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Cohen Visits, Reaffirms UAE, Qatar Ties

By Gerry Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

MUSCAT, Oman, Nov. 20, 2000 – Defense Secretary William S. Cohen discussed Iraq, Iran and the Middle East Peace Process with senior leaders in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and Doha, Qatar, Nov. 18.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Defense Secretary William S. Cohen takes a picture Nov. 18 with Army Sgt. 1st Class Cecilia LaRose, 3rd Infantry Division. LaRose is a finance NCO assigned to the detachment at Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore)

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Cohen also met with U.S. personnel stationed in Qatar.

"The United States is committed to a stable and secure Middle East," Cohen said. "That is why we station troops and preposition equipment in the region and conduct military exercises with members of the Gulf Corporation Council [Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the UAE and Oman.]

"Much of our effort is directed to containing Iraq to prevent it from rebuilding its military and attacking its neighbors again," he added.

Cohen noted that the United States has also worked to help the people of Iraq by sponsoring the oil for food program, a UN program designed to allow Iraq to sell its oil and use the proceeds to buy food and medicine for its population.

Iraq has been under UN embargo and economic sanctions since the end of the Gulf War. Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein kicked out UN inspectors after they demanded access to suspected chemical, biological and nuclear weapon producing plants. The oil-for-food program was implemented in 1996 as a humanitarian measure for Iraq's food-strapped population.

"Because of the oil-for-food program, more of Iraq's oil revenues are being devoted to the purchase of food and medicine today, than before sanctions were imposed," Cohen said. "Saddam Hussein can end the sanctions completely by complying with the Security Council resolutions adopted after his attack on Iraq's Arab neighbor.

"While containing Iraq, we are also working with other nations to discourage Iran from building weapons of mass destruction," he added.

Although there are signs of encouraging political change in Tehran, Cohen said Iran's program to build these weapons pose a serious threat to stability in the region.

The UAE provides valuable support to U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf region. This includes facilities for an aerial refueling unit that supports Operation Southern Watch as part of U.N. sanctions against Iraq, and liberty privileges for U.S. service members at the port of Jebel Ali. However, U.S. ships haven't entered the port since the Oct. 12 USS Cole bombing in Aden, Yemen.

Qatar hosts a U.S. Central Command, detachment at Doha, which oversees a contingency stockpile of Bradley Fighting Vehicles and tanks. Cohen paid a visit to the U.S. soldiers there, thanking them for their service in a dangerous place. Qatar is still under Threatcon Delta, the highest DoD threat level implemented in several Mideast countries in the wake of the terrorist attack on the Cole that killed 17 sailors and wounded 37.

"It takes a tragedy sometimes to remind people that every day your lives are on the line,” Cohen said. “And, every day, they are sleeping under what I call the 'blanket of freedom' because of you. So we have to do everything we can to remind the American people of the sacrifices you make on their and our behalf.”

Army Sgt. 1st Class Cecilia LaRose, 36, a finance noncommissioned officer-in-charge and her 19-year-old assistant, Spec. Jose Urena, say they are confident and will continue to do their duties regardless of the danger. "We're soldiers and we're well trained. Danger is just part of the job," said LaRose, who calls Fayetteville, N.C. home and got her picture taken with Cohen.

Urena, who hails from New York City said, "Paranoia is not in our schedule. You've got to be confident and ready."

For nearly four years, Cohen has worked diligently to foster good relations with Middle East countries, including the UAE and Qatar, said U.S. defense officials. They noted that UAE and Qatar representatives seem concerned about current Palestinian and Israeli conflict and violence, the hardships suffered by the Iraqi people as a consequence of U.N. sanctions, regional security issues highlighted by the USS Cole bombing and the protracted U.S. presidential election.

These concerns, officials emphasized, have not hurt relations with the United States. Rather, the officials said, Mideast governmental representatives throughout the region are stalwart partners who trust Cohen and the government and military he represents.

Cohen reiterated that Saddam Hussein can take actions to lift the sanctions against Iraq, but chooses not to. The Israelis and Palestinians, he said, need to stop the fighting and begin talking peace again. Higher force protection measures implemented DoD-wide and consultations with Middle East allies will help to mitigate -- but not eliminate -- the terrorist threat, Cohen said.

Cohen also emphasized that the outcome of the U.S. presidential election will not affect America's long commitment to the Middle East.

The United States is in the Gulf region at the invitation of the Gulf States, Cohen said. "We do not go anywhere where we are not invited. We do not seek territory. What we seek is to promote stability and security, and each of the Gulf States understands that the United States plays a key role in providing that stability so that each individual state can enjoy prosperity.

"As long as we are invited to play a role in providing peace and stability, we intend to stay, and no terrorist, no act is going to drive us from the region," he concluded.

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