Cole, I'm not going to get into what we think are the linkages and what was the cause and effect of it.
As for the first question, I would have to say that we are -- clearly, the Israelis are using some of their weapons to engage the way they feel they have to engage. We have not raised that issue with them, nor have we in the past tended to raise that issue with other countries that have used weapon systems in ways that perhaps from our perspective we may see things differently. It's a very -- I think it's a very sensitive question when you begin to insist that weapons are used only in a certain way.
Q: But there are no terms telling how to use -- I mean, whether to use these weapons against civilians or not?
Senior Defense Official: When we sell our weapon systems, there's a general understanding that the weapon systems are supposed to be used in the way the weapons systems are designed to be used. And when they are not used in the way in which they're supposed to be used, sometimes there can be a problem. I'm not entirely convinced that strictly on that basis, these weapon systems are not being used, you know, improperly. I mean, we may discuss about the violence and whether you should be using that to deal with that kind of violence. That's a separate issue.
Q: Thank you very much.
Senior Defense Official: Thank you.
THIS TRANSCRIPT WAS PREPARED BY THE FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC., WASHINGTON, DC. FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE IS A PRIVATE COMPANY. FOR OTHER DEFENSE RELATED TRANSCRIPTS NOT AVAILABLE THROUGH THIS SITE, CONTACT FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE AT 202) 347-1400.