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Secretary Cohen's Media Interview by traveling Press en route to Israel

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
April 02, 2000

Sunday, April 2, 2000

(Media interview with traveling press while en route to Israel. Also participating: Ms. Alina Romanowski, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Near East and South Asian affairs)

Q: What's the status of Israel's request for things it will need for its security in the event of a peace agreement with Syria? Since that seems to be stalled, will those things be contingent upon an agreement being reached or are there things you will be moving forward on anyway?

Secretary Cohen: The items Israel has requested in order to compensate for their security needs, if there is a peace agreement with Syria, are contingent upon reaching an agreement with Syria. On an individual basis we always have a continuing discussion with Israel on their defensive needs but the package that was envisioned for security compensation that was contingent upon having an agreement with Syria itself, so that remains on hold until such time we see whether not the negotiations can be reinstituted. In the meantime, we continue discussing with them on a case by case basis their continuing security needs.

Q: Is that package pretty much ready to go now if there is an agreement?

Secretary Cohen: For the most part that is the case. There has been a lot of refinement, a lot of discussions back and forth between their defense experts and ours, trying to refine what the package would look like, and so I think the answer is yes for the most part -- if there is an agreement.

Q: What would it involve?

Secretary Cohen: I want to wait until we see there is an agreement, then discuss what is involved.

Q: The number that was talked about was about seven billion dollars, is that the overall...

Secretary Cohen: I really don't want talk any numbers, because we would have to brief Capital Hill in some detail and I'd rather brief them before we make any public discussion at this time. Much depends upon whether we can get the agreement back on track or the negotiations back on track.

Q: If there were an agreement, any security assistance for Syria?

Secretary Cohen: Well, we have not had any such request and we would evaluate everything at some appropriate time, but there it's not part of the package we envision.

Q: Is there any economic assistance being thought of for Syria, outside of military or security?

Secretary Cohen: Not that I'm aware of.

Q: What is your main purpose for this visit?

Secretary Cohen: Part of my effort to continue to travel throughout the Middle East; to receive an update from Prime Minister Barak in terms of how he sees things unfolding in the region; to discuss ways in which we can continue to stress the need for greater cooperation between Israel, Turkey, Jordan; and basically talk about enhancing the level of security arrangements in the region.

Q: Is there something new this time around that --

Secretary Cohen: Nothing new this time around. Just a visit on my part, a regular visit, to update Israel on my travels throughout the region and how we continue to promote greater multilateral cooperation and greater stability throughout the region. It is just a continuation of policy that I have been following for the past three and a half years.

Q: Why is Mr. Slocombe joining you?

Secretary Cohen: He is over there. He's already there.

Q: What's the thinking on continuing assistance to Lebanon?

Secretary Cohen: There has no consideration that I am aware of, security assistance to Lebanon.

Q: Are they going to continue the kind of assistance program we have in Lebanon?

Ms. Romanowski: There is no reason to end it now. It will stay where it is at the current levels.

Are you talking about additions to it?

Q: No, I was asking if there was any plan to end it or terminate it in any fashion?

Q: Mr. Secretary one of your senior defense officials said you were looking at expanding multilateral exercises. Are there any special exercises you are aiming for, or you going to make Bright Star every year, is that the sort of thing --

Secretary Cohen: Bright Star is still planned for every other year, we would hope that there would be greater participation on the part of the countries throughout the region. Last year we had, I think we had 11 countries with 26 observers, as I recall, and I would expect there would be more participants in the next year. But we do hope to see is greater exercises between the U.S., Israel, Jordan, Turkey. We certainly want to promote greater cooperation between and contact on the military-to-military basis between Egypt and Israel. And of course, I think there's some positive signs in terms of their discussions of military to military basis. That's what we hope to do.

Q: Will you be sharing or discussing with the Israelis where you all think Iraq is in terms of its possibility of having renewed its weapons programs without UN inspections.

Secretary Cohen: I will discuss with all the countries in the region the need to insist there be full compliance on the part of Iraq. That we have gone for a long extended period without inspections and while there is no evidence that they have reconstituted or in the process of reconstituting their weapons of mass destruction program. The fact that there have been no inspections creates suspicions as to what they might be doing. In the meantime to reinforce the fact there can be no relief from the sanctions as long as Iraq continues its obstructions, so as to solidify the support from the continuation of the sanctions, pointing out that we have been in the forefront of trying to provide relief to the Iraqi people which is always of concern to the Arab countries. But insisting that they continue to support the UN Security Council resolutions and that means, continuation of the sanctions, and hopefully one day we'll see a change of regime which will allow the people of Iraq to enjoy integration into the international community.

Q: The United Nations has recently approved a doubling of the oil quota for Iraq. Aren't you concerned that will give -- that and a higher oil prices will give Iraq more means to rebuild its military?

Secretary Cohen: We supported allowing expansion of the oil for food program, or the allowance of doubling it for oil equipment, so they that can in fact produce more oil but that is under the supervision of the United Nations, and would go for the humanitarian purposes and not for purposes of building his military back up. So it is under very strict supervision by the UN. I'm more concerned frankly about the increase of smuggling activity on the part of Iraq and that is something all should be concerned about because that is the kind of revenue that he can acquire that will go for building of his military which is unsupervised.

Q: Will you be discussing terrorism with the Israelis?

Secretary Cohen: Always.

Q: In what way?

Secretary Cohen: In ways we can continue to cooperate in helping to defeat terrorist activities, we have been encouraged somewhat by what is taking place in Iran, at the domestic level.

Q: What would specifically like to see from Israel?

Secretary Cohen: What I want with all the countries in the region, as well as Israel, is greater cooperation as far as intelligence sharing, so that we can try to prevent and interdict acts of terrorism before they occur.

Q: Are you going to discuss Israeli bombings of Lebanon at all?

Secretary Cohen: I'm sure that is something that will come up

Q: What is the United States [position]?

Secretary Cohen: The President has spoken on this in terms of not wanting Israel to be bombing in Lebanon -- spoke out quite forcefully on it. But Israel is prepared and plans to pull its troops out of southern Lebanon, and that is something that is certainly an act on the part of Barak which is very courageous. But one he intends to carryout, and hopefully the message will be sent to Syria and Lebanon not to allow acts of terrorism or attacks being launched from Lebanon into Israel, because of the potential for conflict it could ensue.

Q: The multinational, the US force we have in the Sanoi is that still there?

Secretary Cohen: Yes

Q: Is there a real need for it now?

Secretary Cohen: The symbolism of the force being there continues to be of importance to both Israel and Egypt.

Q: Senator Lott, I believe it was about a week ago, on television said, he thought there should be very aggressive action taken against Iraq if it doesn't allow these inspectors back in. Can we look forward to any change in the U.S. posture if the Iraqis continue to hold out and say no inspections?

Secretary Cohen: Our policy will continue as it is as one of containment, and I don't anticipate any change in that policy, unless we see evidence of Iraq reconstituting its weapons of mass destruction. If we see them move in anyway, it poses a threat to the region, if they continue to violate the no fly zone, we will continue to strike appropriately. But we expect to continue the policy as is.

Q: Do you think this will be your last visit to the Middle East, In this role?

Secretary Cohen: Probably not. I hope not, I hope to make at least one more visit. Want to come?

Q: Do you expect to discuss any details at all about the Arrow program with the Israelis?

Secretary Cohen: I expect to have some discussions with the yes on the Arrow program, yes.

Thanks a lot, see you on the ground.

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