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Press Conference in Marrakech Morocco

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
February 14, 2000

Friday, February 11, 2000

Press Conference in Marrakech Morocco

Secretary Cohen: First let me express my apologies for being so late. The King had a wonderful opportunity for us - my wife Janet and I - to meet with him and then to have a business meeting following and it extended for some period of time, so I apologize for our lateness.

Let me say how pleased we are to be back in Morocco and particularly to be here in beautiful Marrakech. Janet and I visited Morocco back in September, 1998. It is a pleasure for both of us to be here again, continuing to build on a very strong historical relationship between Morocco and the United States. As many of you know, our countries signed the Moroccan-American Treaty of Peace and Friendship back in 1787. We have been partners in both war and peace ever since.

This morning we had a very good meeting with King Mohammed VI, with whom we met in 1998 when he was then Crown Prince. He is a young, dynamic leader who is building on his father's policies. King Mohammed is committed to improving the welfare of all Moroccans, strengthening government institutions, and expanding human rights. And he also wants Morocco to remain a leading force for peace and stability.

To this end, we agreed to open an expanded security and defense dialogue between our countries that will enable us to expand our cooperation. Today, our troops are serving together as peacekeepers in Bosnia and Kosovo. In the past, we have also worked together in Operation Desert Storm to liberate Kuwait and also in Somalia.

A new security dialogue is going to enable us to discuss ways to improve the quality of our training exercises together. It will also enable us to consider multilateral exercises with other countries that are involved in NATO's Mediterranean initiative. We also intend to look for ways to broaden our efforts to work together for regional stability. Morocco is already an important supporter of the Middle East Peace Process.

And we will also examine ways that our militaries can work together to promote reform and modernization. And as this security dialogue evolves, it will be another sign of the strong relations between our countries and of our determination to work together for peace and stability.

And, finally, we will work very hard to get a larger room so it won't be quite so warm next time.

I will be happy to entertain your questions.

Q: "Mohammed Shawi from the newspaper "L'Opinion" I have two questions to ask the honorable Secretary of Defense. Sir, at first sight, you are a playwright, you're a poet, you're a writer and at first sight it doesn't seem to be compatible with the position you hold at this time.

Secretary Cohen: That is a question?

Q: Second question. You led the delegation that took part in the talks of the Arab-American dialogue process in Cairo. Now that this initiative is in a deadlock, what are your impressions in that sense?

Secretary Cohen: I'll deal with that question first. I believe that the current Prime Minster of Israel is dedicated to resolving the impasse that has existed for some time between Israel and Syria, Israel and the Palestinians. I believe that most of the Gulf States support Prime Minister Barak's effort to achieve a lasting and durable peace in the Middle East. As we know, it is not going to be an easy goal to achieve because there are those elements in the Middle East who are dedicated to destroying any effort to bring about a peaceful resolution to the situation there.

President Clinton and his entire administration is dedicated to working with Israel, to working with the Palestinians, and working with Syria to help bring about a comprehensive Middle East Peace. And we will all dedicate our efforts to that end.

As far as my passion for writing, I have had the benefit of a classics education. What was called a liberal arts education which allowed me to have a sense of history and to study the classics, so that I might gain as much wisdom from studying the past that I might be a better person to deal with the future. That is what I have tried to do. To use words to help persuade one in an argument or on an issue is not inconsistent with being Secretary of Defense. It is a great asset to have.

Q: Jamie McIntyre from CNN. During your talks with the King, did you discuss any increase in US military aid or any US arms sales to Morocco?

Secretary Cohen: Our discussions were quite wide-ranging. The King indicated that he certainly is dedicated to improving the lives and the lot of all of his citizens throughout Morocco and being a force for stability throughout the region. We talked about trade, investment, economic types of programs that would help benefit all the Moroccan people. We did not focus specifically upon any military issues per se regarding arms sales. We did discuss the King's agreement and willingness to send a high-level delegation to meet with corresponding military and civilian officials to see how we could broaden our security relationship with Morocco.

Q: Moncef Slimi from the newspaper "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat." At the outset of your press conference, you've indicated that there is new momentum in the Moroccan-US relationship, I would like to know if this momentum is political, tactical or strategic in nature?

Secretary Cohen: We do have a new momentum. You have a new King. You certainly have a young dynamic leader. We have entered into a new century with new economic challenges, new security threats, and we reaffirmed our strong security bonds that we have and have had for years and dedicated ourselves to enhancing it in the future. With respect to evidence of this, this is my second visit to Morocco. I know, I not only hope, but I know that it will not be my last. We intend to return as often as we can because of our affection for the people and our interest in the country. You might take note there has been a significant increase in the number of congressional delegations who have been coming to Morocco in recent years. This is a sign, I think, of more to come.

Q: Abdelfattah Fakihani from AFP. Honorable Secretary of Defense, did you, sir, talk with his majesty, King Mohammed VI about the Western Sahara issue as well as the issue of the Morocco-Algerian relationship. Not withstanding all of what I said, what is actually your opinion, sir, on the referendum that is about to take place and the announcement that it has been postponed until 2002? I would like you to share with us your general and overall impression of the matter.

Secretary Cohen: What I have indicated is that the United States supports the United Nations effort to find a peaceful resolution. With respect to Algeria, I indicated to the King that the United States would like to expand or enhance its contacts with Algeria for the purpose of promoting regional peace and stability. We will not do so at the expense of Morocco - this is no zero-sum game the US is engaged in. We believe that having more contact with Algeria and promoting a peaceful, more stable relationship in the regional will be beneficial to all the countries in the region, including Morocco.

Q: Jim Mannion from AFP. Mr. Secretary, you mentioned you would like to help Morocco reform and restructure its military. In what way, how would it be restructured in the future? What does it have to do and how can the United States help?

Secretary Cohen: Morocco, of course, will have to decide for itself what is in its best security interests. We have found it beneficial in the United States to reform our military in the sense of promoting much greater jointness of exercising together among the services. We believe that it augments and enhances military effectiveness when different services are able to exercise together, train together, study joint doctrine together to produce a much more efficient and powerful force.

That may or may not be beneficial for the Moroccan military purposes. What I should say is that we intend to certainly increase our joint exercises with the Moroccan military in the coming year and years.

Q: Aziz Tubairda from Morocco TV. Morocco has always been a region of cohabitation between different religions and civilizations throughout history. What is the role Morocco is expected to play to promote peace and security, especially in the Mediterranean region?

Secretary Cohen: I think that differences will always continue to exist in terms of religion and cultural -historical backgrounds. I think the responsibility of all national leaders is to find those areas where there can be commonality of ideals and interests while respecting the differences in one's heritage and religion. If I could borrow a phrase from the former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, Anwar Ibrahim, who promoted the notion "not a clash of civilization, but a celebration of civilizations "- that should be the goal of all national leaders.

Thank you very much.

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