Cohen Offers to Share Intel with Gulf Leaders
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
KUWAIT CITY, Kuwait, March 15, 1999 Defense Secretary William S. Cohen met with senior leaders in six Gulf states in early March and offered to share early warning information about missile launches in Iran or Iraq.
"We would do this with all of the Gulf states to have a direct link between what our sensors are able to pick up and then communicate that to the Gulf states to keep them apprised of ballistic missile tests taking place in the region," he said.
The secretary's offer involves setting up computer terminals in the Gulf to receive real-time, satellite-relayed monitoring data, according to a senior defense official. Along with the computer equipment, Cohen also offered to set up direct telephone lines between his office and Gulf defense leaders to facilitate communication, the official said.
Cohen discussed the threat from Iraq and Iran with heads of state and defense officials in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait during a trip through the region March 4 to 10. He also stressed the growing threat of chemical and biological weapons and longer-range missile development.
Throughout the trip, the secretary voiced U.S. resolve to contain Iraq's Saddam Hussein. He said the United States is determined to prevent the Iraqi dictator from threatening his own people and his neighbors and from reconstituting his weapons of mass destruction program. At present, more than 24,400 U.S. troops, 30 ships and 189 aircraft are stationed in the Gulf for that purpose.
"Since the end of last year," Cohen said, "Iraq has violated the no-fly zones more than 100 times. They have fired more than 20 surface-to-air missiles at coalition aircraft and continually fired anti-aircraft guns and rockets in an effort to shoot down our planes."
U.S. forces have responded on almost a daily basis, and Cohen said they would continue to "fire back in self-defense and target Iraq's air attack network" as long as coalition planes are threatened.
"We are focusing on military, not civilian targets," the secretary stressed. "We have nothing but respect and sympathy for the people of Iraq and the conditions they endure under Saddam Hussein."
Cohen said Gulf state leaders have expressed understanding and support for U.S. efforts to counter Iraq. He said Saudi Arabian leaders have indicated in public statements that Saddam Hussein is responsible for the suffering of the Iraqi people, not the United States.
"Iraq invaded Kuwait and sought to destroy that country and its people, in addition to much of its oil production capabilities, just a few years ago," he said. "Iraq used chemical weapons against the Iranians and against its own Kurdish population. So the danger posed by Iraq in the past has been clear. We seek to prevent Iraq from doing similar types of things in the future to the detriment of all in the Gulf region."
The United States sponsored a program that allows Iraq to sell oil for food and medicine, but Saddam has been slow to distribute goods to his people, Cohen charged. Last month, the U.N. Security Council reported Saddam is storing more than half the medicine and medical supplies purchased.
"That he would hold up and store in warehouses almost $300 million worth of medical supplies and then complain that the Iraqi people are going without medicine is the height of hypocrisy," Cohen said.
The U.N. report also said that only about 40 percent of the equipment received for water treatment and sanitation, and 50 percent of the agricultural chemicals, have been distributed. "So the question is, why is Saddam hoarding goods and not helping his people?" Cohen said.
The Iraqis claim they don't have enough trucks to distribute these goods, but they always seem to have enough trucks to move troops and military equipment, he said. "It is clear that Saddam Hussein cares more about weapons than welfare."
In each of his Gulf meetings, Cohen said, he denied press allegations the United States is trying to break up Iraq. "There is no basis to that," he said. "We have said time and again that Iraq's integrity must be maintained. Our goal is to one day help bring about a change in regime so that the people of Iraq can join the international community as a full-fledged member." The United States continues to work for an Iraq that is "unified, peaceful and prosperous," he said.
In Bahrain, Cohen announced that the United States has approved the island state's purchase of 27 Advanced Medium Range Air-to- Air Missiles, or AMRAAMs. The missiles will help Bahrain meet force modernization goals and are to be delivered by 2002, U.S. defense officials said.
In Saudi Arabia, after touring a U.S. Army Patriot missile battery at Riyadh Air Base and meeting with King Fahd and senior leaders, Cohen said he would recommend that Congress also approve selling AMRAAMs to the Saudis. The details of the sale are yet to be worked out, according to a senior U.S. defense official.
The Gulf states requested these arms sales, Cohen noted. He told reporters that as long as Iraq or Iran pose a threat to the region, the Gulf countries should be in a position to defend themselves. "To the extent that each country feels they need to have measures to protect its population and its military, then certainly we are in a position to, and are eager to, provide whatever equipment that we can," he said.
Saudi leaders also agreed to form a joint committee to study the chemical and biological warfare threat and to increase the number of joint training exercises held each year in Saudi Arabia, Cohen said.
The secretary noted the Saudis are pursuing a relationship with Iran's new government. He said the United States also seeks to improve relations with Iran, but that there are certain pre- conditions. "They must cease their support for terrorism, stop trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction and stop undermining the Middle East peace process," he said.
Some changes are taking place within Iranian society, but not Iran's foreign policies, Cohen said. "It is our hope that there can be changes in the future, but we remain very vigilant," he said. "We've indicated we would like to have a better government-to-government relationship, but that offer has been rejected by Iran."
In the United Arab Emirates, where the U.S. Navy has a major repair and resupply facility, Cohen said he also discussed the threat Iran's foreign policy poses in terms of its support for acts of terrorism and the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction.
The UAE-Iran dispute over islands near the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Gulf did not come up during talks with UAE officials, Cohen said. But, he added, UAE ruler Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahayan has taken the lead in calling attention among Gulf Cooperation Council states to Iran's naval exercises in the area.
"It is consistent with his own belief that Iran must be closely watched and that there should not be any sort of fig leaf justifications to hide any secret objective," he said. Sheikh Zayed has been successful in having the gulf council issue a statement to the Iranian government, Cohen added.
A senior U.S. defense official said Qatar is building a facility to pre-position U.S. equipment for a heavy armored brigade. Equipment for two battalions is already pre-positioned there, he said. The Qataris have also expressed an interest in building a port facility to accommodate U.S. carriers, the official added.
Along with meeting leaders in Kuwait, his final stop in the Gulf region, Cohen also met with some of the Americans who directly counter Saddam Hussein's aggression. With Iraq-bound, F-16 fighter jets thundering overhead, the secretary told the men and women of Operation Southern Watch that they are enforcing the nation's "Containment Plus" policy.
"We are going to continue to make sure that Saddam Hussein doesn't go north or go south," Cohen said. "He's not going to pose a threat by moving against his neighbors in the region. We're going to continue that policy as long as necessary."